I wonder where our heavy boots, caked with sticky mud, will take us, as we set out on the winding, forest trail in search of a shy snow drop?
The sun will surely warm our icy cheeks through the branches, as we head deeper into the woodland.
Hand in hand, we stumble through puddles and clamber over fallen tree trunks. We climb logs and gather feathers. We spy moss-strewn faerie doors in burrows and run excitedly on, as our dear forest guardian, Robin, hops ahead from branch to branch, leading the way.
Breathing in the cold winter air, we feel it energise our core and carry us deeper into nature, to seek adventure.
Looking back to our muddy boot prints pressed into the trail behind us, we see that we have come a long way. Each step tells a new story...where we are heading and where we will end up.
It's time to pause a moment. We find a welcoming tree stump, sit down and bring out the steaming flask to warm our bodies. As we sip, we giggle and tell tales of the woodland folk who may be watching us from around the forest. We prick our ears and listen for their sound; but all is quiet, except for the sweet chorus of birdsong.
Time to rise and adventure on some more. Robin appears, nodding, as if certain he's found what we're seeking. We follow his lead, enchanted by his dedication to our little expedition. Getting nearer to a grassy clearing, we run on, butterflies rising up within us, as we await our surprise destination. Eyes sparkle with anticipation. Then, just like that, we see them. Our shy, snowdrops; their heads bowed with grace and dignity. A soft, glimmer of hope that Spring is growing near. January's gift, amongst the cold, dark days.
We stand together; one small hand holding mine, as we take in this magical sight. When you've got a child's hand in yours, Winter in the forest is filled with the greatest surprises. No matter the weather, being amidst nature is the most special place to play.
Pull on your boots, and have your own woodland adventure. You may just unearth some beautiful surprises of your own this Winter.
I wonder where our heavy boots, caked with sticky mud, will take us, as we set out on the winding, forest trail in search of a shy snow drop?
Nature, the seasons, living simply, and making time for creativity - all were up for discussion at our two community meet-ups these past few months. In day-to-day life we may not all have the opportunity to converse with others about these topics. With the love and passion we have for them, meeting like-minded souls who feel the same is so empowering!
Conversations and connections that enrich our lives were continued or begun during those few short hours.
First, in October, we headed to the Attenborough Nature Reserve in Nottingham. New faces were welcomed as we sat in some late summer sun, before heading out on one of the circular walks. Eleanor led a few mindful activities along the way, such as “grounding”, where we connect with the earth beneath our feet. Unfortunately the earth beneath mine was a patch of nettles but I enjoyed the concept all the same!
We stopped a while as the waters lapped by our feet to enjoy a warming tea, an apple from our orchard, and a little crafting from foraged twigs to create a star. Mine still hangs from the shed and lightens my day as I reach for my wellies each morning.
Our second meet-up in Edale was hampered by train strikes, but those who made it through met in the tiny National Trust cafe and talk began of the new year that had only just begun.
Soon we braved the weather, and as the harsh winds bit our cheeks we walked on and were prompted to write some seasonal reflections on what surrounded us that blustery day. A hard-earned rest beneath a bridge was accompanied by mulled apple juice and a brief wassail to fortify us to complete our walk.
Our connections and feelings of community were also fortified, and plans were devised for more meet-ups around the country. Larger ones planned by Eleanor for those that can travel, but smaller gatherings too, arranged and attended by those in closer proximity to each other. The relative ease of these for other to attend will mean our community continues to grow, to flourish, and to nourish.
It began with fruit and veg: in a bid to reduce waste, wonky items started appearing in supermarkets and weren’t just reserved to your local farm shop. Now flowers are following suit and shorter stems, stunted growth and wonky blooms will grace the shelves.
Aesthetic imperfections are no longer deemed unworthy and flowers that were once discarded can now find their way to your home through supermarkets and florists alike. These less-than-perfect ranges not only allow growers and farmers to reduce waste and still profit after a bad harvest, it also makes it possible for us all to afford some pretty blooms to cheer our lives from day to day.
The demand for locally grown arrangements has also grown, as sustainability incentives spread through all areas of consumerism. The ‘slow movement’ inserts itself into so many areas with this ethos in mind, helped along by social media and an influx of interest in buying from small, local businesses.
Common Farm Flowers grow cut and wild flowers from their Somerset farm, packed with English blooms. They also encourage their customers to grow their own flowers, offering workshops and ‘grow-your-own’ kits. Theirs is not only a flower farm, but a haven for wildlife, lovingly tended in their bid to enable everybody in the UK to have British grown flowers on their kitchen table all year round.
The Slow Flower Movement has taken force on a larger scale in the US, with advocate for American-grown flowers Debra Prinzing leading the way. Check out her latest pod casts as she stimulates the conversation for conscious choices within your floral purchases.
The nights are long, and the days so much shorter. The skies hang grey over our heads with a weak sun doing little to warm us. Winter can take its toll on us both mentally and physically, leaving us feeling unwell in more ways than one. Follow these tips for an easier route to wellness this season…
Your kitchen cupboard can hold the cure to many a bout of cold and flu. Try a combination of turmeric and cinnamon for their fantastic anti-inflammatory qualities. A little cinnamon in your coffee is a tasty way to start the day off right, and turmeric is a traditional staple in Chinese and Indian medicine. Read more here about what remedies your spice-rack holds.
Take advantage of those long nights and do as nature does - rest. The shorter hours of daylight mean our bodies natural rhythm adjusts, don’t fight it if you can help it.
Cook with mushrooms for some immune boosting benefits - white button and shitake especially. These stuffed mushrooms look delicious!
Deep rest and relaxation is a great contributor to wellbeing. Here, Elizabeth guides us into Yogic Sleep for a short restorative period of deep rest that will leave you refreshed - a quick way to incorporate relaxation into your busy week.
Massaging essential oils into your skin can provide a perfect winter pick-me-up. Uplift your spirit with rose, enliven with geranium leaf, relax your muscles with peppermint and use lavender for a calm unwind for bedtime. Take time massaging them into your skin, they’re also a great moisturiser.
Finally, find time to do something that makes you laugh! Important for any season, any month, any day - keep happy, keep well.
2018 saw Christmas butterflies and Boxing Day bumblebees. The Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar project has received over 64 records of early spring activity that started in November 2018 – including insects that have been spotted active up to 5 months earlier than normal. The Creative Countryside Community has also noticed some changes in our ‘Mapping the Seasons’ project, documenting daffodil buds, emerging bluebells and some very active squirrels.
Mild weather seems to have temporarily disturbed insects from hibernation. A small tortoiseshell butterfly appeared flying outdoors on Christmas day in Merthyr Tydfil, and a red tailed bumblebee on Boxing Day in Somerset. The average date for small tortoiseshells is 14th April, and bumblebees 26th March – making both over three months early. Even earlier still, a red admiral was seen on the 17th December in Cambridgeshire; the average emergence date is 7th May, making it nearly five months ahead of schedule.
Members of the public have sent in many other signs that spring has sprung:
Flowering snowdrops were spotted in Southampton on 30th November – over a month earlier than expected – and there have been 24 records of this in total
There have been 23 Hazel flowering records, beginning 1st December. This usually happens in early March
A flowering oxeye daisy was seen in Gloucestershire on the 28th December, despite normally blooming from mid-April to early June.
Even birds have made an early appearance. The song thrush has been heard in eleven locations since the 5th December and is increasingly reported singing all winter, though expected mid-late March. Blue tits were also seen exploring a nesting box on 26th December, though the UK average date for nesting is 4th April.
Met office records for the UK report both November and December as mild, with average temperatures more than 1 °C above the 1981-2010 long-term average. However, with a potential cold snap on the way, more delicate species could suffer.
Dr Kate Lewthwaite, citizen science manager for the Woodland Trust said: “Once again - despite being in the throes of January - flora and fauna are reacting to milder climates, and spring seems to have sprung early. We were far from a white Christmas, with hazel flowers and snowdrops being spotted by our citizen scientists across the country.
“Data like this has continuously brought into question the way we think about the seasons, and to see spring in December no longer seems unusual. The more data we have, the better we will understand the effects of warm winters, cold snaps and heatwaves. In short, we need more Nature’s Calendar recorders.”
Nature’s Calendar is a continuation of seasonal recordings which date back to the 18th century. By recording the timings of natural phenomenon, thousands of people have enabled Nature’s Calendar to become the leading survey into how climate change is affecting UK plants and wildlife.
In 2018 an early spring was paused by the beast from the east, only for a summer heatwave to make berries ripen early and conkers shrink. Temperature research by the Met Office suggests that the growing season is extending by up to a month, and this is corroborated by Nature’s Calendar data; budburst is happening earlier and leaf fall later.
This post has been sat in my drafts for a week now, and it’s only after a mammoth inbox clear-out and organisation session today that I finally feel ready to sit and write, and look to what’s in store for the year ahead.
A lot of the thoughts I’ve had about the future of Creative Countryside have been to do with boundaries. With reduced working hours, I’m going to have to get much better at prioritisation, and - although I always have so many ideas and new projects - I need to be realistic about what I will be able to achieve. So here’s what you can expect for 2019.
The biggest change is in the publishing structure of the magazine; we’re moving from a quarterly to a bi-annual. Printing 500 copies four times a year means that even if I sold every last one, I still wouldn’t make enough to cover all the (increasing) costs of the business. But printing 500 copies twice a year, with an issue that will be twice the size (240 pages rather than 120), and an increased cover price, might be able to. I’m under no illusions that the magazine will suddenly start making lots of money, but it just needs to be self sustainable so I don’t have to worry about losing money.
It also means I can be far more focused and prepared in terms of content. And, of course, I won’t have to put on my marketing hat (which I’m not a big fan of) quite so often. Issue 7 - ‘emerge’ (spring/summer) will be released in April, and issue 8 - ‘ember’ (autumn/winter) will be released in September.
Inevitably there will be a much bigger upfront cost to printing such a large publication, and so I’ve decided to run another crowdfunding campaign (as I did with issue 1). I’ll be offering the magazine at a special pre-order price, plus the opportunity to purchase digital back issues, which will not be available to buy on the website in the future. You can also expect handwritten seasonal postcards, back issue bundles, and more TBC. Sign up to the newsletter to be the first to hear.
No major changes here, but I’m opening one of our informal meet-ups to all (non-members included) - join us on Saturday 23rd March at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park for an afternoon to chat, appreciate the artwork, and embrace the season.
I’ll be opening community doors again in May, when you’ll have the chance to join our group of like-minded souls. To receive updates about the meet-up in March, and the community re-opening in May, sign up to the newsletter.
Other than the community meet-ups (and the winter gathering this weekend!) I will only be running one event this year. Taking place Friday 10th - Sunday 12th October (location TBC), the weekend is themed around ‘embracing the darkness’, and will include 2 nights’ accommodation, nature inspired creative workshops, all meals and drinks, plus the chance to connect with other nature-loving folk. Members of the community have first dibs plus a 10% discount on tickets, which will be released over the summer.
That all sounds enough really! But I have got another couple of very exciting creative projects on the go. I’m working on a collaboration with Maddy (A Slow Adventure) which we’ll announce more details on soon, and I’ve got a few other ideas up my sleeve. As always, newsletter subscribers will hear first - sign up if you don’t want to miss out.
As February, and Imbolc, approach, I finally feel like I’m ready to act rather than just think and plan. This year I gave myself permission to take January more slowly, and it’s a good job too, as it’s taken me all this time to finalise plans! Thank you for sticking with CC through this lull - here’s to a slow and seasonal year ahead.
The ancient English tradition of wassailing has had somewhat a revival of recent and regained popularity. Pulling on your wellies, heading out into the frosty night and singing to apple trees to encourage a bountiful harvest whilst sipping cider has become an annual tradition for lots of country dwellers and January revellers.
In orchards, allotments, farms and gardens across the country, wassail celebrations will be spreading positive joy ahead of spring. On the chosen day, groups with perhaps painted faces and fancy dress attire gather for a procession down to the fruit trees. Often, a wassail King or Queen will guide the merrymakers by a flaming torch to the oldest tree in the orchard, garden or allotment. Once gathered round, a piece of cider-soaked toast is placed onto the tree (or shot out of the tree with a shotgun a la The Ethicurean) to entice the good spirits to come, thus ensuring a good harvest of apples in the coming season. Then, cider is poured around the roots of the trees in honour of the spirits as pots and pans are clattered to ward off the evil spirits that might be lurking in the branches before serenading the tree. Legend has it that there’s fire involved as it represents the returning sun, so sitting around a bonfire or being led by a fire torch to wake up the sleepy winter soul and inject some magic into the evening is to be expected. The term ‘wassailing’ derives from a much-debated translation of the Old Norse ‘ves heill,’ which ultimately translates to 'be healthy’, ‘be you hale.’
Drinking plenty of cider is another way to liven things up. The ritual centres around a wassail cup, which was traditionally filled with local ale or cider blended with spices and honey and drunk to drown animosity in small communities.
Traditionally, a wassail takes place on the old twelfth night (17th January), although these days not all wassails are the same and different people hold them on different dates. This tradition dates back to pagan times and apparently has roots in 5th century Kent when the first Saxon Jutes brought a celebratory toast, which was named the wassail. Certainly the practice of wassailing was considered a pagan threat to the Christian church and there was even an edict banning it in 1577.
However, today, as we start to pay more attention to our environment and crave community in what can be a fast-paced, busy world, the wassail brings us back to nature, the land and our communities to embrace tradition and celebrate in all the midwinter glory.
Joele Forrester is a digital journalist living in Bristol, although she always makes time to go back to her Dartmoor roots and enjoy the little things in life. When away from the office, you’ll find her walking in the woods, exploring new places close to home or flicking through independent magazines in coffee shops. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
January feels so long ago. The first few days were spent preparing for the first Creative Countryside gathering in Edale, and I had no idea what to expect. Memories of the weekend include stargazing and watching shooting stars in the biting cold; frosty morning walks and diversions through farmyards; losing a sponge down the sink and flooding the kitchen(!); being pleasantly surprised that the cashew cheese I’d made was a hit; and most of all, meeting and chatting with the most incredible women and men, forging friendships that have lasted all year.
February was spent putting together the spring magazine (issue 3), and it was the month Monty started nursery, which meant I gained two whole mornings a week to work on the business. It made such a difference, and even though I was still working evenings – especially when one of my Masters assignments was due – it felt more manageable. Dan and I also managed to escape for a weekend away to The Welsh House, and we worked together on a piece for issue 3 that explored slow, simple living. It felt much needed after a busy start to the year.
March marked Monty’s first birthday and his Christening, so it was a busy month family-wise! Issue 3 – spring – was published, and it didn’t sell as well as I had hoped. This was made worse because I had ordered more copies based on sales of issue 2 and how I had expected the magazine to grow; I began to realise that changes were needed for issue 4. I also met Maddy from A Slow Adventure for the first time, and we immediately connected over a plate of pancakes and maple syrup!
Reflections: Hosting my first event was exhilarating because everything was new. I was nervous, but knew I had to do this. It broke even, which was my goal, and the magazine was selling slowly but steadily at this point. Really, my only hope during these first few months, was to make it through without sustaining a loss.
April was spent preparing for the summer gathering, and it was lovely to work with those who had attended the winter gathering to plan the workshops. We managed to escape to Northumberland for a few days for a family holiday, and the weather was glorious. This month flew by and it felt like we were on the cusp of summer.
In May we welcomed Rhiannon and Rebecca to the team, as Poetry Editor and Book Editor respectively. Getting to know and work with incredible creative folk such as these two has been the highlight of my year, without a doubt. I was also working on the next gathering, and preparing issue 4, complete with re-design, for print.
Our second gathering of the year took place in June, and it was hot. It was wonderful to spend an evening with Chelsea (Loving Life in Wellies) and Rik prior to everyone else arriving, and things felt much more relaxed than the winter gathering. Memories of the weekend include learning so much about wild plants and flowers from Heather; Elizabeth attempting to go barefoot at all times, even making it across the service station carpark on the way home!; all the sunflowers; battling with clouds of midges by the bonfire; and hugging trees in a shaded circle of earth. Issue 4 – summer – was also released, with a whole new design, and 40 more pages. I felt so much happier with how the magazine looked when this issue was released.
Reflections: Hosting an event in the summer means everything costs more. Despite selling almost all the tickets (two were left), the event lost money, and financially was a failure. However, I was so pleased with the re-design for the magazine, and the feedback was also really positive.
In July I went to Timber Festival with a friend, and it was the first festival I’d been to where everyone sought the shade! It was lovely to have a couple of days to myself though, and the weekend itself was full of enlightening talks, nature-themed workshops, and relaxed music that we dipped in and out of during the day. This was the month where I felt creatively like I wanted to move forward, and in the final few days, I booked the venue for the autumn gathering and decided to launch the Creative Countryside Community. It was the first ‘oh let’s just go for it!’ decision I made of the year, and thankfully, it was the right one.
August was the month of community and connection. Supporters of the magazine right from the start and those who I’d never met before joined together to create the membership community that I’d been thinking about for a long time. It was a really exciting time, and I remember feeling so lucky that I was in a position to be able to bring people together in this way. I also began to write my final (15,000 word!) assignment for my Masters, though I didn’t get much done…
In September the first community e-book was sent out, and I spent a long time cultivating the Facebook group and thinking ahead to future resources. I finished my Masters (just in time!) and also ran my first workshop at Maddy’s harvest-themed gathering in the South Downs. It felt quite strange being on the other side of things, and sleeping in a tent reminded me so much of the year we lived in one at home. Issue 5 – autumn – was also released, and it was definitely my favourite one so far. We received the copies just before leaving for The Good Life Experience Festival with a stall, where Dan was my number two. It was busy and stressful, but we met some lovely people and I got some incredible feedback about the magazine. We sold just enough to make it worthwhile, and for our first stall I was pleased.
Reflections: Sometimes choosing to do something really quickly that you’ve been planning in your head for a while, is worth it. The community launch was a success and is something I’ll be focusing much more on in 2019. However, choosing to take on so much in September meant I finished this part of the year burnt out and creatively exhausted.
After a hectic September, we spent a few days in the New Forest at Warborne Farm at the start of October. I was still a bit overwhelmed by everything going on over the previous couple of months, and I think it was only as we drove home that I felt like things had started to re-set themselves. I spent a lot of the month preparing for the autumn gathering, and towards the end we had the first community meet-up at Attenborough Nature Reserve. We crafted twig stars, drank cinnamon tea, walked and talked and basked in the autumn sunshine; it was my favourite part of the working month.
November was consumed with producing the winter issue of the magazine (issue 6) and preparing for the gathering. We travelled to Shropshire for a weekend in a rustic farmhouse, hung leaves from the beams and lit candles to guide us into the darkest part of the year. Feasts, leaf art, branch calendars and lots of laughter featured throughout the weekend, and I felt like this was our best event yet.
December arrived with all its festive cheer, but I spent the first week finalising orders for issue 6 and preparing for our solstice celebration in Hereford. The venue was beautiful, and the small group size was perfect for a quiet, reflective start to what can be a busy season. It was lovely to connect with everyone, and I caught up with Jenny, who began a sabbatical for Creative Countryside at the start of the month. Dan and Monty came with me as the venue was booked for a few days, and we were able to enjoy some much-needed time as a family. I also included a few ‘bundles’ in the shop for Christmas, and hand-picked a few products from makers who I really love.
Reflections: The autumn event was by far the most popular, and sold out in twelve hours. Marketing really does pay off. But deciding to book in two other events in close succession wasn’t a brilliant idea. The solstice celebration lost money and the first event for 2019 didn’t sell as many tickets as I had hoped. Selling bundles in the shop was also time-consuming and didn’t make me any money.
2018 in review
Now for some honesty and straightforward facts.
From January to December this year, Creative Countryside made £4,238. The autumn gathering was by far the most successful, making a profit which all three of the other events did not. Issue 2 continued to sell well throughout the year, and issue 5 was the most successful issue after the re-design. The community accounts for around half that profit, and we ended the year with around 50 paying members.
I’m sharing this number to give you some idea of what the first full year of running a part-time business alongside a toddler and a Masters degree can look like. Segmenting the profit equally evens out to just over £350 per month, not enough to sustain a business, but it covered Monty’s nursery bill, and helped a little towards household costs. But the magazine makes very little per issue, and for some issues make nothing at all. Money is not the reason I do this, but it has to play a part, and as such I’ve been thinking very carefully about how to move forward with the various elements of CC as we move into a new year. But more on that next week!
The biggest part of looking back over 2018 is an immense feeling of gratitude. That I’m in such a privileged position to be able to experiment with what works and what doesn’t. That I have such a wonderful support network around me. And most of all, that you’ve all stuck around.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You make all of this possible.
Join me next week as I look ahead to what’s in store for 2019!
Lady Farmer is a sustainable apparel and lifestyle brand, striving to cultivate a community for those seeking independence from existing food and fashion systems that are harmful to the planet and its people. They offer functional, fashionable, sustainable clothing and products for the intentional lifestyle and a resource for the modern woman of all ages who yearns for a simpler way of life.
The first Lady Farmer Slow Living Retreat was held in November at the beautifully restored Zigbone Farm in Sabillasville, MD, located just over an hour outside of Washington D.C. and Baltimore, MD. This gathering was a weekend exploration of a sustainable living, celebrating community, connection and self-care, designed for the modern woman seeking an inspired and healthful life through changes in energy management, consumer behaviour and daily rituals. A full weekend immersion in workshops, speakers and a supportive community, all taking place in a beautiful natural setting with exquisitely prepared farm-to-table meals, this experience was intended to provide participants with the tools to create more slow and intentional living for themselves and their families.
The retreat began on Friday evening with a reception welcoming approximately forty-five women arriving from locations far and wide, from local to international. Many came from Washington, DC or nearby locations in Maryland and Virginia, but others came from distant states or from as far as Canada and France. A heavy rain meant that the planned bonfire was moved indoors to the living room of the cozy old farmhouse, where strangers soon became fast friends over wine and snacks around the woodstove.
The weekend programming was launched on Saturday morning with opening remarks by Mother-Daughter team and Lady Farmer co-founders Mary and Emma Kingsley, followed by a presentation by keynote speaker Amy Dufault, a sustainable fashion and lifestyle writer. Amy is the Director of Digital Content & Communications for the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator and a co-creator of the Food & Fibers Project, a project that looks at the connections between what we eat and what we wear. Speaking on the problems in the fast fashion industry and conscious consumerism, she was the perfect spokesperson for the intersection of sustainability in food, clothing, and lifestyle.
The rest of the day unfolded as participants were given a selection of workshops to attend. Topics included slow gardening, affirmation journaling, exploring personal cycles and rhythms and gathering energy and power from nature. Though there were numerous talks and workshops offered, scheduling allowed for attendees to take time to reflect, explore and get to know the rest of the Lady Farmer community gathered.
The day culminated in a special meal on Saturday evening, a beautifully prepared farm-to-table dinner featuring delicious, locally sourced fare, including organic, biodynamic wine and a signature dessert. It was a highlight of a weekend celebrating the best of slow living-- community, sharing, learning, and nurturing.
The retreat continued on Sunday with a full day of programming lead by environmental educator Shayn Gangidine, exploring the healing benefits of being outdoors. In an engaging talk, Shayne discussed our historic connection to the land around us, as well as modern research in the effects of nature on brain patterning. Workshop participants went outside to observe their surroundings, gather objects or meditate, mixing relaxation, mindfulness, and whimsy. These and other guided activities, such as nature art and prompted journaling, gave them the knowledge and tools for enhancing their lives and those of others through meaningful interaction with the natural world.
Mary and Emma closed out the retreat that afternoon with a Q and A conversation wrapping up the weekend and a sneak peek at what’s next for Lady Farmer. In addition to an abundance of learning opportunities, the weekend was a wonderful experience of friends old and new coming together to be nourished, restored and inspired by all things slow living.
So, you might ask, who are these Lady Farmers who gathered for a weekend retreat in the country? What drew all of these women together?
Whether she owns and cultivates country acreage, tends to a home garden or dwells in the city with a desire to create space in her life for more sustainable living, the Lady Farmer sows the seeds of slow living all around her. She is any women who cares deeply about personal connection, cultivating meaningful relationships with the people in her life and the land under her feet. She chooses, uses and purchases thoughtfully, understanding her individual impact on the world and the future. She has a motherly instinct, whether for her own children or all children, embracing the idea of the world as a village and tending to the growth of her community. She brings an open heart and a conscious mind to living on the earth. These are the women who came together for the Lady Farmer Slow Living Retreat 2018.
Visit the Lady Farmer website to sign up for their newsletter and get more information on their sustainable apparel line, lifestyle products, blog and upcoming events.
Alongside her heritage work, archaeologist and author of A Treasury of British Folklore, Dee Dee Chainey has always had a love of folklore. Starting up the hashtag #FolkloreThursday in 2015, Dee Dee began writing and sharing folklore from around the world every Thursday as part of what was to become the successful online magazine FolkloreThursday.com with co-founder and fellow folklore enthusiast, Willow Winsham. When she was approached with the idea of writing a book solely on British folklore, she jumped at the chance to pen her passion for magical tales and their history.
A Treasury of British Folklore delves into the stories, songs, customs and legends which were once part of a rich aural and written history passed from generation to generation. Heroic tales, magic and witchcraft, customs which encompass the milestones of life, these stories allow us to dip our toes into something a little more magical and mystical than the ordinary. Dee Dee presents a tradition of storytelling which conjures up an insight into cultures and lore, some of which have been long forgotten. A Treasury of British Folklore is an engrossing collection which prompts us to remember the cyclical nature of the seasons once peppered with rituals that marked ancient festivals and feast days and a selection of regional British customs still celebrated around the country today.
Stories of giants hurling stones, the legend of the Lambton Worm, thirteenth century monks treating snakebites and leprosy with the humble bluebell whilst the Elizabethans used the juice from its bulbs to starch their ruffs – Dee Dee’s book is a reminder that so many of our legends and superstitions have shaped British culture, each community and generation making them their own.
Sharing her fondness for old wives tales and superstitions, Dee Dee chats to us about how it all began.
Rebecca: Have you always had a fascination with folklore and folk tales?
Dee-Dee: I remember having the Ladybird fairy tales read aloud to me when I was small. I was given a copy of the Brother Grimm tales when I was around 9 and I remember being fascinated by how strange they were. One I particularly remember is the tale of ‘The Three Spinners’. It begins with the mother of a lazy girl beating her as she refused to do her spinning work. The queen overhears and asks why. The mother, not wanting to admit her daughter’s laziness, says it’s because the girl spins so much she can’t provide enough flax. The queen takes the girl away with her, saying that if she can spin all the flax in a huge room within three days, she will be rewarded with marrying the prince. During the night, three spinning women magically appear in the girl’s chamber: one with a huge lip from licking the thread, one a huge thumb, and the last a huge foot from pressing the treadle on the spinning wheel. They offer to spin the flax secretly, on the condition they will be invited to the wedding as the girl’s aunts. She agrees. All ends well when the king questions the women about their oversized appendages at the wedding. When they reply that it’s down to spinning, the king decrees that his new daughter-in-law will never spin again!
R: Do you have any particular favourite tales or folklore?
D: Personally, I love calendar customs from around the world. There are so many amazing festivals taking place across planet all the time, and it’s only recently people are beginning to photograph these. Here in Britain photographers like Henry Bourne are documenting the festivals and traditions taking place, while Charles Fréger has been doing the same across continental Europe. I love seeing what’s happening around the rest of the world and meeting people who are documenting festivals to share in that magic too. It’s just amazing to see the costumes people wear, dances and food shared – things we might never get to experience, but can admire, nonetheless, whether they’re from a small village at the other end of our own country or somewhere on the other side of the world.
R: Are there any folk traditions which have made it into modern life with you?
I’ll admit, I never step on paving cracks in case it breaks my mother’s back and I certainly don’t walk under ladders. We also have a horseshoe hanging near the doorway here at home, although it caused quite a stir one #FolkloreThursday when I put up a photograph!
D: Is it just about telling stories of our past?
Folklore often provides an outlet for imagination and creativity. It helps us to remember that the world is an amazing, mystical place. It isn’t just about stories and magic. It’s how we communicate with each other, how we celebrate and pass on our traditions and values. Folklore has been used to help us find our place in the world for thousands of years, teaching us right from wrong, good from bad. It’s a way of passing on traditional knowledge, from learning traditional stories that teach life lessons to teaching us how to prepare a specific dish for a special occasion.
R: How do you think these tales relate to us in modern times?
Now folklore is being used is so many new ways — in community projects and schools — as well as the old tales being reworked in really exciting forms to reflect modern ideals. Many modern writers have retold tales to showcase stronger female characters that do things for themselves whilst others prefer the original tellings. It’s great to see how the old tales still resonate with the modern reader and find their place in the modern world, rather than being forgotten.
R: With so many different stories, and so much folklore out there, how did you narrow down what you wanted to put in the book?
It was actually really hard to decide what to include and what to leave out! I wanted to get a really great mix of all types of folklore — from sayings, to traditions and superstitions, right through to legends like King Arthur which bring the landscape of Britain to life. It was important to me to show how folklore is a living thing, not just something old and stuffy from the past. I wanted to make sure there was something for everyone, so I spent time collecting folklore from as many regions in Britain as I could. My favourite part was looking at the folk tales of the creatures that lurk in rivers and woodlands right across the land, like the Lambton Worm which used to eat children until killed by a local hero in Durham. I love the Gille Dubh, a kindly forest spirit who helps lost children in the Scottish Highlands too.
R: What sparked the creation of #FolkloreThursday?
The hashtag was started when Willow (her co-founder) and I were chatting on Twitter about the Efteling fairy tale theme park in the Netherlands. We joked about how we should pack our bags and head off on a trip right away and that’s pretty much how we started chatting about our shared love of folklore. We wanted to create a central place for people to find all things folklore and that got us thinking about the need for a hashtag day specifically for folklore so we decided to create our own. We launched the first hashtag day on 18th of June 2015 and things just took off from there.
To join in with #FolkloreThursday, simply visit this page: #FolkloreThursday Each week there are new posts and you can add your own to appear on the hashtag feed. You can also find an array of folklore features and articles from around the world at folklorethursday.com
Dee Dee Chainey, A Treasury of British Folklore, published by National Trust Books
My inner twitcher had wanted to see a murmuration for quite a while. After a bout of flu last winter, me and my partner Suzi drove up to Dumfries & Galloway in search of those beautiful birds. We had been reading up on good locations to spot them and from our research, Gretna seemed to be a good place. So we packed up the car with all our camera gear, overnight bags, and headed north. We stayed in a cute little Airbnb with the most amazing views over the Solway Firth, it was the perfect hideaway for a few days.
On the first day, it was pretty grey and wet, so we didn’t hold out too much hope. There was a stillness on the edge of dusk, as the day gave into night. We drove into Gretna and watched a cute mini murmur, probably of around a hundred birds. And suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a smudge on the horizon. We jumped into the car and followed the fluid black cloud as it moved across the sky, we felt like tornado chasers. And then suddenly we were right underneath it.
As dusk raced in, smaller groups joined, and the flock grew. We've since learnt that every bird is keeping an eye on the other 7 birds around him or her, so this is how they keep tightly together. It was so fascinating to watch the constant ebb and flow of the murmuration, and the beautiful patterns it made as the birds swirled in the sky.
During the day, we travelled around the area a bit more and we headed to Caerlaverock Wetland Centre for more twitching! No starlings, but many other different types of bird. We saw egrets, whooper swans, geese, teal, widgeons and many more. It was a beautiful crisp winter's day. The sun was lowering, and bright pink streaks began to form in the sky, so we headed to our familiar spot and waited for the birds to arrive. We had mentioned our sighting to a couple of people at the bird reserve, so they turned up to the spot to wait for them too. We were a bit worried as it was getting late and we hadn't seen a sign of any birds, but fortunately, they all suddenly appeared over the other side of the M6 and started their silent dance.
Sometimes like tea leaves swirling in the pot, then we’d spot a punctuation mark. They created speech bubbles, UFO shapes and love hearts, we were transfixed by these momentary sketches in the sky. We were lucky enough to see these beautiful shapeshifters on three consecutive evenings. Watching the sky full of birds is one of the most amazing sights we've ever witnessed, after the birth of our daughter this year.
We met our friend Leena a couple of days after we got back from our trip, and we chatted about the starlings. In Latvia, where she's from, the first sightings of the starlings signify the start of spring. They leave the UK at the beginning of March and migrate to Northern Europe to breed. It's traditional in Latvia to make a little birdhouse for the starlings, and you hang it in your nearest tree to welcome the weary travellers. We are itching to see them again, and we hope our little daughter will feel the magic too when we go on our next adventure looking for that sky full of birds.
Light is fundamental to our well-being and happiness.
“The light that surrounds us on a daily basis has a huge impact on our brains, our mood and our mental health and yet, on the whole, we tend to pay it very little attention.”
Karl Ryberg, Light Your Life: The Art of using Light for Health and Happiness
Sunlight increases serotonin levels which in turn makes you happy but during the winter months our source of natural light is greatly reduced. Therefore, lighting your home correctly is important to make sure you create emotional cosiness, leaving you feeling happy.
The Danish have a word called Hygge, meaning a quality of cosiness and comfortable feeling of contentment or well-being. Mood lighting is a massive part of this, big bright lights like hospital or office lighting makes you feel uncomfortable and on edge. For a well-lit happy room, you need to have several light sources, creating areas of darkness as well as light, giving a space character and personality, creating an inviting atmosphere.
Flickering light from candles and fires are also great for a space, they create a sense of life and energy making you feel relaxed. Fairy lights also have that twinkling, magical effect, they add a sense of wonderment and adventure to a room.
“You want to create small caves of light around the room”
Meik Wiking, The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living
Colours such as red, orange and yellow evoke feelings of happiness, optimism, creativity, success and energy. So warm coloured light bulbs with a low lumen number, are best for that cosy, dimly lit, happy vibe.
Winter can be tough, especially after the festivities of Christmas, so leave your fairy lights up all year round. Good interior lighting design is crucial for emotional cosiness. Look at your lighting arrangement in your home, make sure it creates mood and ambience making you feel inspired, warm and happy.
“Light is the magical ingredient that makes or breaks a space.”
Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz, Elle Decoration