An Impromptu Mini-Break … In Denmark

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to have an impromptu mini-break. My husband had to visit Denmark for work and the stars aligned in terms of child- and dog-care to allow me to go with him for a long weekend away, something we’ve not done together since before the gorgeous girl was born.

And our destination? Aarhus, Denmark.

Aarhus, on the Jutland Peninsula, is Denmark’s second-largest city, and also one of its oldest. Historical records and archaeological evidence show that there were people living in the area since the 8th century, and there are some wonderful old buildings, including the medieval cathedral, that bear witness to the age of the place.

I’d never been to Denmark before, so was excited to go. The flight was surprisingly easy, only an hour and twenty minutes, and we landed at the tiny Aarhus airport in early evening. The city is about a half-hour drive from the airport, our taxi speeding us through darkness past pine forests and rolling fields, darker shapes against the night sky.

Our accommodation was lovely – in the heart of the city, it was a French-style boutique hotel housed in an old building, our room overlooking a cobbled courtyard lit with fairy lights. Inside, it was all painted wood and cosy feather quilts, but I was keen to go out and explore, so we set off into the city centre to find dinner and see what was happening.

As it turned out, we’d picked a good night to arrive. It was a traditional holiday, celebrating the release of a specially brewed beer for the festive season. The beer wasn’t available to buy until 9pm, but the celebration meant the bars and restaurants were full, the shops open late and the streets full of people and light.

The town centre is a mix of old and modern buildings, cobbled streets lined with tiny shops and large open pedestrian areas, while the canal that runs through the city is lined with restaurants, all with outdoor seating areas (which were packed, despite the cold temperatures). The cathedral, the largest in Denmark, stands out above the old buildings – built in the 1200s, it has been a city landmark for centuries.

There’s also a large harbour area, with a fantastic futuristic library building, and ferries taking passengers to Copenhagen and beyond. I was also particularly enchanted with the crossing lights – instead of the green and red man we’re used to, they had little Vikings, complete with helmet and shield.

The weather wasn’t great, to be honest, but what can you expect when visiting Scandinavia during winter? It didn’t stop us from heading out and looking around, spending Saturday exploring the city centre, including a visit to the excellent art gallery.

From wonderful landscape paintings by Scandinavian artists to the surreal sculptures of Ron Mueck, the gallery was the perfect place to spend a rainy morning.

At the very top of the building is a circle of rainbow coloured glass – this is the rainbow walk, a rather splendid way to view the city and surrounds. Even on a grey misty day, the coloured glass shone.

Mid-afternoon we returned to the hotel, snacks in hand, to read and watch tv and lounge around on feathery pillows, having to remind ourselves that we didn’t have to look after the child or the dog or anything else (now that’s a holiday!)

On Sunday we decided to visit Der Gamle By, one of Denmark’s top tourist attractions. Ancient buildings from across the country were brought to the site, on the edge of the city centre, over the past century, to preserve them from demolition or decay. It was extraordinary, like stepping back in time, and really deserves a blog post of its own (which it will get). Suffice it to say, I highly recommend it as a destination if you’re ever in the area.

Then we wandered along the canal back into the city centre, heading back to the warmth of the hotel before heading out for a last-night dinner. The next morning was a busy one, my husband heading to his meeting, leaving me to check out and arrange transport to collect him later on the way to the airport. However, this was all arranged by the wonderful staff at the hotel, and I spent my last hour or so in Aarhus sitting on the comfortable sofa in the foyer lounge, reading my book.

Later that afternoon we headed back to London and home. I loved visiting Denmark, and am sure I’ll be heading back there again one day – although I might try and choose a time when the weather is a bit better!


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

 

Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 9 – Heights

I recently attended a workshop with The Silent Eye about Facing Our Fears, an extraordinary weekend spent among the hills and grey stone villages of the Peak District. It’s taken me a little while, as it usually does, to process everything that happened. Once again there was history and mystery, good company and tasty food, old friends greeted and new friends made. And, as always, revelations.This is part nine of my account, parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven  and eight can be found here… I couldn’t get to sleep until very late Saturday night, despite being exhausted – for some reason I found it difficult to relax and, when I did, tapping noises ensued which kept me from sleeping. I finally called out ‘For god’s sake be quiet and let me get some sleep!’ The next thing I knew, my alarm was going off…

Sunday morning dawned grey and drizzly, the glorious weather having disappeared overnight. It wasn’t cold, though, and the rain, though not ideal, was more of a soft mist than anything else. Which was good, as the morning’s plans involved us being outside. We headed into the green once more, grey stone villages softened by rain, hillsides blurred by soft clouds.

We pulled into a carpark, alighted and, as a group, walked around a stone building to find ourselves at the start of a long winding valley. Ahead of us was a strange stone outcropping I’d noticed the previous day when we were driving around – Sue had warned us that we might find the site challenging, but my initial impression was one of beauty…

…The stone seemed wreathed in rainbow colours, which spilled out and along the valley floor, a river of energy beckoning them forward…

Peter’s Rock, a natural rock outcropping thought to have slid away from the adjacent hillside, is so named because it apparently resembles the Dome of St Peter’s in Rome. The valley approach holds several hermit caves and, beyond, leads to the ancient sites of Monsal Head and Finn Kop. The latter is thought to have been a sacred place of study, and there are plenty of indications that his has been an important landscape for a long time. (For more information about the landscape and its history, see Sue’s excellent post about it here).

As we approached the rock, we stopped at one of the hermit caves to discuss the history of the place, and also to open the circle. I couldn’t stop looking at the rock – I found it fascinating, something about it drawing me in. There were a few other walkers about, despite the weather, as well as some lovely dogs, and once again we took a moment to chat. I also managed to capture this shot, which I like to call ‘Modern Hermit.’ A meditation was shared, an idea discussed of what things might have been like in the valley in ages past, and what might have happened here. And then we moved forward once more.

There had been some discussion about climbing the rock. Apparently, there were rough steps running up a natural cleft in the centre, the top wide and flat enough to accommodate us, should we be so inclined. Now, I’m not a fan of heights but something, perhaps the healing I’d experienced the day before, made me feel as though this was something I could do. As the valley curved, a path split off from it, moving up and along the side of the hill towards the rock. We took the path…

… and there was a weight on her chest again, like the weight she’d felt in Eyam, making it difficult to breathe. But up ahead, the stag waited. For her…

We continued along the pathway, the rock looming above us. Several of us were feeling the weight now, something pressing down on us…

…the stag waited at a point higher on the path, horns held high. Her chest heavy, breath coming hard, she stopped to kneel to him. When she rose he came to her, rubbing his velvet snout against her cheek, his antlers around her like a blessing. Her heart lighter, she moved forward.

When the pathway ended, we were almost at the base of the rock, which seemed a lot larger (and higher) than it had from afar. Once again I wondered whether I’d be able to climb it, after all…

…Two hooded figures waited, perched high above the valley. A third, a guide, came to her and took her hand, asking a question. She answered, and was led higher along the ridge, the land dropping away steeply to the side of her. But despite her usual fear of high places, here she felt as sure-footed as a deer, the hand that guided her a formality only, as though she floated above the rocky ground.

The first figure raised a lantern, presenting her with a gift. She took it, bowing, then moved along the ridge once more to where the second figure waited, cloaked in velvet. Another question, another gift, and then she was left to sit and contemplate it all, turning her closed eyes towards the grey skies. And it was as though sun shone down on her, warmth on her face, bright light coming through her closed lids, and another lesson came to her.

You need to embrace your truth to move forward

And when she opened her eyes the skies were as grey as they had always been. But light shone within her, and the rainbow energy of the rock seemed to be everywhere in the landscape, all the colours hiding among the green…

I stood at the base of the rock, looking up. Well, if this weekend was about facing fears, then I should at least try to climb it, I told myself. Four of us elected to do so, in the end, and we ascended via the split in the rock where, as promised, a very rough set of ‘stairs’ awaited. When I got to the top my legs were a bit wobbly, so I sat on the wide grassy space to the back of the stone, while the other stood on the higher, ‘domed’ section. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself for getting up there, though, and the views were lovely.

…and as the shaman’s rattle echoed from the hillsides, soft rain falling on her upturned face, she felt the light inside her as a small flame, a warmth and a beginning of a new path…

We descended and joined the rest of the group, when it was decided to visit a very unusual pub nearby. The weekend’s activities were now over, and I had a train to catch in a couple of hours, the rest of the group also having places to go. But there was time, still, to sit together and enjoy hot cherry pie with cream, conversation and reflection. Inside, the pub seemed unchanged for centuries, massive blackened beams over the ancient fireplace, all of us perched on handmade wooden stools or creaking benches, and the figure of a mummified cat in a case in the corner, apparently found hidden in the chimney as a charm against evil spirits. It was a fitting end to a remarkable weekend.

It’s always a bit sad when the weekend workshops are over, yet there is also a sense of peace and accomplishment, and the joy of having explored new places with like-minded people. This weekend particularly resonated with me, and I was grateful for having experienced it. Fears had been faced and truths revealed, and I had a lot to think about. As my train rolled through the Hope Valley, bearing me towards Sheffield and reality, the rain that had been threatening all day began to fall in earnest, obscuring the hills and their mysteries with a veil. Ravens flew overhead, their ways parting, as did mine with my fellow companions.

I was going home.

Thank you to everyone who’s been reading along and commenting – I know it’s been a lot of posts, considering it was only a weekend! Regular blogging now resumes (well, as regular as I can make it, anyway 😉 )…


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 8 – Weird

I recently attended a workshop with The Silent Eye about Facing Our Fears, an extraordinary weekend spent among the hills and grey stone villages of the Peak District. It’s taken me a little while, as it usually does, to process everything that happened. Once again there was history and mystery, good company and tasty food, old friends greeted and new friends made. And, as always, revelations.This is part eight of my account, parts one, two, three, four, five, six and seven can be found here… After the intense afternoon we’d just had, it seemed like a nice idea to do a bit of sightseeing, and Sue and Stu had just the place. Rowtor Rocks, at Birchover, is a natural stone outcropping that, three centuries ago, was carved and shaped by local parson Thomas Eyre (relative of the family whose name inspired Charlotte Bronte) into a network of caves, stairways, pillars and chairs. There are older markings there too – cup and ring marks, and a very rare quartered-sun carving, indicate that this was a place of significance since Neolithic times.

We arrived and parked, the sun still shining above, and started up the twisting path leading up to the rocks. There were people coming and going, families and couples and people with dogs, all of whom stopped to smile or exchange a greeting as we made way for each other on the narrow path. And at the top, the rocks waited. They were curious indeed.

Thomas Eyre, when carving the stones, was apparently creating the twelve stations of the Cross. However, there were no obviously Christian symbols or imagery to be found – instead, chiselled caves and carved faces. I remarked as much to our companions, that I couldn’t see much that was Christian about it. Perhaps that’s where the problems began…

Sue, who had visited the rocks many times, began to point out things of interest, including a perfectly poised massive boulder that could, if pressure was applied, be rocked. However, as she was pointing out a skull-faced boulder, we noticed a woman standing nearby. Dressed in jeans and a flowery top, she was close enough that she seemed to be listening to what Sue was saying. However, by the frown on her face, she didn’t seem impressed. She was also holding quite a hefty stick, which she was waving around in an odd manner, swiping at branches. I can’t explain it any other way than it was the sort of thing you’d do if you wanted to appear not to be listening, yet you were.

However, it didn’t bother us unduly – if she wanted to listen, that was fine. We went past her, avoiding the stick, and stepped through a sort of entry gate carved into the stones. Sue pointed out a small cave and, at that moment, I looked up to see a man striding along the rocks above. He was dressed oddly compared to the other walkers we’d seen, in high-waisted pleated trousers and a fitted collared shirt, both in khaki shades, as well as a slouch hat. With his mustache and muscular build, he put me in mind of the Great White Hunter trope, a figure from the past.

We continued along the path a little way, Sue pointing out a narrow staircase carved in between two of the rocks. I supposed that was how the man got up there. She also told us to watch our step, as there was a sheer drop to the other side of us, with views to the valley below. The odd woman, in the meantime, had moved past us and was at the other end of pathway, still waving her stick around and frowning. Sue and one of the companions decided to go into the small cave and look around, while Stu moved ahead. I took a couple of photos, then turned around to see the man in khakis almost on top of me, his broad shirt-front filling my vision. I stepped back and to the side, smiling, as you do in such situations, but he kept coming at me. There was no smile on his face, none of the shall-we-dance thing you do in such situations and, as I stepped back again, I was conscious of the sheer drop behind me. The situation felt very strange and uncomfortable, so I put both my hands up and said ‘I’m moving to the side,’ stepping deliberately out of his path. He made a ‘Hmph’ noise and kept going, joining up with the stick-waving woman. The whole interaction only took a couple of seconds, but left me feeling a bit stunned. Sue, in the meantime, had had emerged from the cave, telling me later that she had felt me being threatened. The whole thing was so strange that I said ‘What’s with those two?’ and, as a group, we watched them for a few moments. They seemed to be together, but they weren’t talking to each other, both frowning, the woman still waving her stick. Then they moved away, out of view… except there was no other way down from where they were and, when we followed their path a few moments later, they were gone.

So who were they? A couple of eccentric locals who didn’t like visitors to ‘their’ rocks? Perhaps they’d been offended by my ‘not much Christian here’ comment? I don’t know. But the really odd thing was that, when we discussed it afterwards, while we could all agree on what the man was wearing, both Sue and Stu saw the woman wearing a 1940’s style tea-dress, while our other companion and I saw her in jeans and a flowered top…

An unexpected mystery, and a really weird end to an already intense day. But then, that’s what sometimes happens on weekends like this 🙂

We continued our way around the rocks, exploring caves where darkness became light, depending on how you looked at it, contemplating the three ‘judgement’ seats, admiring the rare Neolithic sun carving, and just enjoying the late-afternoon sunshine. The sense of oddness dissipated after the strange couple left, and it was a pleasure to wander around and just look at things, rather than ponder their greater mysteries.

Afterwards, we drove though sunset hills towards Castleton, where a special dinner was booked. After the day we’d had, the golden light felt like a reward, and the perfect way to head into what was going to be a challenging Sunday. But that’s a story for my next post…


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 7 – Fear Itself

I recently attended a workshop with The Silent Eye about Facing Our Fears, an extraordinary weekend spent among the hills and grey stone villages of the Peak District. It’s taken me a little while, as it usually does, to process everything that happened. Once again there was history and mystery, good company and tasty food, old friends greeted and new friends made. And, as always, revelations.This is part seven of my account, parts one, two, three, four, five and six can be found here… As we approached the Andle Stone its size, half hidden by the slope and vegetation, became more apparent, as did the fact that this was obviously a significant part of a larger landscape. Once again, there seemed to be a tradition of climbing attached to the stone, as someone had incised footholds as well as graffiti, and cup marks higher up indicated it had been in use for a very long time. However, it was a good four metres or so to the top so we decided to leave it, pushing through the shrubbery to the front of the stone, where an inscription lay hidden.

The Andle Stone is inscribed to the memory of Lieutenant Colonel William Thornhill of the 7th Hussars, a veteran of Waterloo, and to the Duke of Wellington, who commanded the decisive battle against Napoleon and who, strangely, died on September 14, 1852, exactly one hundred and sixty-seven years to the date of our visit. We paused for a moment to contemplate the idea of war, how a young man may have felt on the eve of conflict, and how fear was put aside in the service of one’s nation and cause. It seemed an odd place for a memorial, hidden from view as it was, and I wondered at the decision to place the inscription there (and yes, I know the trees would not have always been there).

We left the stone and sat nearby, enjoying the sunshine and talking. After our failed attempts to climb stones, we were surprised to see a young man approach and, in what seemed like a matter of seconds, make his way to the top of the Andle Stone. While we admired his prowess, we were amused when, a minute or so later, we heard him say ‘How do I get down?’…

But we had other places to go, so we left the stone and crossed the field, following the path of a drystone wall into a small wood, the shaman still clearing my path. I knew we were going somewhere special, but I wasn’t prepared for the jolt of fear I experienced when I glimpsed the small stone circle through the trees. I may have sworn. I know it was a gut thing and, despite the assurances of my companions, I found myself unable to walk past the entry stone into the glade.

It was a very strange sensation, as though there was a physical barrier holding me back. I took a moment to try and centre myself, taking in some deep breaths. Meanwhile, the others had entered the glade, the circle opening. And a message came to me, clear as day:

It is only your fear that is holding you back

This was incredibly profound, and still is, on many levels. As soon as I heard the words and accepted them, I was able to move forward and stepped into the grove. I can’t explain it – all I can do is relay it as it happened.

Doll Tor is a Bronze age stone circle consisting of six stones, with further stones outside the perimeter (including the one that ‘stopped’ me from entering). The circle stones were once connected by drystone walling, and there is a burial cairn very close to the circle (and within the outer stones), where the skeleton of a woman and several burial urns containing the ashes of children were found. It was obviously a place of significance, even though it was hidden away among the trees. It may not have always been so hidden, of course – the vegetation we see now does not always reflect how things would have been when the landscape was first laid out.

However, the trees seem to add to the magic of the place, the forest cradling, rather than overwhelming, the circle. That could have something to do with the power the place still holds, something we decided to try working with while we were there. Preparations were made, we took our places, and…

She saw…

…The ocean…

A woman in a green dress…

A stag coming to the edge of the clearing where he waited, cropping the green grass…

A darkness, womb-shaped…

And in it, gleaming, a single red point of light like a winking ruby or pomegranate seed…

It felt like possibility…

A buzzing… a cawing…

She saw all the companions, strings of light connecting them…

She saw the shaman, enveloped in a globe of light that went above and below her…

A weaving of light around the stones, all of it connected…

The green of midsummer leaves…

And then peace…

And a circular shape, like a seal upon the earth…

Once again, I can’t explain it. I can only tell it as it happened. Whatever I saw was powerful, my body bending back beneath the force of it. And, as the others concurred, it felt like a healing. In light of what had happened to me earlier in the cairn field, I could only take it as a gift, and be grateful that I had come to this place, and for the lesson it had taught me.

We talked for a little while, then paid our respects. There was some joking about the number of blog posts the trip would entail – though these weekends are only 48 hours or so, time seems to stretch and twist, each moment heavy with significance. To cover them in detail requires quite a few words. I took some more photos, then we left, leaving the grove behind. However, the magic of it remains with me now, and it’s one of my favourite places I’ve ever visited on a Silent Eye weekend.

When we got back to the car, we realised we had a bit of time before dinner, so Sue and Stu suggested we visit a place of interest nearby, not to work, but simply to have a look around. We had closed the circle for the day, so it sounded like a fun idea. Little did we know the weirdness that awaited us there…

(I know – the day had already been pretty intense. But trust me – Rowtor Rocks was weird)


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 6 – Release

I recently attended a workshop with The Silent Eye about Facing Our Fears, an extraordinary weekend spent among the hills and grey stone villages of the Peak District. It’s taken me a little while, as it usually does, to process everything that happened. Once again there was history and mystery, good company and tasty food, old friends greeted and new friends made. And, as always, revelations.This is part six of my account, parts one, two, three, four and five can be found here… As you pass between the gateposts leading onto Stanton Moor, there is a feeling of entering another world. Perhaps it’s the Cork Stone, a great stone guardian whose sphinx-like profile has monitored the path for millennia, or the old quarry marks, now overgrown. Or perhaps it’s the many cairns hidden amongst the heather, silent indicators that this is a land of the dead.

Humans have been using this place for thousands of years, which is why Stanton Moor is a place of national importance and, as such, is protected.  Prominent signage advises visitors to leave no rubbish, make no marks and, something that became important as we journeyed further into the landscape, keep their dogs on a lead at all times.

The weather was still holding and the place was crowded, people all along the path…

…and another crowd assailed her, many voices calling, the feeling of being surrounded. But this was not the stagnant waves of Eyam. Rather, it was the voices of those who had shaped this land so many moons ago. And they were curious.

But there were too many to answer, and she could make no sense of what they wanted to know…

We spent a little bit of time at the Cork Stone. Once again, there was a tradition of ascending the stone, but someone had, in time past, cut helpful footholds into the rock. Still, none of us felt quite up to the challenge. Besides, we had somewhere to see. We continued along the path, the heather giving way to trees and ferns, fairy toadstools like tiny flames among the undergrowth…

… ‘I can’t understand when you all speak at once.’

A figure detached themselves from the throng. An older man, robed, long of beard and hair. He held out his arm as they proceeded along the path, a gesture of welcome, but also of guidance.

‘Why do you visit?’

She thought about her answer, wanting to get it right. ‘We come to learn from you, of the old ways. And with respect for those who walked here before.’

He nodded once. ‘Then you are welcome. There is–‘

There was a thundering noise from behind and we turned to see what at first I thought were two large dogs, racing along. But, as they ran past me, I realised that it was in fact one large dog, chasing a young and terrified sheep. There was no sign of any owner and, as they sped towards the stone circle ahead of us, a woman there called out accusingly ‘Whose dog is that?’ while looking our way. We hastily denied any involvement and watched, helplessly, as the dog continued to torment its prey. They disappeared down another path but then, a minute or so later, the dog reappeared, securely leashed, their slightly shamefaced but otherwise unapologetic owner making a quick retreat from the clearing. The poor sheep, meanwhile, wandered back among the trees, calling for its mother, a plaintive cry that made us all feel quite sad. As a dog owner myself, I try to be responsible – I keep my dog leashed when I need to, clean up after her and attend regular training so it infuriates me, to be honest, when people ignore simple guidelines such as ‘Keep your dog on a leash.’ It was a strange and somewhat unsettling introduction to our next destination, the Nine Ladies.

One of four stone circles in the area, Nine Ladies is the easiest to find and, therefore, a popular walking destination. Taking its name from an old legend of nine girls dancing on the Sabbath and being turned to stone, there are, in fact, ten stones at the circle, as well as a King Stone nearby, remnant of a ring cairn. It was busy at the circle, people sitting on the stones, camping nearby, children running about. As we drew closer I heard a man, sitting on the grass, say that he would never sit on the stones. I agree with his viewpoint – this is an ancient site of worship, a sacred site, and I would no more sit in the middle of it and eat my lunch than I would by the altar of a church. But I suppose, to many people, such places are not seen that way anymore.

We waited a while, hoping the crowd might disperse, as we wished to pay our own respects. Eventually the circle cleared enough, except for one young woman who was dancing in and out of the stones.

…as the six stepped between the stones, each taking their own path to reach the centre, there was a feeling of power building. And, as the circle of light ignited, that power grew, strong as the flame that burned at the centre of it all…

We stood there a little longer, and it was at that point I turned to one of my fellow group members. A shaman, she had taken me aside the previous evening and indicated I had something with which she would help me, if I wanted. I’d thought about it, and now seemed a good time to ask. So I did.

I won’t go into detail here, as some things are private, but suffice it to say, as we left the circle and headed into the cairn-field, away from the crowds, I became quite emotional. Two of our group had decided to leave, and Sue and Stu were walking ahead, which left the two of us alone on the path…

…and so, in the ancient cairn-field, among the dead in the high places, a healing took place. Something she had carried for many many years was released, and she felt light as the birds circling overhead…

We rejoined Sue and Stu, who had been sitting enjoying the view. I think they knew that something had taken place, but they didn’t ask. Instead, they led us on and out of the moor, across a wheat field towards where a very large stone waited among brambles and rhododendrons. I was still recovering, in some ways, and the shaman was walking with me, ensuring my path was clear. But there was still some distance to go until the healing was complete…


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 5 – Failure

I recently attended a workshop with The Silent Eye about Facing Our Fears, an extraordinary weekend spent among the hills and grey stone villages of the Peak District. It’s taken me a little while, as it usually does, to process everything that happened. Once again there was history and mystery, good company and tasty food, old friends greeted and new friends made. And, as always, revelations.This is part five of my account, parts one, two, three and four can be found here…

We left Tideswell and headed into the hills. The sun was shining, the temperature warm enough for just a light jacket – not exactly the kind of weather one associates with fear. However, so far we had faced pestilence, death, and the idea of losing everyone you hold dear to be left alone in a changed world. Quite intense for the first afternoon! I started to get the inkling that this weekend would be about challenging myself internally, as well as externally…

Fear is something that is both universal, and specific to the individual. There are fears that hearken back to our ancestral roots – the fear of being vulnerable, cast out, or killed by some predator. Then there are fears that are more personal – some people suffer from claustrophobia, whereas others dislike large open spaces. Some people are scared of heights, others of spiders – it really depends on the individual. There are modern fears – nuclear war, gender-based violence, terrorism – and age-old ones such as poverty, bankruptcy, homelessness. Fear is unique to each individual, and yet is something we all share. Our next destination was a place where people were tested against an ancient fear, yet where the same tradition is still observed to this day.

We arrived at a very busy car park with people everywhere, a coach disgorging even more walkers near the entrance. While it was a pleasure to be out in the Peak district in such glorious weather, rather than in the rain I’d experienced last time I was there, it did mean it was a bit more crowded than usual. There also seemed to be some sort of event on, with officials seated a tables, people wearing numbers and carrying water bottles. Still, it was a wide and glorious space and there was plenty of room for everyone, plus it made for a more social walk, with lots of lovely dogs to be petted and conversations to be had. Nothing to be scared of here, unless you don’t like dogs or conversation.

After a short conversation our group split, with some of us taking the path running along the cliff edge, while others took the more gentle path among the heather and cairns. For this was a land of the dead – an ancestral burial ground, with scrying bowls carved into stones, small piles of rock dotting the landscape. It didn’t bother me, though – the dead are at peace in such places. So I took in the view, and we remarked how it felt as though the wind was scouring us clean, blowing away the last vestiges of the strangeness we’d experienced the day before.

As the path turned a large stone, standing alone among the cairns, became visible. This is the Eagle Stone, so named because, from one angle, it looks like an eagle at rest. Carved by the elements into fantastic shapes, it has been used since time immemorial as a testing ground for young men to show that they are ready to be wed. Before they were allowed to marry, the young man at first needed to climb the stone to the top, a test of manhood to prove their worth.

While it may seem a simple task, closer inspection revealed there is no easy way to the top. A couple of our group tried, but even to get a short way up was far more difficult than it looked. This would have been a test of both strength and ingenuity, an indication to the tribe that the young man in question was a suitable candidate to marry and pass on their skills to their children.

So the fear to be faced here is the fear of failure, both on a personal level, and of the tribe. If no young men were able to climb the rock, then the tribe was doomed to weaken and die out. And for the young men in question, they would lose both respect and the chance to marry the one they loved. Interestingly, the custom persists, as young men from the village below still climb the rock before they get married, often with the help of friends, and with a veil tied around their waists. As Sue put it so eloquently, ‘perhaps ‘manhood’ is not only defined by the ability to face fears and overcome hurdles, but by the ability to cooperate and help each other.’

As I stood in the shadow of the rock I considered how, perhaps, ancient traditions designed to propagate the strength and fertility of the tribes have become twisted over the centuries, so the idea of fighting for a woman’s favour, of not giving up until it’s bestowed, the idea that it is somehow owed in return for making an effort, has gained traction with some segments of society. And that there is a different kind of fear attached to such behaviour today.

But, as we laughed and joked and made friends with yet another lovely dog, I felt a world apart from such things. It had been a lovely peaceful morning, especially after the strange events of the previous afternoon, and it was nice to sit in the sunshine and enjoy the fresh air. However, I had no idea what the rest of the day had in store…


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 4 – Life and Death

I recently attended a workshop with The Silent Eye about Facing Our Fears, an extraordinary weekend spent among the hills and grey stone villages of the Peak District. It’s taken me a little while, as it usually does, to process everything that happened. Once again there was history and mystery, good company and tasty food, old friends greeted and new friends made. And, as always, revelations.This is part three of my account, parts one, two and three can be found here…

(Apologies for the slight delay between posts – I had a project that needed finishing and another that needed starting, so have been focusing on those for the past few days. However, let’s now head back to Derbyshire and the next stop on my journey…)

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear, another glorious day. I got up early, despite being tired from the previous afternoon’s events, as I’d arranged to meet Sue and Stu at 9am and wanted to take a quick look around Tideswell before doing so. Breakfast was downstairs in the small dining room, where I was watched over by a most curious onlooker. Hmmm.

Once I’d eaten, I headed out into the morning, taking the main street past the ancient (yet still venerated) spring, welling clear from a stone set there for the purpose. It was nice to see it marked in such a way when so many of the old springs and rivers have been lost or built over, all in the name of development. I continued past curving walls of grey stone, ending up outside the Church of St John the Baptist, which is known as the ‘cathedral of the Peak.’

It’s certainly a beautiful building – built between 1320 and 1400, it was thought to have replaced a smaller Norman church, and is a wonderful example of gothic architecture, with long windows and pointed arches, carved angels gesturing skywards. I stood and took it in for a moment, then recognised a couple of familiar figures emerging from a car nearby – Sue and Stu had apparently had the same idea I’d had, and so the three of us took the tree-lined avenue leading into the church.

I always enjoy looking around old churches (even the one in Eyam was interesting, despite the weight on my chest). I think about the layers of years in such places, the ceremonies of birth and life and death that have gone on beneath the vaulted ceilings, continuing a thread of human’s celebrating significant events that stretches long into our dim past.

The Church of St John the Baptist was a peaceful place, sun sparking through the stained-glass windows to scatter colour across the ancient stone floors, gilding the old carvings, and we spent a little while wandering around, taking it all in.

Both Sue and Stu were familiar with the building, and so were able to point out some of the more interesting details, such as a small dragon curled up above on one of the ceiling beams.

The richly carved pews, which put me in mind of some of the work at the Natural History Museum, featured green men and salamanders, flying foxes and even another small dragon, not the usual religious symbols you’d expect in such a place.

And, in front of the altar, a knight slept in effigy inside his tomb, pierced marble giving the viewer a peep into his eternal rest.

Then it was time to meet the others and head up towards the moors. We were going to a much older place of worship, one where an ancient tradition was still practiced today.

The Eagle Stone awaited…


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.