Monday, 5 November 2018

Stepping Stones to Standing Stones



This piece was written in response to a Therapeutic Writing exercise to find stepping stones or moments in your life which have informed your  lifepath  …..I thought I would like to share it as it is a while since I have written on this blog and it shows where my love of landscape and sites came from. 

It was a time when I was feeling trapped in further education having returned to teaching and getting a management job which was very stressful; it was the summer holidays and I realised I would be working; preparing timetables, interviewing students, and lesson planning for classes I had not even met yet made to complete a year’s preparation in advance which felt ridiculous. I was feeling very trapped as the job wasn’t what I had thought it would be and I decided to get away on my own for a holiday to the Outer Hebrides. I had been longing to return to Scotland having visited Mull and Iona and travelled on the West Coast railway from Glasgow to Fort William and Oban. 

The calling to do another pilgrimage to The Outer Hebrides a skinny narrow finger of four islands the joints between them being small waterways one crossed by passenger ferry was pressing and in particular the idea of visiting and standing within the stone circle west of Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis called Callanish. I was fascinated by the ancient stone circles, archaeological sites and their links to the heavens and the wheel of the year, their position on lines of energy leys and their alignment to other sites in the landscape as well as their being joined by ley lines across the country. Lewis was one of the farthest places from West Cornwall I could have chosen to visit apart from Orkney and Shetland which I still reserve for another trip.

 I had begun this fascination as a child following my dad to digs of hut circles collecting flint arrowheads, scapers and bronze age and neolithic pottery as well as spindle whorls and clay pipes in our back garden. Dad had an instinct as deep as the ancients rooted in his veins and could dream a site which next day he would find accidentally by jumping a granite wall into a farmer’s field to retrieve a Roman coin from the reign of Hadrian or being called to walk up to our local Carn Brea after his day job as an ambulance driver whereupon he found three flint arrowheads on a granite boulder just there not hidden as his dream had foretold. This early influence of my father hit me in my late twenties and thirties when I was living in West Penwith at Madron with its own Mother Church and ancient holy well complete with healing spring and clouties upon the surrounding blackthorn trees. And thence to the ancient sites of West Penwith and on to, Bodmin moor, Dartmoor, Somerset and Glastonbury, Avebury, Stonehenge in Wiltshire and Maiden castle and sites associated with the Goddess Brigid or Bride in Dorset, on to The Lakes and Peak District with Arbour Lough and Robin Hoods stride as well as its white and dark peaks and then to Wales and the border country castles and dissolved abbeys. History had been my love at A level and during my studies of Literature at university I had always maintained a lively curiosity for the times in which an author wrote as well as being taught in the FR Levis tradition which looks at literature in its context and at the growth of writing from Greek theatre to the present day. I had also started reading lots of literature about stones my favourite being Julian Cope aka Teardrop Explodes with his weighty book of pilgrimage to sites ‘The Modern Antiquarian’. I followed in his footsteps as he had photographed and written about every site in the UK and also Europe, including poetry and personal musings over a decade or more. His quest inspired my own, especially as I had always enjoyed his music in the early 80’s ‘Reward’ and ‘Treason’ being two of my favourites as a teenager. Other inspirations were Hamish Miller’s dowsing of ley lines throughout the UK in his book ‘The Sun and the Serpent’, Craig Wetherell’s ‘Bolerian’ and ‘Cornovia’ where he catalogues all the ancient and more modern sites in Cornwall from cliff castles and ancient settlements to church crosses, and also Cheryl Straffon’s ‘Pagan Cornwall Land of the Goddess’ where she shows the influence of the land as female, fecund, fertile and forever changing from maiden to mother to crone, as well as the influence of early female deities in the shaping of the landscape and its sites. Monica Sjoo’s art compliments this and her book ‘The Great Cosmic Mother’ was a revelation to me in terms of her showing the beginnings of goddess culture in Africa and thence to Europe and beyond, showing the links of the sites to the cycles of birth, fertility and death which parallel the three stages of womanhood from maiden to mother to crone.

 I had also travelled to Malta to stay on Gozo and see for myself the ancient goddess temples that people these islands with their link as a trading and resting place between mainland Africa and Europe. I had also visited numerous sites in Greece from the Acropolis in Athens to Olympia, Mycenae and the wonderful healing site and theatre at Epidaurus, as well as Crete with its Minotaur and ancient Knossos to Skopelos, Skiathos, Corfu and also Hydra. Then Turkey with the wonderful ancient city ruins of Ephesus. Yes, I certainly had a fascination for stones and ruins which began in the simple act of digging in my own back garden with a little metal child’s red trowel with a wooden handle and a plastic slide box filled with cotton wool to store my stone found treasures.

Callanish predated Stonehenge by 500 years and  aligns with the cycles of the sun and moon, particularly at the winter and midsummer solstice. The stones resemble grey striated fingers narrower and much more elegant and tall compared to our squat granite Cornish circles.. here was what seemed a temple of great significance positioned as it was on peat bog to the Northwest of Scotland and yet near to Norway and the Arctic circle far far north in a magical cold climate and landscape of wide skies and stark hills. They are made of Lewisan gneiss a striated grey and white stone and form a cruciform with an avenue of stones leading toward it. They resemble tall bards overseeing the land, guardians of loch and moor; here in this spacious landscape of ever changing wild skies with running clouds and waving seas there is a dramatic interface of light and shadow. At the time I was single, and yearning for space meaning and time to be free and wild, to be rooted and in touch with the earth and the goddess of the land and also to try a small adventure independent and able to map my own route and travel at my own pace without the distraction of having to take on the responsibility of someone else’s needs and agenda.  I think all too often when single, I felt I needed a companion to somehow justify my own being rather than being able to travel independently and have faith in my self and my own instincts. Independence is a luxury which I have fostered since these early forays and now have the yearning to follow again. 

I remember booking into a stone croft hostel and having it all to myself for three days in the North of the island of Lewis, hiring a bike and peddling out for a Sunday visit to a black house only to discover that the locals were all Presbyterian and that it was a sin to drink and do anything really, but go to church on a Sunday. It was a strange dark land of abandoned crofts, houses and black houses from the clearances and just pure poverty being so far away from civilization; inland lochs buzzing with midges and peat bog cut for turfs for fuel. The local road signs were often in Gaelic as this was the main language. There were four main islands Lewis, Harris, North and South Uist and Barra to the far south with its sandy landing strip for aeroplanes and its castle in the centre of Castle Bay, as well as its Kirk and Indian restaurant on the quayside which was a welcome sign of diversity and some alternative food. The Machair was everywhere; fertile plains and dunes lined the coast and kept the ocean at bay adorned in purple and yellow flowers, as well as the rare purple Scottish orchid; it is a rich source of wildlife as well as being grazed by wandering herds of highland cattle and sheep who also pastured on the white sand beaches leaving their dung behind them. I remember the wide, empty, white curving shorelines and the sense of beauty; a wild, magical beauty of isolation and primitive longing. I felt a sense of deep belonging here, even to the extent where I looked keenly in estate agent’s windows for properties to let for a year and maybe a job as a teacher there. Remote, far out, isolated and ancient full of their own singing soul; a Gaelic tongue still spoken, sung and promoted in the crafts of the islanders who had led a harsh close knitted life suspicious of incomers still. Barra and Uist were fiercely Catholic compared to the Presbyterian Northern Islands and were not touched by the Reformation in the rest of the country. Compton Mackenzie set ‘Whisky Galore’ here, I remember visiting his grave in a lonely grey churchyard on Barra and also trekking in the hills and stumbling across cottages abandoned in the clearances. I felt brave and miles away listening to the waves on the shore and talking to my family on the phone; there was a signal near the rocks where I walked in the evening with only the call of birds and hoarse cries of seals for company. I made my way by bus through the islands, catching ferries between and rail and aeroplane to and from. I was alone, but enjoying it, not feeling lonely and meeting the odd person and chatting as I travelled, including a nice young American couple in the hostel in Barra who I walked out with on a Sunday and shared a night out at the pub along with a Ceilidh eve with the locals.

 I can see that I craved soulfulness and meaning and that the space and ancient connection of the Outer Hebrides was exactly what I needed. I needed that sense of homecoming, rootedness, freedom, wildness and the adventure was my own; not timetabled or scheduled. I could roam and follow my own rhythm and motion which was really important as well as getting healthy and not needing a car or a daily routine. I was also fulfilling a dream of going to a place I had often visualised. I can see here just how much I gained from the stepping stone and that I stepped from one time frame into something completely different a natural 'me' time and an ancient time, where the clock was the change of the sun, moon, skies and tides and I was outdoors, not trapped behind four walls. I am also aware that this is how I feel now, happy at home but longing to escape the imposed time schedule of my job  so I need to consider my next step, visualise an adventure and a quest for meaning and motion once more to find growth and more about myself because this trip taught me I can be independent, there are other worlds where I feel at home and other places to be alive and free. I need the outdoors, open space, nature, travel, history, learning and to discover new vistas and follow my interests and passions as here is where the true creative flow lies.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Lammas - Woman Wandering

Woman Wandering

Lammas...harvest and the deep pull of land and sea as the light shines blue and corn undulates in yellow gold. I took a walk from Housel Bay on the Lizard to Church Cove .The air was fresh and warm for the first time in weeks after thunderstorms last weekend. The  orange fume of whispering jacks and the mauve of heather strikes me ...it is August, harvest and  everywhere there is a flow, a dance, a fluttering and fanfare of wings: a rare yellow butterfly over the swirling ocean pool of Church Cove; the translucent lace wings of a dragonfly resting on blackthorn with vivid green and yellow body paint; swallows in the Norman porch of St Winwallow swerving in and out of the rafters: or a host of chattering sparrows fluffing feathers in dust or appearing suddenly en mass from the hedgerow. This joy in movement, in flight, in being: the first  bitter- sweet taste of blackberries and the salty smell of  mackerel seas. Mother Ocean swirling and curling around serpentine rocks, spiralling me into a new trance of harmony and the realisation that here sitting in shorts and a vest top on hot rock and slipway, writing beside the sea is where I like to be and where I feel at peace with the sun browning my skin and the sun hypnotic on the surface of the water.

Here in this space at Church Cove there is an ancient magic of  peace. A stream bounces over green slime ledges slithering over lichen and slashed rock. The swell and surge of sea over blood  serpentine, the rhythmic pull of tides, the place of deep knowing, a cauldron of fishers' spells . I am aware of the dance around and within, as well as the wheel turning as the bone white stems of cow parsley are now fragile reminders of the passage of days into weeks and months as the wheel turns. The dragonfly rests and I am blessed with her queenly presence then in a flash, she flies; the swallows swoop toward me like arrows from heaven; and the yellow butterfly floats on the sweet breeze as I enter the lush depth of the cove, throwing my body into the sea swirling light to join the dance of tide and time .

Monday, 9 January 2017

Carn Marth ...further musings

Yesterday was grey: mizzle threatened to shadow the coast so I headed inland to Carn Marth; the highest and best view point in this part of Cornwall. Carn Marth is softer than Carn Brea, her brother carn, and her slopes remain unspoilt by the encroaching industry which ruins the aspect of the North coast. Carn Marth is altogether a softer, more inviting prospect as she can be approached from lanes on all sides and there is no main road to ruin her peace and timelessness.

I decided to park  on the southern side coming in from Lanner hill and driving along toward Carharrack, topping to park on the small road where it says Bridleway on the left just opposite the road down to Trevarth. I took the right hand fork which swept around the skirts of the carn past a small quarry pool and then on toward the bottom of the main granite and quartz track that leads from Carharrack up to the top of the carn. This path came and joined the main path opposite a recently rebuilt farm cottage which has superb views stretching to Carrick Roads and Falmouth. The sky was a palette of grey and silver with hints of rose as it was mid afternoon and would be dusk in a couple of hours. There was a break in the clouds where a shaft of mellow, golden light shone through to illuminate the panorama of Cornwall which lies prone before you at this point with the clay tips of St Austell and Bodmin Moor clearly visible in the far distance to the East.



I continued uphill past the odd, shaggy pony in the field and two farmers out on a Sunday muck spreading. The scene is very rugged here and is scarred by mining and quarrying. The tramroad from Portreath to Devoran passed along the southern slope of Carn Marth and this route along with other pathways and bridleways makes it a mecca for those interested in Cornish Industrial heritage. As you climb to the summit, the view along the North coast stretches out to include Trevose Head in the far distance and St Agnes Beacon and the inlet of Portreath as you continue to scan along. I came up to Carn Marth to watch the solar Eclipse of August 1999 knowing that this was one of the highest points in the county from which to see it. I remember the looming black cloud that ominously hid the sun from view and descended upon us as we stood in awe that day near midday. If you want to see the shape and breadth of the county this is one of those view points.

I reached the top along with two young girls on their ponies out for an afternoon ride. One had a tee shirt on and seemed oblivious to the winter damp. She laughed as she reined her pony into the water of the quarry pool at the summit. There was a family on the far bank fishing and a couple of mountain bikers out for a ride. It is an amazing pool this quarry pool similar to one on Bodmin Moor near the Hurlers; it is probably swimmable and people fish here. The edges are sheer granite and stepped in places so you can crouch near the water. It has a feeling of a magical lake and one could imagine the sword of Arthur appearing from the depths,especially on a still summer afternoon when all you can hear is the hum of bees and the dizzy sound of midges over the shallows.

Now it is clearly the dead time of the year when the land is wrapped in its own pale shawl of copper and bronze leaves. The trees are bone pale and bare their thin arms to the grey skies. The scene is lit by the odd fuse of gorse blossom or the light of the sun on bracken rendering it a rusty orange against the odd patch of blue. The air is calm and the only sounds are the calls of hedgerow birds.

I spend more time looking at the view from the top and then take the main path down again toward the ruin of Wheal Amelia and Figgy Dowdy's Well off to the left which I wrote about in a previous post. I climb the granite steps down to the well now encaged behind iron bars with a solitary red ribbon tied as a wish. The ground near the well is sodden with fallen leaves and a pool of rain water which offers vivid reflections of bare branches and sky. I make my wishes here in this timeless, peaceful place with only birdsong and the sound of pigs rooting in a nearby field for company.

It's starting to get mizzly so I decide not to loiter and take the path down to Wheal Amelia.Then off left along the footpath skirting the carn to the south,past another large granite house with fine views and two green loungers in the front, moorland garden to appreciate the view. The path leads on until it forks into a lane off downhill to the left. I continue heading down and around on the path through a copse of dark pine and fir trees until I reach my car again.

This is only a short one hour stroll but I am satisfied and content that I have managed to escape easily into a sense of timelessness. The past is ever present here and the modern world fades away with the traffic on its way to Falmouth. Mine, quarry, tram road, barrows and boulders, granite gate posts, farm cottages and ponies all harmonise here in this inland space. I am struck by how easy it is to get away from the town into areas like this still and am fascinated by how paths take me out of my everyday routine into the past so readily. All I do is walk the land as and when I have space out of my busy work life. I have walked to Carn Marth so many times at different ages and stages in my life. As a child I would scramble up here from Gwennap Pit and come with jam pots to catch tadpoles or go wading in shorts and vest top in the summer. I would come here as a teenager to escape the parents and sit and write or wander or come biking with my friends with a picnic. Now I regularly come here again for ambles or walking the tramway and finding new routes including the mining villages that skirt this carn: Caharrack, St Day, Lanner, Gwennap and on to Frogpool or Chacewater. It is a rich landscape scarred and yet created by mining. It is not the picture postcard Cornwall of television but the raw, rugged interior pulse that beats and waits to be discovered.

At the moment I am reading an inspiring book by Sharon Blackie called 'If Women Rose Rooted' which traces her own pilgrimage and journey as a woman and feminist from the 'Wasteland' of modern, industrial society on a quest for connection, nourishment and belonging which leads her to the far west of Ireland and North West Isle of Lewis in Scotland. She interweaves Celtic mythology and folklore with her own personal search and talks to various wise women healers, storytellers, crafters, writers and environmentalists on her journey; all of whom have also been on that search for rootedness and a way of life which nurtures and fosters a sense of belonging to the land and community. It is through reading this book that I felt compelled to start writing and recording my walks and ideas,for it is my way of being rooted and grounded. I have walked this Celtic land my whole life and am lucky to feel a sense of belonging in the place that I was born and have worked. I see now the importance of that rootedness for it imbues one with a sense of wellbeing in a fast and destructive world and nurtures a sense of care for the land and a permanent sense of being its guardian and protector. By walking familiar places one can see the changes happening and be awakened into action; whether it be to write  a letter about litter, to be part of a wildlife protection group or simply to ensure a path remains open to walkers and not shut down by greedy landowners. Women who walk can gain strength and power. a sense of self sufficiency and ability to explore beyond. They can teach and share the land and their own sense of belonging with their children and community so that spots like Carn Marth remain sites of special interest and protected for future generations.

Blackie says in her book; ' One of the wounds dealt to us by the coming of the Wastelnad is our severance form the land, the rupturing of the relationship between people and their places. The healing of the Wasteland requires a healing of the wound. Our Return then, requires a place in which we can be grounded, rooted; a place in which we can fully embrace the natural world around us, and our part in it. A place from which we can speak.' pg 280 'If Women Rose Rooted'.

Blessed Be XXX

Monday, 2 January 2017

New Year 2017 - Resolutions at St Agnes Beacon

New Year and it dawned bright this morning after a rain spotted and grey New Year's Day. I have resolved to begin writing my regular posts after a three year break. I started today on Jan 2 2017 with a walk around St Agnes Beacon and climb up to the Beacon, as well as around the coast. The day was stunning and welcomed a walk with its clear, winter skies and brittle cold. I parked my car on the Beacon Road, surprised at how many other people in woolly, bobbled hats and walking boots seemed to have the same idea. I imagine everyone, like me, was making the most of a day of pure sunshine and the chance to walk off the Christmas excesses.

I like this time of year as it is a time of clearing and cleansing after the over indulgence of Christmas. I parked away from the throng and climbed the path that skirted away from the main one which was getting eroded by the popularity of the walk. I am aware more than ever on my walks of this issue of erosion and just the numbers of people now living in Cornwall and walking. This, along with the fierce storms of latter years, has left an enduring mark:less space to breathe and be without the interruption of voices or other feet on the same path.

The views from the Beacon were stunning today and I could see as far up the coast as Trevose Head and along to St Austell clay pits as well as over to Carrick Roads and Carn Brea. The coast was a ribbon of headlands in a veil of misty sunlight and I found a niche below a white quartz outcrop with a wooden bench and a view nestled in the lea of the beacon, out of the wind.


View to Chapel Porth
View from the Beacon toward St Agnes and beyond
Wheal Coates in the sunlight
Low tide view to St Ives
Sentry box
People on top of Beacon




For the first time in ages I remembered I had my note book on me and managed to scribble some lines:

ST AGNES BEACON


This browed old crone in bracken cape
Glass grey eyes and peaty skin
She is a grin of quartz
Blood oxide veins run deep
Her apron of gorse spills boulders down valley

To where cattle blink in the pale light
Smoke tendrils and floats skywards to
A silhouetted panorama of sisters Brea and Marth
She is warming her cold old bones in winter's rays
Spreading heathery arms wide to clutch blue sky
Her brittle claws grasp an unexpected star
Wishing on eddies of far North Atlantic frost.

From here I picked my way on a smaller, narrower snake of a path down to one that skirts the edge of the beacon leading to the right and over a stile into a green farmer's field with a sign 'Beware of the bull.' Thankfully, there was no bull in sight and the path led into a slurry pit and then a farm yard where there is a caravan site in summer months. Across the Beacon road to the left and then off on a footpath to the coast marked Chapel Porth. I did not go as far a Chapel Porth, but walked straight ahead to the coast path and off towards the right and Wheal Coates with its magnificent coastal views down to St Ives. The tide below was out and people were walking the sands etched with running water and silhouettes. The ocean was a turquoise green, the coast bathed in a shimmer of sunlight and shadow. It looks translucent and shining like a land in old stories ancient and renewed by this sudden gift of sunlight. From Wheal Coates, I clambered upward and along the top to St Agnes Head with more stunning views up the North coast to Trevose Head, then cut inland past quarries and mine dumps to where I joined the road to the coast by an old second world war sentry box of Cameron Camp - all that remains of a training camp for the 10th Light Anti Aircraft Battery built in 1939-40 and used later by American troops prior to the D Day Landings. Then back to the road and my car...refreshed and full of New Year's resolution.






Monday, 27 May 2013

Healing Room ,Sinéad O'Connor


Songs and Poetry that speak of healing.......

  

I love this song.....now here is someone coming through and finding they can allow all the feelings and really going on the journey into healing and faith and self belief...at least that's what I read into it......

Mary Oliver the poet also writes about this in her poem 'The Journey':

 
 
The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.
 
Mary Oliver
 
And here in her poem:
 
 
Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting 
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver
published by Atlantic Monthly Press
© Mary Oliver
 
And here I think Sinead sums it up.....it's inside us all...the healing room.....
 

 

 

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