View of a rainbow and hillside over a hedge covered in Russian Vine

4 08 2011

Just another couple of photos from this evening. We’ve had some interesting, but not terribly popular, weather over the last couple of days. There were taken just after some warm, sunny drizzle. I was just playing around with framing the hill with the rainbow over it in the dip in the hedge. I was running a bit late, so only took a couple and they’re a bit dark. I might have a bit more a play around with them over the weekend.







Summer Solstice and Midsummer

21 06 2011

So, the summer solstice falls today. The summer solstice and Midsummer’s Day mean different things to a lot of different people. What do they mean to you?


  • The word solstice comes from the Latin sol, meaning sun and sistere, to stand still.
  • The solstice is an instant in time. This year it takes place at 17:16 on the 21 June in the Northern Hemisphere and at 05:30 on the 22 December in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • The day on which the summer solstice takes is often referred to as Midsummer’s Day.
  • According to Wikipedia, the summer solstice occurs “when the Earth’s and the moon’s axial tilt is most inclined towards the sun, at its maximum of 23° 26′.”
  • Midsummer’s Day falls after the summer solstice on the 24 June.


On a personal level, I don’t hold any particular religious beliefs about Midsummer or the solstice. What I feel is a strong tie to generations of ancestors who did and a sense of loss that those beliefs and traditions are all but gone. I feel sad that people of my grandparents’ generation could remember people who retained some of the old beliefs and traditions and that now that is gone.

I feel that we live in a cynical age. As our world-view has widened and media and digital trickery have become more sophisticated, we have taught ourselves look at everything with suspicion and to believe in very little.

Believing in something is not necessarily the same as believing that it is literally true. It strikes me that, in these days of celebrity and reality TV, people are searching for truth and are constantly disillusioned. This creates a pervasive sense of cynicism and distrust.

The traditions, rituals and customs surrounding a religion or belief-system are not, themselves, the belief. They are a vessel for teaching, learning and celebrating it. It doesn’t matter whether the event being celebrated is fact, fiction or a mixture of the two. It doesn’t matter whether Christmas was Jesus’ actual birthday; it doesn’t matter whether witches can really turn into hares and run away across the moors. What matters is that we share in the rituals. They give us stability, they make sense of the non-sensical, they remind us of our place in the world and why we live the way we do. We take the time to celebrate, to spend time together, to remember what our spiritual figurehead(s) taught us.

In this, we have lost something. We have spent so much time questioning whether our god(s) is/are real or not and trying to prove or dis-prove his/her/their existence that we have forgotten to have faith in the way we live. Faith need not be in the literal truth of every fable, legend, scripture, but in the moral code we learn from them.


According to British Popular Customs Present And Past – Customs, practices & rituals from the traditions & folklore of the British Isles:


On this eve people were in former times accustomed to go into the woods, and break down branches of the trees, which they brought to their homes, and planted over their doors, amidst great demonstrations of joy, to make good the scrip­ture prophecy respecting the Baptist, that many should re­joice in his birth. This custom was at one time universal in England. —Book of Days, vol. i. p. 815.

It was a popular superstition that if any unmarried woman fasted on Midsummer Eve, and at midnight laid a clean cloth with bread, cheese, and ale, and then sat down as if going to eat, the street door being left open, the person whom she was afterwards to marry would come into the room and drink to her by bowing; and after filling the glass would leave it on the table, and, making another bow, retire. —Grose.

The same writer also tells us that any person fasting on Midsummer Eve, and sitting in the church porch, will at midnight see the spirits of the persons of that parish who will die that year come and knock at the church door, in the order and succession in which they will die.

The fern was a most important object of popular super­stition at this season. It was supposed at one time to have neither flower nor seed, the seed which lay on the back of the leaf being so small as to escape the sight of the hasty observer. Hence, probably, proceeding on the fantastic doctrine of signatures, our ancestors derived the notion that those who could obtain and wear this invisible seed would be themselves invisible, a belief of which innumerable instances may be found in our old dramatists. —Soane’s Book of tlie Months. —See Brand’s Pop. Antiq., 1849, vol. i. p. 314.

People also gathered on this night the rose, St. John’s wort, vervain, trefoil, and rue, all of which were thought to have magical properties. They set the orpine in clay upon pieces of slate or potsherd in their houses, calling it a Midsummer-man. As the stalk was found next morning to incline to the right or left, the anxious maiden knew whether her lover would prove true to her or not. Young men sought also for pieces of coal, but in reality certain hard, black, dead roots, often found under the living mugwort, designing to place these under their pillows, that they might dream of themselves. —Book of Days, vol. i. p. 816.

In addition to the superstitious customs already mentioned there was the Dumb Cake: *

Two make it,
Two bake it,
Two break it;

and the third must put it under each of their pillows, but not a word must be spoken all the time. This being done, the diviners are sure to dream of the man they love. There was the divination by hemp-seed,* which consisted of a person sowing hemp-seed, saying at the same time,

Hemp-seed I sow.
Hemp-seed I hoe.
And he that is my true love,
Come after me and mow.

The lover was sure then to make his appearance.—Soane’s Book of the Months.

Towards night, materials for a fire were collected in a public place and kindled. To this the name of bonfire was given, a term of which the most rational explanation seems to be that it was composed of contributions collected as boons or gifts of social and charitable feeling. Around this fire the people danced with almost frantic mirth, the men and boys occasionally jumping through it, not to show their agility, but as a compliance with ancient custom. f—Book of Days, vol. i. p. 86.

In the reign of Henry VII. these fires were patronised by the Court, and numerous entries appear in the ” Privy-purse Expenses” of that monarch, by which he either defrayed the charges, or rewarded the firemen. A few are subjoined, as examples of the whole :

” June 23 (1493). To making of the bonefuyr on Midsorner Eve, 10′. ” June 28 (1495). For making the king’s bonefuyr, 10s. “June 24 (1497). Midsomer Day, for making of the bone-fuyr, 10s. ” June 30 (1498). The making of the bone-fuyr, £2.
Med, Mm Kalend., 1841, vol. i. p. 303.

In the months of June and July, says Stow, on the vigils of festival days, and on the same festival days in the evening after the sun setting, there were usually made bonfires in the streets, every man bestowing wood or labour towards them; the wealthier sort also, before their doors near to the said bonfires, would set out tables on the vigils, furnished with sweet bread and good drink, and on the festival days with meats and drinks plentifully, whereunto they would invite their neighbours and passengers also to sit and be merry with them in great familiarity, praising God for His benefit bestowed on them. On. these occasions it appears that it was customary to bind an old wheel round about with straw and tow, to take it to the top of some hill at night, to set fire to the combustibles, and then roll it down the declivity.



On Midsummer Eve, at Ripon, in former days, every housekeeper, who in the course of the year had changed his residence into a new neighbourhood, spread a table before his door in the street with bread, cheese, and ale for those who chose to resort to it. The guests, after staying awhile, if the master was liberally disposed, were invited to supper, and the evening was concluded with mirth and good humour, —Every Day Book, vol. ii. p. 866.


There are various large, organised celebrations that take place in the UK. Here are links to a few of them and some related bits and pieces.

Free Summer Fun

8 06 2011

The summer holiday season will soon be upon us and who doesn’t know someone who’s going somewhere that makes you green with envy? At this time of year, it can feel as though you’re no one if you’re not going somewhere that’ll make everyone green with envy.

I don’t know how many of you watched the BBC TV series, Beautiful People, but there was an episode in which Simon’s family had been telling everyone they were going away on a fantastic holiday, but found themselves too short on cash to actually go, so, to keep up appearances, they locked themselves in their house for a week and carried on as though they were on holiday. They decorated the house, dressed in their holiday clothes and held holiday-camp-style competitions in their living room. They had a whale of a time.

I’m not suggesting that you go to the lengths of lying to your friends, family and general acquaintance about your whereabouts, but here are a few ideas for fun holiday activities on a shoestring budget.

House Swap

If you fancy getting away, how about swapping houses with a friend who lives in another area? You can have fun making lists of local sights and activities for one another and you won’t have to worry about finishing absolutely everything in the fridge and getting someone in to water the plants and feed the pets.


Picnics are vastly under-rated. You can go where you like, within legal limits, obviously, and eat what you like, when you like. You don’t need to be near a café or restaurant, you don’t need to comply with their times, you won’t find that there’s nothing you like on the menu or that everything’s over-cooked. It won’t be hideously expensive. Basically, it’s all on your own terms and you don’t have to be on your best behaviour!


Spend a pleasant summer’s day by a river, enjoy being outside, take a picnic and maybe a book or a radio and you’ll maybe get something to take home for tea. It’s not free to fish everywhere – you need a ticket or club membership in many places. has information on where you can fish for free and what you can catch there.

There really is something very satisfying about catching your own food!

Free Days Out

For ideas on free days out, try There’s also a list of free museums provided by the Department for Culture. It would also be worth checking your council’s or local attractions’ websites, to find out whether admission is free or discounted for local residents.

Discover your home town

Very often, we look further afield for our holiday fun, but how many of us can say that we’ve taken the tourist trail round our home town? Get a guide-book out from your local library and find out what you’ve been missing out on.

If you can get hold of a walking tour map itinerary, you could give yourselves the full-on tourist experience. Go in a large group and you can take turns at being the guide and being the tourists. Why not go the whole hog and create characters for yourselves?

Cycle paths, bridleways and green lanes

The countryside and, for that matter, towns are full of paths and shortcuts you would never see from public transport or your car. They say a change is as good as a rest, so why not look at your town from a different perspective?

Scavenger Hunts

These are great, in that you can easily make them age-appropriate and you can even sneak a bit of learning in there.

For those who don’t know, on a scavenger hunt, each participant has a list of items they have to find. The first to return with the full set of items within the allowed time wins.

They’re nice because you can pass time with spin-offs. A rainy-day project could be making or decorating bags to carry collected items in. The journey could be spent making up the item list in the style of the game ‘Granny went to market’.

Let the Children Camp in the Garden

Just because you’re not going away, it doesn’t mean you have to stick to the term-time routine. Why not let the children camp out in your garden? You can have a quiet night in and they can imagine they’re anywhere – American pioneers, heading west, nomads in the desert, circus performers, a travelling fair, jungle or arctic explorers – the world’s their oyster! If you have a sandpit and or a paddling pool, they could create their own beach. They could put on their own circus act with your friends. It gives a taste of independence, with the safety net of running back in if they need to.
Maybe they could cook on a camp fire, under adult supervision? Some easy cooking ideas:

  • Baked beans – cook them in a pan then eat them out of a mug
  • Jacket potatoes – wrap them in tin foil and put them in the embers of the fire, once it dies down
  • Marshmallows or toast – put them on skewers and toast them over the fire
  • Cocoa – make it in a pan over the fire, then pour into a mug. It goes really well with marshmallows.

When you’re camping in the garden, you might see all kinds of wildlife you wouldn’t see in the daytime: hedgehogs, foxes, owls, badgers etc.

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