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    December 31st  2014  ...  Ring in the new ...     

     Allow me to introduce you
to a horse - a Hooden Horse named Dobbin, still working and enjoying seeing in the Yule, Christmas and New Year festivities at more than 200 years old!

   Muddypond (for 'tis I penning this diary) was privileged to meet him very recently at Gadd's Brewery, Ramsgate, Kent. More of this tale in the new year. Let it be known, he's a marvel for his age and as sprightly as a Twelth Night Bean King!

   Dobbin is thought to be one of the most ancient of his kind to survive in England and he was a joy to watch. He belongs to the Kentish St. Nicholas at Wade Hoodeners and is a much loved local character.

  Dobbin jingles his bells and joins me to wish you

Joy and Happiness for tonight,
and for the Whole Year to Come!


Hooden Horse Dobbin belonging to the St. Nicholas at Wade Hoodeners, Dec 2014 ©vcsinden2014


   December 21st '14  ... The extraordinary 'Nikolospiel' of Bad Mitterndorf ... folklore at its best ..

Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014

   It's towards the end of a December afternoon, and I stand looking back over the village of Bad Mitterndorf, nestled deep in the valley, entirely surrounded by Austrian mountains. No snow yet sadly, but the sharp, cold, crystal clear air tells me I am far from my own woods.

   Researching folklore, this time the European
tradition of 'Straw men' or 'Straw bears' has brought me to Austria, and a long-wished-for close encounter with the unforgettable 'Strohschab'  of Bad Mitterndorf!  

   Many of the shop windows are decorated for the Nikolospiel - on the left is a bakery and coffee shop, where brioche Krampus figures were selling out fast!

 Meet some REAL Strohschabs below .... I counted at least twelve at one time during the processions of the evening! You can hear their whip-cracking in Muddypond's video later on.


The 'Strohschaben' of Bad Mitterndorf

    Bad Mitterndorf is busy in the ski season. It's set up for plenty of snow - late coming this year! Never mind, there's a huge new 'Therme' in walking distance of the village!

Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014 Grimming Therme, Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014
The Grimming Therme - is a big thermal complex of indoor / outdoor swimmimg pools, spa and saunas fed by recently discovered hot springs. Swim outside in hot water steaming into the cold mountain air. Delicious!

  You might visit the pretty churches while you wait, as I did, for the all-important night of December 5th, and the age old folklore of the 'Nikolospiel'.

Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014 Village Church, Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014
The 14th century church of St. Margaret built atop a small hill in the very centre of the village.

Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014

Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014

The horses enjoyed the exercise as much as I loved the ride it seems!

  Wrapped up in plaid rugs and  out for a hour or so along forest tracks and mountain streams, where even the birds have their Christmas trees and mistletoe!

Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014

 And then  it was here. The night of the legendary Nikolospiel. Amongst all the Salzkammurgut villages, Bad Mitterndorf stands alone in the scale, dedication to tradition and sheer exuberance of their performance. The play, which is basically a morality play for children where the original script is still used, is performed five times. Before and after each, the players process from place to place, led by the amazing, whip-cracking straw beetles - the Strohschab.

    The good Bishop Nikolaus lectures us on proper behaviour, attended by his Angel and a Policeman!
  'Death' swipes of the head of a wayward old fellow with his scythe as a warning to all!
It is the job of the Priest to interview children and discover their suitability for presents of nuts and oranges.     The Nikolospiel, Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014

The Nikolospiel, Lucifer, Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014
   Lucifer in his chains, and the frankly frightening 'Krampus'  complete with sheep bells and in wonderfully carved wooden masks topped by horns, do their utmost to disrupt the proceedings.
Krampus mask at the Nikolospiel, Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014
The Red Krampus at the Nikolospiel, Bad Mitterndorf, Austria ©vcsinden2014

      The Krampus, around forty of the local men, chase the crowds down the streets, seeking out individuals, catching them   and beating them with birch switches like small besom-brooms. Be warned - they can sting !! Much shrieking and laughter ensues!

       Beer tankards and hot mugs of  Gluhwein are raised, and suddenly - all is over for another year.




    November 29th ....   Treasure house,  the 12th century church at Kilpeck . .
     ( The ruling  Ogham wood for all your magical needs is now Elder or Nion -   from November 25th to December 22nd)

Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014

    Unspoilt, unaltered and unarguably one of the most amazing buildings that this oft-travelling fae has ever visited - is the church of St Mary and St David, in the Herefordshire village of Kilpeck. It remains as it was built over nine hundred years ago, a perfect little Norman country church - no added side chapels, steeples or Victorian clearances here. It sits on an ancient monastic site, beside the remains of a castle, which makes a fine little walk from the adjoining churchyard.

   The church's interior is sweet, serene, almost plain and well worth the finding - but it's the outside that's so very astonishing!

The dooway of Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014 Carvings above the great doorway of Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014 Carvings on the great arched door of Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014

    The great Norman doorway is surrounded by intricately carved figures, with a range of strange creatures above. These echo the eighty-five extraordinary corbels (see below) supporting the roof. around the apse and most of the exterior.

    These celebrated red sandstone carvings, unique to this part of the country, have never been renovated or renewed. They remain unweathered and looking it seems, as fresh as in the days when  the stone was cut.

Corbel at Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014
Corbel at Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014
Corbel at Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014
Corbel at Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014 Corbel at Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014
Badger corbel at Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014 Pig corbel at Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014
Baby birds with snake corbel at Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014
bear with baby in mouth a corbel at Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014
Corbel at Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014

       I do so hope that one day, if you haven't already managed it, you'll be able to see these wonders for yourself on a visit to Kilpeck. Meanwhile, there are many sites online where the history and art of this stunning and treasured place is discussed in detail. If you would like some further reading may I suggest:

Website - Great English Churches - Kilpeck
Website - Sacred Destinations - Kilpeck

Book - 'The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture' by Malcolm Thurlby
Pub: Logaston Press 18-4-2013   ISBN 13: 9781906663728



   November 20th .... Rye Bonfire Night - the Sussex Societies light up the Autumn skies . . .

Rye Bonfire Society, Sussex 2014 ©vcsinden2014 Rye Bonfire Society, Sussex 2014 ©vcsinden2014 Rye Bonfire Society, Sussex 2014 ©vcsinden2014 Rye Bonfire Society, Sussex 2014 ©vcsinden2014

       From 1863 ....  'The well-known festival of Guy Fawkes Day is observed by English juveniles , who still regard the 5th of November as one of the most joyous days of the year.

   The universal mode of observance throughout all parts of England is the dressing up of a scarecrow figure in such cast-habiliments as can be procured, (the head-piece generally a paper-cap, painted and knotted with paper strips in imitation of ribbons), parading it in a chair through the streets, and at nightfall burning it with great solemnity on a huge bonfire.'

from "The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities" Volume 2
 edited by Robert Chambers  c1863?

Chairing the Guy at Rye Bonfire Society, Sussex 2014 ©vcsinden2014

   All fire celebrations and ceremonies are much loved by the ancient faery-folk as well as the 'English juveniles' mentioned in the Victorian journal the 'Book of Days'. Nothing else compares to the crackle and roar of a great bonfire, fiery torches and deafening arial bombardments orchestrated by the historic Bonfire Societies of Sussex!  Muddypond chooses a different Society to visit each year, and a faery's wings shiver with anticipation as the time draws nearer!

Muddypond Green at Rye Bonfire Society Parade in Sussex 2014 ©vcsinden2014
The Fire at Rye Bonfire Society, Sussex 2014 ©vcsinden2014
    The amazing Bonfire Societies of Sussex light up the skies from late September right through until December. You can pick any weekend to attend one or another, no need to get crushed in the melee of the famous night at Lewes! This year there were 34 others around the county to choose from!

  On the left you can see Muddypond chatting about the great Dragon in the Rye parade. She has Dragon stories of her own to tell!

The Dragon at Rye Bonfire Society, Sussex 2014 ©vcsinden2014

    'The uproar throughout the town from the shouts of the mob,  the ringing of the bells in the churches, and the general confusion which prevailed, can but faintly be imagined by an individual of the present day.'

from "The Book of Days:" Volume 2 ed.Robert Chambers  c1863?

Rye Bonfire Society, Sussex 2014 ©vcsinden2014
Rye Bonfire Society, Sussex 2014 ©vcsinden2014

                            Below - climbing boy with a view! A future Bonfire Society leader perhaps!








    November 10th .... silent awe ... night-time at The Tower

Poppies for November, floodlit at the Tower of London ©vcsinden2014

Poppies for November, floodlit at the Tower of London ©vcsinden2014

Each one a life

Poppies overlooked by Tower bridge, floodlit at the Tower of London ©vcsinden2014
Poppies overlooked by The Shard , floodlit at the Tower of London ©vcsinden2014
London landmarks - Tower Bridge and The Shard oversee the tribute.

Poppies for November, floodlit at the Tower of London ©vcsinden2014
Single ceramic poppy in the rain, floodlit at the Tower of London ©vcsinden2014
Single ceramic poppy in the rain, floodlit at the Tower of London ©vcsinden2014
Poppies for November, floodlit at the Tower of London ©vcsinden2014

Poppies for November, floodlit at the Tower of London ©vcsinden2014



    November 2nd 2014 .... Arthur's Stone .... megalithic tomb with a view ...  

    View from Arthur’s Stone, Dorstone, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014

     Atop a ridge of hills overlooking the village of Dorstone in Herefordshire sits the chamber tomb named Arthur's Stone. It keeps vigil over the surrounding valleys as it has for an estimated five thousand of years. Quite a few faery life-spans indeed!

Arthur’s Stone, Dorstone, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014

   An oldish book from Muddypond's reference library 'Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain' by Leslie V. Grinsell  (pub: David & Charles 1976)  informs her that ....

"Arthur killed a giant here; the stone on the Bredwardine side is where the giant fell, and the hollows in it mark the giant's elbows.'

    The tomb, which would once have been entirely covered by a huge earthen mound, has an unusual entrance passageway constructed with a sharp angle half-way along its length. Its massive capstone is estimated to weigh in excess of 25 tons.

Angled passageway, Arthur’s Stone, Dorstone, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014 Arthur’s Stone, Dorstone, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014


      Down in the valley below, is the village of Bredwardine where clergyman and celebrated Victorian diarist Francis Kilvert spent his last years of ministry in the church of St. Andrews. He is buried in the quiet churchyard. Sadly his untimely death at the age of 39 robbed us of further rural musings, jottings and chronicles - leaving history with only three volumes written between 1870 and his death in 1879.  (Picture of Francis Kilvert from 'Victorian Powys for Schools').

     Muddypond visited the church on a rather damp afternoon of October 26th. Almost one hundred and forty-two years earlier to the day, Francis had jotted the following ...

Grave of Francis Kilvert, Bredwardine,  Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014

  ' The weather was lovely and round the quiet Church the trees were gorgeous, the elms dazzling golden and the beeches burning crimson. The golden elms illuminated the Church and Churchyard with strong yellow light and the beeches flamed and glowed with scarlet and crimson fire like the Burning Bush. '

          Francis Kilvert October 27th 1872

Bredwardine Church, Saxon Doorway, Herefordshire ©vcsinden2014