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.

38 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…

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