Vikings at Sherwood Pines 2019

This past weekend saw Viking reenactors from Regia Anglorum groups across the country gather at a place known as Thynghowe in Sherwood Pine Forest Park for the annual event known as ‘The Spring Thing’.

At 3,300 acres, Sherwood Pines is the largest park in the East Midlands of England. Lying close to the historic village of Edwinstowe in Nottinghamshire, it is a part of the ancient Sherwood Forest and was originally known as Clipstone Heath. It was acquired by the Forestry Commission in 1925 and replanted with pine trees as part of a response to a shortage of wood following the First World War. Today, activities are offered throughout the year, including cycling, mountain biking and segway, camping, walking, jogging, a park run, orienteering and bushcraft, a children’s adventure trail, tree climbing and ranger activities. There is also a Robin Hood hideout and Kitchener’s Trail, a café and visitor centre, and the site is perfect for a family day out – even when no event is scheduled (which in addition to the Viking Spring Thing, include various concerts and musical events as well as outdoor activities).

So, why is this spot in Sherwood Pines a perfect site for Viking gatherings and reenactments every year, and what is Thynghowe?

Thynghowe, meaning ‘thingsite’, is the name given to an important Viking Age open-air assembly place situated at the top of Hangar Hill on the western edge of Sherwood Forest, so is very close to the site where this event is held. It was (re)discovered in 2005. Vikings met at such sites for their annual ‘Thyng’ – which generally lasted for several days – during which time disputes were settled, laws were signed, punishments for crimes decided upon, marriages arranged and such like. Each community had its own Thyng/Thing/Althing, most likely dominated by a local, powerful family or families. Thyngs were often festive affairs, with tents, stalls/booths set up so goods could be bought and sold, including plenty of ale and mead.

Several such sites are known across the Viking world, including the famous Thingvellir in Iceland and Tinwald in the Isle of Man, both of which I’ve visited, plus others in the Faroe Islands, the Shetland and Orkney islands, the Scottish Highlands (Dingwall), the Wirral in England… In other words, wherever Vikings chose to settle.

The gathering at Thynghowe was an equally festive affair, with lots of tents and stalls set up to demonstrate the Viking way of life, including cooking methods and a number of important occupations and crafts. These are a selection of photos we took around the camp as we walked round:

Here is a very short video we made of the wood turner, who was making spokes for cartwheels, while the stall next door made the actual wheels.

The stall holders/reenactors were only too happy to answer questions and chat in general. The happy-looking man in the picture below spent some time explaining not only about how Viking shields were made, but about the fabulous reenactment goup, Regia Anglorum.

This delightful, hard-working lady below also deserves our thanks for taking the time to explain and demonstrate how she was creating bast from lime wood for use in rope making. Rope made from lime bast fibre was not only important for many things around the village, but the fact that it didn’t shrink when wet (unlike rope made from hemp) made it perfect for use in the building of ships. In the photos she is stripping the bark off lime tree trunks to obtain the strands of fibre behind. After a good soaking in water, the bast is rendered soft enough to twist and plait together to make rope.

And this Viking warrior was obviously having a bad hair day. His hairdresser/friend was giving his hair a good comb, while he complained about his unruly, frizzy hair. Oh, the vanity of men! Naturally, I just had to have a feel of such frizz.

In the morning we were treated to preparatory bouts and skirmishes before the big battle planned for the afternoon. The commentary was excellent throughout, with explanations of the moves and battle tactics of the warriors, weapon use and so on. In the afternoon, there were three arena events to watch. The first was a demonstration of horsemanship.

The second an archery competition and finally, the actual battle.

To finish off, here’s a cute mini-warrior who made me smile:

*****

A Night at the Pantomime


One of the Christmas traditions we still hold on to in the UK is that of the yearly pantomime – or ‘panto’, as it is often called. Last year, we decided to make our first visit to the pantomime in many years, and headed into Lincoln to see Aladdin at the New Theatre Royal.

Having enjoyed it so much, we decided to see if this year’s production, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was as much fun. We weren’t disappointed. Unfortunately, as last year, we weren’t allowed to take any photos once the production had started, but we were told it would be okay to take photos from around the theatre once all the spectators had left. This photo of the stage screen (for want of the correct name) was taken before the show started, and because it doesn’t show any people, I decided it should be okay:

These are a few more  photos from around the theatre and foyer:

The New Theatre Royal is a very special place to the people of Lincoln. The Victorian theatre was built in 1893 on the site of a previous theatre built in 1806 which had been destroyed by fire. (The old, 1806 theatre was, in turn, a rebuild of an even older Lincoln  theatre built in 1764 – though not on the same site.) The 1893 theatre was falling rapidly into a state of disrepair when the current owners bought it in 2016. After extensive refurbishment and modernisation, this Grade II listed building now looks fabulous.  Snow White is the third pantomime produced here since the theatre was restored – the interior design created to resemble the 1893 interior as closely as possible. We didn’t take any photos of the outside, but I found this one on Wikipedia:

Frontage of the New Theatre Royal, Lincoln. 2 Feb. 2017. Source/Author: New Theatre Royal

We were also told we could take photos from the brochure, so here are three of the cast – a mix of professional actors and comedians, resident stars and local groups.

So, what exactly is a pantomime, and what can we expect when we go to see one?

The actual word pantomime is formed from two words: panto+mime, which means ‘all kinds’ of ‘mime’. It is a type of musical comedy designed for family entertainment. In many countries outside of Britain, pantomime usually refers to mime alone, whereas here it includes songs, bawdy jokes, slapstick, topical humour and dancing, all wrapped around the telling of a story, loosely based on a well-known fable, fairy story or folk tale. Some of the most popular stories include Cinderella, Aladdin, Sleeping Beauty, Dick WhittingtonJack and the Beanstalk, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Babes in the  Wood and Peter Pan. They are performed over the Christmas and New Year season in many towns and cities across the UK, as well as a few other English speaking countries and France. Some of the larger, city theatres employ professional actors, but there are many pantomimes produced by smaller theatres and amateur dramatic societies.

Pantomime has a long history in Western culture, dating back to the classical theatre. It is generally accepted that British pantomime stems from the masques of Tudor and Stuart times. In the 14th century, masques were performed in the large houses of the rich and were either spoken dramas or musical mime. The timing of the British pantomime at Christmas – with the principal  boy played by a girl and the Dame by a man – may have originated in the Feast of Fools in Tudor times. This was presided over by the ‘Lord of Misrule’ and involved much drinking and rowdy merrymaking.

Hare chasing, riding a dog. Medieval tile found at the Friary Derby, UK. Source: The Reliquary, vol 3 no.2 Oct 1862. Author: Llewellynn Jewitt. Public Domain

The idea of the selection of the Lord of Misrule himself is thought to have originated in the days of mighty Rome, when masters allowed servants to be in charge for a while during the mid-winter festival of Saturnalia. The result? Chaos reigned.

There is so much more to the history of pantomime than I have outlined here – from the days of Roman pantomime at Saturnalia to the origins of a 17th century French comic genre called the Harlequinade. The latter is the part of a pantomime in which the characters of the Harlequin and Clown play the main parts. Until the 19th century, the harlequinade was an important part of British pantomime. For anyone interested, there are many online sites to delve into.

Pantomime F Warne & Co. 1890. Author: User Wetman on en Wikipedia. Public Domain

Pantomime contains certain key elements that spectators expect to see in every performance. In addition to a strong story line, slapstick (custard pies, silly costumes etc.) and music and dance, a few of those elements are:

        • Audience participation. This usually includes the audience booing the villain every time he/she appears, shouting out ‘He’s behind you!’ when a wolf or villain arrives on stage and taking part in the two-way argument: ‘Oh yes he is!’ .  . . ‘Oh no it isn’t!’
        • Goodies and baddies – and the villain is always defeated by the end of the show. Baddies include characters like Captain Hook in Peter Pan and the Wicked Queen in Snow White. The goodies all live ‘happily ever after’.
        • A group of juveniles, generally as singers and dancers, but not always. It the version of Snow White that we saw, youngsters played the seven dwarfs, although there were a few older ‘teenagers’ amongst the dancers.
        • Comical fights and chases, during which the audience warning shouts of ‘He’s behind you’ come into play.
        • Role reversal/gender-crossing actors – men dressed as women and women as men. Examples of men dressed as women are Widow Twankey in Aladdin , and the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella. Also in Cinderella we have a woman playing a male called ‘Buttons’.
        • A key, gender-crossing character in every pantomime is the ‘Dame’, a man outrageously dressed as a woman and whose performance is exaggerated and extravagant. Widow Twankey in Aladdin and  and Nurse Flossy in Snow White are examples, as is this ‘large’ female from an 1887 production of Babes in the Wood. I’ll make no comment regarding the appearance of the ‘child’ other than, ‘Oink, oink’!
          Dan Leno and Herbert Campbell in costume for the 1897 pantomime, The babes in the Wood at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Source: The Sketch, Illustrated London News, 19 January 1898. Public Domain.
          • The Dame is generally played by an oldish, unattractive man who interacts with the two principal characters and is instrumental to the plot and the happy ending. It is thought that role reversal may have also evolved from the ‘Feast of Fools’ of Tudor times, in which the Lord of Misrule created an unruly, raucous event involving role reversal, a lot of drinking and noisy festivities. As I mentioned above, the whole idea probably originated in the Roman festival of Saturnalia.

The New Theatre Royal continues to be a popular venue in Lincoln. There are shows during the year, and in 2019 they kick off with The Variety Show on January 26 and The Wizard of Oz over the Easter period (April 13-23). And next Christmas, we can look forward to the pantomime, Robin Hood, for which bookings can already be made! Yes, pantomime continues to be a popular as ever in Lincoln – and by no means is the New Theatre Royal the only place to see one – but it is nice and comfortable, and full of old world charm…

A Celebration of Christmas Trees at Doddington Hall

Doddington Hall is situated in the Lincolnshire village of Doddington, about seven miles from the city of Lincoln. It was built between 1593 and 1600 by Robert Smythson, one of England’s most renowned architects.  The Hall has a large estate on which Christmas trees are grown and a careful programme of planting/replanting is carried out. We have bought our tree from here for many years now.


For the past six or seven years Doddington Hall has opened its doors for the Christmas season, this year from November 25 to December 23. The rooms are decorated to a particular festive theme each year, this year ‘s being simply, Christmas at Doddington. Last year the theme was Christmas in Wonderland, which can be seen here  and the previous year’s was A Fairytale Christmas, here. Both were a delight to see.
Christmas trees were first planted at Doddington 60 years ago and this year’s theme in is celebration of that, with decorations inspired by the carol O Christmas Tree. A great selection of Christmas trees adorn the rooms and hallways, all different in size and shape, and each decorated differently by using an incredible array of objects and materials. Some of the ‘trees’ are actual trees, others are created from either natural vegetation or seasonal/festive items such as drinking glasses and wine bottles. It’s all very colourful and in keeping with the Georgian ‘feel’ of the hall – the period in which Doddington was refurbished in the style it still looks today. And once through the front door, passing a tiny ‘tree’ decorated with good old Brussels Sprouts!. . .

. . . we’re straight into the large dining room.Here are some photos of how it looks this year. Most of the small ‘trees’ are along the dining table, others sat on smaller tables or window ledges:

By the entrance to the hall from the dining room is a little room in which we found another ‘tree’ made of bottles, these containing varying amounts of liquids – presumably of the original wine, spirit or liqueur:

Also on the ground floor was the parlour, an interesting room, in keeping with Victorian  entertainments and parlour games, as played following the popularising of the Christmas tree by Prince Albert in 1840.

Waiting in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs was a very smiley and welcoming ‘Head Elf’. . .

. . . who we had a little chat with before heading up the impressive staircase. . .

. . . to reach the first and second floors – with Christmas trees hanging on the landings between:

On the first floor landing itself was… yes!… another tree! A real spruce this time:

 On this floor there were three rooms open to the public, although we took no photos in one because it was too dark, and we assumed flash photography wasn’t allowed. One room was a small child’s bedroom, in which was a Scots Pine Christmas tree:

The other room on this floor served is the drawing room (or, withdrawing room) – to which genteel ladies would retreat after dinner, leaving the men to talk politics – or whatever! This room was very unusual, in that a number of ladies’ dresses had been created out of… yes, again!… Christmas trees (real ones), along with other bird-inspired decorations:

Eventually we got to the second/top floor, passing on the landing en-route a Christmas tree hanging from the ceiling to display its roots!

There are two rooms on view at the ‘ top’. One was decorated to show the inside of an Egyptian tent – a real one, too. The tree was lovely, displaying colourful roses, made of  thin card, as far as we could tell. We wondered whether the ‘roses’ were to represent  ‘sand roses’ found in desert environments:

This is a little bit about the actual tent (not the roses) from a much longer piece in the room:

The tent was made around 1880 in Cairo, where similar tents are still used today for weddings, festivals and fairs. It was given to Doddington by Viscount Harry Crookshank, who was MP for (nearby) Gainsborough for over 31 years, until 1961. He was born in Cairo, where his father was Surgeon General and the tent was part of his father’s ‘Eastern Curiosities’.

Lastly is the largest upstairs room, This year it displayed models of a village and nearby railway on a Christmas Eve.

Doddington  Hall at Christmas is a delight for people of all ages to soak up the historic, Christmassy atmosphere. At £11 per adult and £5.50 per child (under 3 years free and  family entry £29) it isn’t particularly cheap. But for the time and energy that the staff put into these displays, it’s well worth a visit. Bookings can also be made for children to visit Father Christmas in his grotto on certain days.

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Vikings at Whitby Abbey

We spent the August Bank Holiday weekend up in North Yorkshire, primarily to attend yet another Viking encampment and battle. This one was at Whitby Abbey, a site we’ve visited several times in the past, but never for a reenactment. The event was staged from the Saturday to Monday (August 25th – 27th) and as the best weather report was for the Saturday, that was the day we chose to attend. And what a good thing we did! Although very windy, Saturday was a lovely, sunny day, whereas it poured down for much of Sunday, when we visited Scarborough Castle further down the coast.

Whitby shown within North Yorkshire. Source: Ordnance Survey OpenData Author: Nilfanion. Creative Commons.

The encampment itself was educational and very interesting, with demonstrations of various Viking crafts and skills, including  favoured foods and methods of cooking them, as well as displays of  a number of goods in leather, wood and metal, and features of general lifestyle. All in all, it was great family fun as well as a learning experience. The lyre player was excellent … lovely music… and two different woodturners were also great to watch. These are a few of the photos we took around the camp:

There was also a reenactment of the death of a local Saxon thegn at the hands of the invading heathens/pagans, i.e. the Vikings. His cadaver was transported from the (supposedly) nearby village by a number of monks up to the abbey for burial – and the nuns were warned of a likely attack on the abbey. Needless to say, the nuns were outraged and terrified by the thought of pillaging and raping Danes. But the corpse was blessed and arrangements made for Saxon warriors to defend the abbey:

In the morning we watched the two armies warming up and practising their battle techniques, and the actual battle was in the afternoon. It was difficult to take photos during the battle, when the warriors were half killing each other close to the lines of tape encircling the battle site. Of course, the tape is vital for safety, but it meant that I have so many photos with green tape across the middle that are are unusable! (One of the hazards of being a ‘shortie’ is not being able to get my camera up higher. Still, I found that most of my photos could be cropped to make good headers, as the one above. But, then again, how many headers can I use in one post…?) 😀

Raids were common along the east coast of England during the Viking Age and monasteries, abbeys and such like would have been prime targets. So much plunder, in the form of gold or silver cups, crosses and chalices would have been irresistible to marauding bands. And the poor nuns would also have been seen as easy rape victims. Whitby Abbey itself was destroyed by Viking raiders in 867. Incidentally, the name Whitby means White settlement in Old Norse.

As with most Viking and Saxon battles, action starts with the shield wall formation of the opposing sides, during which time the warriors hammer on their shields with their swords, spears or battleaxes, generally making a great racket and yelling profanities at each other. All this is intended to intimidate and terrify their opponents. Then a number of missiles are hurled, including spears, rocks and stones – some via catapult – or arrows, if there are archers present. Once all these preliminaries are over, the two shield walls come together in an almighty clash and stab and slash out at each other in a effort to get through the wall of shields and kill or maim as many of the enemy as possible. And as men fall, so the shield wall breaks up and the one-to-one fighting takes place. On this occasion, we were treated to an excellent display of swordsmanship. We did video it, but the quality is so poor, I’d be ashamed to put it on YouTube. The fight was fast and furious but, unfortunately, that doesn’t show on a single photo. A new camera is on my Christmas list, so I hope Santa will be generous.

So here are some of the ‘usable’ photos we took:

It was a very enjoyable day, and I can only thank the various Viking and Saxon groups from around the country who came together to produce this event. The members obviously love what they do and are very proficient at doing it. Thanks must also go to English Heritage, who manages the fabulous ruin (courtesy of Henry VIII) of Whitby Abbey.

Whitby is a lovely, quaint, old seaside town and fishing port, and is packed with visitors for most of the summer, even without any events being on. The town and abbey are well worth visiting and I have many photos from the various times we’ve been there. I’ll get round to doing a post about it at some stage.

Scotland 1: Achnacarry

Lowland – Highland Divide. Author Jrockley Public Domain

In the last week of June this year, Nick and I headed up to the West Highlands of Scotland with our two daughters and grandson for a week at Achnacarry, a site chosen for it’s location in relation to places we wanted to visit.

Fort William within the Lochaber region of Scotland. Author Nilfanion  using Ordnance Survey data Creative Commons

The weather wasn’t particularly hot on the Saturday we drove up there – just as well, considering we had 400 miles to cover – but on our first day there everything changed and we had temperatures of over 30°C for the rest of the week. I’ve been to Scotland lots of times in summer, and never known it to be so hot – especially when weather reports told us that further south, in England, it was much cooler.

We chose to go for self-catering on this occasion and booked a sizeable apartment on the Lochiel Estate at Achnacarry (Achadh na Cairdh in Scottish Gaelic, meaning ‘field of the fish-trap/weir’). Achnacarry consists of a small hamlet, a private estate and a castle, and is located between Loch Lochy and Loch Arkaig in the Lochaber region of the Scottish Highlands (see map(s) above). The estate covers an area of 60,000 acres of beautiful and barren country with abundant wildlife including red and roe deer, foxes, badgers, Scottish wildcats pine martens and otters. Golden eagles, buzzards, peregrine falcons, merlins and sparrowhawks soar overhead and in the rivers and lochs are Atlantic salmon, trout and pike. In fact, the entire Lochaber region is stunningly beautiful, and has become known as ‘The Outdoor Capital of the U.K.

Our apartment was in the old stable block, converted into a number of differently sized apartments. We had one of the two larger ones upstairs (on the right-hand side looking at the front of the building on the first photo below).

There are also a number of holiday cottages for rental on the estate.

Achnacarry has been the ancestral home of the chiefs of the Clan Cameron since 1655. The original castle, built by Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel around that date, was destroyed by government forces following the Battle of Culloden, since the Camerons played a major role in the Jacobite rising of 1745. This fact is well illustrated in the little Cameron Museum on the Estate, a short walk from our apartment, which is well worth a visit. The present Chief of Clan Cameron (traditionally known as ‘Lochiel’) is Donald Cameron, who continues to live in Achnacarry.

The castle we see today was built in 1802. It is on private land and not open to the public other than organised groups, so we could only photograph it from a distance. The first of these two photos (the close-up) is from Wikepedia:

During the Second World War, the castle was used as a Commando Training Depot, not only for British Commandos but for U.S. Army Rangers and similar units from other allied nations – a total of 25, 000 men between 1942 and 1945. The extensive estate was used for some very arduous training. The Cameron family retains close ties with the Commandos and an impressive Commando Memorial can be seen at Spean Bridge, roughly 7 miles from Achnacarry. We passed it on several occasions during the week but didn’t manage to stop and take a close-up photo. This one is from Wikipedia:

The Commando Memorial, Spean Bridge near Achnacarry. Uploaded by Jmb at English Wikipedia Creative Commons

We had a brief walk around a small part of the estate on our first evening there – partly to stretch our legs but also to get a feel for the place. It was getting close to dusk by the time we got out and the light wasn’t too great for photos. But we did snap a few interesting features, in between fighting off swarms of midges! The river is the River Arkaig, which connects Loch Lochy with Loch Arkaig. The story behind the row of crooked birch trees is that  Donald Cameron (‘the Gentle Lochiel’) was planting a long row of birch trees in 1745 when news of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s landing arrived. The trees were left to their own devices and grew in odd directions:

It wasn’t until the day before we left that we took time to have a better look at this stunning estate. We had a long drive home the next day, so we decided to spend the day (another sweltering one!) enjoying the scenery and visiting the Clan Cameron Museum. The museum is only small, but interesting nonetheless, with history of the Cameron Clan, Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite uprising, the Commandos and links of the Camerons family to the royal family. The young Lady Catherine, daughter of Donald and Cecil Cameron, founders of the museum, was one of the bridesmaids at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. Catherine is the god-daughter of the Prince of Wales and was six at the wedding.

To finish off, here are a few general views from around the Achnacarry Estate. The second set are of the stunning Chia-aig Waterfall, which features in the 1995 film, ‘Rob Roy’, starring Liam Neeson. We spent ages at this waterfall, as did a few other people that day. It’s certainly a lovely spot in which to linger.

Happy to be Back!

It’s been far too long since I wrote a post and I’ve really missed doing so. Unfortunately, sometimes life gets in the way, and/or other things must take precedence. Last year was not a good year for my family. We had so many illnesses to deal with, some of them worryingly serious. All in all, I got little writing done at all, either on my books or my blog. So this year has been a mad rush to get Book 3 of my Sons of Kings series finished, edited and formatted and published on Amazon. And, at last, this is it:

It was uploaded onto Amazon a couple of weeks ago, so I can now start to relax a little and get back to writing a few blog posts. Well, that’s the plan… On the other hand, Book 3 didn’t finish either of my protagonists’ stories, so I am now writing Book 4. My trilogy has become a series (or perhaps a quadrilogy).

All three of my Sons of Kings books will be 99p/$0.99 until July 31st. After that, Book 1 (Shadow of the Raven)  will be 99p for a little longer, Book 2 (Pit of Vipers) will be $1.99 and Book 3 (Wyvern of Wessex) will be $2.99, the usual price for each of the three books.

My book of short stories and flash fiction pieces will be still at its usual price of £1.49/$1.97. Amazon won’t allow it to be any lower because of the number of coloured images I’ve included. I had intended this book to be permanently 99p!

*****

The Madness of March

March is the third month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars and the second of seven months to have 31 days. In the northern hemisphere, March 1st is the meteorological beginning of spring and, in the southern hemisphere, the beginning of autumn.

In the northern hemisphere, the astrological beginning of spring is marked by the March/spring/vernal equinox on March 20th/21st. In the southern hemisphere, this equinox marks the astrological beginning of autumn.

The March equinox has long been celebrated as a time of rebirth in the northern hemisphere. Many cultures celebrate spring festivals and holidays around the equinox, including Easter and the Passover.

The name of March comes from Martius, the first month of the earliest Roman calendar. It was named after Mars, best known as the Roman god of war, but he was also a god of fertility and agriculture.

As the god of war, his month (March) marked the beginning of the season of warfare, which lasted until October. Chariot races, horse races and dressing and dancing in battle armour were just three of the ways in which Romans celebrated the skills of battle during this month.

In his role as god of fertility and agriculture (which he shared with other gods/goddesses like Ceres and Cybele) Mars oversaw the new growth of spring and the continuation of life through the fertility and procreation in people, animals and plants.

The Anglo Saxon names for March were Hlyda or Lide monath (stormy or loud month) or Hraed monath (rugged month). The ‘loudness’ reflected in these names refers to the March winds, which were considered very noisy – as described in this little rhyme:

March brings breezes loud and shrill,
Stirs the dancing daffodil.
~Sara Coleridge (1802–1852), “The Months,” Pretty Lessons In Verse, For Good Children; With Some Lessons in Latin, In Easy Rhyme, 1834

Another Saxon name for March was Lentmonath which is named after the March equinox and the gradual lengthening of days. This name gradually became simply, Lent – the 40 days leading up to Easter in the Christian Church, during which people traditionally fasted.

The birth flower for March is the daffodil (narcissus) – also known as the Lent Lily as it blooms throughout that period:

The astrological signs for March are Pisces until the 20th and Aries after that:

The birthstones for March are aquamarine and bloodstone:

The month of March has long been associated with ‘madness’, which is largely based on the hilarious pre-mating rituals of hares at this time. ‘Boxing hares’ can be seen across the countryside during spring. My first image on this post shows a couple of wicker-built hares at Harlow Carr in Yorkshire doing just that.

Below is a video I found which shows mad March hares in action – part of it in slow motion. It is titled Mad March Hares Boxing and is by Stephen de Vere:

There are several special days celebrated in March and these are just five of them:

  1. Saint David is the patron saint of Wales and his feast day (St.David’s Day) is celebrated on March 1st, the date of his death in 589 AD. David was a Welsh bishop of Mynyw during the 6th century, and was later regarded as a saint. A number of miracles are attributed to him and a white dove (which became his emblem) is said to have settled on his shoulder after one of them.
St. David’s Day celebrations, Cardiff Bay, 2008. Creative Commons

2. In Cornwall, March 5th is St. Piran’s Day. Piran is the patron saint of Cornwall, said to  have discovered tin in the county. Saint Piran’s flag is also the flag of Cornwall and it symbolises the discovery of tin in Kernow (Cornwall).

St. Piran’s Day parade in Penzance, Cornwall, 2007.
Public Domain

3. Mothers’ Day in the U.K. can be either March or April as the date varies according to the date of Easter that year. It always falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent. This year it was March 11th – and a pleasant day I had, too. I wrote a post about the history and celebrations of this day three years’ago, which can be found here.

4. Pi Day is something I’d never heard of until this year when blogging friend Joy Pixley from the U.S. kindly mentioned it to me in a comment on my February post. It’s a celebration in the United States and sounds like a fun-filled day. This is how Wikipedia describes it:

Pi Day is an annual celebration of the mathematical constant π (pi). Pi Day is observed on March 14 (3/14 in the month/day date format) since 3, 1, and 4 are the first three significant digits of π. In 2009, the United States House of Representatives supported the designation of Pi Day.

Pi Day has been observed in many ways, including eating pie, throwing pies and discussing the significance of the number π, due to a pun based on the words “pi” and “pie” being homophones in English and the coincidental circular nature of a pie.”

Larry Shaw, the founder of Pi Day, at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Author Ronhip (Ron Hipschman). Creative Commons

5. Saint Patrick’s Day is on March 17th. Patrick is the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland. He was a 5th century Romano-Christian missionary and is considered responsible for bringing Christianity to Ireland, as well as driving snakes out of the island. His day is celebrated in many countries worldwide, i.e. wherever Irish people travelled to and settled over the years. Green is the colour of the day as it represents the ‘Emerald Isle’.

There are many historical events and birthdays in March, but this post is already long enough. However, I can’t finish without quoting this well known saying about March, and contemplating whether it was actually true this year.

March comes in like a lion …

and goes out like a lamb.

There seem to have been lions and lambs wandering about in no particular order this past month. We’ve had some lovely days mixed up with wet and windy and even cold and snowy ones. We’ll just have to wait and see what April brings (tomorrow!).

To really, really, really finish, here are a few more photos taken at Harlow Carr in Yorkshire on March 5th this year. We were amazed by the colourful displays in the flower beds so early in the year – but it was lovely to see, even in the rain.

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I hope to be back on my blog a lot more often very soon. I’ve missed many posts from much loved followers, but so many things have taken my time this past year. I’ll be glad to get back to normality. My next Month-by-Month post will be that last – meaning, I will have done all twelve months. I can only say that I’ve learned a lot myself in doing them. Millie.

February Fill Dyke and all that Jazz . . .

February is the second month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars. It is the shortest of the months, with only 28 days in common years and 29 days every fourth or leap year. Having only 28 days, February is the only month that can pass without having a full moon – as occurred this year (2018) when the last full moon was on January 31. February is also the third and last month of winter in the northern hemisphere, the equivalent of August, the last month of summer, in the southern hemisphere.

January and February did not exist in the old Roman calendar. The winter season was a monthless period and the year consisted of only ten months. These two months were added around 700 BC/BCE by Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome (after Romulus).

The name of the month comes from either the name of the old Roman god, Februus, or from februa, which signifies the festivals of purification celebrated in Rome on February 15  (a full moon in the old Roman lunar calendar).

The Anglo Saxon names for February were Solmonath, meaning Mud Month, and sometimes Kalemonath, named after cabbage. Solmonath was the usual name – and we don’t have to look too far to see why. These photos were taken down our local lanes this week. No shortage of mud here!

A Victorian painting by Benjamin Williams Leader entitled February Fill Dyke (first exhibited in 1881) became very popular when later shown at the Royal Jubilee Exhibition. However, the painting was of a November evening after rain! (What a swizz!)  You can see the painting here.

Solmonath has sometimes also been thought by some to mean Sun Month – the month when the sun seems to be (noticeably) coming back from its winter retreat ‘down under’. That makes sense, since ‘sol’ means ‘sun’ in Latin. And, according to the Venerable Bede, February was known as Cake Month – when Anglo Saxons offered cake to their gods.

In the UK, although February can still be cold, many of us start looking forward to spring. Some parts of the country can be covered in snow, while others see little but grey skies, wind and rain. One day can be nice and sunny, and the next day it snows – as  these photos from the last couple of days show:

Garden in the sunshine, February 25:

Garden and lane in the snow, February 26:

The unpredictable nature of the month forms the basis of this rhyme, which often means little to people, even in Britain:

February fill the dyke
Be it black or white
But if it’s white
It’s better to like

So, whether the month is rainy and black/grey or white and snowy, the dykes still fill up. And what is a dyke…? Simply another old English name for a ditch. And across the countryside, farmers have dug thousands of drainage ditches over the years, Here are some photos of  a couple of dykes I took around our lanes a couple of days ago:

The birth flowers for February are the viola/violet and the primrose:

February’s birthstone is the amethyst:

Amethyst. (Courtesy of Pixabay)

The birth signs for February are Aquarius (until the 19th) and Pisces (from the 20th onwards):

In the UK there are a few special days to note, some of which are also celebrated elsewhere in the world. As I’ve written posts about some of them in past years, I won’t repeat them here.The two main ones are Shrove Tuesday, commonly known as Pancake Day  and celebrated as Mardi Gras in some countries.

and Saint Valentines Day.

To finish, here are just a few  of the many famous historic events that took place in February:

  1. February 7, 1964. The Beatles first visit to the USA:

2. February 8, 1587.  Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I of England:

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland. Artist: Nicholas Hilliard c 1578. Public Domain.

3. February 12, 1809. President Abraham Lincoln of the U.S.A was born:

Abraham Lincoln. Artist: Alexander Gardner, 1821-1882. Author: Moses Parker Rice copyrighted the portrait in the late 19th century. Public Domain

4. February 21, 1804. British engineer, Richard Trevithick, demonstrated the first steam engine on wheels

Portrait of Richard Trevithick. 1816. Author: John Linnell 1792-1882. Public Domain

5. February 23, 1863. Lake Victoria in Africa was declared to be the source of the Nile by British explorers John Speke and JA Grant:

Routes taken by different explorers around Lake Victoria. Image produced by Richard G. Clegg using freely available map data and software. Creative Commons

One more day to go and it will be March. Let’s hope the sun finds its way back soon!

Jumping into January

January is the first month of the year in the Gregorian and Julian calendars and has a length of 31 days.

January and February did not exist in the earlier Roman calendar, both months being added by Numa Pompilius (the legendary second king of Rome, coming after Romulus) around 700 BCE/BC. Pompilius wanted to make the calendar equal to the standard lunar year of 365 days. (Note. The Julian calendar,  introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 BCE/BC replaced/refined the Roman calendar.)

In the northern hemisphere January is the second month of winter and is generally the coldest of all the months. In the southern hemisphere, January is the second month of summer and the seasonal equivalent of July in the northern hemisphere.

The Roman name for the month was Januarius, named after the two-faced  god, Janus, who had two faces and was able to look backwards at the old year and forwards into the new one.

Head of Janus, Vatican Museum, Rome. Author: Loudon dodd, Creative Commons

Janus also kept the gate of Heaven, so he became known the god of doors and gates. This is generally stretched to include beginnings, transitions, time, passages, and endings – all of which are fitting for a god of the first month of the year.

The Anglo Saxon name for January was Wulf monath. It was given that name because wolves often came into the villages in search of food in January, the heart of winter. Not surprisingly, the first full moon of the year is named after howling wolves and as such is known as Wulf Moon.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

In other cultures this first full moon of the year was known as Ice Moon, Snow Moon, Old Moon and the Moon after Yule.

In 2018 the full moon will be on the night between 1 and 2 January and is another supermoon to look out for. There is also another full moon in January (also a supermoon), near to the end. As the second full moon of the month, with no given name, it is known as a Blue Moon. In 2018 this will be on January 31. In some areas it will look red due to the total lunar eclipse it causes – thus making it a blood moon. So we will have a Blue, Supermoon, Blood Moon to look forward to.

Enough about the moon. Let’s move on…

The birthstone for January is the garnet, a word that comes comes from the 14th century Middle English word gernet – which means meaning dark red.

A small sample of garnet. Author: Teravolt (talk). Creative Commons

The zodiac signs for January are Capricorn until January 19th and Aquarius from the 20th onwards.

The birthflower for January are the Dianthus caryophyllus (carnation) and the Galanthus (snowdrop).

There are many customs and traditions connected to January around the world and many of them start with New Year’s Eve and resolutions. I wrote a post about New Year’s Eve last year (Ring in the New Year!). I have also  previously written posts about a couple of other January traditions. One was about Wassailing and Twelfth Night on January 5-6 and the other about Burn’s Night on January 25th. So on this occasion, I’ll leave those three alone. But here are a few more:

  1. The start of January does not seem to have been at all favoured in the past. In medieval times, good fortune for the coming year depended upon events on January 1st. To find out if they would have good luck, or not, farmers would put a flat cake on one of the horns of a cow. The farmer and his workers would sing and dance around the cow until the cake was thrown off. If it fell in front of the cow, it signified good luck. If it fell behind the cow, they would have bad luck during the coming year. To the earlier Saxons, January 2nd was the unluckiest day of the year and anyone born on that day could expect an unpleasant death.
  2. January 7th, the day after the feast of the Epiphany (and Twelfth Night), was known by different names by men and women of the past. To women, the day was Distaff Day or sometimes, Roc Day. The distaff, or rock, was used in spinning and was the medieval symbol of women’s work. In many European cultural traditions, women resumed their household work after the twelve days of Christmas – and in Catholic countries today, Distaff Day is still one of the unofficial holidays. To men who lived and worked in the countryside, January 7 was known as Plough Day – the day they would return to work in the fields.
  3. January 13th was the day of St Hilary’s Feast (St Hilary lived AD 310 – c. 367):

    The ordination of Saint Hilary of Poitiers in the 14th century, Author: Richard de Montbaston et coolaborateurs. Public Domain

This day became known as the coldest day of the year due to particularly cold events of the past starting on, or around, that date. One of the most severe winters known began around January 13 1205. In Britain, the River Thames froze over and ale and wine turned to solid ice and needed to be sold by weight! This big freeze lasted until March 22nd. Farmers in England were unable to till the ground and sow their crops. Consequently, food prices soared that year.

4. January, in general, has become known as the coldest month of the year. One of the worst cold spells in Britain was between 1550 and 1750 – a period that became known as the Little Ice Age. Winters were so cold that the Thames froze over each year, often for three months at a time. During that time the Thames was wider and slower than it is now, and its flow was further obstructed by the medieval Old London Bridge. The Thames  froze over several times in the 16th century. In 1536, Henry VIII is said to have travelled from London to Greenwich by sleigh along the Thames, and in 1564, Elizabeth I took walks on the ice. But the first frost fair was recorded as being held on the Thames in London in 1608. Tents, side shows and food stalls were set up  and even ice bowling took place.

A page from ‘The Great Frost: cold doings in London’. Printed in London in 1608. Attributed to Thomas Dekker. Public Domain

The last frost fair was held in 1814, beginning on February 1st and lasting for four days. An elephant was led across the river below Black friar’s Bridge.

5. January 20th is the Eve of St Agnes. This was traditionally the night when girls and unmarried women would perform certain rituals before going to bed in order to dream of their future husbands. The rituals seem quite peculiar and laughable to us today, but such rituals were performed in all seriousness, and in the belief that they would work. One ritual involved transferring pins one at a time from a pincushion to a sleeve whilst reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Another involved walking backwards upstairs to bed and another was fasting all day. Yet another tradition was to eat a portion of dumb cake (a salty cake prepared with friends in silence) before going to bed. The Eve of St Agnes was also the subject of a poem by Keats.

St Agnes herself is the patron saint of girls, engaged couples, rape survivors, virgins and the Children of Mary. This is what Wikipedia tells us about her:

Saint Agnes of Rome was a member of the Roman nobility born in AD 291 and raised in an Early Catholic family. She suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve or thirteen during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian on 21 January AD 304. Agnes was a beautiful young girl of wealthy family and therefore had many suitors of high rank. Details of her story are unreliable, but legend holds that the young men, slighted by her resolute devotion to religious purity, submitted her name to the authorities as a follower of Christianity.  

Accounts of her execution are steeped in legend and cannot be proven true, but archaeological evidence indicates that a young girl of about thirteen years of age, a virgin named Agnes, was martyred in Rome and honoured for her sacrifice.

Saint Agnes, circa 1620. Artist: Domenichino. Oil on canvas. Now in The Royal Collection, Windsor Castle. Source: Web Gallery of Art. Public Domain

This post is long enough, so I won’t include famous anniversaries but here are just a few famous birthdays for the month:

  • January 3, 1892. J(ohn) R(onald) R(euel) Tolkien was an academic and writer, and a professor of English language and literature at Oxford University. He is now famously remembered as creator of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien, aged 24, in army uniform. Photo taken in 1916. Public Domain
  • January 13, 1926Michael Bond. A Newbury-born BBC cameraman, better known as the creator of Paddington Bear, a little bear bear found at Paddington Station in London, wearing a sou’wester, wellington boots and a duffle coat.
Paddington Bear at Paddington Station, 3rd May, 2007. Author: Stefan Oemisch. Creative Commons
  • January 15, 1929Martin Luther King, an American clergyman and leading civil-rights campaigner and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
Martin Luther King Jr. speaking against the Vietnam War at St Paul’s Campus, University of Minnesota. 22 April, 1967. Author: Minnesota Historical Society Creative Commons
  • January 18, 1736James Watt. A Scottish engineer and inventor, whose improvements to Newcomen’s steam-engine helped to power the factories of his partner Mathew Boulton, and ultimately the industrial revolution.
James Watt by John Partridge, after Sir William Beechley. 31 December 1806. Author: Antonia Reeve. Public Domain

January 24, AD 76. The Roman emperor, Hadrian, who visited Britain c A.D. 121 and ordered the building of the 73 mile Hadrian’s Wall from the Solway Firth to the Tyne to keep out the Scots.

To finish with this is a photo of some early flowering snowdrops at the front of our house. They have been in bud for a few days now.

Christmas in Wonderland at Doddington Hall

Doddington Hall is a large mansion or ‘prodigy house’ built between 1593 and 1600 by Robert  Smythson, one of England’s most renowned Elizabethan architects. It is situated in the village of Doddington in Lincolnshire, just outside the historic city of Lincoln. The hall is complete with a gate house and lovely gardens, including a walled garden, and has remained in the same family for 400 years. The Hall itself is surrounded by the extensive Doddington Estate, part of which is devoted to the sustainable growing of several species of Christmas trees which are sold on the site every year.

This year, Doddington Hall is once more open to the public for the festive season, decorated with another Christmassy theme. It is open from November 25 – December 22 and, for the first time, it will also be open on December 28 and 29. Last year the theme was A Fairytale Christmas (which I wrote about here) and the 2017 theme is Christmas in Wonderland – meaning the Wonderland from the Lewis Carroll story of Alice in Wonderland.

Alice Falling Down the Rabbit Hole. Image from Shutterstock

On our approach to the hall was an unusual sleigh pulled by unicorns.

This is not as strange as it may seem, considering that unicorns are on the family crest, and there are topiary unicorns to welcome visitors at the front entrance. On the front door was a Christmas wreath, in keeping with this year’s theme, in which TIME plays a dominant part, thanks to the White Rabbit’s obsession with it.

Once through the door, we were straight into the Great Hall, which this year is devoted to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Image courtesy of Pixabay

The long table in the middle was set out with colourful foods, and sleeping in a teapot we found the Dormouse. Side tables displayed a variety of decorative objects associated with the tea party, some of them created from newspaper:

The next room we entered on the ground floor was decorated with all things pertaining to the White Rabbit. Watches and clocks seemed to dominate the room, not to mention the wonderful  papier maché version of the White Rabbit himself:

From there we headed out to the ground floor hall, where a table invited us to eat and drink…

Naturally, we declined the kind offers of refreshment and headed for the stairs, all aptly decked out with roses and playing cards, all the way up to the top floor:

The first room we entered on the first floor was the Queen of Hearts’ bedroom, complete with the necessary jam tarts:

Also on this floor was  what we called the Roses Room. Painting the Roses Red is a song featured in the 1951 Disney film of Alice in Wonderland.

We carried on up the stairs to the top (second) floor, where we found a dodo waiting for us. The photo is a bit ‘glary’ but it’s the only one we took.

One room on this floor was dedicated to the hookah-smoking Caterpillar, known for repeating the question Whooo Are Youuu?

Alice in Wonderland by Arthur Rackham: Advice From a Caterpillar. Public Domain

Lastly, we had a look in the Long Gallery which is also on the top floor. Last year this room was dedicated to the Ice Queen. The snowy woodland scene was similar this year, minus the purple lights, but instead of the Ice Queen’s throne was a display of flamingos. Small flamingos also hung on the trees in place of Christmas baubles. (Flamingos are the birds used by the Queen of Hearts in a croquet game).

One room wasn’t open when we were there as some of the ‘elf helpers’ hadn’t arrived. Perhaps some of the characters from the story that we couldn’t find were in there – including the Cheshire Cat. But as we were going on to see the pantomime, Aladdin, later on, we hadn’t time to wait and see.

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