On this Harvest Moon

Whitehills beach at low tide.
Harvesting seaweed at Whitehills.

Today is the Harvest Full Moon. What has come to fruition for you that was perhaps planted in the spring?  For me, I began preparations to relocate to Scotland and now, here I am.

In a very physical sense, my harvest is seaweed, something I have begun to learn about, forage and cook.  It’s everywhere, tasty, nutritious and free. But one can’t glean for seaweeds and not take in the other bounty of the sea: the acceptance of constant change, awesome beauty, power and peace.

To eat what grows where you are has many benefits, but perhaps the most profound is the bonding power of this activity.  Just as I used to cook with the nettle and blackberries that grew in the wasteland behind my house in York, here I have started to eat weeds from the sea.

Unlike berries and other wild plants, almost all UK seaweed, when harvested in non-polluted waters, is harmless to humans and many are highly nutritious. Initially I was using the Sea Vegetables Cookbook by Evelyn McConnaughey. Though I’ve now found other more current books that are actually by UK foragers, I started with this Oregon-based cookbook from the 80s with its old school fusion of 1950s comfort food, hippie health eats and mermaid chow. Most of all, the author shared my awed passion and glee at finding these strange plants could be eaten in delicious ways.

I have done most of my foraging at Whitehills– a sheltered beach in the wild Banffshire coastline. Perched on a hill above the beach is an ancient red well– its water has a high iron content and was once revered for its healing properties.  The stretch of beach is named Muggie Machlin, after after a suicide: a young pregnant girl who died of exposure “a long time ago” by sitting on a rock on the beach one night in the middle of winter.  This beach has captured my imagination and deserves a post of its own.

Washed weeds, ready to be fried/dried.

On to cooking– so far I have made pasta with alaria and tomato sauce, gutweed stir fry, vegan dashi from scratch and an all-purpose seasoning sprinkle that ads umami and colour to just about anything savoury.  Mike jokingly said that it added natural MSG– but that isn’t far from the truth.  Seaweeds contain natural glutamines– chemicals that tell your brain the thing you are eating is delicious. One dish I tried with laver (basically the same seaweed as nori) was laverbread, which isn’t bread at all but a kind of black gloop or sauce.  To make laverbread, you have to boil the seaweed for 10 hours to “bring out the flavour.”  I tried to stay true to the “recipe” but it was, as anything boiled for 10 hours is bound to be, inedible.

I began to struggle with McConnaughey’s book–  basically the line drawings could only take me so far, endearing as they were, and we were looking at a totally different part of the world, with a different ecosystem. I then found Galloway Wild Foods, a great website full of information for the Scottish forager.

My journey of discovery with seaweed continues as I check the tide tables and wander the beaches, I start to understand my new home with the rhythms and flavours all its own.

 

The Church of The Sculls

St. John’s Kirkyard, Gamrie, Banffshire.
The view from the cliffs of the kirkyard, overlooking Gardenstown.

High on the cliffs above the small fishing town of Gardenstoun, or Gamrie as the locals still call it, sits the ruins of a kirkyard that was built on the site of The Battle of the Bloody Pits of 1004 where Norse raiders were slaughtered by the Scots. Like most parts of this coast, it is a place of sweeping beauty. We happened upon it out of curiousity– seeing the walls of the ruins from the town below.  Climbing up the lumpy path from the single track gravel road, I felt an eeire disquiet in this remote place, even before I learned more of it.

We know so little of these “raiders”. Christian historians have often distorted their history, reducing the Norse folk during the Viking age to cartoonish berserkers. We know that they are part of us– through recent DNA testing and before that, the fragments of language that have adhered to places– the the churchyard itself or “kirkyard”. Kirk, meaning church, is borrowed from Old Norse. That we have so little left of that time when the Norse people ruled an age of world-changing seafaring expertise, artistic and spiritual vision, will remain one of our great mysteries.

St. John’s Kirkyard commemorates the annihilation of a Viking party– built and rebuilt over centuries after the battle. Legend has it the Scottish general promised to build a church on the site if the Christian God could just prove that he was on their side. The church was built at the foot of the “Bloody Pits” where the Norsemen’s bodies where piled after the battle. This area earned its name from the carnage, and the scavengers who fed on the bodies. History records them as cattle raiders who were surrounded as they waited for a fair wind to aid them away. Skulls of the vanquished were displayed in the walls of the church behind the pulpit even into the 19th century, hence the its other name: The Church of the Sculls.

Angel or departing spirit on a grave in St. John’s Kirkyard.

One wonders what happened to the skulls of the Norsemen that were once on display. The surrounding area could be said to be one very large, unquiet grave, but the graves inside the walled yard are something else– some of the most fascinating examples of 18th century momento mori that I have seen are here, often coupled with the crossed femur bones, an hourglass and bell. The path I walked to get to the yard may have been an ancient corpse road, and was no doubt used by parishioners for 800 years who trekked over miles to worship there through all weather from the surrounding villages.

What a hard life is a fisherman’s. Standing in the ruins I thought of the sermon on Jonah from Moby Dick, where the pastor seems to be “praying at the bottom of the sea” and his voice was “like the continual tolling of a bell in a ship that is foundering at sea in a fog–”

“In black distress, I called my God/When I could scarce believe him mine/He bowed his ear to my complaints-/No more the whale did me confine.
“With speed he flew to my relief,/As on a radiant dolphin borne;/Awful, yet bright, as lightning shone/The face of my Deliverer God.”

The congregation sings, drowning out the howling storm outside the church.

And, here now, I feel a bristling in the wind from the hillock above. Without a familiar song to guide them, the other bones in their shallow pits turn.

Momento Mori in St. John’s Kirkyard.

Sneak Peek of this Friday’s Thunder Moon Update!


In this shop update I’ve focused on sterling silver pieces, taking the sea and lunar beauty as my inspiration. There’s a mermaid worthy wedding set of abalone earrings and necklace with freshwater pearl accents (the pearls are all up-cycled from vintage pieces).  This set is perfect for a casual seaside handfasting or wedding, and could be worn long after your special event.

The luminous moonstone drop is paired with rustic, faceted garnets in the second necklace. All of my designs are created one at a time, by hand. I’ve created another pair of my ever-popular alchemist hoops–Delicate and lightweight, these hand forged sterling silver hoops are adorned with three stone drops: faceted pyrite and garnet with lovely strawberry quartz, all with hand wrapped sterling silver bails, inspired by the alchemical ideal– through magic you can turn blood, sweat and tears into something golden.

This update corresponds with the Full Thunder Moon this weekend– sometimes called the Buck, Hay or Blessing Moon.  It is the last full moon before we start our harvests in ernest.  How will you celebrate?

Brooches Galore in the Upcoming Shop Update

We are back on schedule for a weekly shop update after our move– I’ve forged an exciting selection of pennanular brooches, all a variation on my best selling simple brooch which has been featured in one of Staci Perry’s (Very Pink Knits) patterns.

These variations have semi-precious stone adornments– labradorite, amethyst, moss agate and carnelian.  Another is in a playful snake shape and another has scrollwork that is reminiscent of a moustache!

Like all my brooches these are cold forged, pantina’ed in sulphur and then tumbled to harden and polish them. Lastly, they are hand polished to bring out the detail in the work and the warmth of the copper.

After moving to a chilly part of the world (Northern Scotland) where on midsummer I was wearing a hand-knit cardigan, I have realised that my knitting is going to become an even more important part of life.  Knitting styles have a strong tradition here and I am looking forward to sharing what I learn.  These designs were fuelled by the excitement of living somewhere where even the summer climate is sweater weather!

Seaside Solstice

Midsummer sale– 15% off everything at Feralstrumpet.co.uk with code MIDSUMMER17 until June 27th, 2017.
View from the Banff Castle, located at the end of our street.

I have recently moved to Banff on the north east coast of Scotland.  We live in a house that was once a free school, built in 1803, with our office and workshop upstairs and our living space downstairs with a large cottage garden out back.  The coast here is wild and beautiful.  Dolphins regularly migrate through this part of the North sea at this time, and the days are long– dusk coming around midnight.

I am excited to see how my work will develop here– given the space and freedom this new living situation provides, as well as the rich inspiration the sea brings– every hour the colour shifts and moods produce a kaleidoscope of colours in the interplay of sea, sky and sunlight.

I plan to continue unpacking my altar today– what are you doing on this longest day?

What’s New and What’s Ahead for Feral Strumpet

New versions of old favourites in the most recent shop update.

Have a peek at this week’s shop update. You’ll find new versions of old favourites as well as an exciting assortment of new designs.


New in– an exciting variety of ear hangers and ear weights for stretched ears as well as a new witch ball especially designed for the Summer Solstice or Litha!

New Stitch Marker Necklaces of flash knitters!

Lately the knitters of Instagram have been inspiring me, and I’ve designed these new stitch marker necklaces for my fellow knitters! I’ve been knitting for over 20 years and have knitting everything from tiny doll house knitting on toothpicks to massive canopies using recycled plastic bags.  I find knitters to be some of the most fascinating, generous and aesthetically exacting folk around.  They are, you could say, my people.

I also wanted to update you with some exciting plans ahead for Feral Strumpet.  We are relocating from York to the North Coast of Scotland, to a remote village by the sea.  This will all happen early in early June and I will keep you posted.  The shop will remain open during our relocation, but in a week or two any made to order designs will take a couple of weeks longer than usually to make.  So if you had your eye on a custom colour design or any of my made to order pieces, now is the time to order them if you’d like it quickly!