My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture, and things in the broader realm of the Gothic and darkly Romantic. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

Goth is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, the expression of that in Goth rock. It looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Siouxsie, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, et al) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. The Gothic should not be limited by what is already within it; inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Friday, 8 February 2019

Imbolc I: The Ruined Cairn & The Well of the Spotted Rock - Ritual At Dunain

Cairn stone.
This Imbolc I celebrated alone. Initially I was going to go to a semi-public ritual, then I was going to go to a group gathering, then the group gathering fell through and I missed my chance to sign up the semi-public one, so I ended up heading up Dunain hill alone, high above Inverness, near the Pictish fort of Craig Phadraig, and above the building works currently converting the old Craig Dunain Asylum. I mention the old Craig Dunain, because the turning circle/roundabout outside it is the bus stop to get off at if you're heading there from somewhere other than Leachkin/Kinmylies suburbs of Inverness (I took the bus to Inverness then took a local Inverness bus from the city centre up to Craig Dunain), although if you're happy to walk up a steep hill through suburbia (that admittedly does offer some nice views) I guess it is a couple of miles out from the city centre. 

The Victorian asylum had pre-empted the notion of occupational therapy, and had parkland, gardens and even apparently a small farm to keep the patients occupied and help them recover through meaningful work. I took part in several gardening and conservation work schemes when I was really suffering with my mental health, set up to help people through doing meaningful, rewarding work, and it definitely helped me, but I don't know how these things were run in Victorian times. The estate stretched part the way up the hill, and included a pond, cemetery for pauper residents (which I have blogged about ::here::) and quite a bit of land that is now housing estates. I headed a lot higher than that, and already from near Craig Dunain you have an amazing view out across the city. 

The first path is used is also an access road to both the old water tanks and reservoir pressurising Inverness' water system, and to some of the new water tanks. The hill works as a natural water-tower through its height and steepness, one of the last hills of the Great Glen Way before the Moray Firth opens out. There's a reservoir that serves also as a pond right near the top of the hill (which I will talk more about later), and a small reservoir pond from the old system that makes a tiny pond that seemed quite thoroughly frozen. The access road also passes a pair of abandoned cottages and several broken and ruined street lamps that are quite eerily bent out of shape, like they were snapped by a huge monster.

Beyond the access path I was onto footpaths, which as I got up the hill became snowier and snowier. It was a Saturday afternoon, and I think a lot of children had been up the hill to go sledding and dog-walkers had headed up there too, and the snow had been compacted into slippery ice. I was glad I had good boots and my walking stick with me! There were some interesting stones, including something that might have been part of the old fort, but it was cold and I didn't want to stop for photographs until I got to the cairn. The area is managed by ::Dunain Community Woodland:: project, and they have built steps, paths, etc. 

The view from Leachkin Ridge at Dunain

The cairn is a ruin. There is not much of it left - it is a few standing stones from what was a centre chamber. According to the Dunan Community Woodland website, it used to 70 feet in diameter, but now there's nothing left of that. I wonder what happened to the stones used for it, whether they were recycled into the fort, into field walls, or what. Unlike Clava Cairns and the cairns on the other side of the Ness, it is of a different design, built on a hill and of the type found around Cromarty, but also on Orkney. It would have been a passage grave, angled North East, perhaps to the winter Solstice, and would have had two chambers within it connected by passages. I would imagine entering it would have been quite a magical experience. I have been in the West Kennet Long-Barrow, but that is quite a different sort of burial mound, and I haven't been in anything like it might have been.

The remains of the cairn. Only one stone remains as an upright.

There are no remains left in the cairn - and I don't know what happened to whoever was buried within it. It makes me sort of sad, that there's this trace of what was once a memorial that had considerable effort put into building it, but who it was meant to commemorate is gone, and any notion of who they were. 

Sacred Flame for Brigid, wand, cauldron, incense stick, and yellow candle.

My 'ritual' wasn't much of a ritual, it lacked ceremony. All I did was sit by the cairn ruins, with some snowdrops that I had bought just before in the Inverness Farmer's market (a lucky find) which fit perfectly into my little copper cauldron, and play a short improvisation of growth and emergence on my recorder, a beeswax tealight in my lantern and a beeswax roll candle tucked into the earth of the cauldron. I folded my bright yellow scarf (useful if you wear mostly black and don't want to be hit by traffic) as temporary 'altar cloth', folded double to pad beneath the iron feet of the cauldron and whatever much lighter metal the lantern is made of, so that I wouldn't scuff the stone. Children and animals climb on them and they're exposed to the elements, so maybe it's futile really, but I felt this was more respectful. 

Close-up of tools

People walk their dogs there, and I expected to be interrupted, so I had to keep things simple. I played my tune when I couldn't see anyone about, and spent the rest of the time contemplating quietly. My cauldron went back in the tote bag when I heard someone approaching, but I suspect that I still looked peculiar (especially in my long black woolly coat and winter hat) walking off with a lantern instead of a battery torch (flashlight). 

The tree seat. 

After my little 'ritual', I walked down to a wonderful bench built around a big tree. I would imagine it is particularly nice in summer, a good shaded spot and with an excellent view all year around. I sat down and set down my cauldron as an object of meditation, a focus and symbol - the cauldron as the 'womb' of the earth, the snowdrops growing from it the coming spring. Imbolc is Brigid's day, and I know that cauldrons are more associated with Ceridwen. Snowdrops are a common symbol of the new spring as they are one of the first flowers to emerge and bloom - there are some 'wild' ones growing and blooming in the park in Inverness, so some cultivated ones are not too far off in their timing! 

Hard to make out, but the lantern is suspended in a tree.
The dark area at the bottom is the water of the springhead.

On my way down from the seat, I walked over to the reservoir, which was frozen over with a good layer of ice, and very picturesque. There were still birds on around the small 'lake' that it forms, and it has an island in it and trees around it, so it looks quite natural - apart from having at least one straight side! Near the far corner of the reservoir is a springhead, and that springhead is 'the Well of the Spotted Rock', a fairy well, and once a clootie well, with a stone surround, but the stone surround was deliberately smashed a few years ago. Last time I was the well, people had left glass pebbles, trinkets, and a few clooties on the tree above - I left something myself, too - but when I was there that evening, I couldn't see any of the objects remaining. Admittedly, as the photograph shows, it was getting quite dark. The spring had obviously been flowing quite profusely recently, so perhaps some of the things left there were just washed down stream. I anointed myself with some of the 'well' water, and used a little to water my new snowdrops, then headed downhill. Conveniently, there was a bus waiting at the turning circle when I got there! 

My next post will be about my Imbolc altar at home. I have a post about Clava Cairns coming up soon, too!


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