Gillian Monks

'Making Fairytales Come True'

Category: Out and About (Page 1 of 4)

Tea and Carols

Advent Wreath Pictures | Download Free Images on Unsplash

The church in Beddgelert dates from the early 13th Century but the religious community here reaches back to much earlier Celtic Christian times. It is a peaceful spot beside the Glaslyn river and glowed in the late November sunshine yesterday afternoon when a small group of us joined the congregation there for carols and readings which were sung and read in both Welsh and English, accompanied by the sonorous tones of the organ. At the end of the main aisle stood the Advent wreath with its different coloured candles, one for each Sunday before Christmas and the fifth white candle to be lit on Christmas Day.

There is something very special about old churches, as if their very stones have absorbed the love and devotion of the countless previous generations who have prayed their and now, like a charged battery, give back the courage, strength and love of our forebears. As always, the sounds and cadence of my Celtic mother tongue which I do not understand, nevertheless resonated deeply with me and for a brief time brought me directly into contact with my Welsh ancestors. Fancifully, I could hear their voices, and felt at one with them as the Earth once again approaches the Midwinter Solstice and the time of Christmas celebration.

These days I do not often spend time in a church and as the afternoon progressed I gradually became aware that my seat was growing warm and then positively hot. Am I unwell? I asked myself. I removed my glove and placed my hand on the pew seat next to me. Yes, that was warm too! Old churches can be very cold places, especially at this time of the year, but this marvellous building actually has heated seats.

The notes of the last carol died away and then afternoon tea was laid out for us at little tables in the North Transept where we all sat down to enjoy plates piled high with dainty sandwiches, dishes of scones, jam and cream, and cake stands loaded with sweet delicacies. We ate and drank from bone china plates and cups and happy chatter filled the room while willing helpers cheerfully passed among us wielding a seemingly endless supply of scalding hot tea and coffee.

It was also a delight for me because I now met again so many of the ladies who I have come to know over the past few months when I have visited the village to give talks and workshops. Continually waylaid by by warm greetings and hugs from so many, I never got to actually look at the little sale of bric-a-brac and gifts which were on display in the aisle – although I did manage to purchase two adorable knitted festive mice which are now sitting companionably on my mantlepiece. I later learned that the afternoon had raised over £220 for church funds.

The sun was beginning to set as we drove home past Snowdon and through the mountain pass at Drws y Coed, back down towards the sea. What a magical afternoon it had been, and how very much I had enjoyed it. Who needs lots of glitz and excitement? I can get just as much joy from songs in a language I cannot understand, loving welcome from new friends, teatime goodies and, oh, yes… a warm bum!

My Little Sacred Garden

Clear skies, drying boisterous winds, temperatures above 21 degrees… it doesn’t sound much like mid-November does it? But that was what we were treated to last weekend and I grabbed the opportunity to spend Sunday afternoon out in all that glorious freedom of unexpected, unseasonal sunshine.

I spent my time working within our little stone circle, repotting our nine oak saplings which form a protective outer circle around the nine small stones within. Oak trees do not like to be disturbed or have their roots touched or damaged in any way, so I had to be very careful – or at least as careful as it is possible to be while forcibly wrestling young trees out of pots they have grown too large for and are now tight and constricting!

I sincerely hope that they are not too traumatised. The young trees have given me a huge amount of pleasure this year, from their leafy lush foliage back at Midsummer through all their autumn colours. The rustle and scent of their very presence has frequently brought a smile to my lips. Now their leaves are mostly brown and the first  are beginning to drift to the ground. One caught and stuck in my hair while I was working – a large curled paper-dry leaf, surely far too large for the tiny tree it had grown on.

Once the trees had been seen to, I planted snowdrop, daffodil and tulip bulbs around the edges of the pots so that – mice permitting – we might have spring flowers in the circle when all the rest is still a little drab.

And then it struck me… I was planting a sacred garden! In my humble opinion, all growth, all that is encompassed by the natural world, all life, is sacred for it contains that element of divine energy which is life itself… life which ultimately can never be destroyed, only change form.

Once all this was done, I then decided that I needed to do something with our tiny firepit in the centre of the circle which was just an irregular rectangle cut into the grass. I enlarged it and turned it, too, into a circle, edged with old red bricks which contrast nicely with the dark grey of the slate stones. Among these bricks are some from the living room fireplace of my old childhood home in Lancashire, providing continuity of hearth as an important focal point.

Here, where we shall sit to warm ourselves at our Midwinter fire, celebrate the return of the light half of the year at the Spring Equinox, and dance for joy at Midsummer in the full light and heat of the sun amidst the blossoms, here I lay the tentative foundations by planting seeds of new life. Tended with love, there can surely be no greater act of faith and positivity than to plant a garden, a burgeoning beautiful symbol that life continues, and that, contrary to popular belief, working in harmony and understanding, together humanity and the natural world can produce something amazing… and thrive.

Greetings for Guy Fawkes!

‘Remember, remember, the 5th of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!’

Did you used to chant this when you were a child? Perhaps after all the recent political shenanigans the old rhyme might have more relevance to us today than merely remembering a chap who attempted to blow up parliament nearly four hundred years ago.

However, I would suggest that the instinct to gather together around huge bonfires at the beginning of winter is much older than a few centuries – it reaches back into pre-history and fulfils an ancient calling which our ancestors practiced from the dawn of time – sympathetic magic when, fearing the lengthening dark and intensifying cold, they encouraged the warmth and light of the waning Sun to stay with us by lighting the largest fire they could muster.

Yesterday evening, I witnessed this deep subconscious call first hand as hundreds of villagers hurried along the dark lanes to the rough ground beside our football pitch for the first communal celebration of Guy Fawkes Night in several decades. Streams of cars were also arriving from further up the valley and soon there was nowhere left to park a vehicle. Shouts of recognition as friends and neighbours greeted each other and lots of excited chatter filled the dark night.

In principal, the event was organised to raise funds for the football club which supports teams of every age of youngster, male and female, as well as adults and is growing rapidly in popularity. A nominal fee was asked of each attendee at the gate; hot food, drinks and sweeties were on sale, but not overpriced. And I suspect that it was held the day before Guy Fawkes so that those who wished to could still attend larger displays held in the local towns the following day – except that we later heard that many of these annual events have been cancelled, perhaps due to lack of council funds.

My husband and I walked down with friends to the designated field which was already crowded. My son had offered to provide his medical services for free, and when someone decided to jolly the sizzling sausages along and the refreshments tent nearly caught fire as a result, he feared that he might be in for a busy evening! But other than a rogue rocket detonating horizontally and disappearing off into the bushes, (fortunately away from the crowd!), and a small child burning her finger on a hot sparkler wire, there were no casualties whatsoever.

For the gathering of young and old; the family groups, the many teenagers and even more numerous  children of all ages, were without exception enthusiastic and good tempered and as everyone stood and watched the bonfire be lit and the flames slowly grow into a roaring, blazing inferno, I was wryly amused to reflect on the mesmerising effect which this powerful elemental energy still retains. Where and when else in this day and age will you find several hundred youngsters content to stand for nearly an hour to watch a pile of wood burn away?

The bonfire was still blazing when the fireworks began. Rocket after rocket hurtled into the sky and burst into blooms of coloured stars and shining petals above our heads. From the crowd came suitable “Ooooohs!” and “Aaaaahs!”. Some small children wore ear-defenders at this point… I had my fingers firmly stuck in my ears, for I have never liked loud bangs but love the beauty of the ignited, exploding gunpowder.

At last it was over. The crowd quickly dispersed. I was saddened to see some empty cans and papers cast on the ground, but on reflection, marvelled that there was actually so little after such a large number of people had stood there.

Memories of our recent segregation and isolation due to the pandemic still haunt me and it felt SO good to once more stand in the middle of a large gathering of people. Humans need humans… need each other’s company… we are sad indeed when we cannot mill together.

Altogether, it was a wonderful evening. We strolled home to eat plates of hot meat and potato pie which had been burbling happily in the cool oven of the Aga, heaped with home pickled red cabbage and sit around drinking mugs of hot tea. Hopefully this will be the start of a revival of activity in the village, a new era of communal events and interaction – the public response last night shows that there is certainly an appetite for it… and we suspect that the football club raise somewhere in the region of £5,000.

I was just a little sorry that, though, this particular occasion involved so much noise. Our timid white and black tomcat, Bandit, was discovered curled up, hiding beneath the old dresser in the living room – I’m sure that it he could have found a tin helmet to wear he would have done so!

If you are venturing out to bonfires or firework displays this evening, do take care… but have a wonderful time!

 

Come and Meet Me!

If you are in the Borth area this weekend why not come along to the Goblin Fair at the Community Centre and meet me?

The market will be open with free entry from 1.pm. – 6pm. with storytelling, music, a costume competition, and talks alongside the market itself. In the evening there will be music, dancing and entertainment – £6 entry fee for that.

I shall be there with my publishers, Herbary Books, as the lady organising this unusual event is also one of their authors.

For a really different experience, why come and join us – have a chat, enjoy some of the vegetarian and vegan food, sit and listen to the music and stories… and meet ME!!!

Seriously, it would be lovely to see you there.

Lots more details at www.goblincircus.carrd.co

Just Ambling Along

Yesterday I went for a walk, out into the autumn sunshine among the browning bracken and the gold and copper-coloured trees. We left home in low cloud and drizzle, but on leaving our slate valley (which attracts moisture like a sponge!) we drove out onto sunshine.

The magical hill of Dinas Emrys

The path we took follows the River Glaslyn from Craflwyn to Llyn Dinas, passing the ancient hill fort of Dinas Emrys on the way. Legend tells how it was here, aged little more than a boy, that Merlin first flexed his magical powers by identifying the battling red and white dragons which lived beneath the pool on top of the hill.

Llyn Dinas also has its legends and stories – one in which the local community would build a raft at the time of Beltane (beginning of May) and using it to transport their chosen May king and queen across the water to the opposite bank where an ox would be slaughtered and great feasting and celebration take place.

It all looks so placid and tranquil now. Yesterday I was content to sit upon the rocks and simply ‘be’… to absorb the heat of the sunshine, the warmth of the soft breezes, the beauty, space, silence and peace of the place. That is, until a walking party began to approach down the hillside. Loudly talking all the way I could hear them from quite a distance. Unfortunately for me, they decided to make brief temporary camp at the end of the lake where I was, still loudly talking all the while.

The path home

I suspect that they were missing a vital part of their experience by taking their human busy-ness and gregarious sociability with them as they walked. What greater wonders might they have experienced if they had quietened and simply stood or sat for even just five minutes to allow themselves to absorb their surroundings via all their senses on every level? The fact that by the time they reached me I was standing stock still in an inch of lake water, eyes tight shut, with my hands raised to the sky perhaps might have given them a clue.

I recently read in the newspaper that English Heritage have launched an initiative this autumn whereby visitors are encouraged to spend the final hour of opening in silence – switching off their phones and other devices, finishing conversations and deeply entering into the peace of their surroundings in a more contemplative day. What a marvellous idea! After all, what has initially prompted these people to visit such venues in the first  place? A different backdrop from which to send their texts, emails and play games from? Surely not.

The problem is that folk tend to immediately jump to the conclusion that if they are asked to be contemplative they must dive into some deep, difficult, mystical form of meditation which they don’t know how to ‘do’. All it needs is a little stillness and silence; to take the time to look about one and absorb one’s surroundings as best one can… look, watch, smell, feel and taste where you are with appreciation and gratitude… and so we begin to more deeply connect with our wonderful world and our own unique life.

Through the woods besides the Glaslyn

I once suggested a little exercise to my Earthwalking students whereby they were to stop every hour – just for a minute or two – and look about them. (I also advised them to set an alarm to prompt them not to miss the hour.) It didn’t matter where they were or what they were doing – on the bus, in the middle of shopping, eating a meal, at work, bathing the kids, hanging out the washing, (not driving, of course, unless they chose to pull over and stop). I asked them to then take that minute or two to look about them and really see where they were; touch, smell, listen to their surroundings, and be thankful for them…

By the end of one day doing this every hour, most of them felt much calmer and far more engaged with their ordinary mundane surroundings – some even began to see how lovely they were and feel joy and thankfulness for them. Try it and see for yourself. You don’t have to go and sit besides a gorgeous lake in the mountains, anywhere and everywhere is magically beautiful. It just depends on how you choose to see it.

Can I Get To Number One???

Amazon RatingIf you have bought or read my new book, ‘Spring In Your Step’ and enjoyed it, could I ask you to do something in return? Could you please go and leave a review on Amazon? Just a few words will do – and you don’t even have to have read the whole book. the more reviews ‘Spring In Your Step’ receives, the more notice and exposure Amazon will automatically give it.

So far it is selling very well and over the weekend it reached No. 2 in the category of Festivals and Celebrations… it would be brilliant to get it to No.1! I also feel that reading my springtime suggestions and reflections might be of real assistance to so many of us who are not only combating the usual ‘January blues’ but also having to cope with Covid-19 lockdowns.

Thank you for reading this – thank you for your continuing support, without which my work would be meaningless. And if you haven’t already got a copy, please do take a look.

The Call Of The Wild

Festive trees in car park 1 ‘You’ll never guess what I’ve just seen?’ My husband came rushing into the room upon his return from walking our dogs, ‘Someone has decorated all the trees in the car park!’ Last Saturday was a lovely day with clear winter-blue skies and blinding-bright sunshine, so I decided to take a walk down to the Canolfan at the bottom of the hill and go and have a look for myself.

Festive Trees in carpark 2The winter sun lit up the dozens of balls and decorations which had been daintily dangled from each branch-tip low enough to reach with a small ladder, or wound around the trunks of the trees which grow across the middle of the car park. It utterly transformed a rather grey and utilitarian space into something festive and magical. I could hardly believe my eyes! I wandered around from tree to tree – at least seven were bedecked, as were some of the lower shrubs and bushes. The sheer random unexpectedness of it all makes it doubly special – I simply stared, grinning… then got out my camera… then began to gather the rubbish.

Festive trees in carpark 3Wind is often responsible for redistributing old empty wrappers and plastic bottles – but the human inhabitants must also take some responsibility too – some of the items I pulled out had been  forcibly and securely  stuffed down between stems where they couldn’t possibly have got to themselves. It is a habit of mine to pick up litter whenever I am out . So, what is it to me?

Well, in this particular instance, this council car park is a part of my village and the space I live in, the space I call ‘home’. Some dear soul(s) had elected to take it upon themselves to decorate this space and make something joyful of it. I deeply appreciate that. The least I could do was to tidy it up of all the rubbish. In the end, my husband had to bring some black bags to stuff it all into.

Festive trees in car park 4The whole decorating of trees in the depths of Midwinter possibly stems from customs and rituals to do with the sacrifice of animals and and the adornment of trees with steaming entrails for the benefit of the woodland deities and starving wildlife in harsh weather conditions. It reaches back into the dim mists of our  human prehistory. The observation of activities similar to those long-ago actions brings us deep ancestral satisfaction and a sense of rightness.

This whole uplifting and inspiring experience reminded me of an incident which occurred around twelve years ago (documented in my first book, ‘Merry Midwinter’). My son, then in his early twenties, was stayinging at my childhood home, the cottage of Drybones in Lancashire. It was mid December and he had taken his dog out for his morning walk. On the way across a fallow field which was rapidly re-colonising with birch and oak saplings, he suddenly spotted a wispy little tree covered in sparkly baubles and garlands. At first he couldn’t believe his eyes and thought that it must be the result of something he had eaten! Unusually, he had gone out without his phone, so he hotfooted it back across the fields and through the woods to retrieve it – he felt that if he didn’t have photographic evidence no one would ever believe him.

Festive trees in car park 5

The sun was so bright that these siver decorations don’t show up very well, but they are very pretty.

Just as he got back to the tree, a lady appeared carrying a bag and proceeded to begin hanging more baubles. As she and my son got talking, she told him that, choosing a different tree every year, it was something which had become one of her own festive traditions. When asked why she did it, she replied that it was a seasonal surprise to cheer other walkers on their way. Amazed that something so delicate and vulnerable should be left unattended and survive in an area where vandalism and thoughtlessness was in daily evidence, the woman commented that she had never noticed any loss or damage to the trees.

The memories of our ancient rituals and traditions run extremely deep and cannot be denied.

Nor can the heart warming effects of spontaneous actions and selfless service to one’s community.

Happy decorating!

Interview On Radio Lancashire

Silver birch treeFor those of you who wish to tune in on your radios or via the internet, I shall be chatting about my book, ‘The Alternative Advent Calendar’ on the ‘Breakfast Show’ on Radio Lancashire tomorrow morning around 9.20.am..

After that, I hope to toddle off to a very tiny but special local Christmas Fair being held out of doors in someone’s garden – free cups of tea and coffee included!

With advent wreath making and Stir Up Sunday as well, this promises to be an altogether very Christmassy weekend, especially as it is sunny and frosty here!

I hope that whatever you are doing this weekend, you enjoy yourself too.

Happy days!

It’s Here!!!

Third Book PublishedI recently celebrated my birthday, but yesterday we were celebrating another very important ‘birth day’ in my life – that of my third book. ‘Spring In Your Step; Discover and Celebrate the Magic of Springtime’, was officially published on the 10th November.

I might be a writer, but I do not possess the words to convey exactly what it feels like to physically hold something which you have poured over and worked at for the best part of a year. Perhaps it is like watching an ephemeral dream suddenly take form and become physically real. Any book is created from the spun sugar of ideas, thoughts and dreams and woven into the finished tangible article of candyfloss on a stick in book form, all ready to eat, or in this case read. (Please forgive my epistolary flight of fancy!) But after all, I am positively fizzing!!!!

Yesterday evening, my son – who is also my publisher! – filmed an interview with me  talking about ‘Spring In Your Step’. It will need editing but will soon be available for you all to watch, and I very much hope that you enjoy it.

It is available from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Spring-Your-Step-Celebrate-Springtime/dp/1916339670 – or any good bookshop.

Feedback from beta readers and the few who pre-ordered from Herbary and received their books a couple of days early is all very positive and heart-warming. If or when you buy your own copy, please do let me know what you think of it – I genuinely love to hear from my readers!

A Very Special Day

Me with cakeYesterday was my birthday, and I have to say that I had a wonderful time. As readers of my first book, ‘Merry Midwinter’, will already know, I traditionally spend my special day visiting our local garden centre to see the display of Christmas decorations – this is also usually the signal for me to begin singing carols, playing Christmas music, and generally getting into the seasonal swing of things. But here in Wales we are still in our short ‘firebreak’ lockdown, so no garden centre for me this year. Besides which, the weather was absolutely gorgeous and far too nice to spend indoors.

Craflwyn WoodsInstead, my husband and I took our two Labrador dogs out for a good long walk. We went to the woods at Craflwyn, just the far side of Beddgelert, which are owned by the National Trust. I had hoped that all the family might go together, but my medical herbalist son had a whole batch of medicines to deliver locally and his partner was off out on her own woodland exploration.

Craflwyn are deciduous, native woods and are very beautiful, spreading up the steep slopes which eventually lead out onto the foothills of Snowdon. We passed little waterfalls and crossed many clear, gurgling streams as they raced down the hillside. I hadn’t walked here for quite a number of years. One particularly lovely spot is the ‘Giant’s Chair’ where we stopped to share our flask of coffee and munch on spicy ‘soul cakes’ left over from Calan Gaeaf… and the dogs had a nibble too!

Gill in the Giant's Chair

No, I haven’t suddenly shrunk – I am sitting in the Giant’s Chair.

From here, we came out of the more densely growing trees and the views of the valley and surrounding mountains, with the now dwarfed hill of Dinas Emrys (of Merlin and the white and red dragons fame) well below us, were absolutely stunning in the late autumn sunshine.

 

Dinas Emrys from CraflwynThe sun was rapidly sinking down the sky as we drove home again… approaching four o’clock and, I thought happily, just in time for ‘tea’. I don’t usually bother making myself a birthday cake, although I had quite fancied trying out a new recipe for a squidgy chocolate cake, but in the event, I hadn’t had time. Still, I thought, there was the rest of the ginger cake left over from Bonfire Night the previous evening – that would go well with a by now much needed cup of tea.

Gill entering the drawing room

My son also caught on camera my reaction when I walked into the room and saw everything laid out for tea.

However, when I got home, I was in for a surprise. My son and his partner had returned home before us and had been busy, and when I walked into the drawing room, there was the table, set for afternoon tea, with an array of fancy cakes, a birthday cake full of candles, and a pile of intriguingly wrapped little parcels!

Here we spent a couple of very happy hours together, the log burner blazing away, the candles lit and casting cosy shadows… drinking far too many cups of tea and consuming far too much sugar and calories… but enjoying it all immensely all the same. I opened my cards and gifts and read all my messages on Facebook which I found deeply touching, very kind – and sometimes downright hilarious!

Later, unable to go out for a meal we set the smaller dining table at one end of the drawing room with candles and wine and ordered in a set Chinese meal from our local takeaway. Five main dishes and lots of sides and rice – it was all delicious and we thoroughly enjoyed a right royal feast!

Later, I ended my day by watching a Zoom film made by two of my oldest and dearest friends, whom I haven’t seen for many months. They spent nearly half an hour chatting away, bringing smiles and happy tears to my face in turn.

My celebration was quite simple- nothing fancy at all – but in a place and with people whom I love so much, and shared with so many friends across the electronic miles… precious words and memories which, altogether, went to make this my very special day.

Page 1 of 4

Contact Us | Privacy Policy & GDPR |

Copyright © 2018 Gillian Monks.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén