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Calan Haf

By Dave Snowden  ·  May 2, 2012  ·  Great places, Reflections

My determination to spend at least one day every weekend on a long distance walk is starting to pay dividends.  Last month on a Friday I walked 17 miles to complete stage two of the Ridgeway.  I needed a pickup so I timed it to coincide with my son being home so he could drive to Sparsholt Firs after I had walked via Waylands Smithy from Ogmore St John. I suggested he might want to do the next section on Sunday and we completed 18 miles at a much faster pace.  Youth drove the party forward, but age won on stamina towards the end!  I did another couple of walks in April, including one in Ireland that evoked many memories but I will report them on some future date.

One of the glories of walking in the UK at this time of the year is to see the May flowers create a searing whiteness to the otherwise drab hawthorn (pictured).  Today is not just May Day, the day of revolutionary celebration world wide but it is also Beltane for the Goidelic celts, or Calan Haf for those of us who fall into the Brythonic group.  In older days (and Waylands Smithy dates too that period) the hawthorn would have been used to decorate the outside of buildings and burnt in Bonfires.  This is the first day of summer, the day the cattle would be put to outside pasture, the symbol of growing fertility and may a child was conceived after a pair of lovers had leapt over that bonfire.  Men armed with blackthorn, representing winter would fight those whose willow branches represented summer.

Whenever I pass by these ancient signs Alan Garner's Moon of Gomrath comes to mind and I remind myself not to light Rowan and Pine, wendfire, to bring down the Hunter and the Wild Hunt.  There is a strange peace to the Smithy (which is in fact one of the best preserved burial mounds) which is never sinister,  its different with the barrows above Avebury although I can't explain the feeling that they are more sinister.  That peace was disturbed by the need to admonish a man with three children who was not only ignoring the "please do not walk on this area as its being reseeded" notices on the mound but had sat down in the area with a picnic and was allowing his children to jump and leap creating skid marks.  Social force of several visitors eventually produced a result, but it was an unpleasant interlude.

So enjoy May Day, although here in WIltshire the rain looks unlikely to stop anytime soon.  May the memory of its long past be preserved and not lost in a generation that is increasingly alienated from community and land alike.