A Dorset Weekend With The Silent Eye – Part Four

As the seasons tumble from summer into autumn, the fields turning to gold, I realise that it’s already October and I still haven’t finished writing up my account of The Silent Eye weekend I attended in June. I suppose I’ve been on a blog break (I’ve been doing a lot but have little to report as yet; however, stay posted), so I guess that’s one excuse.

But I also think that Maiden Castle, which was the next stop on our weekend, is somewhere that I’m still processing, the echoes of our visit there ringing through my mind. It was massive, in so many ways. Sue had warned me, the previous afternoon, as we were making our mad time-twisting dash between churches. ‘I want to see your expression,’ she said, ‘when you first see it.’

I hope it was suitably awed – I know I felt it. I can still remember the gut punch of that moment – the first glimpse of giant ramparts crowning an ancient hill, the whole almost too big to take in at once. The nearby burial mounds, rising dark against the flat green of the summerlands, and the rumpled earthworks that marked the maze leading you into the castle itself. It was quite something, and that was before we’d even left the carpark…

‘Do you feel as though you’re about to be tested?’ My companion nodded. She did, she said. I said that I did, too, looking up at the high green walls of the castle. It was an excited, rather than anxious, feeling, but definitely there, a weight of expectation, that somehow I was about to be challenged and would emerge changed by the experience…

It was a very strange feeling, but one that was inescapable. Perhaps a fitting culmination to a weekend where I had felt power building, the land moving towards the solstice. We took the pathway leading up to the entrance, tall grasses and wildflowers waving either side of us. Once these hills had been chalk-white, the grass now covering them removed. Even now, clothed in green and weathered by millennia, the scale was still impressive. Archaeological surveys have discovered that the hilltop was first enclosed during Neolithic times, about 6,000 years ago, and by the Iron Age (around 800BC) it was the pre-eminent settlement in the area, with the labyrinthine entrances and towering banks and ditches in place. The fort remained occupied until the arrival of the Romans in 43AD, a time when most local hill-forts were no longer used, further reinforcing the significance of the site. Even now, it is one of the largest and most complex hill forts in Europe. However, once the Romans settled the nearby time of Durnovaria (now Dorchester), the fort finally fell out of use, other than as a site for a Roman temple (more on that later in this post).

Apparently, there had been activities planned by our guides (sorry, Sue!) but my companion and I, both driven by the same inescapable urge, headed into the labyrinth, leaving the group behind. We each took a different path, meeting at the entrance to the fort where, once again, we felt we had to take opposite paths. My companion headed one way along the ramparts while I took the other…

… and all at once I was wearing leather and furs, shield and sword and bow strapped to me, strong and confident as I patrolled the edge. I knew my focus needed to be outwards, that inside the walls was fire and warmth and welcome, and that it was my job to make sure it was protected…

I stumbled, my hair flying in my face, as I reached a part when the ramparts dipped down. I remember feeling annoyed, as though this section was difficult to defend, a weak spot. However, I picked up the pace again, continuing around to the other entrance to the fort. There is nothing left now of the roundhouses that used to dot the interior, but there are remnants of more recent inhabitants. And that was where I knew I needed to go.

The Roman temple at Maiden Castle sits on what is thought to have been an earlier, pre-Christian temple on the site, as there is evidence it sits within the remains of a roundhouse. It actually consisted of several buildings, although only fragments of wall remain. Roman artefacts, including a hoard of coins, have been found in the temple and at other sites on the hilltop, suggesting that the Romans, while they may not have occupied the site, certainly made use of it.

When I reached the remains of the temple my companion wasn’t there, and I felt a vague sense of disappointment. However, I decided to stay and investigate the ruins, something compelling me to walk anti-clockwise around the outer circle, then the inner one, before standing at the centre, where a small depression was in the earth. I had an overwhelming urge to kneel, and did so…

… all became still, the wind that rushed around me ceasing, warmth descending. I felt a hand upon my shoulder and bowed my head, my weapons to one side, my hood pulled back from my hair. It felt like reassurance, that I was in the right place, doing the right thing, and that I was protected…

Then modern-day me took over and I felt a bit silly, kneeling there with head bowed. I silently gave thanks and got to my feet…

… laughter. ‘You are always in such a hurry. You’re leaving too early, but that’s all right. Off you go…’

I paused, unsure for a moment. Then I shook off the feeling and started back towards the ramparts, hoping to meet up with some of the others. However, before I reached them something made me turn… to see the companion I’d hoped to meet walking into the temple.

‘Oh!’ Overjoyed, I made my way back to meet her. ‘I knew I was supposed to meet you here!’ I said, as I drew closer.

‘I’ve been here already,’ she replied. ‘And I left, then something made me come back.’

‘And I left too early,’ I said. ‘I knew I had, and they told me I had, too!’

We laughed about it, and I made a silent vow to trust myself a little more, to listen more.

The rest of the group joined us and we sat for a while, happy to rest. There was some discussion as we considered the history of the place, Sue painting a vivid picture of what things might have been like when it was new…

… I stood, high above the labyrinth, waiting with sword and flame. There was no light other than the moon, which silvered the curves of earth, lined the dark form of the initiate who walked the path blindfolded. The mark on my hip was the same as that borne by the others who waited with me, our hearts in our mouths, for the initiate to pass their final test. I watched him walk between the hills, disappearing then reappearing, each time a breath blown out. The flame in my hand was held low so as not to give him any clue, my sword edge sharp, waiting for his arrival…

And then it was time to go. Rain was threatening, the wind lifting, and everyone had places they needed to be, including me. I finished my circuit, and started through the (already familiar) labyrinth to the pathway that led down to the car park…

… I felt sorrow to be leaving the safety of home and hearth, yet excited to see the world and all that it had to offer beyond the confines of the castle…

It was strange, as though I walked two paths at the same time – one that of a warrior leaving their home and all that was familiar, the other a more prosaic reality, lunch to be eaten and a train to catch. I could still feel the weight of leather and sword, my hair wild from the wind. Even as we sat in a bright café, it wasn’t until food had been consumed that I started to feel anything like myself.

And there was still one more place to go…

This is part four of my account of a weekend in Dorset with The Silent Eye. Please click here for part one, part two and part three.

44 thoughts on “A Dorset Weekend With The Silent Eye – Part Four

      1. I wish I was. I can usually only get to one weekend per year, and Cerne Abbas was the one for this year. Now waiting to see where the path will take me next year…

    1. Thanks to you both 🙂 It was such a wonderful weekend, looking forward to the next one. Sorry it’s taken me so long to write it up – I did write all my impressions in the week or so after we returned, but it’s taken me this long to make sense of it all and get it into blog form 🙂

      1. No need to apologise, Stu 🙂 Gut punch was really how it felt – like a thump to the midsection then breathless in the chest. The moment stil resonates and I really want to go back there…

  1. I enjoyed reading where your mind went in the part that was in italics. I love how such places, especially those that are rich in history, spark these images and imaginings. It sounds like it was a lovely trip. Thanks for sharing it with us (and it’s so good to read your stuff again).

    1. Hellooo! How are you? It’s so nice to hear from you again 🙂 I think about you often and your lovely blogs about food and flying and squirrels – you have such a beautiful way of seeing the world. My trip was lovely, thank you – it was a trip on a lot of levels, to be honest. These weekends always challenge me and my thought processes, and it’s interesting to see what comes up. To be honest, I’m on a bit of a blogging break at the moment but am hoping to be back this year. How about you? Are you still writing? x

      1. I just started writing on the blog again, but am still generally writing, yes. I even read a poem I wrote at an open mic night. I think that’s the first time in years I’ve read any of my writing aloud. It was well received, so that was good. I’ll have to write something else to share next month. More recently, I went to the emergency room, so things have been a little crazy. Other than that, I’ve been well. I’m getting back into the swing of blogging. I’m excited to start again, but almost don’t know where to go with it.

        Plus, I’m starting a book. I haven’t done as much as I’d like to yet because my laptop is crap. I’ve tried to write things on it, but if it gets unplugged, I lose stuff. Argh!

        How has life been for you?

      2. Oh wow – you have had a lot happening! I hope you’re okay now. And I’m very excited for you that you’re starting a book. I feel you on the blog thing – having just started back myself I haven’t a clue what to write about. I guess I’ve fallen out of practice of just rambling about whatever comes to mind 😀
        Otherwise life has been cruising along – I’m pleased to be back freelancing again and writing for myself, and know I’m fortunate to be able to do so, and also spend time with my daughter, who is almost a teenager and bound to find me desperately uncool at some point very soon!
        I’m looking forward to reading your blog again – I just need to remember to check in with everyone now 🙂 x

  2. I hope you get as long of a time as possible for your daughter to still think you’re cool. If there’s any consolation, I think you’re cool 🙂 I’m glad to hear that you’re freelancing again and writing for yourself. I think that’s an important, and somewhat cathartic, thing. I missed blogging and thought about it all the time, but I know my blogs would’ve been very personal, and I wasn’t ready to share those things yet.

    I am doing okay now, but I think there may be a few more doctor’s bills in my future. Maybe I should be worried, but I’m not. I’m glad that the period pain I’ve had for so many years is being validated; they’re actually seeing things that aren’t normal. So there’s relief and somewhat of a peace that things are being resolved.

    I’m glad to see that you are back blogging also; you were one of my favourites, and someone that I wondered about often.

    1. Oh, I’m sorry for the delay in responding – I just saw this! Thank you so much for your lovely comment 🙂 And I often wondered about you too – I’m so pleased you’re back blogging again, as you were one of my favourites too. I still think about those fries by the ocean! Agree with you about it being cathartic, definitely. I also suffered quite badly with ‘women’s issues’ and am planning a book about my experiences, to be honest. I don’t think it’s talked about enough and I’m glad you’re being taken seriously. I hope you get it all sorted out. 🙂 xx

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