The day started with an exhilarating plunge into the deep cool waters at Allerthorpe where I swam long and hard, imagining myself as The Lady of the Lake, a sleek creature, clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful, gliding through the murky water. In fact I must have looked more like a Donald McGill fat lady in my Tesco swimming cozzy, while show-off triathletes surged past me, streamlined cruise missiles in high-tech wetsuits.
Ignoring that fact, I concluded that this was a perfect way to initiate my summer solstice celebrations, and thoughts of a magical micro adventure began to form in my head and carried me through the more prosaic chores of the day. Scouring the second hand shops for a Mrs. Beauregarde costume for Rose’s school play, I found a suitably lurid ensemble for less than a tenner, including a deliciously nasty pink plastic handbag. Then I spent rather too long arranging some diplomatic words in response to a threatening email from Arthur’s form tutor about another missed prep (not without having a jolly good shouting match with Danny first; always so invigorating.) I processed the last of a seven-load heap of filthy laundry, while simultaneously making beds and piecing together the layout for a gatefold church visitors leaflet on the laptop.
Later I set off on the school run to collect two sweaty boys, (Arthur has a friend staying, and both had been on the school annual 24k hike over the Wolds) plus one excited little girl, (Rose shares my witchy leanings and hadn’t forgotten my casual mention of a secret summer solstice soiree)
Returning home I prepared an enormous quantity of tomatoey, basily baked pasta and mozzarella for a growing number of sweaty boys who arrived on bicycles, joining Arthur and his friend for an al fresco dinner accompanied by loud rap hip-hop peppered with expletives.
Danny suddenly decided that he needed to find the cool boxes for his beery weekend of golfing, and naturally there was only one person qualified to locate them in the Heaving Garage of Doom: Me. As I hauled toolboxes and old scooters out of the way, I suddenly remembered that there was a village committee meeting at seven o’clock, and it started to seem less and less likely that my spontaneous mini adventure would ever take shape. But I was gripped by a supernatural determination, and while grappling with cascades of garden tools and folding chairs, having unearthed the cool boxes, I also managed to haul together two pop-up tents, sleeping bags and a few random essentials which Rose helped me to carry up to the circular lawn at the very top of our overgrown garth garden. (In very dry weather you can still see the ancient rig and furrow of mediaeval farmers)
We had just enough time to set everything up, including a little stove and kettle, before I had to dash. For a number of days now I had felt the elemental forces within calling me, a deep song of longing, a desire to just sit in the woods and listen, to breathe in the scents of soil and summer air, and release my inner sorceress. But ravaged by domesticity, and bound by the rigid expectations and responsibilities of the normal, sane, mother/wife role, I struggled on, quickly scraping plates, stacking the dishwasher and pedalling hard to get to my meeting on time.
There were two bikes already leant against the church wall when I arrived, panting, and I suddenly felt glad to be there. The backbone of our committee comes in the shape of two powerful forces of nature, strong independent older women with superhuman energies and sparkling eyes. Once upon a time long ago, our gathering might have looked like witchcraft as we sat in a circle beside the Saxon cross under the stony pagan shadow of Sheela na gig and her feindish friends in the Norman arch. But tonight two warlocks joined us, their phlegmatic Yorkshire ways keeping the meeting down to earth with talk of legal issues, faculties and planning decisions.
The sun was setting across the fields behind Throstle Woods as I cycled home, and it was time for my young crone to join her hag mother in a midsummer procession through the tall cow parsley to our gypsy camp, light the torches and set the kettle ready for a midnight brew. In reality, wearing pyjamas and jumpers, we staggered in the dusky light over abandoned heaps of hay that Danny had piled up in a failed attempt to cut the path with a newly serviced scythe mower that promptly snuffed it after getting jammed on a twig. I had packed a basket with bacon, teabags, milk, and as an afterthought, a bottle of Benedictine, which I mistook for cherry brandy, but in the event was more suitable as a witchy nightcap with its botanical cough syrup taste.
Encircled by our protecting ring of six candles and overlooked by a bright fat silvery half moon, we sat in the gathering gloom, taking alternate sips of liquor and chamomile tea and playing gin rummy. Rose was delirious with excitement and we laughed loudly in between conspiratorial whispers. I held off too much talk of witchcraft telling myself that Rose might get scared, but in truth, it was me who was scared, having just read Lolly Willowes, an eerily charming book by Sylvia Townsend Warner given by a friend, in which a character I relate to comes to an agreement with Satan. But I’m not ready to meet the devil yet. Perhaps in a few more years…
It might be a certifiable condition, but standing at a warm, well lit marble wash basin with hot and cold running taps and a gilded venetian mirror holds only half the pleasure for me as the dulcet ring of a toothbrush on an enamel mug and a spit in the hedge. DNA analysis might well conclude that there is a healthy dollop of gypsy blood coursing through my veins, which could also account for an uncanny knack with the Tarot and a dogged reluctance to part with my decrepit old camper van. With nothing more than a cursory wipe of my face with a damp cloth, and a slick of Tina’s home grown beeswax lip balm, I was ready to crawl into my tent, take one last look up at the inky midsummer sky and snuggle down to eavesdrop on the night sounds.
Drifting in and out of sleep I was in turn lulled by distant aeroplane engines and slapped awake by terrifying flappings and snufflings from the trees. Soon after midnight a heavy-footed beast crunched his way down the narrow green lane behind my tent, dry twigs snapping as he furtively approached. Stopping just centimetres from my head he sighed through his nostrils and began a sinister chomping and licking, I could hear his tongue smacking in his skull. Frozen for a second, I concluded that I must have unwittingly summoned Beelzebub with my candles and mock incantations…until it dawned on me that the sound I recognised was that of a giant ginger cat stopping to clean himself in the comfortable glow of his batshit crazy owner’s tea-lights. It was safe to go back to sleep.
At four, the dawn chorus reached its orgasmic crescendo, young jackdaws waking me just in time to marvel at its staggering ecstatic force. To be completely immersed in it is a rare treat, particularly in a location so densely populated with a huge variety of wild birds, and it was a fitting close to my midsummer micro adventure, a gift from Mother Nature.
Later, after a deep and dreamy sleep, collecting two warm eggs from under a dozing hen and lighting the little spirit stove for breakfast was the perfect way to face the next six months of shortening days, and I sat in the still morning sunlight beside my beautiful fuzzy headed mystic apprentice, feeling ready for anything.
I urge you, dear reader, to listen to your inner pagan and take yourself outside to meet the earth face to face. Shed your everyday modern skin and stand naked amongst its seething pulsing life force. It sounds bonkers, but it’s the most natural thing you can do to rebalance and take stock. It costs nothing, takes no time, has no side effects and rewards you handsomely. If you prefer not to be a complete hippie about it, you can always follow the more practical advice of my favourite adventurer, Alastair Humphreys and check out his website here.
Just don’t forget to bring your iphone for a chance selfie with Lucifer!