Arbor Day. Tree Dressing at Aston-on-Clun in the Shropshire Marches

Arbor Day. Tree Dressing at Aston-on-Clun in the Shropshire Marches

A black poplar tree stands beside a little stream in the Shropshire village of Aston-on-Clun. Amongst its boughs bright flags are fluttering in the breeze. Today is Arbor Day, an old tree-dressing tradition when the flags are renewed and the community celebrates their tree. How this tradition came about and for how long is open to question and one I wanted to find out more about. May 29 is also Oak Apple Day, the day in 1660 when Charles II…

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Dancing the Morris in the Shropshire Hills. A Whitsun Tale

Dancing the Morris in the Shropshire Hills. A Whitsun Tale

And let us do it with no show of fear No, with no more than if we heard England were busied with a Whitsun morris dance Henry V II. iv. Shakespeare c 1599 This ‘Whitsun tale’ took place on a remote hill in South Shropshire over four hundred years ago. Before we get into the whys and wherefores of the story (of which there are actually very few) it may be helpful to clarify a couple of points. First, the…

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Cakes of Peace, Magic Bread & Easter Day Wassails: Old Springtime Traditions of the Welsh Marches

Cakes of Peace, Magic Bread & Easter Day Wassails: Old Springtime Traditions of the Welsh Marches

In late March this year the weather suddenly warmed up. Spring seemed to burst out of everywhere here at Moonbrook Cottage, to cries of goshawks, chiffchaffs, skylarks and the later promise of the cookoo. Celandines, or star-flowers, cheered up the woods and moon-flowers, more commonly wood anemones, graced the shadows and verges. It was during this time that I was approached by BBC’s Countryfile program regarding ideas for their feature on Easter traditions of Herefordshire. The Reformation led to goodness…

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Searching for the Invisible Past in the ‘Vivid Present’

Searching for the Invisible Past in the ‘Vivid Present’

“That vivid present of theirs, how faint it grows! The past is only the present become invisible and mute; and because it is invisible and mute, its memorized glances and its murmurs are infinitely precious. We are tomorrow’s past.” Mary Webb, (Precious Bane, 1924) I am interested in the social and historical context of folk traditions. This may be difficult, if not impossible to determine yet the history of people who kept tradition alive is an integral part of my…

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Plough Bullocks & Plum Pudding, the Forgotten Feast of Plough Monday

Plough Bullocks & Plum Pudding, the Forgotten Feast of Plough Monday

‘Forget not the Feasts that belong to the Plough’* Plough Munday, the next after Twelftide be past, biddeth out with the plough, the worst husband is last. If Ploughman gets hatchet or whip to the skreene. maydes loseth their Cocke if no Water be seene. Thomas Tusser* 1557 Writing in 1557 the Essex writer and farmer, Thomas Tusser, is describing a game then played on Plough Monday, the first Monday after Twelfth Night. The game’s origins are unknown. It would…

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The Spirit of Morwen, Pilgrimage & a Witches Brew of Memories

The Spirit of Morwen, Pilgrimage & a Witches Brew of Memories

Sea dragons, merry maids, sea witches and tempestuous seas are part of the lure of the otherworldly North Cornwall coastline. Artists, writers & poets have thrived and taken inspiration from its raw, and sometimes terrifying beauty. Its wildness & unpredictability is not for everyone but for myself it is part of that westward pull that has taken me from St Kilda to Kerry, from St David’s to St Just. November storms are sometimes exhilarating, often brutal, air howling as the…

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Tales from the Deep Earth: The Descent of Giants

Tales from the Deep Earth: The Descent of Giants

Or, The Fall and Fading of Vadi… With All Hallows behind us and the ever darkening nights of winter ahead, this is the time of year to dig in and burrow down into the warmth of home and hearth and listen to, or read, stories. Our folklore and legends are full of tales of giants but what happened to them between their appearance as fearsome primeval entities and the much later blustering entities uttering fee fi fo fum? I wrote…

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“It’s tradition!” – The Flower Show & The Horn Dance

“It’s tradition!” – The Flower Show & The Horn Dance

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in the cancellation of many customs and traditional gatherings. Some, like the solstice celebrations at Stonehenge, have been cancelled two years running but a few have reappeared this summer in various town squares and village greens. For some others, their long term survival remains in doubt. A number of our customs may be ancient, most are not but probably all have adapted and metamorphosed over the years as plague, war, suppression and oppression and, not…

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The Curious Tale of The Green Children of St Martinsland

The Curious Tale of The Green Children of St Martinsland

 ‘Another wonderful thing happened in Suffolk at St Mary’s of the Wolf-pits’ wrote the English chronicler Ralph of Coggeshall. Ralph’s contemporary, William of Newburgh, wrote a slightly earlier version of this tale. It’s not known whether Ralph was using William’s account or whether he had another source. Ralph wrote extensively in the 12/13th century recording stories and anecdotes heard from visitors to his abbey in Essex. Such stories could travel great distances between medieval abbeys, treasured by the clerics that…

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Fae winds & tiny lights – Portal to the Otherworld.

Fae winds & tiny lights – Portal to the Otherworld.

Fae winds and tiny lights may sometimes alert us to subtle changes in our place of being, whether they appear in a tale or as we climb up a hillside. Either way they signal a risk of enchantment, a visit from something, or someone, supernatural and we must make shrewd and canny choices about what may happen next…. The wind bites. It is freezing cold. You walk up the path bent against the stinging rain. The threshold of the cave…

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Hal-an tow, Jolly Rumbalow – Making Merry in the May !

Hal-an tow, Jolly Rumbalow – Making Merry in the May !

Hal-an-tow, jolly rumbalow!We were up long before the day-oTo welcome in the summerTo welcome in the May-o.The summer is a-coming inAnd winter’s gone away-o. Robin Hood and Little JohnHave both gone to the fair-o.And we will go to the merry greenwood, to see what they do there-o ~ Welcome to the merry and magical month of May! Out comes Jack, Robin Hood, the maypole and all the flowers in the greenwood, some with a ‘hey nonny -no’ and some without,…

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Jimmy Fish, the Artist & the King of Constantinople….

Jimmy Fish, the Artist & the King of Constantinople….

This is a short tale about how a picture led me to discover two very different people and their very different lives. They both lived in the East End of London, one an artist, Reginald Knowles, the other the boy who lived next door. This boy was Jimmy Fish, the brother of my mum’s step-mother. I will never know when they first met, how often Reginald and Jimmy saw each other, if they chatted over the garden wall or whether…

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