Second Nature by Lorraine Weightman

Second Nature River Image by Lorraine Weightman
Second Nature River Image by Lorraine Weightman

Now that it’s firmly established my ancient heritage is of Celtic origin: I decided to explore and delve into their traditions and beliefs to find out more about them.

The Celtic Calendar was divided into four main festivals: Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain, which all observed and honoured the changing of the seasons.

Their culture celebrated nature and the human connection to it. It is known as ‘animism’ which is a belief that all of the natural world has a spirit or soul and all are interconnected  – humans, animals, plants, rocks and rivers. Celtic people’s culture embodied a total respect for their surrounding world, while recognising the divine in all living things.

Beltane marks the beginning of Summer and is traditionally celebrated on May 1st. As we know, as Christianity grew, many pagan rituals faded but some remained, and were celebrated alongside their new Christian counterparts.

These old traditions are still upheld in some parts of the country. We have all heard of the maypole and the green man –  who may mean different things to different people –  yet he is mostly seen as a symbol of our humanity’s connection with –  and total reliance –  on nature.

Beltane was celebrated with bonfires, dance, and the adornment of homes with flowers as the changing season was welcomed. 

Today we still celebrate May Day and are blessed with a bank holiday to enjoy our revelries.

My first memories of May  – apart from enjoying my birthday celebrations – were being taught it was the month of Mary and she was Queen of May; in fact at school and in church we belted out all 4 verses and choruses of ‘Bring Flowers of The Rarest’, a hymn dedicated to Mary the mother of Jesus.

There was also the May Procession, when the whole school and parish processed from St Patrick’s Church in Consett. Children in their white dresses and shirts and grey trousers. While the adults turned out in all their finery.  A statue of Mary adorned with flowers was carefully carried on the shoulders of willing participants through the streets to the waste ground behind the church. All gathered to say the Rosary, then kneeling down on the stony uneven surface they received a blessing. Years later in my forties when my arthritis was playing up and after a referral to a consultant at Shotley Bridge Hospital, I was told I had a condition called  ‘Infrapatellar bursitis’, also know as ‘Clergyman’s Knee’, something I hadn’t heard of.

In those early days Consett was a steel town, vibrant, with many great shops and pubs and a bustling spirited community. However the price we all paid for this was the grime and red dust that covered the town. Yet, everyone’s saving grace was the countryside surrounding the town on the hill. Only a couple of miles away – and still as beautiful as ever today – were the moors, the river, the woods and the rolling hills. Weekends were spent paddling and swimming in the river Derwent, while exploring the waterfall at Allensford. This connection to nature more than made up for the smoky emissions that kept the town alive.

Being in touch with nature is just as important now as it was then, and my heart still leaps when I find myself close to Muggleswick, Stanhope, Edmundbyers and  Blanchland.

To replicate my childhood nature walks and connect to the earth, I’ve now bought myself a pair of barefoot trainers, to help with the arthritic pains in my feet, and adjust the alignment of my joints.

So, if you see me on the banks of the river striding towards you wearing them; remember, I’m just trying to reverse the damage done to my catholic knees!

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