Archive | September 2016

Saint Fursey

Quite some years ago now I stumbled upon the story that Saint Fursey was said to have  come to England and, at the invitation of King Sigeberht, established a monastery at Burgh Castle. I thought  that I would retell the story here as a good way to draw to a close, for now, the theme of Burgh Castle and the surrounding area. We have moved forward a few hundred years after the Romans retreated from Britain . The area has now been settled by the Anglo Saxons and Christianity is starting to become firmly established as the main religion of the British Isles.

The Life of Saint Fursey



Saint Fursey- By Nigel Canham (BroadNorfolk)


The Venerable Bede, Monk and  historian of the early English church, records this of Fursey:

WHILST Sigbert still governed the kingdom, there came out of Ireland a holy man called Fursa. renowned both for his words and actions, and remarkable for singular virtues, being desirous to live as a stranger and pilgrim for the Lord’s sake, wherever an opportunity should offer. On coming into the province of the East Angles, he was honourably received by the aforesaid king, and performing his wonted task of preaching the Gospel, bv the example of his virtue and the influence of his words, converted many unbelievers to Christ, and confirmed in the faith and love of Christ those that already believed. Here he fell into some infirmity of body, and was thought worthy to see a vision of angels; in which he was admonished diligently to persevere in the ministry of the Word which he had undertaken, and indefatigably to apply himself to his usual watching and prayers; inasmuch as his end was certain, but the hour thereof uncertain, according to the saying of our Lord, “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour. ” Being confirmed by this vision, he set himself with all speed to build a monastery on the ground which had been given him by King Sigbert, and to establish a rule of life therein. This monastery was pleasantly situated in the woods, near the sea; it was built within the area of a fort, which in the English language is called Cnobheresburg, that is, Cnobhere’s Town; afterwards, Anna, king of that province, and certain of the nobles, embellished it with more stately buildings and with gifts. This man was of noble Scottish blood, but much more noble in mind than in birth. From his boyish years, he had earnestly applied himself to reading sacred books and observing monastic discipline, and, as is most fitting for holy men, he carefully practiced all that he learned to be right. Now, in course of time he himself built a monastery, wherein he might with more freedom devote himself to his heavenly studies.

The 12th century version of the life of St. Fursey, the Beatha Fursa, states that he was born c.584 AD at Rathmat on the island of Inchiquin on Lough Corrib. He is thought to have been the son of Fintan, King of Munster. His mother, Geligies was a Christian and daughter of Aed-Fin King of Cannacht.  Traditionally he was said to have been baptised by Saint Brendan who was Fintan’s uncle, however, there is some doubt about this version of his life. Another version, written shortly after his death, reports that Fursey came from Ulster and also casts doubt on his lineage.  It is said that Fursey decided when still a child “To spend his life as a pilgrim for the love of our Lord.” He was duly sent to study under Abbot Meldan.

As his reputation grew, large crowds gathered to hear Fursey. This made him increasingly uncomfortable and so he retreated to a small island off the west coast of Ireland and there sought God’s guidance. During this period he felt that he was being prepared for a new mission and around 630 AD Fursey, along with his brothers Foillan and Uttan and two other companions set sail from Ireland probably under invitation of Sigebert, King of the East Angles.


The Church of St.Peter and St. Paul Burgh castle & Cross of St Fursey


Sigebert welcomed Fursey and his companions and it is believed that he gave them the old Roman fort of Gariannonum, Burgh Castle as it is known today, and adjacent land for their monastery. At that time it would have been a remote place on the southern shore of a large estuary, the area was known as Cnobheresburg. It has been attested that Fursey, assisted by devoted followers, built a place of God within the walls of the fort. From this centre a great missionary movement was established that brought the Christian message not only to the people of the area but also to the Saxons, Picts and Franks of Northern Gaul.


Both before and during this time at the fort Fursey was given a series of visions. According to Bede, Fursey “quitted his body from sunset to cock crow” and saw great choirs of Angels singing praises to God and the Saints. Bede recorded that in one of these visions the Angels took Fursey to a great height where, upon looking down, he saw a gloomy valley where four fires burned in the air. The Angels told Fursey that fires threatened to consume the entire world.The fires were called Falsehood,  Covetousness, Discord and Cruelty. Fursey watched with terror as the fires formed together into one great conflagration and a great battle ensued between Angels and demons. Bede relates;

But as for the story of his visions, he ( Fursa ) would only relate them to those who, from desire of repentance, questioned him about them. An aged brother of our monastery is still living, who is wont to relate that a very truthful and religious man told him, that he had seen Fursa himself in the province of the East Angles, and heard those visions from his lips; adding, that though it was in severe winter weather and a hard frost, and the man was sitting in a thin garment when he told the story, yet he sweated as if it had been in the heat of mid-summer, by reason of the great terror or joy of which he spoke.



Window dedicated to St. Fursey

Upon the death of his patron, King Sigebert the King’s successor, Anna continued to support the monastery. But as Fursey’s reputation grew so too did the crowds who wished to visit him and with another war threatening to engulf East Anglia, Fursey decided to disband the monastery until the situation calmed and so he sailed to Gaul. At Ponthieu Fursey was said to have raised a young boy from the dead, he was the son of the Lord of the area, Duke Hayson. With this and other events his reputation and fame spread and he was given land to establish a monastery at Langny on the river Marne by Erkinoald, ruler of the area. It was here that Fursey built his monastery and three chapels and it was from here that the message was disseminated. He was greatly renowned throughout Picardy and his message spread throughout Europe.There are many miracles attributed to him. After receiving premonitions that his life was nearing its end, Fursey decided that the time was right to return to Cnobheresburg (Burgh Castle) and once there recall his, now scattered, community of monks to reestablish the monastery. Fursey was never to achieve his ambition. He was struck down with a mortal illness at Ponthieu and died there on 16th January 650AD. In his honour the town was renamed Forsheim (House of Fursa) and is still known by that name today. His body was taken to the monastery at Peronne that later became a large shrine and here too  many miracles were witnessed.



Foillan took over the care of the monastery at Burgh Castle after Fursey’s departure to Gaul. He too left to establish a monastery in Belgium where he later died.

It is said that, with Saint Columbia, Fursey was regarded as the most influential missionary to come from Ireland .

Archaeological excavations in 1958, 60 and 61 revealed evidence of foundations of a group of huts within the walls which may have been the site of Fursey’s monastery.

The arms of God be around our shoulders
The light of the Holy Spirit in our minds
The sign of Christ’s cross upon our foreheads
The sound of the Spirit in our ears
The fragrance of the Spirit in our nostrils
The vision of heaven’s company in our eyes
The conversation of heavens company on our lips
The work of God’s church in our hands
The welfare of God and neighbor in our feet
Our hearts a home for God
And to God, nurturer of all, our whole being.

Old Irish, attributed to Saint Fursey.



St.Peter & St.Paul Church- Burgh Castle

The above information came from various sources. For further details regarding St. Fursey and his legacy, please refer to the following:


This entry was posted on September 30, 2016. 1 Comment

Timeless Breydon


There is something about Breydon Water that fascinates. No matter how many times I visit this place, the familiarity of the landscape never allows apathy to encroach. It can be a place of austere beauty and a place of solitude where you can find the space and the time to escape.  Sparsely dotted with mills that once drained the endless marshes, this land has been hard won over the centuries. Farms occasionally punctuate the flatness, islands of unassuming busyness, their industry given away by glimpses of tractor or vehicle waddling down hidden pathways that network the land. The echoing call of cattle offer a backdrop to the scene adding to it’s atmosphere. The bellowing voice of the solitary bull reaches out, breaking the chill morning air, demanding attention from his harem of cows, hidden from our view beneath the far rising banks that separate water from land. Breydon is a place that belongs to the abundant wildlife that populates it.breydon-2 It is the dominion of wading birds and wildfowl, the haunting call of the curlew is a familiar sound as it breaks through the undertone of various species that call out to proclaim their presence. And in the vaulted skies marsh harriers soar and glide in majestic mastery of their element. They are lords of the marsh, a glimpse of their regal bearing never fails but to command your attention to marvel at the display and the precision of their hunt.

Breydon is a place of ever changing moods and doubtless this is part of what attracts and keeps the familiar canvas fresh, draws you in and holds you. Although you become very intimate with the scene you disappear into  it knowing that this visit will offer something different. It changes under the influence of the light that floods the land as it moves from horizon to horizon on it’s daily path. It changes with the weather that can drift calmly or rip angrily across it. breydon-4The seasons govern its moods more acutely. In summer it can greet with a warm breeze or the stillness of an oppressive heat and offers little shelter from its harsh intensity. In winter it can repel with freezing winds that roar, unhindered, across the flatness. Buffeting and pushing, the gusting assault threatens to knock you off your feet. At these times you feel nature in all its powerful glory, the intensity of it in disquieting, uncomfortable and intimidating, but also thrilling as it lays bare your vulnerability to its potency.

The wide expanse of the Breydon estuary captures and reflects the ambience of the place. Its waters rise and fall rhythmically at the behest of a sun and a moon that pull at its mass. At the highest tide the waters can threaten to overwhelm the man made walls that hold it from the land and when winds whip up its surface, and its grey body slaps the shore, it uncomfortably confirms its height above the surrounding marsh.breydon-7 At its lowest it is a place of vast mudflats and snaking channels, the flow now reduced to the river that underlies and feeds it. Now wading birds dart and feed, pecking and probing, gulping down morsels hidden beneath the productive, life sustaining silt. But the tranquillity is deceptive, an incoming tide can quickly flood the shallows and pools. The tides and channels of this estuary should be respected, they have claimed many unsuspecting vessels over the years and continue to do so today if the ample warnings go unheeded.

The following verse is a 1919 account of Breydon’s treacherous channels given by Hugh Money-Coutts about his visit to The Norfolk Broads.

‘On Breydon Water, when the tide is outbreydon-1
The channel bounds no sailorman can doubt
Starboard and port, the miry banks reveal
Where safety lies beneath his cautious keel.
But when the flood has wiped the water clean,
– Hiding the muddy haunts where seagulls preen
Their wings, and shake their heads – black pillars mark
The channel’s edge for each adventuring bark.
Beware; the channel shifts, and now and then
A post deceives the hapless wherrymen.’

Breydon appeals, I think, because it reminds us of our vulnerability, of our littleness. Like all such places it opens us to the fact that its history stretches far beyond our small participation in and knowing of it. It is an ancient and timeless place that  only allows us to believe that we have tamed and controlled it. It hints at its past with waters that now offer dim remembrance of its former dominance.breydon-6 Once a vast estuary whose mouth opened to the sea where Great Yarmouth now stands, its former banks are now marked by a distant line of trees that gently climb above the surrounding marsh, and it once penetrated deep into what is now Norfolk and Suffolk.

We, of course, live in this present moment of its long history and are comfortable there, but it is only a moment. Sea levels ever rise and fall, who knows one day this land may flood again and become a vast estuary once more. One thing is for certain, future generations who visit this place long after we have past into memory, will still be awed by its timeless beauty.


The Autumn Equinox and John Barleycorn


The thick, oppressive heat of Summer has finally abated a little. Although there is still strength in the sun yet, it’s energy is now on the wain and I for one will be glad for some relief from its blazing torment. This morning I watched it’s red disc emerge, slowly climbing, peeking through distant banks of purple ribboned cloud and shrouding mists that hold the earth in their flimsy embrace. Then, all at once, the scene erupts into golden light as the sun proclaims itself to the morning stillness and deep umber shadows radiate from its glory forming an avenue of light and shade. The sun is still able to entice the veils to lift and soon it will stir a gentle breeze and carry it away. But for now I watch awestruck, bathed in an elemental and magical light. Then, all too soon, the spell is broken, and it is gone. The world is waking up and the industry that the growing brightness inspires starts to intrude, and another day begins.

The distant rumble of traffic grows as people begin their daily rituals, but it is a feeble hum to my ears. This morning I took the time to get up early and find a place of relative seclusion to greet the Autumn Equinox. It is a time when night and day are held in equal balance and the sun is at the midpoint of it’s yearly journey along the horizon. It is was a time of special significance for our ancestors. Their  very lives depended on being in tune with the rhythm of the seasons. To them all of nature was infused with a spiritual energy. Pre Christian people believed that the gods and goddesses were present in all things, mountain and stone, forest and tree, in wind, sky, storm and sea. Everything that we now take for granted was held in great reverence. The moon in her monthly cycles echoed it’s rhythm in woman’s fertility, and the sun in its yearly round mapped out the fecundity of the earth, impregnating her with his lustful energy in spring, sustaining her with the light and heat of summer and bringing her to fullness with the fruits of his life bearing seed through to autumn and the final harvest. In winter there is stillness, and the earth sleeps under the careful watch of her consort who glides over the cold earth, reserved in his passing now but knowing that soon he will awaken her, flooding her womb once more with his radiance and together they will, once again, continue their eternal dance. And man has ever watched and marked out the pattern of it, and has been ever grateful to do so. It is unfortunate that we today have no need to watch and take part in the dance, we have little time to feel the beat, the rhythm of it. We live in flimsy isolation from nature, or so we think. But the magic of it all still brings food to our table. So at this time of harvest, of slowing down, taking stock we too should give thanks for the great abundance which continues to be provided.

I can trace few celebrations that are specifically East Anglian in origin for this particular time of the year, which probably means that our local heritage and customs have been on the decline for some time. I find it difficult to believe that this part of the country, so obviously and deeply agricultural, would not have it’s own traditions related to the harvest. Yes there is the ‘Horkey’ referred to in a previous post, but beyond this there is little that I can find, unfortunately.


John Barleycorn was know as the spirit of the fields. Barley was an important crop and there are traditional songs that celebrate the cycle of it’s growth, harvest and consumption as a food but also in beer and whisky of which it is a major component. Variations of the legend and ballads can be found throughout Britain, but, I am going to bend it slightly in our favour by proclaiming that it is uniquely part of our East Anglian Heritage and for the following reason, it’s a little bit convoluted but here goes.

There are some academics who believe that John Barleycorn has his origins in the mythical Anglo-Saxon figure of Beowa who was associated with agriculture but with barley in particular. There is also a very close connection between Beowa and Beowulf, the hero of the Anglo-Saxon epic of the same name which was said to have been composed in 7th century at Rendlesham the capital of the East Angles ruled over by the Wuffingas dynasty. This territory was divided into the North Folk and the South Folk from which we derive the existing counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. So if you really wanted to be very, very picky, Suffolk could actually lay ultimate claim to John Barleycorn but I think that’s pushing it a bit too far, but then I would say that Wouldn’t I !?

The Song of John Barleycorn gives  reference and meaning to the mystery of life, death and resurrection. Although it has death as an overtone it is, in fact, a song of life and of hope and joy. It tells of the cycle of his birth and growth, his eventual killing and burial only to be reborn again. His yearly sacrifice offered to sustain, through food (his body) and drink (his blood). Barleycorn was celebrated at both the first and second harvest, I hope at this time of the second harvest you can find time to raise a glass in his honour, All Hail John Barleycorn !


Autumn Harvest by Nigel Canham – BroadNorfolk



The day the Romans returned to Gariannonom

bcastle-1Burgh Castle is a place that radiates a deeply rooted and ancient aura. A place that has drawn me to it again and again since childhood, it has a presence that resonates with a, still largely hidden, history of man’s long standing occupation of the site which goes back far beyond the arrival of the Romans who built the fort that now dominates the landscape. These magnificent fortifications serve to hint at a still more distant period before their foundations were laid. These ageless piles of flint, tile and mortar demands that we reflect upon the past and that we lose ourselves in the task of trying to imagine these lands and the people that lived here long, long ago.

Archaeology has shown that this land has seen some form of human activity from prehistory, through the bronze and iron ages and the subsequent centuries of occupation, invasion and settlement. The Roman walls mark an obvious period with their, still impressive, presence. The effect upon the native population in building such a commanding structure would, I think, have been initially shattering. They would have commanded respect and adherence to strict Roman law. It was probably only later, with reluctant acceptance of their subjugation, that the local tribes would have traded with their new masters and accept the protection afforded by their presence against marauding saxon pirates.

On occasion, and when the mood allows, these slowly crumbling walls can act as a kind of portal that transport us back in time. It is then, as the barrier of the intervening centuries begins to breakdown slightly, that the site comes to life, echoing with distant voices that have sculptured out its long history. Every stone and tile and the very mortar that binds it together was crafted and laboured over. And you can’t resist to touch it, to inspect with admiring eye and probing fingers the work of artisans from centuries before. And in that touching you are  immediately united with these people, the cold sharpness of the flint feels the same under your touch as it did to the hand that placed it there so long ago.  These people lived and breathed as we live and breath today, their thought processes and observations would have, without question, matched our own, and they almost certainly would have had the same objections, complaints about weather, working conditions and those  of higher rank who were barking out the orders. They would have had families to return too after the days hard labour and friends with whom they could unwind and share a joke. They were once conscious, living people as aware of their environment as we are today. The only barrier between us is our cultural outlook and preferences that only change with the march of time, other than this we are essentially the same. The ground may hold the bones of these people now, but the walls and surrounding fields whisper their essence still, if you let them. We, in turn, participate with the ever unfolding history of the place and our presence, our living connection adds to the voices of the ancestors. Our own activity will, no doubt, one day fascinate future generations. We are now the people of the walls.

We walk this land daily. Circumstance has given me the freedom to accompany my sister and her two dogs in this morning routine and I am thankful for the freedom to enhance my association with the place, it never ceases to fascinate.

img_1650Today we are here at the general invitation of the Norfolk Archaeological Trust. They have been fortunate enough to receive lottery funding for an exciting new project, Burgh Castle ‘Life Outside the Walls’. Both my sister and I have a long standing fascination with our ancient history and heritage so it is little wonder that we find ourselves, on a rather overcast and blustery day, inside a tent brimming with information that is being eagerly consumed by a hungry and enquiring public. The enthusiasm, courtesy and patience shown by the trust members must be praised here. It is very obvious that it is their love for what they do that carries them through the task of answering often repeated questioning. Opposite the tent and within an enclosure marked out by orange barrier fencing , another team of trust members were busy excavating a small trench and sifting the resulting spoil for artifacts or any signs of the camp (Vicus) that had grown up around the fort to service its basic needs. Once again the trust members enthusiasm for the task in hand shoneIMG_1649.JPG through. Time was generously given to explaining the site and, with the aid of geophysical images, a good impression was given of the activity that would have taken place where we now stood and in the surrounding fields. Little had been found at the dig but they were planning to extend the trench a little into a, now hidden, ditch that was clearly revealed on the imaging. All the time a small contingent of Roman ‘citizens’ could be seen wandering the lanes leading to the fort giving strength to the impressions of a past time now being conjured up in our mind’s eye.

With grey, leaden skies threatening we decided to walk the short distance to the fort. Entering through what use to be the main entrance the scene suddenly came to life. Although I must confess to a little disappointment initially. The Roman cavalry that confronted us consisted of only two mounted horsemen (one of which turned out to be a woman of enviable skill ) and three or four foot soldiers. I don’t know what I had expected, img_1623probably a whole contingent of  legionnaires in full battle dress armed to the teeth and ready to take on the Saxon hoards maybe? No doubt, I commented to my sister, the forces of officialdom had put them to flight armed as they are with all powerful weapon of clipboard and pen. The combined ranks of health and safety officers and insurance claims executives could, today, outflank most armies and bore them into submission with endless forms whilst at the same time tying them up with an seemingly infinite supply of red tape. I am probably wrong about this, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that was the reason for the small band of brothers (and a sister) that confronted us.

But I digress and must not allow a voice to my personal prejudices.  For whatever the reason the garrison was disappointingly small, however, this misgiving was very quickly put to flight. The display that followed was nothing short of amazing!IMG_1622.JPG

The skill and knowledge of the diminutive garrison more than made up for its size. I know very little of the times being reenacted but, for me, it was truly like being transported back in time. Even the horses obeyed commands made in the Roman tongue. Horse and man were in complete unison as they charged a variety of targets, including the poor but thankfully shielded foot soldiers, with bow, lance and sword. Watching these skillful few img_1640you really could get the feel of life inside the fort. With the wall as a backdrop and taking our minds slightly out of phase with trappings of modernity that intruded ever so slightly into the scene, it was if you were observing a real life vision from the time of Roman occupation. Watching the intricate dance of a warriors honed skill conjured up the ghosts of those who had this routine as part of their daily life. They probably went through similar endless drill and training for battle against the threat of invading hoards. When the rain that had been threatening finally came we ended what had been a thoroughly informative and entertaining couple of hours or so. And a whole new layer of appreciation of life outside and within the walls has been given.

If you have never visited the Roman fort at Burgh Castle I would urge you to do so. The best way to describe it is quietly spectacular and mutedly atmospheric. But if you go there early morning when marsh mists envelop its stark walls and the first rays of  sun penetrate the rising vapours pouring gold on to ribbons of silver that wash across the land. As  you observe the sun’s growing light picking out the droplets of dew that bejewel gossamer webs that hang loosely in tall grasses and hear the cry of marsh harrier echoing into the still morning air. If you allow the haunting calls of wading birds on the nearby river that bcastle-4flows lazily close to the foot of a gently sloping spit of land upon which the fort sits, to carry you away and get lost in the timelessness of it all. Then the place reveals itself in all its magical splendour. At certain times the mists hide both river and  marsh and displays to us the ghostly reminder of the vast body of water that was once here. The river is  now an unobtrusive remnant of a large estuary that use to stretch across what is now land drained for grazing. The distant line of trees mark its ancient western margins. If you allow yourself the space to be quiet, just for a little while, to soak it all in  basking in the rhythm of the place and drinking in the peaceful atmosphere that has been hard won from very much more turbulent times, then the place may just come to life for you, and you will almost hear the voices of past generations who once stood where you now stand.

This blog posting is, of course, my very personal interpretation of Burgh Castle. For a more factual account there is a wealth of information out there but you couldn’t do better than by visiting the website of the Norfolk Archaeological Trust. Please click on the links below.

Boy Jack’s Harvest Horkey

In keeping with the theme of the previous post, I have been inspired to write a verse and do some drawings to accompany it. I have written it as closely as I can to the Norfolk Dialect but this is no easy task! I make no claims that this is an accurate interpretation but base it on my own Norfolk ‘twang’ and lean heavily upon Keith Skippers wonderful book “Larn Yarself Norfolk” which I highly recommend. I also own up to taking the slightest of poetic licence in places to make the verse work. Anyway, it’s a bit of fun so I hope you enjoy the yarn, tha ent harf a rum’un!





Ow boy Jack tell a pecoolier tale
Afer a point o two o ale
“Now cum you gether round!” he’d hail
Then start his ol yamandering

Now sum they give boy Jack his dew
“Jis squit!” say sum “ Tha tale jis grew!”
Sum they call him a dardledumdew
All thought he wus a rum’un

Twas early afor the suns arois’n
Upanabout b’for fooks wer rois’n
He saw a soit a moit supris’n
Back wen he wer a young’un


“Good morn’n there boy Jack”

Twas wen he wer abouta walk’n
He past a nod to Morris Mawkin
Then he say he heard im tork’n
“Good morn’n there boy Jack”

That made boy Jack  bit puckaterry
“Bluss me” he say his legs loik jelly
Transfixerated in his wellies
He durs’nt move a muscle

Then Morris Mawkin got his fiddle
And over in yon cornfield middle
Molly Mawkin starts to jiggle
As Morris starts ter saw’n

Then under yon bright muddled-moon
Is heard a most melodious tune
As  Morris fiddles like a loon
An Molly starts ter sing’n


Morris starts ter saw’n

An then from up an down the rood
Came sukeys roit pass were he stood
Then boy Jack thought if he should
Turn an start ter runn’n

The sukeys formed a circle dance
An skipped, an jigged, an jumped an pranced
Boy Jack he kinda missed his chance
His toes were now atapun

And out from fields an out from trees
an from the creeping ivorys
A hosts of bishy barney bees
An more ter join the party

Hanser, fox an badget there
Jill hooter,  barley birds thas rare
An crows the mawkins loike ter scare
Now flapp’n an a flipp’n

“Come boy Jack !” the mawkins croid
“Come yew hev no need ter hoide”
“Get sum dancin in yer stroide!”
“Cum join the skywannicking!”


Cum all ter joyn the party


With  wittles served in Guler nests
An acorn ale, it was the best
Now Rather of the ratherrest
Jack sang sum gammerattle

Tudded by this Bosky crew
This happy dew jis grew an grew
Cum hobby, cum dicky, cum billy wix too
Cum all ter joyn the party

An so Jack danced and jigged an crooned
blaring out his happy tunes
He danced with molly then all too soon
The sky it starts to brighten

Then straining in the growing loit
He say he saw with blarry soit
A troup of little hikey sprites
Join in the jollyfercations.



They swept an swooped about the mawkins
they laughed at Jacks quite drunken sqwarkins
At last to mawkins they start a talk’n
“tis toime tew end this party”

“The sun is roisn over yonder
Wi brek o dawn we end this wunder
Bout toime ter end the spell yer under
Now git sum sleep boy Jack”

“So drift boy Jack” the hikeys say
An gently on a bed of hay
With rising sun they bid him lay
An Jack he starts to drift’n


A rare ol sleep

As Molly sheds a happy tear
say Morris mawkin in his ear
“Cum agin boy Jack next year
ter harvest celebreashuns”

Then slep boy Jack a rare ol sleep
An overhead the sun did creep
Then wookun by a hay carts creak
Jack jumped up all a dudder

“Cor, blust me!” There came the cry
From ol  boy Tom a’top hay cart high
“Yew nearly made moi heart ter floy
Blust! stop yer blummin crimbling”


Jack jumped up all a dudder!

“Boy Jack you duzzy wer you bin
yew sharnt be dew’n that agin
Now gether all the corn shock in
I’ll ding yew round the lug ol!”

So Jack he wuk’d hard till sun wus sett’n
To gether all the  last of shack in
In fayd’n loit he turned to  mawkin
he ‘s sure he saw them wave’n

Sum say ol Jack on harvest noit
Still walks the fields under moons loit
With mawkins their an hikey sprite
All jigg’n an a jumpun


Boy Jack with mawkins dance’n

With hanser, badget, an summer snipe
With  will o wix an woodsprite
An cows are twizzlun in shear deloit
At  harvest celebreashuns

Boy jack sings out in to the noite
“Welcome all an cum who moiyt”
“Cum put all troubles an cares to floit”
“Cum gether for the horkey!”

So if abroad on harvest  noit
An burrs around the moon thas broit
Cud chance ter see a funny ow soit
Boy jack with mawkins dance’n


Molly Mawkin


Verse and Drawings by Nigel Canham, Harvest 2016

The Magic of the Harvest


I think it must be me but I feel sure that the harvest is getting earlier. Or maybe my confusion could be down to the fact that there is such a variety of crops available now that harvesting can happen anytime, it would appear, from early July through to late September. It matters very little really because whenever it occurs I still feel it is a magical time of the year. Even with all the mechanical, laser precision, gps, satellite tracking, drone assisted gizmos and dodahs, to me at least, it still feels a very primal event. I think maybe the old fertility gods and goddesses are still present as the multiple bladed rotating scythe, slices great avenues through the crops, kicking up the dust from mother earth as it passes over her, ever giving, form. This mechanical beast vomiting out vast quantities of grain into a gps guided hoppers,dutifully following the combines hungry bulk up and down, up and down consuming swathes of gold at each pass and throwing out quantities of straw residue from it’s rear end that will be, in turn, consumed by a baling gizmo that will spit out a neatly rolled or rectangular package. I am impressed, even if, as you can tell, I am totally ignorant of both terms and method. I find the sight of a harvested field dotted  with these great rolls or bricks of straw very appealing. Everything is done with the utmost precision, methodical, nothing wasted, efficiency in action. But, despite contemporary farming methods, it is still all very magical to me and John Barleycorn still imparts his spirit within a sea of ripening crops. When my grandkids ask if i believe in magic, I answer emphatically ‘yes!’ and then hopefully show them magic in action in the ordinary, in the mundane, in the things we take for granted. Take a little seed and put it in the ground, water it, then watch the magic happen !

Standing in front of a solitary oak tree recently I asked my eldest granddaughter how many trees she could see. “Only one grandad” she replied giving me that look that said, silly grandad has really lost it this time !

“ Well I can see hundreds, thousands,  whole forests !” I replied, ceasing on the opportunity to inspire a fertile little mind, by revealing the wonder of nature in all its mysterious glory as I had done previously with my grandsons. I then explained that each acorn on the tree has another tree inside it waiting the chance to be born and, over time, each one of those trees will produce hundreds of more acorns which will also have a tree inside it. Now waiting for her confirmation that my obvious knowledge of  magic and the mystical was up there with Albus Dumbledore

She gave me ‘that’ look again and then relied, rather matter of factly.

“Ok, but there’s still only one tree!”

Drat ! Flawed by the simple wisdom of a child! A few minutes later however she was scraping at the hard earth with a stone, trying to dig a hole to plant an acorn plucked from the tree, Wonderful !

I can’t think of a time that I have ever really lost that childlike wonder in the magic that surrounds us daily. And I get a great deal of pleasure watching my own children, my nieces and now my grandchildren lost in the joy and wonderment of it all. Despite being told once by my eldest grandson that I don’t really know anything because I don’t go to school, I know they soak up the little gems of dubious, home spun, wisdom offered. That said, in reality my grandson is probably closer to the truth than he knows because they teach me more than I could ever hope to impart to them. They teach the simple wisdom of being in the moment and through the delight of sharing in the magic of their fertile imaginations. Just being in the company of children forces you to focus on what is really important and to truly experience the wonder of it all.

img_1238sThis has been a very hot summer. But now, as it slips inevitably past its climax the fruits of its labour are starting to appear in field, hedgerow and tree. Once again we can share with the autumnal ritual of foraging, eating sun warmed fruits straight from branch or vine, for me it is one of the great pleasures of the season. The colder and darker months are being hinted at as trees start to fade from rich greens to browns and yellows. And the, still warm, breeze carries the rich perfume of ripening fruits and aging vegetation. Spring brought the heady lust for life renewed, Summer is busy building and strengthening that life to carry the next generation, Autumn presents the seed of this labour for next year’s growth, offered in juicy wrapping that cannot be resisted, it ensures its future abundance is spread far and wide. All creatures including our species are eagre accomplices to the task. With autumn comes a slowing down, a taking stock, a time for reflection as nature prepares to sleep through the cold winter.

But we are not there yet, Summer always seem reluctant to relinquish its hold and so we still have a few days left of the heat before it finally burns itself out.

Despite our seeming detachment from the need to observe the ebb and flow of the seasons even we, cocooned in the illusion of detachment, are still influenced by the tides of change.

img_1226sTrue, the seasons intrusion may have been reduced to considering when the heating is finally turned on or to when you reluctantly concede that wearing shorts is no longer practical or in tune with seasonal demands! But for our forebears and for those who still work the land today, this turning of the year was and is incredibly important. In the past it was a matter of survival, if the crop failed the community went without, sickness and death quickly followed. As farming methods improved it has become less a matter of life and death and more about economic survival. So the need to observe the vagaries of often unpredictable seasons has not diminished for those who rely upon the cycle. Less so for most of us perhaps, but even then our apathy is only allowed courtesy of the fact that there is a relatively small group of people who still need to tune themselves to it, which negates our need to do so. Once again I offer a heartfelt opinion that, despite the obvious benefits of modern living, we have sacrificed a connection to the rhythm and cycles of nature that our ancestors danced too, and we are much the poorer for it.

Harvest is the culmination of a whole year’s labour and it is a hard worn reward. And the cycle continues. With the cutting of the last sheaf of corn, with the plucking of the last fruit from tree the celebration of harvest gives thanks for the gifts received and petitions for the success of next year’s crop. The promise is given in the abundance, in the seeds now gathered  safely in and  the assurance, granted by nature herself, that she will return in her guise as the maid, full and ripe with expectant fertility, after her winter rest.


Although I have little doubt that the harvest season has been extended by contemporary farming methods, the period of gathering in has always been dictated by the maturing of nature’s bounty. Traditionally there has been a ‘first’ and a ‘second’ Harvest. The first harvest was celebrated on the first day of August (Lammas) but this could extend to the first day of September dependant on where your lived and the temperament of an unpredictable climate. The term Lammas comes from the Anglo-Saxon “Loaf Mass” it is the celebration of the day that the first crop is cut and bread is baked from it. The harvest then continues apace until the last sheaf is cut. This is a celebration that man has kept in various forms ever since he learned to reap the rewards of planting seeds in life sustaining earth. In former times, in this part of the country the last cutting was traditionally accompanied by the Horkey Feast, this was a celebration given by the landowner for the farm workers and their families. The last cart from the harvest was known as the ‘Horkey Load’. The Lord and Lady of the harvest would sit on top of the ‘Load’ or accompany the last sheaf through the village where the women would sprinkle it with water. The last sheaf or dolly was treated with great reverence and was taken to the feast, adorned with flowers and set in a place of honour. The dolly would be preserved in the farmhouse until the following year. The harvest is  not celebrated anything  like it use to be. We no longer have the need to petition hidden forces to ensure we have food on the table. We rely less on the force behind nature to provide and more on the spirit of commerce in its guise as Asda or Tesco to maintain supply.

“Home came the jovial Horkey load,
“Last of the whole year’s crop;
“And Grace amongst the green boughs rode
“Right plump upon the top.
“This way and that the waggon reel’d,
“And never queen rode higher;
Her cheeks were colour’d in the field,
“And ours before the fire.

Robert Bloomfield 1799

img_1263sThe second Harvest of fruits from tree and hedgerow came at roughly the time of the Autumn equinox,  21st day of September. Known as Harvest Home or Mabon. At last the hard won bounty of a year’s labour is finally gathered in. The grafting is done, from this point the winter slowly draws her icy veil over the land. As the pace winds down and nature rests we, like our ancestors before, take to the warm seclusion of hearth and home and in this period we can, if we choose, reflect. If we can just find a little time to connect, to conjure up the real magic of living, of releasing that child like spirit of wonderment lost under the accreted mass of neurosis that clouds our vision. Then, once again, we can start to regain our freedom, to live within the  rhythm that drives the seasons as our planet journeys around the sun. It is the same rhythm  behind all that we can see and all that we can know and all that we can never know and it is hidden in clear view. It is the magic in the harvest of seed, fruit and berry.