“We will remember, we who dwell,
In this land beneath the trees,
The starlight on the Western Seas.”
As usual and not at all unexpectedly, the Midsummer week of 2017 was for us of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel, a busy one. I had taken a week of annual leave, as had the Defender of the Hearth and this allowed us some flexibility in our arrangements throughout that week. The month itself was finally justified in its epithet of ‘flaming.’ The sun rode high, gardens were full of colour and the countryside was beautifully rich in its own tapestry of hues.
The day of the Solstice was Wednesday the 21st of June 2017 with the sun entering Cancer at 5.24am British Summer Time. It was therefore decided that our ritual observance would take place on the eve of the Solstice and this ran smoothly, with members of the Inner Court and one of our members in waiting in attendance.
The opening invitation of the ritual itself, acknowledges that our gathering was one of anticipation:
“We approach the time when daylight reigns. The Sun God rules strong in his manhood and the land is bathed in glory. Our Gods stand together and as one nurture our land. The grain ripens, the fruit swells; the earth is fertile and full. On this day as the solstice approaches, we ask the Gods to join us.”
The Solstice dawn is an exciting and wonderful experience, it can be a moment of remarkable tranquillity. Our ritual attempts to anticipate this with the inclusion of selected poetry, ranging from modern authors such as Duff, to Tolkien, Kipling and Shakespeare. The Solstices are ideally suited for poetic interludes.
Amongst these interludes is a piece specially written for the Hearth of the Turning Wheel by our Defender of the Hearth. This ‘Lament to Baldur’ is set to the tune of Greensleeves and captures the sorrow felt at the loss of the Bright One.
We of the Hearth have a particular affinity for the Fairy Triad of Oak, Ash and Thorn, this is reflected both in our choice of poetry and often our choice of decoration for rituals. When out of doors may we gravitate towards places where this Triad can be found together and the day after the ritual, we would be looking for such locations on our visit to the Derbyshire Peak District.
“We call Oak and Ash and Thorn,
To bless our circle drawn.
We call Oak and Ash and Thorn,
To guard our circle drawn.
Of all the trees that grow so fair,
Greater are none beneath the Sun,
Than Oak and Ash and Thorn.”
Although the predominant decoration for our ritual would be oak, acknowledging that the power of the Oak King is at its apex. One single twig of Holly is placed on the edge of our working area. This is in recognition that although the Summer King reigns, the Winter King now begins his climb to the throne.
“Herein lies wisdom, beauty and increase, without this, folly, age and cold decay.” Shakespeare.
The next day three of us travelled to the Peak District with the aim of an early lunch and an observance planned to coincide with local noon. We meandered through attractive villages, such as Wensley, Winster; the home of the Market House that has the remarkable distinction of being the very first acquisition of the National Trust in 1906 and accidentally, the village of Elton.
Driving past our eventual destination of Robin Hood’s Stride we found our way to the village of Birchover and the amusingly named ‘Druid’s Inn.’ This two hundred year old stone building is an attractive and welcoming hostelry, famous for both its name and its menu. Here we partook of an early lunch, rather fancy sandwiches, a half pint of refreshing nectar and met the locals, free-range chickens and fellow Pagans from Sheffield.
Next to the Druid is one of several rocky outcrops that are found along the edge of the moors and this is now the site of a Victorian folly. Rowter Rocks is a series of caves and the rocks that still bear carvings many thousands of years old. Sadly the Victorian fashion for quaint improvement got out of hand here and picturesque additions have all but destroyed the archaeological context. Even the ancient Rocking Stone is a replacement, fixed in position for safety.
We did not have time to explore the rocks, although it is certainly a place worth visiting. A link to a post describing one of my previous visits is below. Nor unfortunately was I able to show my friends the curious carvings remounted into the rear wall of the nearby chapel but again, there is a link below to a post that includes photographs.
Leaving the convivial atmosphere of the Druid’s Inn we drove back along our original route, parking across from the bridleway. From here we walked the incline towards this famous Derbyshire feature. Legend has it that Robin Hood could stand on one pinnacle and stretch his leg across to the other, so measuring one of his strides. A remarkable feat, a giant of a man indeed.
As is often the case at the more popular sites in the Peaks, we found ourselves in a queue to conduct our own ceremony, another group had arrived before us and were already at work. We settled down therefore, to admire the view.
I was surprised to find that those ahead of us were known to me, a group from the Nottingham area and a dog. They are members of the Facebook group ‘Significant Dates at Significant Places,’ which consists of people who will embark on trips to sites of meaning and significance to hold rites on the festival dates. I include a link to this group below.
Once they had finished their activities we spent a short time chatting, my horn being something of an ‘objet de fascination.’ In the valley we could see buzzards circling, slowly gaining eight on the warm air. Then we saw the most amazing sight, too far away and too quick to get a useable photograph. A peregrine falcon dived upon a buzzard and began to drive the larger bird away. The ferocity, speed and acrobatic skill of the smaller bird was impressive, indeed we as a group were somewhat awed. My last sighting of a peregrine was in May, when we had attended the Garland Ceremony in Castleton.
After this unexpected display we waved off our fellow travellers, as they had to make their way to Matlock and we busied ourselves preparing the area for our own simple rite. This was very minimalistic indeed, with bread and mead. They and their dispensers; a dish and a chalice, were the contents of a small rucksack.
Leaving the remains of our communal meal as offerings on a nearby ledge, we made our way down from the rocks towards the Harthill Moor proper. Here at the base of the tor that is Robin Hood’s Stride, I was lucky enough to see a stoat run across the footpath ahead of us, no doubt chasing a rabbit. There are rabbits and even hares aplenty in the area.
Making our way steadily across the flat meadows of the moor and now starting to feel the heat of the day, we approached the tallest stone circle in Derbyshire. This grouping of four stones is perfectly placed in the most attractive of panoramic scenery. Nestled close to a dry stone wall and a magnificent oak tree, it is one of the most charming stone circles anyone could imagine.
This stone circle has several names and this variety does cause some confusion. One name is Nine Stones Close and that name is shared by another charming circle that I have visited, near Winterbourne Abbas in Dorset. That circle is itself sometimes known as the Nine Ladies and therefore, shares its name with another famous Derbyshire stone circle, this time not on Harthill Moor but Stanton Moor.
An alternative name for the Nine Stones Close of Derbyshire is the Grey Ladies, which I personally prefer. Legend says that these stones dance and it has been suggested that the name ‘nine’ when used in association with stone circles, may actually refer to noon.
Today there are only four of the Grey Ladies standing in their approximate original positions, a fifth is set into the dry stone wall to the south. The missing four were most likely broken up over the centuries, their remains may now lie in the nearby wall.
We spent a short and enjoyable time viewing the stones, all three of us finding ourselves attracted to their pleasant position and general atmosphere. Unlike the more famous circle on Stanton Moor, which is set in a harsh and rather rough landscape. These stones had a certain friendliness about them, a lightness perhaps created by being set in a rich and fertile landscape.
The Defender of the Hearth taking out his rods, set about a little dowsing, teaching our companion the technique as he did so. He felt he could identify the most likely original location of the missing stones, noting that one possible vacant spot, lay between two of those still standing. When placed near the wall however, it was noted that he received confusing and indeed very mixed signals that at first made little sense, if any at all. I helpfully suggested that this could be a spot where remains of the other four stones may now lie, broken up as part of that wall and this seemed a satisfactory possibility to the conundrum of the mixed signals.
Our trip to the Peak District was now drawing to an end, we meandered our way back to the main footpath near the Stride and then made our way down the hill to the road. I stopped briefly to appreciate once more the spectacular Derbyshire landscape and to photograph exquisite wild roses. Sadly we did not have time to explore the nearby outcrop and the medieval hermitage. Like Rowter Rocks in Birchover, my return to both sites will have to wait for another visit.
Our Hearth activities for the week were not yet over, the day after the solstice we held our irregular but usually monthly moot at the Exeter Arms in Derby. We were honoured to welcome guests from Cheshire and Staffordshire, the latter couple making their first (but I hope not their only) visit.
In the more than convivial atmosphere of a town pub, so quaintly and curiously decorated, that it would be more at home in a country village. We held a small, informal social gathering, enjoying good food, fine drink and equally fine conversation.
All things considered, this was a rather pleasant and appropriate ending to our three days of Hearth of the Turning Wheel activities. There was a meeting of minds and hearts before, at and after a time of deep significance. Perhaps a recognition that ‘hearth’ has a meaning all of its own?
“From fairest creatures we desire increase; that thereby beauty’s rose might never die.” Shakespeare.
Midsummer Adventures Part One
Midsummer Adventures Part Two
Significant Dates at Significant Places
The Summer Solstice
Nine Stones Close/Grey Ladies
Buzzards, boulders and the return of the May Queen #1
Buzzards, boulders and the return of the May Queen #2
Buzzards, boulders and the return of the May Queen #3
Duff G. (2002) The wheel of the Wiccan year. Rider, London.
Kipling R. (1906) Puck of Pook’s Hill.
Tolkein J.R.R. (1955) The return of the King.
Shakespeare W. (1609) The sonnets.
Shakespeare W. (nd.) A Midsummer nights’ dream.