Pebbles on the Beach

I can never resist picking up pebbles that catch my eye on a beach. It is a strange thing however, that once removed from the beach the majority loose their charm. I try to find pebbles that represent the place where I am, that capture the beauty of the place. But it is impossible to do this with one pebble, because each pebble is made up of just one type of rock, whereas a beach is normally made up of several kinds of rock, each a different colour and texture. Nature blends them together in a perfect harmonious picture.

Instead I look for ‘favourites’. But it is not the individual charm that I then notice, but the extraordinary. The ones that are different in some interesting way. Like a grey pebble with a perfect band of white quartz running around it, or a pebble with a hole through it. Sometimes I like the colour of a particular pebble, but often when it is by itself it no longer has the same brightness, for the contrast with the other pebbles has been lost.

And yet, I have become aware recently of how the concept of favourites creates a duality that wasn’t there before.

We are said to live in a world of duality. Dark and Light, male and female, wrong or right, loves and hates. Best friends or other friends. Favourite toys. I realised recently how I am becoming conditioned to ask M ‘which is her favourite?’ or ‘what did she like best?’ in any given situation. Questionnaires getting to know your child, or activity sheets and books have a little box to write in a single answer. It can be a way for strangers to try and understand her likes and dislikes a bit better, but I am sometimes forcing her into judging. Of creating a hierarchy. Luckily she appears not at all susceptible to judgment in this way as she rarely gives me a straight answer – and if I am attentive I can work out for myself what the important things in her life currently are. I can also ask much more open questions, and get more considered responses as a result.

Yes there are times when it is important to choose only one of something, and that can be a useful skill in itself, but I have found myself going too far in the other direction and trying to narrow down every selection unnecessarily. A garden of flowers for example, and I find myself asking which I like best. Or a collage of butterflies. It is meaningless; they are all beautiful. So as we approach the equinox, I am seeking balance over when I do need to be selective, and when I should just enjoy the full diversity of this bountiful Earth. Here is my colourful selection of pebbles from the beach this summer.

Beach Pebbles

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Following Woodland Paths

I was lucky enough to be camping in woodland for a week last week, in an area hitherto unfamiliar to me, the Forest of Dean. Unlike that other ancient hunting forest, the New Forest which has more moorland than woodland, here trees go on for miles: an amazing expanse of green. The type of trees vary, but where we were camping (near Symonds Yat) it was mainly beech with some oaks and occasional yews, plus rare native whitebeams and small-leaved lime trees around the edges by the cliffs.

One evening towards the end of the week I went for a walk by myself, and having not been there yet, set off in search of the nearby hill fort.

Dog rose, Rosa canina, flowering in an old quarry

There were no direct paths shown on the map from where I was to the fort, but this is a woodland which seems to generate many paths of which only a few are planned and plotted. I started out well, past a disused quarry where I found dog roses flowering, and then briefly explored some caves. A choice in the paths, I headed deeper into the woodland and then along in the general direction of the fort. Another choice, I chose woodland. I regretted this fairly soon as the path veered off downhill towards the river Wye, so I took the next available turning back uphill again. This path continued for a distance, until I met with a wall and a gate that was too blocked with fallen leaves to open. Jumping over I met with a track only a short distance away, going in roughly the right direction; I kept an eye on the compass and also the time. It went well for a short distance, even being built up over a rocky section to leave a smooth path. Then a couple of fallen and now dead beech trees blocked my way. The track continued under the first, so I climbed my way through. Then it petered out to nothing. I headed up the steep bank, picking my way carefully and wishing I had hiking boots on instead of trainers. I kept expecting to come to another path, but it seemed some time before I eventually hit on a higher track. Having few landmarks and no clear view since crossing the wall, I managed to follow this the wrong way for a short distance. Realising my mistake, I turned around and discovered where the track turned in the right direction a short distance back from where I had joined it. Further along there was a style over the wall that I had crossed earlier (no the wall wasn’t straight), so I took note of it for my return. After another turn, the track led me to open space at the top of the hill, where longhorn cattle were grazing, and there, finally, lay the hill fort before me.

I was out of time, so I went no further that evening. Instead I followed the other path option I had seen, and returned to the caves in half the time of my outward journey. Pretty, but no drama. We used this path the next day to all explore the hill fort, where we found wild strawberries just ripening.

It occurred to me that had I taken the direct path the first time time, I would have had a very different walk and experience. I had expected to have trouble finding the hill fort; as a result I hadn’t looked for an easy route and therefore my expectations were met. It was tricky to find the right hill going my way! It was also thoroughly enjoyable and adventurous and fun! I had a proper woodland experience, connecting with what was around me. I saw a boar, deer, heard foxes, not to mention rabbits and squirrels, plus all the birds from buzzards to robins just on that one walk. Not only that, but on my return journey I fell in with a local who showed me some of the more hidden delights of the area – which I was able to share with my family the next day.

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Beech woodland, with edge of rock spiral in the corner.

While I am writing about my woodland experiences, I also had an interesting experience with a tree on my last day. It was while walking a rock spiral someone had made – I reached the centre, looked up, and my eyes immediately fell on this tree in the picture. It seemed to be watching me and being amused, yet at the same time friendly and open to conversation. I felt welcome in the woods.

Friendly beech tree watching me.

However, the lesson I received when I meditated on this later was quite different. My notes read as follows: “Beech tree I was drawn to – an individual, standing by itself with its own character, despite being one of many in the forest. Similar but not identical, I would know it again. I could have been drawn to the group of 6/7 all growing so close they were almost as one, but I wasn’t. I didn’t even photograph them – light is an excuse and could have been overcome had I felt the need, [they were rather dark!] it was the individual I noticed, and that says something about me, and how I feel about myself, how I want to be. Unique, maybe even a character.” That’s told me then!

Froggatt Edge Stone Circle

Finally. The first circle in my quest to visit, meditate at, and photograph all the stone circles in Derbyshire…

Froggatt Edge Circle

A first view of Froggatt Edge Stone Circle as approached from Curbar.

Froggatt Edge circle, also known as the Stoke Flat circle, is one I must have unknowingly walked past twenty years ago, yet never saw on the ground. Only a short way off the path, it is easily missed even in Winter unless you were deliberately looking for it. In Summer bracken would surround it and make it harder to spot. In my defence, at that time the circles I was most familiar with were Stonehenge and Avebury in Wiltshire, and possibly Castlerigg in Cumbria. I had no idea that such small, indistinct circles even existed. So when looking at options for a family walk, with requests for some rocks to climb and somewhere not too wet after a week of rain, I was keen to return to the area and see if there was anything there.

My former ignorance is fortunately not shared by others, and besides photographs and maps for most Derbyshire circles being available online, there is also an excellent book ‘Stone Circles of the Peak: A Search For Natural Harmony’ by John Barnatt, published 1978 with detailed drawings and alignments of each circle he surveyed. However, I made a decision not to research this circle in any way beforehand, reckoning that I should be able to find it with some fairly simple navigation from the map, so that I could have my own impressions uncoloured by others. I have instead used the information available to fill in the gaps afterwards.

Tall Rock

Tall rock by entrance.
(Click to enlarge)

The circle is actually quite large in the area it covers, approximately 18m across, but there is only one stone above waist height and a few knee high ones remaining. There is however a slightly raised bank forming the ring, so that the stones that remain do look and feel as if they are indeed part of a circle. Unusually the stones are on both sides of the raised ring, suggesting to me that either they have been moved at some point in the past, or it once had a double ring of stones, inside and out. (John Barnatt suggests the latter, in common with Ewden Beck / Broomhead circle some 12 miles further North into Yorkshire. But see also below.)

I took a few photographs as I approached the circle, then I put the camera away and entered by the tall stone as that felt like the ‘way in’. It had a deep hollow in its top, filled with water. After feeling my way to being at home in the circle, I then chose a rock to sit on – in this case a ‘smiling’ rock called to me and proved incredibly comfortable, the perfect height, size and flatness for sitting. I felt very welcome, and even loved as I sat there.

Smiley Rock at Froggatt Edge Stone Circle

Smiley Rock at Froggatt Edge Stone Circle, showing stones on the opposite side of the ring in the background.
(Click to enlarge)

The first thing that struck me was how peaceful it was. There were strong gales blowing that day, making walking difficult at times, but being just slightly back from the Edge the circle was almost windless. It also seemed undisturbed by the popular path running almost alongside; the only other people I saw take any notice of the circle that day were with someone who, judging by conversation, had recently done an archaeological survey of the area and wanted to show it to them. Everyone else simply walked on by.

Sometimes sitting on the edge of a circle makes me feel slightly uncomfortable, being aware of the boundary energy-wise. I didn’t feel that here – possibly because the boundary was further out, at the outer edge of the bank – but neither did I feel so energised that I couldn’t stay for very long within the circle as I have felt elsewhere. Instead I had a real sense of the circle as as a stable and complete form and me as part of that. This is a rare true circle, not egg-shaped as is common, and I could really feel that as a stillness and strength. (According to John Barnatt’s plan and geometry, I was also sitting along the side of a square within the circle; the entrance being through the point of the square. A perfect square would likely increase the solidity and stability of a circle form.)

Although the circle did not feel particularly powerful when I visited, as if the new moon was its weak time, I felt strong within myself by sitting there and feeling its energies. Like I could achieve anything I wanted to. A feeling of empowerment. That was something I carried with me for several days afterwards.

Two days later I was able to do a journey back to the circle. I wanted to ask if there was anything I had missed, or should have done, whilst there.

Water offering

Water offering

The first seemed frustratingly obvious in retrospect – I should have taken some of the gift of water at the entrance that was there for me! I find it hard now to believe that I didn’t and am really puzzled by why I didn’t, but it serves as a reminder for next time. Recognise and accept gifts offered, and connect with all four elements when there is an opportunity to do so.

Beyond that, I’m glad to say I learned new information. I discovered that the circle was anchored through all worlds on Earth, and is a place where it is possible to move easily between the worlds, and the worlds come together. By this I am including lower and middle worlds, and worlds of the fae (another lower world but, to me, in a different place than that of animals). I didn’t specifically explore any world of ancestors (I haven’t tried that before) but I did have a strong sense that the circle was built by and used by people. More specifically, I seemed to see two rings of stones, with the inner ring being used to sit on as I had done, and the centre of the circle for dancing. This is different to Stanton Nine Ladies circle, where I have sensed any ‘audience’ would stay outside the circle while not taking part, whereas here some, or even all if only a small group was present, would be inside. I had an impression of the circle belonging to a family or clan or tribe who loved and looked after the circle. They lived some distance away on the moor where there was water, not by the river although they could see it and used it for a trading or travelling route. It was safer up on the moor.

Within the circle itself, I sensed that an energy vortex could form at the centre when at its peak time, that is when the sun or moon was fuller, and also dancing was used to raise the energy. I couldn’t get any idea of how this energy was used however – beyond it being slightly different to an experience I had regarding Wet Withens circle a couple of years ago. (Saved for when I revisit.) Clearly each circle type, and possibly each circle, has its own distinctive character.

Alignments made by John Barnatt show that the circle has been built to line up with the midsummer full moon over Arbor Low and midwinter full moon at Win Hill – a very distinctive, pointy hilltop which rises abruptly out of flattish moorland. While his sunset positions seem a bit non-specific to the horizons, he then points out that when sitting the midwinter sunset is in the centre of the tallest stone. Additionally, Imbolc / Samhain sunset is at the stone next to this, and midsummer sunset one further along. It is possible that missing stones once marked the other key sunsets through the year.

Froggatt Edge Stone Circle.

Froggatt Edge Stone Circle looking towards the Edge and the footpath. Sunset stones on the side nearest the trees.


Update
As the project continues, and I find out more information, it grows… Within the boundaries of Derbyshire, I am now aware of:
5 possible Henge sites, all on ‘White Peak’ or Limestone, of which only Arbor Low has any stones and is sufficiently intact to see the whole ring.
33 probable stone circle sites, all on ‘Dark Peak’ or Gritstone – of which 23 are known to have stones remaining.
4 sites which may be stone circles but are more likely ring or kerbed cairns – 1 of which has stones.
9-10 destroyed circle sites. (Debateable if the village of Ringstones had a stone circle, but it seems to be generally assumed that there was one once. Nine other circles have been recorded at some point since 1800, but are now lost.)
3 modern circles.
And a lot of confused grid references, or multiple names for the same circles… I can see why a GPS might come in handy!

Wild Swimming in Yorkshire

One of my long-term dreams, mentioned previously on this blog, is to swim in the river Duddon at Birks Bridge, preferably on a nice sunny day when it looks like it does in the pictures… I always said when I gave up canoeing, it was because I wanted to spend more time walking and swimming. Well finally I have swum in a river, even if not one I had ever heard of before.

Thomason's Foss, Goathland, North Yorkshire

Thomason’s Foss, Goathland, North Yorkshire

This is Thomason’s Foss on the Eller Beck, which runs North and West through Goathland before flowing into the Murk Esk. The steam railway roughly follows the river, and can occasionally be seen high above the waterfall through the trees.

When I visited there was a fallen tree across the outflow from the pool that had clearly been there for some time and which, with the large rocks there, could form some interesting strainers in higher water conditions. However at this level it felt like a magical entrance archway that had to be passed under to reveal the full glory of the pool beyond.

It was cold. The pool was very deep, and shaded by trees. It was also very dark from the peat in the water so my feet disappeared when at only knee depth and rocks had to be found by touch. I stood for a long time, and then explored around the edges – most of my swimming in recent years was either in a dry suit or in a wetsuit in warmer waters! Today I had neither.

Eventually I asked the water for help. Remarkably it worked. I swam, and didn’t freeze. It felt beautiful.

Climbing out safely onto the awkward rocks, I paused for a moment, before having another go and swimming as close to the waterfall as I was comfortable before returning to a flattish rock. I thanked the water for helping me. I then had a third go, and seemed to find the full effects of the cold. Definitely bracing!

Trees and Rocks

Trees growing out of the rock near Cromford, Derbyshire

Trees growing out of the rock near Cromford, Derbyshire

It always amazes me how a tree can grow out of a rock, somehow getting a root in through a crack far enough to reach moisture and nutrients. I sometimes feel there is a lesson for me in the determination and will to survive! These pictures were taken yesterday near Cromford in Derbyshire, a mixture of silver birches and beech trees. Some may at first glance appear to be growing on a shelf in some soil, but on closer inspection are actually coming straight out of the rock. The moss seems to be a later addition.
Beech tree roots finding a hold.

Beech tree roots finding a hold.