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         Kentish Snowdrop Walks and Gardens, with dates for February 2014

 

   February 25th 2014       Just because ....


         Baby dragon illustration by Jackie MorrisA Small Dragon

I’ve found a small dragon in the woodshed.
Think it must have come from deep inside a forest
Because it’s damp and green and leaves
are still reflecting in its eyes.

I fed it on many things, tried grass,
the roots of stars, hazel-nut and dandelion,
but it stared up at me as if to say, I need
foods you can’t possibly provide.

It made a nest among the coal,
Not unlike a bird’s but larger,
it is out of place here
and is quite silent.

If you believed in it I would come
hurrying to your house to let you share my wonder,
but I want instead to see
if you yourself will pass this way.

                                                            Brian Patten

You may find Brian Patten's website here.   
The scrumptious illustration is by a favourite contemporary artist and author - Jackie Morris
Jackie Morris' Artist Blog is here       

 

 

   February 20th 2014       And it's still a whole month before the Spring Equinox ....
( The  Ogham wood has changed and is now Ash - Nion - February 18th to March 17th.  An Ash twig can make a powerful wand, add Ash bark or keys to your herbal incense.)

Snowdrops and blossom ©vcsinden2014

   Early Spring blossom ©vcsinden2014It doesn't surprise me that this has been the wettest January and February since the weather-recording of human-kind began in earnest. But - it has been warm !! The birds have been singing their dawn chorus around my wood at just after five in the morning - and the local cockerels wake the world more joyfully every day!Crocus bloom  ©vcsinden2014

   Don't need to show you the flooded fields and railways,the fallen trees and dangling telephone wires - let's just look at the results of the full on signs of finer weather that I've enjoyed here in Kent over the last few days.

   Blossoms in the churchyard at Molash, and amongst the snowdrops.     Primroses in Hurst Wood and crocus' on the banks at Hever.

Spring bank in early February ©vcsinden2014
Primroses soak up a rare day of February sun ©vcsinden2014

To go with the Calendar of Snowdrop Walks and Gardens in Kent, is a new page that you may like,
all about the folklore, myth and magic surrounding this most loved flower -
I hope you will enjoy 'Snowdrop Magic' .



 

   February 1st 2014       For the festival of Brigid ...... or Imbolc ...  

Wild violets in January ©vcsinden2014

    Dodging the rain and the muddiest part of 'Neighbourhood Bank', where I know there's a small patch of cultivated snowdrops, my eye was drawn to glints of purple through the green. Instead of the snowdrops that I was searching for, I was amazed to discover wild violets - violets on the last day of January, in full bloom! Whoever heard of such a thing?

  brigid's Cross in reed grass, freshly made for St Brigid's Day ©vcsinden2014An extraodinary gift they seemed to me, bringing hope and a shiver of anticipation for the long days of spring to follow. So when I light my simple white candle tonight to honour Goddess Brigid and replenish the rush cross of St.Bride, instead of the traditional snowdrops, there will be a tiny pot of wild violets to focus thoughts on nature's blessings.

How to make a Brigid Cross is here on my website.

You might also be interested in learning a little more about Brigid's Day here.

 

 

 

     January 21st       Of Wassail and Snowdrop buds ......
( The  Ogham wood has changed today to Rowan - Luis - January 21st to February 17th.  Use Rowan wood for a powerful wand, add Rowan bark or berries to you herbal incense.)

   Apple orchards for fine fruit, juicing and cider making are an important ingredient of the Kentish landscape.Wassail - Seven Champions Molly at the Phoenix Tavern, Faversham, Kent ©vcsinden2014

    A wassail ritual (often celebrated around the Twelth Night, old or new) is a must-attend essential for all faery Woodland Guardians, whether appointed or hopeful. If you would like to read more about the fruit tree wassails, you can find a longer entry  "Recipe for a Fine Wassail" here  on my website.

    First snowdrops, Challock Church ©vcsinden2014This little wassail took place in Faversham on 17th January and was led by Seven Champions Molly - these fellows get about, it was only last week that Muddypond watched them dance at the Straw Bear Festival! (see below). The young tree was hung carefully according to custom with cider-soaked toast, blessings given and its roots were duly annointed! 

 Breaking with tradition, (cider soaked fruit cake), there was apple pie and custard to finish!  Most welcome!

 

    In the early dusk of Sunday, I walked along the path beside the isolated church of  St Cosmos & St Damian near Challock - and yes! There they were! the very first buds of the snowdrop carpet that will be at its peak and ready for the famous 'Snowdrop Teas' in mid February.

   It isn't too early to plan your Snowdrop walks - my detailed   'Kentish Snowdrop Calendar 2014'  is ready today. Hurrah!

 

 

 

      January 14th 2014     And here he is - Whittlesey Straw Bear .....

Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014  ©vcsinden2014 Whittlesey Straw Bear Historic photo from Journal of the Folklore Society 1909
Bear and his Keeper  2014
Bear and his Keeper c1900

      Welcome to you Straw Bear!   Costumed luxuriously from the best of the old year's harvest, he is reborn at Twelth Night (as at the Julian calendar tradition).  The Bear symbolizes the giving of thanks (and alms!) for past, plentiful seasons and readiness to give way to the new year. The fields lie waiting for the plough and the seed drill. Each day grows longer and lighter. 

Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014 roof  thatching ©vcsinden2014
Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014  Pig Dyke Molly ©vcsinden2014
      
A rooftop thatch Straw Bear looks down on proceedings in the Market Square while 'Pig Dyke Molly' make themselves a souvenir photo.
Muddypond Green dances at the Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival  ©vcsinden2014
                You can never stop a good faery dancing when she has the chance!

   

    The historic picture above is made from a Victorian lantern slide and a copy may be found in Whittlesey Museum, at the Town Hall, and the 1909 Journal of the Folklore Society, in the Collectanea section, where it is accompanied by a letter .... I give an extract below ....

      'When I was in Whittlesey (Cambridgeshire) yesterday, (January  12th 1909), I had the pleasure of meeting a 'straw-bear', if not two, in the street. I had not been at Whittlesey on the day for nearly forty years, and feared that the custom had died out.   Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014   ©vcsinden2014

 

 

 In my boyhood, the "straw-bear" was a man completley swathed in straw, led by a string by another, and made to dance in front of people's houses, in return for which money was expected. This always took place on the Tuesday following Plough Monday. Yesterday the "straw-bear" was a boy, and there was no dancing; otherwise I saw no change.'

   Happily the dancing habit is very much back alive and well in the 21st century. I wonder what the letter-writer, Mr G. C Moore-Smith of Sheffield, would have made of the madly colourful 2014 festival.

Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014  Gog Magog Molly  ©vcsinden2014
Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014  Gog Magog Molly ©vcsinden2014
The wonderful  'Gog Magog Molly' , precision dancing while the band plays 'The Oompa Loompa' tune!!
Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014  Chiltern Hundreds Clog Morris ©vcsinden2014

Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014  - Bessy from 7 Champions Molly, Kent  ©vcsinden2014  


Things I loved about the Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival:

*    No junky outside stalls, town traders were all that was needed
*   The Bear himself, parading and ambling all day long from pub to pub -
      so accessible and easy to see
*   The small and tiny sized straw bears sitting atop the big parade drum
*   The Town Hall, Museum, Pubs and Churches being open, with story-telling
      and music
*   The wonderful, free, park & ride into town
*   The huge mix of ages, interested spectators and enthusiatic, skilful performers

(Left: 'Bessy' from 'Seven Champions Molly' - visitors from Muddypond's neck-of-the-woods, near Lenham in Kent.)

 

Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014  - banner ©vcsinden2014
Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014 - the Mepal Molly Men  ©vcsinden2014
' The Mepal Molly Men'  (above), who traditionally only dance for The Straw Bear Festival and on Plough Monday.
Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014 - Old Glory Molly ©vcsinden2014
The drum - Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014  ©vcsinden2014
'Old Glory Molly Dancers & Musicians' -   (see their own 'Cutty Wren' ceremony here on my website.)  and the Whittlesey Parade Drum.

   And so -  to be reborn, old Bear must be burned - as the rough stalks in the fields are burned to make way for the Plough. His fun loving spirit had fled his costume before the first flame of Sunday touched its feet and leaped up, changing straw to ash which will fertilise and feed the earth.  He WILL be back!

Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014 - the bear dancing ©vcsinden2014
The burning - Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014  ©vcsinden2014
Bear back -  Whittlesey Straw Bear festival 2014  ©vcsinden2014

 

 

 

    January 7th 2014     May it be a rare and splendid New Year .....

Flooded meadows near Headcorn, Kent ©vcsinden2014
Meadows near Headcorn, Kent, first week of the New Year.

   .... for that, apart from the good old British weather, is how it started. In and around the Hurst Wood Clearing and the old hollow oak all is 'So far - So good' - if a bit soggy underfoot!    ... it all began with the Mad Mummers of  the Woodchurch Morris and and that dreaded French Stick. Best not to ask!

Woodchurch Morris & Mummers - Josephine  ©vcsinden2014 The role of the French Stick was an important one - spare your blushes - but you might ask the horse about it if you must! Woodchurch Morris & Mummers - The Hooden Horse ©vcsinden2014
Woodchurch Morris & Mummers - The French Stick ©vcsinden2014
Josephine
The French Stick
The Woodchurch Hooden
Napoleon

     There were fireworks over the channel and harbour at Ramsgate on New Year's Eve, and on New Year's Day a visit to Sadlers Wells and Mathew Bourne's 'Swan Lake' - the entrancing male swans being a lot more elegant than Madame Josephine (above), who behind that fan has a definite beard!

Ramsgate New Year's Eve ©vcsinden2014
Midnight sea and celebrations at Ramsgate
Swan lake at Sadlers Wells, London
Photo by Sadlers Wells Production Photography Team

    Now a little travelling Northwards, to witness the strange tradition of the Whittlesey Straw Bear for the old Twelth Night / Plough Monday. See you, I hope, when I get back to my woods.