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 😉 )…


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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.

Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 3 – Sorrow

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 and two can be found here…

We travelled through Eyam, the road taking us higher and higher, the valley opening away to our right. And as we did so the air began to clear, the strange weight that had burdened me lifting. We continued along a narrow track edged with tangled brambles and tall nettle, a fairy-tale barrier between us and the view. Taking a fork in the road among tall trees, Sue pulled the car onto the narrow verge to park.

And all was still.

The day remained bright, the sky a curving dome of blue, the air fresh and clear. We stood on a curving path bounded by a moss-covered wall, a rolling green hillside to our left. And, upon the green, a small enclosure waited. It was what we had come to see. The Riley graves.

Once again, Sue has written an excellent detailed account of what happened on the ridge, but the short version is this: As plague raged through the village in the valley below, two families, living separately on the ridge, hoped, perhaps, that distance would keep them and their children safe. However, it was not to be, with first one family, then the other, succumbing. But the cruellest blow was to Elisabeth Hancock, who, between August 3rd and 10th, lost her six children and her husband to the terrible virus. Isolated as she was on the high ridge, the neighbouring family having already succumbed to plague, it was left to her to bury her babies and spouse, one by one, carrying their bodies across to the shallow graves she’d dug, wondering, perhaps, when the disease would take her as well. I cannot imagine her pain, and, after what I’d experienced in the village, it was with some trepidation that I initially approached the small group of graves.

Elisabeth chose her spot well, with beautiful views across the valley and opposing hillsides. It broke the heart to imagine her doing so, that those she loved most might rest in a place where the air was fresh, the land they loved holding them like a precious jewel in a perfect setting. And, surprisingly, there was no heaviness here, no miasma of sorrow to weigh me down, no troubling visions. Instead, the overwhelming sense at these poignant graves was one of love.

That said, I did not enter the enclosure, preferring instead to pay my respects outside the curving stone wall. I stood there for a little while, listening to the wind through the trees and grass, watching birds circle above, and tried to imagine how it must have been during those desperate days when Elisabeth lost everyone and everything she loved, including her home.

She must have been quite an extraordinary person for, when plague didn’t take her, rather than falling into darkness and despair, she instead went down to the village to help others who suffered. And when it was all done she was reunited with her remaining son, who was working in a nearby village and so had been separated from her for the duration of the quarantine. It was he who erected the memorial stones for his father and siblings, and perhaps, also, as tribute to his mother and all she had gone through those terrible nights alone.

The only sorrow I felt in this place was as we were leaving, when it hit me like a wave. We walked along the track, back to the cars, and it struck me how it must have been for her when she had to leave this place for the last time, leave the views and clear air and circling birds, the land she had worked and which now held the remains of all she held dear. For, while she was there, she was still with them.

A short drive later and we were at our second-last stop for the day: Mompesson’s well. This was one of several wells marking the boundary of the village, where food and money were left for and by the villagers during their quarantine. It was a gloomy place, despite the brightness of the day, and the heavy fencing around it didn’t do much to lift the atmosphere. I think we were all still somewhat weighed down by the events of the afternoon.

Luckily, our final stop was on the open moors, a patch of green grass the perfect spot to sit and go over the events of the day. I wandered off alone for a little while, opening my arms and heart to the sky and heather, letting the wind wash through me. It was the perfect antidote to a very strange afternoon and, by the time I got back to the hotel, I was feeling almost myself again. We were due to have dinner at a nearby pub, and I was looking forward to it. Tomorrow was going to be a very busy day, and I needed to recharge…


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 2 – Pestilence

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 two of my account, part one can be found here

‘Go and have a look around. We’ve got a bit of time yet before the others get here.’

I can’t move.

We were standing in a courtyard, once the stable yard of the nearby manor house. The buildings had been converted into shops and restaurants, jewellery, homewares, tea and scones all set out for visitors. It was a gorgeous place, sun shining on golden-grey stone, pretty tables, green trees.

I can’t move.

Waves were battering her from all sides, sorrow overwhelming. But they were toxic, polluted, like water disturbed in a stagnant pond. It was difficult to breathe.

I should have known when my body started to tingle as we crossed the boundary into the village. But this was… intense. I took a couple of photos but, even though Sue suggested once more that I have a look around, I still couldn’t move, feeling assailed on all sides. The air seemed filled with floating flecks of gold. It was a very, very strange place.

The rest of the group arrived, greetings and introductions breaking me out of my strange immobility. It was lovely to see familiar faces, and to meet a new face, too. Thus assembled, our group of six left the old stable yard and headed out into the village. We took a moment on the nearby green to talk about the history of the village, Sue and Stu filling the rest of the party in on the dark history of the place. Sue has written an excellent post about it – however, the short version is this:

In 1665, plague came to Eyam. It was already raging down south, and, when a local tailor ordered a bolt of cloth from London, it arrived teeming with harbingers of death. Infected fleas on the cloth were released when it was unfolded, with the tailor and his assistant the first victims. But, as plague moved through the village, the inhabitants made an extraordinary decision. Encouraged by their reverend, the charismatic Mompesson, they decided to quarantine themselves from the surrounding area – nothing, and no one, were to leave the village until the plague had burned itself out. Eventually it did so, but took as much as two thirds of the population with it, a horrifying toll in a place with a population of only a few hundred souls. Many people lost their entire extended family, and had to bury their own dead. Parents, children, siblings, spouses. Small wonder, then, that this was a place bound in sorrow and the fear of loss.

After the introduction we headed along a road that was chocolate-box perfect in its prettiness, past ancient stone cottages garlanded in roses, gleaming golden in the afternoon sun. Yet dark history hid behind the stone walls, as plaques in the gardens attested, telling us the names of those who lived there during the plague, and those who died. Eyam is a place that makes its living from death, the sad history of the place drawing tourism from far and wide. But is it healthy to constantly relive such an episode? Places hold the energy of events that happen there – such as the warmth experienced in a happy home, or the sombre cold at sites of torture and death. Despite all the doubtless peaceful years that Eyam experienced, both before and after the plague, it has allowed itself to be defined by the events of that awful time and, while of course it’s important to remember and honour the deeds of the villagers who sacrificed everything for the sake of the larger community, the relentless focus on that time makes it difficult for the energy surrounding it to dissipate. I took few photos, and none of the plaques in the gardens with their grisly records of death.

As we neared the old church I was finding it difficult to breathe, a weight on my chest. Another member of the group felt the same way – there seemed to be no explanation for it. I was struggling against surging emotion, like being at the centre of a storm, despite the bright sunshine.

‘Did you say you’ve never been here before?’

‘Yes.’

‘You sure about that?’

We entered the churchyard, sun gilding the deep green yew trees, the ancient stones. There is a Saxon cross in the churchyard, relic of an even older time, one side carved with angels, the other with serpents, coiled around themselves.

… she remembered a wedding, being a bride in a bright gown, garlanded in flowers, laughing with her lover on another sunny day, as though the village wanted to remind her of happier times…

Churchyards are home to memory, to loved ones lost, a community of spirit. We wandered among the gravestones for a little while before heading inside the church. It was still difficult to breathe, but I felt less inundated than before.

…give me space…

Inside, the church was charming. Very old, and similar to several I’d visited before with the group. Usually such places are filled with years of calm, that concentrated energy of a place given over to love and prayer. In this church, however, death danced overhead, the spectre of that terrible time seeming to permeate the place. It did not feel peaceful at all.

Embedded in one of the walls was a stone cross, a cross of St Helen, and there was a beautiful window dedicated to her as well, but even the presence of my namesake saint didn’t do much to ease my discomfort. There was also an illustrated history of the church and the village, and another stained-glass window telling the story of the plague.

When we left the church even the sky felt spiked and heavy, vapour trails intersecting it like the slashes of a knife. And then, a rainbow, faintly coloured, a reminder that, even after the darkest storms, there is light and colour to be found again. It was fitting that it showed up as we prepared to leave the village, heading back past the cottages with their dark histories, past the manor and green.

As we reached the car park, I knew where we were going next. And I was concerned as to whether I’d be able to deal with it, after what I’d already experienced in Eyam. This weekend, however, was about facing our fears. And there was no turning back now…


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Facing Fear with The Silent Eye, Part 1 – Arrival

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 one of my account…

My journey began on Friday 13th, amid the hustle and bustle of St Pancras station, my train waiting beneath the great arcing span of glass. Perhaps it was the day – I’d given myself plenty of time to get there, yet still found myself rushing at the last moment, a wrong turn taken meaning I had to run the length of the station to get to my platform. But I made it on board and settled in for a pleasant journey through London and out into the green, past the dreaming spires of St Albans and further north, buildings of golden brick changing to red, then to grey stone.

This weekend was to be given over to fear, so I reflected on what that could mean as we headed north. I don’t particularly care for spiders, but I wasn’t sure the weekend would involve me facing countless arachnids. Heights? Maybe – we were going to be wandering the moors and high places, so I wondered whether that would be part of the challenge. Then I went deeper, to more primal fears. The loss of family, of home. Of life itself. One thing I knew – to expect the unexpected. These weekends tend to work in mysterious ways, and it was probably best if I just accepted that and went along with things, knowing that I was among friends and in full control as to what, if anything, I chose to experience.

The train discharged me at Sheffield, where I had a 15-minute wait for the local train bearing me into the hills. Once on board, we entered a long tunnel, a strange transition through darkness. On one side the industrial town; on the other, small villages and green hillsides, quaint stations with names like Grindleford and Hathersage. I had only a short journey to Hope, where I’d arranged to be picked up and taken to Tideswell, where I’d be staying for the weekend.

Tideswell is a beautiful village, all grey stone and pointed roofs, mullioned windows winking in the sunshine. It was a glorious day – the sun shining, sky blue, warm enough for a light jacket, even in the hills. Once dropped off, I made my way into the pub where I was staying, being shown to a room with a four-poster bed, of all things, before enjoying an excellent lunch in the small dining room, bounded by ancient oak beams and flagstone floors.

Then it was time to go. Sue and Stu had offered to pick me up and, at the allotted time, I went outside to be greeted with hugs and smiles. Then we hit the road, heading for the village of Eyam. I was excited to be going there, having enjoyed reading Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders, a fictionalised version of the events that took place in the mid 1600s when plague came to Eyam. I’d also watched a fascinating documentary about the descendants of the survivors of that terrible time, all of whom still carried antibodies for the plague which also, apparently, rendered them immune to HIV, as both viruses work in a similar manner. (I’m in no way an expert on this – I’m just stating what was reported in the documentary – apparently these antibodies are being studied in the hopes of developing more effective HIV treatment). Eyam, quite simply, was a place with a story. And I love stories.

But I was not prepared for Eyam…


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.