Carving Tree Stumps – 1

Summer Solstice last month, along with a new moon, and I suddenly found everything changed for me. I spent four days woodcarving while M had the time back in school. It was the hottest week of the year, so I could only work until the time the sun moved round…

This sycamore stump is from a tree that split three ways and managed to be a lot bigger than anything else, although the individual trunks weren’t. It seemed right to honour it in some way, especially as it is next to where I created a spiral.

My original idea, formed over a few months, was to carve it into a dragon holding a five pointed star. Our woodland has been informally named Dragon Star Wood – this name seems to have stuck, we might make it formal at some point, but it seemed right to honour that in our guardian stump here.

However, while I tried very hard to carry out my original idea, there were many reasons why my drawings are not the finished result. A quick list of the main ones… Because all the schools were closed I was unable to begin carving as anticipated. I have never done a large carving before, most of my chisels are small, and not really up to the job in the time available. Hot weather made the stump dry out rapidly, making greenwood saw blades struggle, and I didn’t have another saw with me. Drying out was also a problem for carving, as the speed of wood removal was painfully slow in the hard areas. We do not yet have a greenwood rip saw, also required. I did not have the confidence in my axe abilities at the start of the carving for the faster removal of wood. The buzzards have been using it as a perch, and I did not wish to either stop them or have them damage the top of any delicate features, like a dragon’s head…

Back of the carved stump, showing two of the energy lines emerging from stars at the base, and the third flowing out of the carved top.

Despite these difficulties, I carried on with the original plan, knowing it was impossible in the time available but still acting as if it might be, just in case some miracle happened. (And got pretty good with an axe, enjoying the practice!) Half way through my third day, having given it absolutely my best shot and tried everything I could think of, I decided to call it a day on the original design, and instead of carving a dragon, carve some dragon energy lines spiralling around the stump. What followed was a fairly organic design, carved mostly freehand, listening to the dragons, the woodland, and my inner self. I liked the rounded shapes the stump had become, and simply worked with them.

There are three lines, two in one directions and one the opposite. Each emerges from a star, one has leaves along it, one thorns, and the reverse one a mix of flowers and a spiral. I wasn’t sure at first about the thorns, but I realised they represented fire and provided balance.

Once completed, I extended the spiral next to the stump for its final circle, to start between this and a much smaller stump I hope to carve another week. (Not shown, it is further left than in the photo below.) The spiral on the stump is the reverse to the one on the ground, echoing each other and forming a pair together.

What amuses me most is how whimsical it has ended up – and how completely different to anything I would have done a few years ago. It shows me how much I have changed. It won’t last forever, it is only sycamore and has signs of rot in the top already. But the stump has been honoured, and next time I will know more.

Carved tree stump by spiral

Orchids

Common Spot Orchid in Woodland

Last year I wrote about receiving a sign in the form of an orchid if it was right that the woodland would become ours. (See An Orchid Sign, October 2019.) I didn’t have a camera that day, but promised to go back this summer to see if I could see them again.

Orchids and Buttercups under Ash trees, with oak seedling in foreground.

This is in a different area of the woodland to the orchid last year, and right alongside the footpath meaning that many people have had the joy of seeing them! It is a small patch of grass under some ash trees, so fairly light, although there is a sycamore seedling of one inch diameter growing in the middle that is now on my priority list to remove! I counted 16 flower stalks when I visited, though without wanting to trample too much. I believe they are all Common Spot Orchids, Dactylorhiza fuchsii, but find it interesting how much the colour varies even within this small group.

Pale orchid

Dark orchid growing in same place


I have not yet found the previous orchid I saw, due to the brambles being too high to easily move about in that part of the woodland, but I remember it being taller and on its own in grass where a tiny patch of sunlight had made it through. Also it was in July, when these might have finished.

Looking the other way from the orchids, dog rose arching over.

At least I feel justified now in removing brambles! They are all flowering now, the birds are still nesting, and other vegetation around them is also quite high, so my plan is to do a bit each week from September or October onwards, whenever the weather becomes suitable and M is back at school, starting with the areas I haven’t yet done alongside the footpath. Hopefully I might also manage some of the less dense areas further in to keep our walkways clear.

Hogweed growing in one of the areas where the sycamores have been removed.


I have been amused at the state of one of my new paths that didn’t get used much! Since the drainage ditches are currently empty, they are easier to walk along.

What looks like a clear path is in fact ‘channel 3’ of the five main drainage ditches, the path I created runs along the top of the bank to the right at this point, but may be abandoned in favour of the ditch!

Woodland in May

Grassy area of woodland, with an encouraging number of tree seedlings.

The woodland has been transformed this month by the growth of understory plants, and leaves on the trees.

We have tried to improve the footpath in places, removing brambles along the edge before the weather got too hot to wear protective clothing, and removing some blackthorn so it could return to its original line in one section rather than along the drainage ditch! Numbers of walkers have massively increased, as might be expected, luckily it dried out just in time to cope with this many feet. There is a lot more to do along here, but probably in little bits now until the autumn.

I have been pleased and relieved to see that where I have removed brambles, they have mostly stayed removed. Just the odd shoot I missed or that broke off to deal with. There is a small patch of woodland not far from us where I noticed a dramatic reduction in brambles earlier this year, and some new trees being planted, all well protected. Two months on, the brambles are as dense with new sprouts as the untouched areas of our woodland – I can only assume they were strimmed to ground level and have now all grown back!

I have also been going along sycamore stumps removing fresh shoots emerging from the bases. Not all stumps have shoots, but we always knew some may need more serious treatment. They are getting hard to see in the lush undergrowth of hogweed and herb bennet in that area.

The hazels and yews I planted are doing well, glad they were not quite minimum size or they would be covered! They have got through the last bit of winter wet anyway, now I have to hope they can cope with drought!

We have found a few large white and brown feathers that are probably from a buzzard. I have had reports from walkers (and can see the evidence) that they use our logpile as a perch.

The Joy of Handtools

Resting place for a small axe

There are really just two seasons of work in a broadleaved woodland – the dark half of year, when most of the tree work takes place, and the light half, when it stops. Ironically the woodland floor experiences these in reverse given that leaves will soon filter the sunlight; hawthorn is already bursting open, catkins are falling to the ground, and it will soon be time for us to stop any tree felling and switch to other work.

As I reflect back on our first Winter, I see the difference we have made to one small area. It already feels more natural and lighter in energy, though there is some way to go yet before it becomes ‘woodland’ rather than ‘plantation’.

We recently made a decision not to use chainsaws, even in the future, as we are loving to use hand saws and axes. To begin with that is all we had, but we have come to really appreciate what you can do by hand.

The benefits as I see them:

  • Quiet. We can hear the birds singing as we work.
  • Time. To think about what we are doing, connect with each tree, ensure that we are in harmony with the nature of the woodland and cutting appropriately.
  • Simplicity. My usual safety protection is a hat, which provides adequate protection for me against the odd twig. I do not need special trousers, goggles, ear defenders etc.
  • Human powered, getting me fit rather than using polluting fuel. And if I am tired, I go slower rather than rush and risk a mistake.
  • Reliable. A handsaw always starts first time. An axe won’t get stuck, and a tree felled by axe falls remarkably slowly and gently.
  • Protection for the woodland against damage, as no heavy equipment is churning up the mud. I’m not sure it would even be an option to drive around the woodland in its current soggy state.
  • Light weight to carry, given there is no parking at the woodland yet. (I don’t take all the possible tools each time I go – just the two or three I plan to use that day to suit the job.)
  • I feel connected to my ancestors. Relatively recent ones lived in log cabins cut by axe and shaped by saw very similar to what we are using. Neolithic ancestors in this country used stone axes to cut down trees of a similar size to ours, up to about eight inches across.

Strangely I don’t think it takes a lot longer to fell and limb a small tree by hand compared to using a chainsaw, although chainsaw carving is very much quicker than using a chisel and mallet. There is one particular stump that I really want to do something interesting with… but then just using hand tools will force me to consider any design very carefully before I begin!

Random Woodland Planning

I created a new section of path in the woodland last week, and was struck by how randomly key sites have been created.

When we took on the woodland, a little over three months ago, we were faced with trees planted at foot feet apart, and then abandoned to grow tall and skinny. They had a remarkably good survival rate, and there has been a certain amount of seeding going on as well; it felt weird and unnatural, just going on and on with no features or landmarks except for the variation in sogginess of the ground. The first thinning was about ten years overdue, and as mentioned here before, I made the early decision to remove sycamores and leave the native species. Luckily they were just within size limits for easy felling without complications of licenses or power tools.

M was very keen to have a den, so we started cutting a few small sycamores down in an area not too far from the path. Suitable branches or trunks were saved for the den and we made a pile of the brush. But there was nowhere to put our largest trunk as a roof-beam where we had started, and the ground quickly became churned up with mud.

Returning another day, it being autumn half term, M and I each got hold of one end of the trunk to be our beam and set off through the woods. It was reasonably long, so we had to go in a straight line between the trees. We had no plan or map, our aim was just to be further from the path, and find two oaks to put it across without any sycamore in the way. We went in circles a bit, mostly downhill since that was easier, and eventually, randomly, picked a spot. We then had to find our way back to the original pile of sticks, and transfer them all into the den so that we could start building.

Once the trees lost their leaves, and a few more of the sycamores had been removed, we realised it wasn’t that far from the path after all – although nowhere is very far in our wood. It got muddy there too, but I realised chopping up sticks into short lengths and leaving them on the ground stopped feet from sliding and sinking in.

Gradually a camp formed next to the den. First a pile of long logs, then a fireplace, then a second pile of long logs, a properly planned pile of shorter logs with supports that doubles as a saw bench, a handy stump for splitting wood on, a pile of split logs drying for firewood, a pile of deadwood for starting fires, a pile of forked sticks… In other words, a proper working area where we can leave our things, sit down to eat lunch, and always find easily.

As we continued to work, plans evolved. I had a rather naive idea we could take random routes to base camp and avoid creating a path. Gradually the whole area became muddy, so I quickly called a stop to this practice and created a curved path using sticks underfoot as had worked before – placing them before the ground got churned up meant they didn’t immediately press in to the ground, but they are developing nicely as a path now. Where there are spaces I have now planted some hazel coppice, which will hopefully grow up and block the view to the main footpath as well as filling in the canopy.

Then finally I realised we need paths beyond base camp, before that area, too, becomes unsafe to carry a log over and all the mosses and ferns on the ground get trampled, and so that we don’t keep blocking our safe routes with cut off branches. Again, I pick a routes that seem nice, not too straight, but not too curved to carry a trunk for logging, and going in a somewhat useful direction towards the outer corners of the woodland.

I look at it and laugh with gratitude for being guided so well. This first camp has proved an excellent place to start out: close to the main footpath when we arrive, close to the area we have worked this year and the one we plan to work next winter, slightly sloped so less waterlogged than much of the woodland, and full of birdsong. The paths go where we need them and are pretty. I am starting to think about what native wildflowers I can try and introduce in the areas we don’t plan to walk too often.

A comment from Marko Pogacnik has stuck with me, where he met a Nature Spirit or Deva looking very like the Goddess Diana.

“The fairy made it explicitly clear to me that it was her task to guide animal species within a certain landscape by giving energy impulses towards a harmonious pattern of movement within the chosen area.”
Marko Pogacnik, Nature Spirits & Elemental Beings

It makes me consider just how much is guided by nature spirits in the wood, plants as well as animals. I have commented already about how brambles never land next to their own roots, always leaving growing space, yet I have seen no similar avoidance of trees where the rooting tip will get as close as possible to the base of a small trunk. When planting some small yew trees, I found I could carry each around, and there were places where its energy felt harmonious to what was already growing, and places where it didn’t. I planted them where it was.

Brambling

Brambling seems to me a bit like rambling, a roundabout way of walking that may or may not arrive anywhere in particular. The word commonly refers to picking the fruits, blackberries, so to be accurate maybe I should call what I have been doing de-brambling – but somehow that conjures up a picture of being organised about its removal, starting on one side and moving across an area, cutting it out as I go, which is a very long way from the reality.

Imagine if you will an area covered by a thin layer of brambles, mostly at ground level but occasionally sending a shoot around or over low branches of trees. Tug on it gently, autumn leaves fall off the stem and an end becomes apparent. No good just pulling, the roots need removing or cutting else it will re-sprout in Spring. Holding it with a gloved hand, I pull it gently and stab down with a deep-rooter. It comes free. Then I walk to the other end, which could easily be 12-16 feet away. This end is older, and has a semi-rotten stalk from the previous year, plus maybe a second shoot from this year. Gather them up in a hand, stab down again. Now follow the end of the other shoot… I work my way around the edge of a patch of brambles, weaving in and out of trees, often some distance away from the pile I am creating, and then back again. Occasionally I manage to do several roots close together, but the way they grow means there is always another end over the top that needs sorting before it gets pulled and snapped off. The good part is that by constantly walking in circles I don’t get a stiff back!

There are around 3-400 microspecies of bramble in the UK; many subtly different brambles are all closely related, even the thornless garden ones, so it is generally written as Rubus fruticosa L. agg. (for aggregate.) Even their fruits, which can set without being pollinated by another plant (though thankfully they then produce sterile seeds or the numbers would totally overwhelm me!) are botanically known as an aggregate of drupelets.

I have noticed differences between various patches of brambles in our woodland. Most brambles will send out new shoots each year, the number depending on age and size of rootstock, and where they touch the soil they will send roots into the ground in a forwards direction, continuing its direction of growth and possibly pulling it down. However, a few will fork to have two or three tips from each shoot root, with the roots being generally fewer for each. However, I have found a totally different type that go vertically downwards and then corkscrew to pull themselves inwards, thickening at the base – these are very fragile just above the base and liable to snap even when pulled very gently, so are much the trickiest to get out. However, they have gentler, or should I say larger, individually visible, thorns compared to most. Multiple small thorns seems to be the norm here, a few are almost furry along the stems with just the occasional sharp point, while one or two have such battle armour it is like being covered in shards of glass. The slightest touch gives multiple scratches.

This is actually the origin of the name Bramble – from the German bræmaz meaning prickly. One flew up and swiped my cheek and nose the other day. I rubbed my nose about half an hour later and discovered it still had a thorn in it. Gloves usually have broken off bits of thorn, which work their way in. Splinters frequently hurt only a little at the time, but get worse over the next day or so when they cry out to be removed. I have learned to wear stout gloves on both hands, however hard that makes it to hold a tool, so it is just my wrists and face in danger.

I see how growing conditions change the character as well as the genetics. In one area next to some blackthorn all the stems grow vertically, most of them only about two feet high. I thought they would be easy to remove, but each had a rootstock akin to a rose, thick, tough and deep. I just removed the stems that were in the way of tree-felling and left them to grow back. I want to leave the blackthorn for wildlife anyway, and certainly don’t want to take all the brambles out! A soggy place had a thin covering of live stems, very little in the way of old stems remaining, but I traced 6 or 7 green stems all growing in different directions to one rootstock near the foot of an oak tree. A giant, tentacled, prickly monster. Only in dry areas are there many older stems still remaining, mostly they rot down within a year. In my view, brambles that have made thickets that flower and fruit and provide nesting or hiding spaces are worth leaving for wildlife, whereas thin coverings without any large animals to browse on them are just trip hazards.

Another interesting thing I have noticed is that shoots never root within six inches of another; if two shoots look that close, they are almost certainly joined together just out of sight. I did just once see a new shoot that had landed closer than this, I don’t know what would have happened had I left it, but there seems to be an optimum minimum distance for rootstocks of around 8-9 inches.

I have the impression that the brambles have been growing as protection for the trees. It is a sad fact that of the National Plant Monitoring Scheme’s first collected results, brambles are the most common plant seen in woodland generally, indicating either under-management or over-nitrogenation or both, and shading out many other wildflowers such as dog violets and marsh marigolds which are in serious decline. I admire them greatly, hence this post honouring them, but now it is time for other things. The land has been unloved for so long that people were not welcome and the brambles (and nettles… I’ll find out how many of them there are in a few more weeks!) have been very effective at keeping the people out. It took me a while to gain the trees’ trust; it took us over a year to actually buy the woodland during which time I was asking the trees if they were happy for me to be their guardian, and surrounding them with love. I realise now how I couldn’t be doing the work I am if I hadn’t already got to know the woodland a little bit through a whole cycle. So I thank each bramble for growing and giving its protection to the land, and just give love to the trees around which it is growing so that they may not need such strong protection in future. Go in peace.

Woodland Beginnings

Yes, definitely mother to a few hundred trees… (see An Orchid Sign, last month.) They have been invading my thoughts, my dreams, all wanting attention. As the year turns it definitely seems like perfect timing, and I am ready for this now – after spending a couple of years being really confused about what I was ‘supposed’ to be doing. Amazing, to just have that sense that I am doing exactly what I am meant to be doing. I now realise this is what my life has been leading up to. I would be there all the time if I could, just loving whatever I am doing there, but the stormy weather has ensured I spend time getting things done at home on wet days and keeping myself in balance rather than wearing myself out.

This is part of a small woodland that was planted on a coal mine as restoration in the late 1990s. According to old maps there was some woodland here before the mining of the 1960s-80s, but not the same shape as what was replanted. The soil may have been imported, the trees were planted as young whips, (we have lived here long enough to have seen them when tiny) and the site was then pretty much left. How the tree planters chose what they did is unclear, although the majority of trees are native. We have (in approximate decreasing order) oak, ash, lime, alder, birch, sycamore, hawthorn, field maple, dogwood, blackthorn, rowan, cherry, hazel and willow. Some areas have a few of the same type grouped together, others are all mixed up. All of it is overgrown and hard to access.

I have had the advantage of a year of visits to give me a starting point, so I made a plan that I would remove brambles in the areas where they weren’t that dense yet, and try to map what was there to enable me to create a master plan to work towards, much as I have done in our small garden. However, a day or two before the woodland became ours, I had a strong feeling that we should remove the sycamores. I just realised they felt cold to me, quite different from the feeling I got of warmth and light from all the other trees in the wood. Odd that, because I actually quite like sycamores in many places and their timber can be made into many things, being fast growing, light and straight grained. The problem with sycamores is that they have huge leaves which block the light at all levels, and where sycamores grow native species tend to give up. There are enough sycamore woodlands in this area already, here there is an opportunity to do something different if we act fast while most trees only have a diameter of 4 inches or less. And since we need to thin the trees out somehow it makes the choices much simpler.

Therefore my first job has been marking sycamores before they loose their leaves and are harder to identify at a distance – at this age their trunks are often remarkably similar to ash or alder, both of which grow here, although a quick touch gives me the different energy immediately and with practice they become obvious by sight as well as feel. I am glad to say this is creating some small clearings which already feel good, while M is happy that she can do some den building with the branches. The piled up logs now make an excellent place to sit for lunch! Next year I might plant some hazels where there are spaces, given the lack of understory planting at present.

I have managed a bit of bramble bashing, but they seem to grow out of puddles in this weather! Also all the wet weather has shown an urgent need to clear the drainage channels that were created on planting so that they work again – easy and fun where I have cleared the brambles, but trying to do the odd bit of drainage work around even thin strands or bramble or dogrose left me with more cuts and splinters. I’ll learn. Currently my future plans look likely to involve a lot more willow to make use of the excess water, or else a pond!

Water Unfrozen

Through the centre of Ambleside, like many Lake District towns and villages, runs a stream. When wet, it can be quite a torrent as it runs over a series of ledges; Stock Ghyll once powered so many mills in the town that it had the nickname of Rattle Ghyll. However, it took me several years to realise that just a short walk upstream is something far more dramatic.

Stock Ghyll tributary running under the footpath.
(Click to enlarge)

Just outside the town there is a rather lovely circular path through woodland alongside the stream that was engineered by the Victorians. The first photo shows where a small tributary stream is crossed early on in the walk. The bridge is almost invisible from the main path, most people seeing it only on the return journey if the arrows are followed. (I prefer going sunwise as I am perverse, and also it is prettier if I am not planning to return directly to Ambleside.) Below the bridge are some stepping stones, from where you get a wonderful view of this beautifully built gateway into another realm – as well as the easiest place to dip a hand in the water.

Continuing upwards, whichever side of the river you walk there are several different viewpoints from where you can see the main waterfall, the 70 foot high Stock Ghyll Force. Some of these still have the Victorian ironwork in place; others are very muddy and are less protected.

Stock Ghyll Force
(Click to enlarge)


I have seen the falls at lower water levels, when most of the water falls river left (ie the right hand side as in the photo), but what I liked on this occasion was the near perfect balance of the two falls, which then come together to make one. It always feels a good place for me to connect with falling water, especially going sunwise so crossing above the falls (the wooden bridge is just visible) before following with the water in the direction it is flowing in order to see them in their entirety.

These pictures were actually taken in February, when the previous snowmelt was underway. I had every intention of posting them on our return – and then the snow arrived. I just couldn’t connect with running water! Now the snow has melted again here, I finally felt ready to edit the photos (as the colours didn’t come out the way I saw them) and to write about the waterfall, however briefly. So I learned something about myself at the same time, and how I live in ‘now’, at least as far as weather is concerned!

Dragons and Trees

Thanks to the changes I made to the shape of my garden last year, it turns out that I now have a place where I can contact or meet with dragons easily. It is my circular grass lawn with paths in from each of the cardinal directions. The first time I tried meeting a dragon there (at their suggestion) it was very easy and felt positive. However for various other reasons, a lot of trees have been arriving in and around my garden over the past month or so, also making the circular lawn their central focus point. This has made it much more difficult for the dragons who, although they are not solid matter and can therefore ignore many material obstructions like walls and trees, found it more difficult against the trees in my own mind! But it worked okay, the trees stepped back and let my normal companion through. But the next time I went out there in a journey, it wasn’t my usual companion who arrived (who is small and bright blue) but a huge, dark green, forest dragon. And I mean huge. I had met him once before over a year ago, and now he was arriving to assist me with a project concerning tree planting.

In a July post I was saying good bye to a large part of my life (Leaving, 14 July) and suggested I would soon be looking forward again. Just two days later a chance conversation has led to a project of trying to get permission to plant a small woodland in a field near me. Spirit moves fast sometimes! It is a bit of a sad field at the moment; a football pitch that is never used, some swings that were taken out last winter when the land they were sited on was sold for a car park, and a footpath that cuts across the middle leaving the bottom end unused by almost anyone. (I say almost, as it is my best picking place locally for hazelnuts and blackberries, but I find so many that I may be alone in doing this.)

At the moment I have just the seed of an idea and a willingness from a parish council member to support my ideas if properly funded and thought through – one of my seeds mentioned in my Lughnasadh post. So I have been spending every spare minute reading up on woodland planting and management, surveying the field for tree species already present around the margins, and drawing plans with the help of Google mapping (although unfortunately the new car park is not shown, involving much pacing and measuring.)

It may all end in nothing. But very fact that a forest dragon showed up gives me hope that a woodland has already been created on the etheric level; I just need to sort the physical out. Flying from my house to the field showed woodland growing strongly, with a tree circle at the centre connected to the grass circle in my garden. There seems to be a common energy line connecting the two. And on the return, the space in between (currently farmland) was also filled with trees. Wishful thinking, or can I make this a reality one day? Meanwhile any pagans locally who can help support this project in any way now or in the future, please get in touch. A tree is for life, not just for Yule…

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!

Cycle Roads

Cycle 'Road'

Cycle ‘Road’

Once upon a time no cycle tracks were needed, because there was so little traffic bicycles had the roads to themselves. Then cycle tracks started to be created, first alongside busy roads and later on old railway lines or other random routes into the countryside. Sadly this isn’t a fairy story with the happy ending of a wonderful cycle network as enjoyed across the North Sea; councils here soon realised that they could tick boxes by incorporating painted cycle lanes on wide roads, and then abandoning them at narrow points or trees. Or assuming the average cyclist travels at eight miles per hour and is just out for a leisurely potter so won’t mind barriers or awkward junctions.

A downhill stretch.

A downhill stretch.

But just occasionally something comes along that is truly a Cycle Road, with a beautiful smooth surface and no through traffic except for bicycles. This is the case for a newly resurfaced road that runs for 2.5 miles in Derbyshire.

Once used for open-cast coal mining, the road was originally concrete slabs but had deteriorated badly through the last few decades of neglect. Imagine sharp-edged, deep, puddly pot-holes randomly placed along the whole length – having tried it maybe three times over the past 15 years I would consider it virtually unrideable on a ‘road’ bike, and I used to ride along a dirt track for a mile every day as part of a school commute!

One gate ...

One gate …

Now it is a perfect ribbon of smooth, black tarmac, traveling between hedges by the sides of fields with only the occasional farm or house along its length – and one gate to stop through traffic but which kindly leaves a bicycle-sized gap to one side. I suddenly feel like my dreams can come true, and that my belief that if it the right thing to be cycling with M, it will all work out okay and she will stay safe. There are fields, hedges, trees, a small woodland and streams that cross, connecting me with nature as I ride and watching the seasons change, instead of dodging traffic. It puts me in mind of comments made by Ordinary cyclists (ie penny farthings) in the nineteenth century, enjoying bowling along a beautiful surface. Oh how they would have loved this – and how we will too!

An Energy Lesson from the Nine Ladies

Nine Ladies Circle

Nine Ladies Stone Circle, Stanton Moor, Derbyshire. The King’s Stone can just be seen in front of the tallest tree. (Click to enlarge.)

A bright, clear December day yesterday, we managed to have a walk at one of my favourite places locally. This is Nine Ladies Stone Circle, on Stanton Moor in Derbyshire. (There is a legend that the King played the fiddle and the ladies danced, until all were turned to stone for dancing on the sabbath.)

I have done many simple, solitary ceremonies here over the past few years, and always managed to have the space to myself until the moment I finish when other people appear – just as they did straight after I took this photo. However I have also noticed no one ever stays for long, especially not within the circle itself; the guardian seems to remove anyone lingering fairly promptly!

It has one of the strongest energy fields I know of – straddling the circle ring is a strange experience, and I can always feel the energy flowing very strongly between the circle and the King’s Stone. Most people can feel the flow just in front of the King’s Stone I have found, although it does seem to vary how strong it is. (It would be interesting to compare strengths at different times of the moon, or the sun, but I don’t live close enough to do this!)

Yesterday I didn’t do anything special while there, since I wasn’t alone and hadn’t planned the visit in advance, but I explored the experience in meditation later. Strangely I didn’t feel the need to renew any promises, ask for anything, or make any particular connections, which I could have done had I felt anything was missing – yet I felt very much at peace. It was like by going somewhere that was part of me and I was a part of, and brought me back to who I am. Even more than that, I felt energised, and I realised that, to me, Nine Ladies is a place of power that refreshes and restores.

To connect back to last week’s post, it made me think of how R Ogilvie Crombie spent a period every day connecting with sources of power, and thus was always ready for out of body experiences and communicating with elementals or guardian spirits at any time of day or night. Personally I have noticed how I can feel tired after a journey, or am sometimes too tired to journey, and realised that this type of energising is probably what I need at times, as I received yesterday and have received from various other ancient sites or from oak trees I have visited. However becoming aware means that it is now part of my consciousness. I need to re-energise myself, be at one with nature, and connect with all the elements on a regular basis.

Birch Woodland

Birch and Heather woodland, Stanton Moor, Derbyshire.

My garden simply isn’t enough; I also need to find places I can visit regularly to raise my energy so that I can learn and understand and feel, or find an alternative way of raising my own energy – because after we left the circle, we passed through some of my favourite silver birch woodland, and I could feel and see energies in a way I have rarely experienced except when journeying. As if every blade were alive and shimmering, seeing the growth, seeing the aura of each tree, sensing elementals living there, catching a brief glimpse of a gnome by a tree. Truly magical.

Bluebells

Bluebells in once-coppiced woodland

Bluebells in once-coppiced woodland

In a beautiful demonstration of succession, this is the same patch of woodland as the wild daffodil photos I took at the end of March.

They are a little more spaced out than elsewhere in the wood, and therefore slightly less of a blue haze (even allowing for the less than ideal light conditions) – I presume this is because they are sharing the rootspace with other bulbs.

Bluebells in Silver Birch wooded area

Bluebells in Silver Birch wooded area

It may also be because they prefer different conditions – these two photos are from another area with silver birch and hazel rather than beech and sycamore. (Click for larger images.)

Bluebells by hazel tree

Bluebells by hazel tree

Equinox Daffodils

Apparently the Equinox, last Sunday, was the first day of Spring. This year with hawthorn coming into leaf in January, and daffodils even earlier, Spring seemed to come before winter. Then we finally had some snow, some frost, and nature seemed to sort itself back into the proper order of doing things. So now we can properly enjoy Spring – and the sunshine that filled the Equinox from start to finish.

Wild Daffodils

Wild Daffodils


I spent the day outside, which included a walk in some woods where wild daffodils grow. Narcissus pseudonarcissus is not generally reported as being in Derbyshire – the Lake District, Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, and South Wales being its usual haunts, but there is a small area of woodland north of Derby, surrounding the remains of a castle (the stone was plundered for building Kedleston Hall), where it grows in abundance. Only around 6-7” high, they make small delicate clumps and do not make the sort of show that we think of from daffodils growing en masse; it is certainly not an unmissable haze of colour, like the bluebells will produce nearby in another month or so! But their delicacy makes them special, as does the fact they only fully open in warm sunshine.

Daffodils are poisonous; they were used to induce vomiting, eating a tiny amount (if mistaken for onion) can kill, sap can cause dermatitis, and even regular handling of the bulbs with bare hands can cause similar problems. I have read that the Romans introduced them to Britain as they carried a bulb in their pocket to use as a suicide pill. However more recent research has revealed treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease, for Leukemia, and for Depression.

It is said to be a flower of the dead and the underworld, after Persephone was distracted by daffodils and Hades abducted her. They are often planted on graves, and can be used for death and rebirth ceremony or magic. As a symbol of new life and regeneration the daffodil is remarkable for its ability to return each Spring no matter how hard the winter has been; it is one of the few bulbs that will thrive almost anywhere, on every council roundabout and roadside verge, unlike fussier types like tulips. Alternatively the ancient Greek may refer to the Asphodel – which would be an equally good choice in ceremony, but rather less good as a hardy garden survivor.

Daffodils are, however, associated with Narcissus who pined and died for the love of his own reflection; its cup is said to be full of his tears. To some the daffodil therefore represents vanity and unrequited love. This ‘narcissism’ can be turned into a positive where more self-love is needed: its strong yellow colour and sunny attitude will help strengthen the solar plexus chakra which holds our sense of self and personal power, while the green stem and leaves link it to the heart chakra, that of love.

Wild daffodils like sunlight, and mostly they grow in fields, by hedgerows, or in coppiced woodland. The woodland I know is mostly young, but the bulbs still grow in their greatest profusion on the south-facing slopes on the edge of the woodland. I will have to see how well they survive in the absence of further coppicing. Meanwhile they remain, for me, one of the surest signs of Spring.

Wild Daffodils growing in once-coppiced woodland

Wild Daffodils growing in once-coppiced woodland

Communing with the Ancestors

Duddo Stones, Northumberland

Duddo Stones, Northumberland

This is the third and final blog post relating to my recent holiday in Northumberland, and needs a bit of background.

Before I went on holiday, I sent out a request for what I wanted to get out of the experience. Good family time, range of activities, good food, balanced weather, all predictable sort of stuff for holiday enjoyment but by stating what I wanted I helped it to happen. Then I considered something else I don’t normally do – how good a holiday I wanted. I’m sure you are wondering: could I really make a request like that? Well I had never tried before and wasn’t sure if it was possible, but it felt right. I looked at it in terms of a scale I use frequently when pendulum dowsing, for example buying (or usually not buying) books or other items online. The scale runs from 0-7 and I have learnt to interpret it as follows:
1 – useless
2 – passable
3 – okay
4 – good
5 – very good, worthwhile
6 – brilliant
7 – life changing

So for this holiday I thought I wanted a 5 or 6 … until the day before I left. Then I started to wonder why I was shying away from accepting something that might be life-changing.

At the back of my mind may have been the book ‘Pilgrimage with the Leprechauns’ by Tanis Helliwell, in which she takes a group of people around Ireland on a pilgrimage that doesn’t exactly go to plan but gives people what they need so as to be potentially life changing for each individual. Sometimes something ‘bad’ might have to happen in order to make the positive change needed – like a broken leg, or illness, and this was what I was shying away from. Having recognised what I was scared of however, I decided to accept ‘life-changing’ for myself and trust that it would lead to something positive.

I had quite a good activity plan for the week in my mind, having learned by past experience that the more research I do before a holiday the better. I included such things as beaches, castles, Alnwick gardens, etc, with flexibility to suit people and weather. One day, towards the end of the week, had a somewhat vague plan, starting at Etal village market and exploring the various ‘attractions’ there and in the twin village of Ford. For various reasons my ideas didn’t work out, and we found ourselves both with an unplanned afternoon and needing to find a shop to buy food for the next two days. Suddenly a new plan emerged. To find a supermarket in Berwick, going via the Chain Bridge Honey Farm and also the Duddo Stones which I had really wanted to visit but couldn’t see a way to fit them in sensibly. The holiday had just taken on its life-changing dimension.

I hadn’t been sure how to get to the stones, and my directions to the driver would have been wrong – but a sign was spotted that led us the right way. It was then a short walk across fields to the stones, on the top of a slight rise, growing ever larger as we approached. And when I got there, like at Bamburgh beach, I realised I had been there before many centuries ago.

Single Duddo Stone, Northumberland

Single Duddo Stone, Northumberland

The dialogue I had with the stones was fairly simple, after all I wasn’t alone, but I made a promise to work with my ancestors to do whatever healing was needed. I did not have any idea what I was promising at that stage, just an amplification of a feeling I have had for some time that healing was needed, and trust that I would be guided in what and how to do this. I also didn’t know what ancestors, how long ago they had lived, or how they related to me – but I was fairly sure they had more to do with racial memory than blood or family ties. I then sealed my promise with the gift of a seashell I had planned to keep.

Later, back at home, I did some journeying to find out what the ancestors wanted me to do. It actually took two journeys, the first I lacked focus and clarity about what I was journeying for and also lacked a drum (not wishing to disturb others) and I found the Duddo stones covered in a blanket of snow. I was with my power animal, who seemed unimpressed by me, met a person dressed in simple dark brown clothing who I was unable to communicate with, and a snow and ice dragon who, as always, had a much simpler and more direct message for me. Use the drum. So two days later I did that, and was shown the Duddo stones as they had looked when I was there previously; they were in a large clearing but surrounded by woodland. My power animal was now in her element, leaping through the woods, running, playing, splashing through streams or small rivers. Returning to the stones, there were many people there, and they had a strong message for me. They had started the removal of the trees, and that was what was wrong and why I hadn’t recognised the stones until the last moment. The countryside was now almost bare of trees. And the land was suffering as a result. All the work I and others do with weather to help keep it in balance is much needed, but until we plant more trees and enough of the land is wooded once more there will never be true balance. I need to use my writing to spread the message, need to do far more than the short tree stories I am currently writing. I also need to learn how to drum at or near power sites, such as stone circles or waterfalls in woodlands to spread healing.

I still have a lot of work to do to fully understand this message, especially the last part! and to really make a difference. I feel somewhat overwhelmed by the responsibility being asked of me, but if every journey starts with the first step, my first step is to be brave enough to post this. Thus my commitment to trees (and to dragons, but more of them later) is sealed. Will this be life changing? Well in one sense it simply feels like the logical next step on a journey I’m already on – I just hadn’t seen it yet. However, it also feels like it needs to be bigger than anything I’ve done before. Time will be the judge.