Thursday, 9 June 2011
This family, the entire Hearth met on what was our third group trip in less than a week, accompanied by two spouses and two children on the morning of Mayday itself. It was a gathering of some importance as not only was our intention to mark the Maytide with an outdoor ritual at a Peak District location but to welcome the return of a dear one. This dear one to me, who having made a considerable contribution to the Hearth before choosing to rest from our activities, has chosen to return to us post marriage and first child.
We all eventually met at a carpark on the outskirts of Birchover, an enjoyable journey through Derbyshire countryside made more interesting by the detours through picturesque villages such as Winster. These detours where not entirely planned, the Defender of the Hearth was my lift for the day and I was navigator. Unfortunately as with our previous trips that week, my OS map being rather old, proved to be somewhat unreliable.
The proposed shortcut to avoid the Bank Holiday traffic in Matlock by taking the Cromford road, turned into a mystery tour of beautiful villages but added thirty minutes or more to our journey. Taking the car along what is on my map shown as a road but is now a rough track more suitable for tractors, was an exciting experience and made me realise how much I miss the Hearth Defender’s own Landrover Defender.
A rite of admission or re-admission falls into this category of private ritual and so on this Maytide morning the gathering at Doll Tor was a select band.
Two husbands and two children diplomatically set off to explore the woodland and the nearby Andle Stone, while the remaining group set up the necessary equipment within the circle. There was little enough equipment; four staffs one for each quarter, a wand, a blade, a chalice of mead and one of oil, two arrows, one with black flights and the other with white. It was a simple and poignant ritual created by the Defender, with as one would expect from a committed Heathen, a certain runic incorporation within the sequence.
Introduced into the middling part of the ritual was the rite of re-admission. This, an equally simple and no less poignant rite, involved our candidate under the guidance of the Defender, making a declaration, followed by an acceptance by the group. The second part of the rite required the retaking of the coven oath on the Hearthsword, prior to an anointing of the forehead by the Summoner. The words used underscoring the feeling that the returning member, in spirit had never left us but now in flesh does return. Finally, to emphasise this return, we all joined hands for the repeating of our vows.
The ritual however was not yet over as we had yet to elect the Queen of the May, who blessing the mead and bread would then reign for a year. The election of our May Queen was for this occasion arranged prior to the ritual, so it was that our returned member was hailed as the Queen of the May and decked with a crown of flowers, presented with the Summer Arrow as her Staff of Office. Together the May Queen and Defender lead the group in the closure of the ritual, it was a good day and it was not yet over.
An important factor in any outdoor ritual is the necessity to leave no trace, to leave no rubbish and if it is at all possible, to leave the site cleaner than when you arrived. This apart from some mead poured upon the earth and some breadcrumbs, we did. It is a shame that many visiting the countryside will leave litter in the form of crystals and candle wax. Of this practice, we of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel do not approve.
Doll Tor itself, is both a circle and a burial cairn situated in beautiful woodland and it has as mentioned before, a certain charm and enchantment about it. The atmosphere is light-hearted and somewhat frivolous. Whether this is because the associated burial cairn is that of a child, I choose not to speculate. I merely offer the observation that the energy of the site is merry and playful.
Finally, we joined the non-Hearth family members in their woodland exploration and the climbing of the Andle Stone, before our retun to the cars. Then it was only a short drive to Rowsley for a spot of lunch. It had been a good day and now it was over.
Thursday, 2 June 2011
Our second trip began with a drive to Arbor Low, the Stonehenge of the North and a magnificent henge of great antiquity. The three of us this time, walking the bank while awaiting the arrival of our friends from the Clan and on their arrival, we took a walk to the nearby Gib Hill, a burial mound that perhaps fascinates me more than the main complex of Arbor Low. As we approached Gib Hill and while the ubiquitous buzzards circled above, the Maid gifted me a horse-brass depicting her husband’s namesake, recognising both my current fascination and my Craft affinity with all things Sherwood. I appreciated the gift.
We lunched in Birchover at the famous Druid’s Inn no less, an enjoyable meal with equally enjoyable company, our thoughtful conversations covering subjects wide ranging and stimulating. Avoiding the hullabaloo of the Royal Wedding, we went to explore the nearby graveyard. We stood marvelling at the forgotten Saxon carvings set into the back wall of the chapel. So few even know these carvings exist yet they are worth searching for, mysterious and mute they may be yet still somehow, they speak to us.
Our next destination of what was already a full and eventful day was across the lane, the hillside above the inn, home of the famous Victorian folly complex known as Rowter Rocks. This small hill is topped by a rocky outcrop of natural caves and boulders, some bearing trough and cup-like carvings, some of which are believed to be of a great age. During the Victorian period and in the belief that the Rocks where an ancient Druidic sacred site, there were a series of “improvements” made. These included the extension of existing caves, the addition of a cave or two and the addition of carvings said to be of an occult significance.
Although this has made the Rocks a fascinating place to visit, they did not need improving, some archaeology has been obliterated while what remains has it can be argued, lost its context. Rowter Rocks remain mysterious however, an enigma that raises questions, not only about its importance during the pre-Celtic age but also what exactly did the Victorians want to achieve?
Leaving Birchover behind us, we headed for the outcrop known as Robin Hood’s Stride. This large looking but easily climbable rock is strikingly visible when seen from some angles, looking like a great horned mass on the skyline. There are two large natural pillars of rock almost at either end of the rock and it is said, that Robin Hood could reach across them in one long stride. Quite a feat really and depicts the “giant” aspect of the Robin of myth rather than reality.
Near to this remarkable natural feature and lying a little way towards Youlgreave and Bradford is Castle Hill, an ancient site of Celtic origin and down the hill are the Grey Ladies, a stone circle that is also known as Nine Stones Close. There are only four stones now remaining but they are the tallest in the county. We however gave both Castle Hill and the Grey Ladies a miss this time and instead, went to see the nearby hermitage.
Cut into the rocks that lie less than half a mile north from the Stride and thankfully protected from vandalism by an iron grill, is a medieval hermitage. What was obviously a natural cave has been extended and when in use, would have had a wooden shelter attached. Inside however, is a little known Derbyshire gem in the form of a carving depicting Christ Crucified. The workmanship is quite impressive and represents the devotion of one of the hermitages’ early inhabitants.
The surrounding landscape is a sacred one and has been from ancient times. Pre-Christian and Christian having recognised something in this landscape, have as in other parts of the country, chosen to mark the land as special, apart, sacred and inspirational. From the builders of the henges, the stone circles and the cairns from the legends attached to them and natural features such as Robin Hoods’Stride and Rowter Rocks and including the later arrival of the new-religion marked so vividly by this magnificent hermitage. All have recognised the inherent divinity within the land and chosen to pay homage in their own unique manner.