Dear fellow travellers
Across much of eastern Europe summer's slide into autumn is already evident. Here the chill that comes with shorter evenings is very palpable. Walking through a village this morning, we saw the storks are getting restless as they count down the days till they fly off to the south on their winter migration.
Today, 19 August, is a sight to behold in Orthodox communities from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea. For everywhere in this region, it is the moment to give thanks for the year's harvest, and the churches are packed for the ritual blessing of honey and apples. As always, it coincides with one of the great feasts of the Orthodox calendar, that of the Transfiguration. This morning we chanced on just such a service at a Russian Orthodox church. It spilled out from the domed church onto the gardens around, with hundreds of bowls of fruit, and open jars of honey - and their owners - assembled for the harvest blessing.
The serious business of communion done, the priest, his silver hair matching his embroidered vestments, accompanied by his acolytes, proceeded to soak the fruit and the crowd with holy water. With a huge grin, he dipped a coarse straw brush into a giant silver bowl and aimed fair and square at the smiling assembly. That done, a spirit of reverence returned as the faithful stood in line to kiss the Transfiguration icon... women lifting their babies up in veneration, some men with little bracelets woven from straws of wheat reminding us that the current western fad for wrist bands has existed for ever in eastern Europe.
Lammastide comes in various guises, and while eastern Europe blesses apples and honey today, in Ireland the first bread baked from the new season's harvest is being blessed this month. It is probably all a Christian appropriation of the old Celtic feast of Lughnasadh, but that's not a detail which will bother the revellers on 29 and 30 August at the famous Oul' Lammas Fair at Ballycastle on Ireland's north coast. The Ballycastle gathering is Ireland's oldest market, a place to trade horses or partners and savour sickly Yellow Man, the honey laden confection that is available only at Lammastide.
hidden europe 4 - preview
Honey and apples crop up again in the September issue of hidden europe, when we join a pilgrimage of Hasidic Jews visiting Ukraine for the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah). We unpick the tale of the Breslov Hasidim and their links with the town of Uman' in Ukrainian Podillya.
Elsewhere in hidden europe 4 we make landfall in Iceland, extol the merits of small towns in Belgium, Denmark and Sweden, and do our best to atone for having failed to report of more frequented tourist sights by visiting museums in Macedonia and Spanish Andalucía. We investigate the risks of crossing tidal estuaries, and in England meet the estimable Mr Cedric Robinson, the Queen's Pilot to the Sands, who maps time and tide to ensure safe passage across Morecambe Bay. And of course there's much more. For excerpts from articles in our September issue, please visit our website from 25 August. hidden europe 4 is published on 1 September.