Circles Beyond Time – Joy

img_3714This is the final instalment in my account of my weekend away with The Silent Eye. Please click here for parts one, two, three, four, five and six. And thanks for reading!

After our dawn excursion I returned to the hotel for breakfast, then packed and checked out, as Arbor Low was the last stop on our weekend adventure before I had to head to the train station. I was picked up by two of the companions and we set off, sun shining as we wove through the countryside. The Peak District was glowing with late summer, green fields lush with grass and replete with cattle, the rising slopes rustbrown with bracken and heather. Before Arbor Low, we were to have a quick stop at Monsal, where ice cream could be had while taking in a glorious view of the valley and viaduct below.

img_3712Ice cream, however, was not forthcoming – the proprietor teasing us by bringing out the wagon but not opening it, despite the sunshine and crowds. So we stood for a little while taking in the view, while Sue told us the sad story of an ancient settlement on the hilltop nearby – archaeology has found that the only inhabitants were female, except for boys under the age of four, and it seemed to have been a place of some importance, fortified by a large stone wall. However, invaders came, as they often did in those times…

…the painted people…

…and the settlement was destroyed. Appallingly, the great stone wall was apparently pushed onto the gathered women and small children, condemning them to a painful death. Over forty skeletons of women, children and babies were discovered under the stones, grouped together in one final terrifying moment. It was a sobering story, and so it was in a reflective frame of mind that we continued on to our destination.

img_3718Arbor Low is a large Neolithic stone circle within an embankment, and is often described as the Avebury of the North. But I’ve been to Avebury, and Arbor Low, while of a similar grandeur, feels quite different. Set high in a field along a slight slope, Arbor Low is part of a working farm – we had to walk through the farmyard to get to the burial barrow and great circle beyond. Our entry fee was paid via an honesty system, into a padlocked metal box alongside the stony driveway. We paid our pounds, gold coins rattling into the box, then joined the small group of people heading through. As I walked along, I happened to look down and a piece of stone caught my eye. Broken into smaller fragments, it gleamed in the bright sunlight – I passed it before registering what it was, then realised and went back, picking up a sharp edged chunk, crystal gleaming in the sunlight.

‘That looks like local fluorspar,’ said Sue. ‘That’s for communication.’

As we exited the farmyard, I could see the earthworks rising to the left of us, like a crown upon the hill. Straight ahead the curved shape of an ancient burial mound loomed and I hung back from the group, unsure for a moment.

She clutched the stone in her pocket, feeling the smooth sharp edges digging into her skin. A voice spoke.

‘Go with them,’ it said. ‘Then come to me.’

She listened, wondering if there would be any other instruction, but all she felt was the reverberation of those seven words, like a smile in her mind.

img_3715We reached the burial mound, climbing to the top where it was pointed out that, if we looked around, similar mounds crowned many of the hills we could see. Clearly, this had been a place of great importance. After looking around a bit longer we descended, leaving the barrow to enter the circle itself, via the old processional way. Once inside, we were invited to wander around, get a feel for the place, and see whether any of the stones ‘spoke’ to us. I found a stone I liked, sitting there for a while before deciding to walk the circle, starting along one half of the earthworks, then descending into the circle, moving among the stones. All at once I felt joy, as though this were a dance. I started to move in and out of the stones, feeling as though that was the way to do it, as though I were being guided.

img_3720Once I’d woven my way through half of the circle, I walked the other part of the earthworks, enjoying the view across the countryside, cloud shadows drifting across the land. Then I descended once more, dancing my way in and out of the stones, feeling laughter bubble in my chest as I did so, pure joy.

img_3721Upon joining Sue and Stu in the centre of the circle, we were invited to lie on ‘our’ stone, and see what happened. But someone else had claimed ‘mine’, so I went to another one across the circle, lying back along the ancient sloped surface. It seemed strange to be doing so, yet natural, at the same time. I stared into the sky and let my mind drift.

She could feel energy here, bright and clean as a new penny or a mountain stream, running around the circle counter-clockwise, like a silver rope.

Or a green serpent. She could see it now, its great head entering the base of the circle where the goddess lay, golden eyes aglow with the knowledge it had to impart, golden tongue flickering.

‘Stop trying to force it,’ a voice said. ‘Just look at the sky.’ And so she obeyed, gazing up into the deep blue beyond the clouds, letting herself drift as they did…

img_3724I may have dozed a little, I’m not sure. But then the faint sound of a bell brought me back to myself. It was quite comfortable, lying there, and at first I wasn’t really willing to move. But then the bell rang again, and I turned my head to see the others starting to move towards the large centre stones. I also realised I was getting hungry – unsure how long I’d been lying there.

At the centre of the circle ritual was observed once more, though more to honour the space than anything else – it needed no help awakening. We were invited to share anything we’d experienced while lying on the stones but I said nothing, still not quite trusting what I’d seen. Then, as we left, exiting through the lower part of the circle, Sue pointed out a stone that she said looked like a serpent’s head.

‘Did you say serpent’s head, Sue?’ I asked. She stopped, turning to me.

‘Yes. Did you get a serpent?’ I nodded, sharing what I had ‘seen.’ She smiled.

img_3722‘We think the people here were the people of the serpent,’ she said, and I shook my head. That was a pretty big sign I needed to trust my instincts. After all I had seen and experienced over the weekend, the land speaking to me in ways unexpected, this final synchronicity seemed a fitting end to an extraordinary time away.

Well, it wasn’t quite the end. Lunch beckoned, and a last chance to spend time in conversation with good company. Wasps drove us indoors but bright sun shone in through the open doorway, illuminating our table. After lunch, once farewells had been made, two of the companions were kind enough to take me to the train station, saving me part of the journey. I boarded my train, feeling strangely out of time, the city landscape jarring after days spent among green hills and ancient stones. As I settled back into my comfortable seat and watched the countryside flash past, tiredness overtook me. I finally reached home as the sun set, bookending the day that had begun at dawn on a distant peak.

With thanks to The Silent Eye and all the companions for a wonderful weekend away.

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Circles Beyond Time – Dawn

img_3662This is the continued account of my weekend away with The Silent Eye. Click here for parts one, two, three, four and five.

5:11am.

Ugh. I hadn’t slept well, and my alarm jolted me out of a dream. Yet, once I’d woken fully, I was excited. This morning we were heading up into the hills to chase the sunrise. I wouldn’t have missed it, no matter how tired I was. I showered and dressed quickly, managing to gulp a few mouthfuls of tea before heading down to the deserted hotel lobby. There was a small moment of panic when I thought I was locked in, but I emerged eventually onto the still-dark street, a pale glow of light in the sky heralding the coming dawn.

We were to meet the rest of the group in the Fox House car park – my companion and I were the first ones there, so I wandered off to take some photos of the view, trees silhouetted against the pastel-hued sky. The air was cool and still, and I was glad of my extra sweatshirt and wool hat against the pre-dawn chill.

img_3671Then we were off, taking the winding road higher and higher until we reached a small parking area. Leaving the cars we climbed higher still, up stone stairs to where an ancient hillfort crowned the peak, views in every direction. The stones were large, in some cases huge, carved and shaped and most definitely placed there. But by whom, exactly, is lost in time.

img_3674We gathered as a group to watch the sun make its appearance over the far ridge, golden light moving across the valley floor, pushing mist ahead of it. The group chose to greet the sun in their own way – I stood to one side, for some reason feeling the need to be alone.

…it seemed that her path lay through solitude. Companions there would be, but in the end, she had to choose her own way, be true to her own self. So she faced the dawn apart, but not alone, sending a greeting from a place deep within…

img_3684Once the sun was above the ridge we were free to explore, wandering along sandy pathways studded with tiny pieces of white crystal. I walked among the stones, listening to the morning sing and watching mist rise like dragon’s breath from distant Carl Wark, where the weekend’s journey had begun.

…as she walked the peak to the sunrise, all at once it was as though she stood on a pathway of stars, the heavens above reflected below, and she a dancing figure poised in between. The feel of something older, something beyond…

img_3699As the light grew brighter, I amused myself by taking shots of my shadow against the golden-lit rocks. We weren’t the only ones up there, a few photographers taking advantage of the clear morning and glorious views.

 

img_3681I took several photos of the small depressions carved into many of the rocks, their reflections like a path of stepping stones towards the sun. One particularly large rock formation had taken my attention and I turned to Sue.

img_3693‘Those stones…’ I began.

‘Oh yes,’ she said, smiling.

…a piled stone figure, lion messenger of the people who were once here. It reminded her of ancient doorways an ocean away, of stone figures left on mountainous shores, marks of the peoples who lived there. It was both welcome and warning, that here she stood on ancient land…

img_3694We continued to wander the hilltop a while longer, but it was getting cold and breakfast was beckoning. The decision was made to descend, arrangements made to meet up later for our final trip to the stone circle at Arbor Low. The golden sunrise promised a fine day ahead…

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Circles Beyond Time – Awakening

img_3649This is the continued account of my weekend away with The Silent Eye. Please click here for parts one, two, three and four.

(Before I begin this part of the story, I realise I’ve not said much about the companions. I suppose that’s because these posts are about my own personal journey, but it would be remiss not to mention them. Sue and Stu were there of course, leading the weekend, but there were five others on the journey, all of whom could not have been nicer. They welcomed me, looked after me, and made sure I had transport to the various sites (as I was the only one who had not arrived by car). They were lovely people, all of them, and I look forward to seeing them again one day.)

After lunch in Baslow my spirits lifted, and I was ready to explore the Bronze Age burial ground at Barbrook, our next destination. I’d finished writing my poem the night before and the notebook was in my backpack. I wondered where I’d be asked to read it. After leaving the village we went back into the hills, ending up not far from where we had spent the morning. A gate led us into the moors, a riverbed to the left of us, the sloping hills beyond home to ancient hut circles and the settlement marks of those who had buried their dead here.

Barbrook was a calm and beautiful place, small stone cairns dotting the landscape. We entered anti-clockwise, stepping off the modern access track to follow a route Sue and Stu had discovered previously. We discussed the idea of anti-clockwise, or widdershins, and it did feel like the most natural way to enter the landscape. Some of the cairns had been disturbed, their inner cists now open to the air, while others were as they had been made, grasses and heather softening the stones. Eventually, we arrived at the first of two stone circles we were to explore. This one was unusual in that it was built up, a low stone wall encircling the stones, with an entrance at one side. We took a seat around the circle, and were invited to share readings and poems (though not mine, not yet).

img_3655Wasps were a particular nuisance all weekend. Tangling in my hair, interrupting lunch. Honestly, they are the only reason I would contemplate the existence of flying spiders. And, as I sat on the ancient stone wall, trying to listen to an emotional poem being recited by one of the group, I felt a tickle and looked down to see one on my hand. I shook my hand, trying to dislodge it without disturbing the beautiful words of the reader, and the bloody thing stung me, leaving a red mark on the back of my hand. No pain though, oddly – guess I got rid of it in time.

img_3657After the readings (and a move across the circle, away from the persistent wasps), we worked briefly with pendulums, all of us remarking how certain of the stones caused them to move while others did not. Then we resumed the path, continuing in a circular fashion to loop around and back on a lower route past a calm and lovely lake just perfect for women brandishing swords, fairy toadstools dotting the nearby slope. Then we arrived at the second circle. Once again we were invited to take a seat, though this time the stones stood alone, no encircling wall around them.

img_3659This circle felt different than the other one. Reeds choked the centre, almost overwhelming the low stones. It just felt like it was there, rather than anything more profound, like a group of garden ornaments. The circle was asleep, Sue explained, and we were going to try and awaken it. Now was the time for my poem. I was to read the first verse, then we would wait, then I would read the second verse when prompted. As I was about to begin, a man and his dog wandered into the circle. We paused, then paused again as he decided to join us, taking a seat upon the one remaining stone. That made us a company of nine.

…as the ritual words were spoken, and the group began to focus, the energy in the circle started to transform. Slowly at first, but gaining in speed and power, circling around the stones in an anti-clockwise direction. There was a buzz, and a warmth like sunshine. Sleepers awake! Tell us your dreams…

After, as we waited at the base of the slope for our turn to greet the seer, our new companion stayed to talk, his beautiful white dog deigning to have her silky ears stroked as he told us he was local bred and born, and walked this ancient landscape every day. We nodded in agreement when he mentioned the burial cairns and the other stone circle. ‘But there’s another one,’ he added. ‘Up on the ridge somewhere. I’ve never been able to find it though…’

His lovely dog started growling, low in her throat. Further along the path we could see another dog, a golden retriever, white-blonde against the bracken. It seemed oddly disturbed, pacing back and forth but refusing to come any nearer. Its owner, laughing and shaking her head in frustration, waved her arms and called to it, but it just wouldn’t come. Then, as the last supplicant left the circle, the ritual complete, the dog changed, bounding along the path to rejoin its owner, who shrugged, laughing again as she headed further along the ridge.

After bidding farewell to our new friend, we walked the last stretch of the moors to where the cars waited. Dinner was beckoning, then an early night ready for an early start tomorrow. It had been an… interesting day. Three places of the dead. Three very different experiences. And tomorrow we were heading to Arbor Low. But first we would greet the dawn…

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Stones lie sleeping

Where once they stood in majesty

Stones lie sleeping

Knowledge lost beyond safekeeping

Yet power here still ranges free

It beats within the heart of me

Stones lie sleeping

Where land meets sky

And all is not quite as it seems

Where land meets sky

Stones tell a tale of years gone by

Secrets revealed by sunlit gleams

Sleepers awake! Tell us your dreams

Where land meets sky