Saturday, 26 March 2011

Angel of the Stones

The numerous settings of Standing Stones on the Isle of Mull all share one thing in common, the unknown. Very little is known as to what they really represent and it is only speculation that suggests what they may or may not have signified. The island’s megaliths appear to be appointed in a NNW to SSE alignment that would suggest compatability with the movement of the sun and/or the stellar hemisphere and that they may have been a calendar for Mull’s prehistoric settlers.

Today, these Standing Stones are visited by many people, of shared religion or none, who are in awe of their creation. People show their respect to the stones in a variety of ways. The simple willingness to visit such places of the past is respect enough for most, but others are compelled to offer ‘gifts’ to the stones as a mark of personal appreciation. It is not unusual to see coins, locks of hair and food items placed on a convenient ledge or hollow in a stone. On our recent walking tours to Lochbuie, we were interested to find this metal angel resting in a cleft on one of the stones outlying the Stone Circle. We couldn’t help but ponder its significance. Was it left by a sympathiser of the pagan ways of the past or is it someone’s attempt to purge those beliefs by introducing Christianity to the stones?

The Isle of Mull’s population of Red Deer have been putting on a good show for our early season walkers. With hinds midway through their gestation period, late Winter is a difficult time for these animals, as they have to find sufficient nourishment to keep their condition and build for the arrival of their calves. Stags, too, are feeding avidly on any source of fresh greenery that is sprouting among the bare hill ground, in order to offset any reserves that have been lost during the Winter months. They will be dropping their old and worn antlers soon and will require the necessary energy to replace them with a view to the Autumn rut.

The unusually mild temperatures (around 12 degrees celsius) that the Isle of Mull has enjoyed in recent days has transported March into June on the island and resulted in a spurt of growing activity among plants, both in the garden and in the countryside. The semi-natural woodlands on Mull have sparked into life overnight and soon will be carpeted with the yellow stars of Lesser Celandine flowers. In some sheltered spots on the island, these floral harbingers of Spring have been in bloom since mid-February, but it is only now that the rest of the celandine community is beginning to shake off the lacklustre of Winter.

Seasonal fungi are in short supply during the Winter on the Isle of Mull. Not surprising, as the warm, humid conditions required for the development of these fruiting bodies have long gone and will not be returning any day soon. That said, we have been pleasantly surprised to find a few mycological gems on our travels around the island recently, whose colours have helped brighten up the gloomiest of days. The folded and flabby Yellow Brain fruits are gelantinous to the touch and turn orange and shrivelled when dry.

The Scarlet Elf Cap is another whose English name aptly describes it. A bit of an attention seeker, this fungus jumps out at you among the dead and decaying fallen wood, twigs and leaves that it inhabits, such is its rather startling colour.

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