“What’s a Ceilidh?“ I asked, having just accepted an invitation to stay with friends in Catbrook, Monmouthshire, and having been told that the weekend would include such an occasion at the local village hall.
“Look it up on YouTube!”, came the response, and when I checked I realised we had let ourselves in for a specific kind of dance event; having two left feet and little sense of rhythm, I was not thrilled by the prospect. However, as it turned out, it was one of the most enjoyable evenings Shaun and I have had for a long time.
I can’t think of another scenario where a bunch of 50 or so people, mainly strangers, immediately begin holding hands, linking arms and learning dance moves together with such an uninhibited sense of fun and pleasure, right from the first tune. The Ceilidh band, called ‘Cat’s Claw’ are excellent musicians – they describe themselves as “fundamentally an all-acoustic band that gets your feet moving and the tunes are those that the band enjoys playing together, whether Welsh, Irish, Scottish, European or American – it’s all lined up and waiting for the Cat’s Claw treatment!” Their evident joy in and passion for the music comes across immediately. It is a distinctive sound, at once ancient and modern with a lively beat that gets your toes tapping and your body wanting to dance straight away.
I guess a Ceilidh also relies heavily on the success of the caller who instructs in the moves and we had a couple of expert dancers among us who led the more inept. Each energetic dance was a fantastic antidote to the rainy evening outside, as well as being good exercise. Shaun and I enjoyed a brief sense of satisfaction when we got a sequence of moves right, and collapsed in giggles when we couldn’t coordinate our clapping. It was hot, spirited, thirst-inducing, tiring, unadulterated, fun!
In direct opposition to the frantic evening, the following day we enjoyed walking with Janet and Steve in the area. One walk took us high above the river Wye and we drank in the clear air, enjoying the full richness of the panoply of green around us, listening to the birdsong and relaxing in the warmth of the sun. Another walk led us along the valley floor close to the river and here we walked through what could pass for an Alpine meadow; all that was missing were cows with bells round their necks. Horses grazed peacefully in the distance and the buttercups fought for space with the grass. It was a joy to all the senses.
Our final walk took us to the fields and ancient woodland of Catbrook and Ninewells Wood that is close to Janet and Steve’s home. There is always something new and interesting to discover; this time Steve said, “Let’s go and see the fox”. Janet replied, “Yes, we haven’t seen the fox for ages”.
We didn’t know quite what to expect but we were led across a field to an old, solid, stile, the centre of which was a large slab of stone. It wasn’t the easiest stile to climb over, I think I need to work on that particular skill!
However, it was worth the effort. Once we were over the other side and looked back, we could clearly see the face of a fox that was carved into the stone, apparently by a prisoner of war when the wall was built during Napoleonic times. (I must credit the local resident blogger with the image, which comes from the WordPress blog called “Woodland Wildflowers of the Wye Valley and Monmouthshire”).
Those who read my blog regularly will recognise that this post is unusual; in that it is a long way from talking of my regular topics dealing with grief and loss. But in actual fact, it represents very well indeed the importance and efficacy of distractors when you are living day to day with stress, anxiety, bereavement or loss. We all need our endorphins boosted from time to time, whatever our circumstances. Finding new ways to do this is a joy in itself.
The sheer fun and laughter in the dancing and the joy of the music at the Ceilidh was a form of upliftment I have never before experienced. I am reminded of the inspirational book ‘The invitation’ in which poet Oriah Mountain Dreamer writes, “I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human”. Setting aside all our day to day cares and worries though the simple expedient of the Ceilidh is a great example of how we can free ourselves from whatever is binding us down. Highly recommended.
The scenic walks we enjoyed in the beautiful surroundings of the Wye Valley in the easy company of friends provided a quieter, shared enjoyment that was balm to the mind, body and spirit. Also highly recommended.