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…


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Wednesday Wander – Natural History Museum, London

It’s Wednesday and time to wander again. This week, I’m not travelling too far from home. I’m lucky enough to live very close to London and all that it holds, including some wonderful (and very famous) museums. This week, I’m wandering to the Natural History Museum, arguably one of the best known.

Situated in the heart of leafy Kensington, the Natural History Museum was opened in 1881, and is home to 80 million specimens from around the world, including those collected by Charles Darwin on his historic voyage. The origin of the museum can be traced back to the collection of Sir Hans Sloane, an Irish doctor who sold his collection of specimens to the British government in 1756.

This collection was first held in Montagu House, Bloomsbury, but was so poorly managed by subsequent staff members, including destroying specimens and losing labels, that much of it was lost. In 1856 a palaeontologist named Richard Owen was appointed superintendent of the museum – it was he who finally managed to bring order to the collection, and saw that a new, larger museum space was required.

While attractions such as the dinosaur skeletons and the earthquake room, where you can relive the Kobe earthquake as it happened, are a major pull for visitors, I happen to think the building itself is part of the museum’s allure. Designed by Alfred Waterhouse and inspired by his frequent visits to Europe, the terracotta tiled interior and exterior of the museum are crammed with carving and decoration, beautifully and intricately done.

Interestingly, the relief sculptures of flora and fauna are split into living and extinct species, with living species in the west wing, and extinct species in the east wing. This was at the request of Owen, and is seen as part of his rebuttal of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, which stated (in part) that living and extinct species are linked.

We have a family membership to the museum, so we visit quite often – even though admission is free, you have to pay to see the temporary exhibitions, and the pass lets us get in to those for free, as well as jump the queue for popular attractions like the dinosaur skeletons. It’s also a great way to support our wonderful museums, of course! The earthquake room is a particular favourite of the gorgeous girl, as is anything interactive where she can push buttons, listen to whale calls or create waves, among other things.

Dippy the Diplodocus was a feature in the main hall until recently, when he was replaced by a blue whale skeleton diving from the ornamental ceiling – quite an awesome sight! Dippy is now on tour around the country, and is apparently having a marvellous time…

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Maiden Mother Crone, Part 7 – The Dance

It was Sunday morning, and it was raining again. But I breakfasted with friends, warmth and laughter a pleasant way to begin the day. Outside, a raven wandered along the wooden fence – one of our group remarked on him, as he was quite unusually large. ‘He was there yesterday, as well,’ I said. Sue had mentioned to me the day before, as we stood in Midmar circle, that it was the time of the Raven, so it seemed appropriate to see him waiting there.

After breakfast we met the rest of the group at the usual place, before splitting into smaller groups to head to the first of three planned sites for the day. Aftera short drive we pulled up on a road running alongside a petrol station, brambles and bushes tangled along the verge, and what looked like a bit of a wasteland on the other side. Yet, that was our destination

This unprepossessing piece of ground was actually once a place of some significance. As we took the narrow path through tall weeds the land seemed to rise around us, cradling us in a bowl. The long grass hid shapes that revealed themselves as we came closer, a circular henge surrounding three standing stones our destination.

Another carved Pictish stone, the Broomend of Crichie, awaited us and, as we entered the henge, once again soft drizzle began to fall. The modern world seemed to fall away and, as the ancient site was described by our guide, it seemed to come to life around us. The long avenue once featured 12 pairs of stones – though only one stone remained, it was in situ, unlike the three stones in the circle. There have been excavations done on the site, but more work is yet to be done to fully understand this place.

But we had to keep moving. It was the final day of the weekend, the companions all had places to get to before the end of the day, and there were still two more sites to visit. So we headed into the countryside once more, our next destination the Loanhead of Daviot, another recumbent stone circle.

As we walked the pathway to the stone circle my gaze was drawn to the left, to a rise in the woods where I could see a couple of large stones, and I stopped to take a photograph. A tree up ahead seemed to hold the shape of a dragon, and the land itself felt full of wonder.

The trees opened out and we found ourselves on the side of a slope, almost at the summit but not quite, as we had seen with the other recumbent circles we’d visited. This circle was complete, and quite large – over twenty metres in diameter, the huge recumbent stone flanked by two taller stones.

The remains of a circular burial cairn lay next to the circle. Excavation in 1934 found burials with Iron Age & Beaker pottery, while subsequent work uncovered flint scrapers and a Bronze Age sword mould, showing the site was in use for many centuries.

‘Well, this doesn’t feel right. The bits in the middle.’

‘They seem more modern, maybe they were done later’

I was having this conversation with one of the companions, both of us bemused by the large jumble of stones spread across the centre of what was otherwise a perfectly lovely stone circle. There was none of the turmoil of Cullerlie here, but the stones were rough and difficult to walk on, not exactly conducive to ritual. It didn’t feel uncomfortable, it just felt… out of place. As we spoke, we heard our guide explain that the Victorians had moved the stones from the nearby cairn to spread across the centre of the circle, because they thought that was how it should be.

Why they haven’t been moved back I don’t know. I guess it will remain a mystery.

We stayed at the circle for a while, the usual rain appearing to soak us. By now it was expected, and we simply put up our hoods and got on with it. Our guide pointed across the small valley to the slope opposite, asking us what we could see. And there it was, another recumbent with two flanking stones, all that remained of another circle, the rest of it lost to time. Clearly, to the people who worked this landscape, the circles were deeply significant and important enough to make in multiples – it’s a shame that we don’t really know why.

One of the group had stopped on their way in to talk to an older man working on the site, and he had told him a story of a ghost, a woman in a green dress, said to dance in the circle at night. The area was used by Scouts and the story was told to scare them – we found it intriguing, in light of what we’d learned about the circles and their uses.

The stones cannot stop the dance…

I heard this very clearly, afterwards, the words strong in my mind, beautiful with their sense of freedom, their message reaching beyond the circle, a smile in the voice saying them. Whether it was the influence of the charming storyteller, or something else, I’m not sure. But it felt as though someone linked their arm with mine, wanting me to come with them.

Come with me, I would show you something. In the woods…

I went to the trees, a wire fence stopping me from entering the woods proper. But I think I could see what they were trying to show me. A small ridge, stones piled there, the same spot that had caught my attention as we’d entered the site. I took another photograph, because it felt like the right thing to do.

It was time to go, so we bade the place farewell. One more site to visit before the weekend was out…

This is my account of a recent weekend away with The Silent Eye. Click here to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Maiden Mother Crone, Part 5 – The Maiden

Stone and rain. Rain and stone. It seemed to be a theme of the weekend. No matter the weather, when we reached any stone of significance the rain would fall. From soft misty drizzle to gale force rain storms, we experienced just about all the types of rain Scotland seemed to offer, often in the space of just a couple of hours.

And so it was at our next two sites, both of which featured carved Pictish stones. I’d never seen such stones in real life before, so it was a thrill to see the first one, even though it had been reconstructed and sat in the middle of a modern housing estate. There had been a circle there, once, still marked with a ring in the grass, but it had been pulled down long ago, in days when such monuments were no longer revered, their carefully chosen stones broken for use in stone fences and buildings. Some still remained on site, said to come from the original circle, and, despite the cracks crossing the face of the carved stone, the images were still clear, a serpent and spear, thought perhaps to represent the nearby river, and a semi-circle and broken spear, the shape of which came to have more significance for me, later in the day. The rain was still falling as we got into the cars, a soft cool drizzle, dampening the stones but not our spirits, as we headed out into the landscape once more.

A short while later we pulled up alongside the road and saw the towering Maiden Stone. Sue has covered the legend of the Maiden Stone in her excellent post, but the short version is this: the stone is said once have been a young woman who, when tricked by the devil, ran from him. He caught her by the shoulder, creating the distinctive notch shape, and she was turned to stone forevermore.

I saw no woman in the stone, only the enigmatic carvings left on one side by the mysterious Picts, centaur and dolphin creatures, spear and shield, comb and mirror. One of the companions shared an experience he’d had at Easter Aquhorthies, which shed some light on the significance of the comb and mirror. It involved the moon and the role of priestess, a theme we encountered again and again over the weekend. It is not my story to share, but all of us felt it to be valid. In fact, that was one of the lovely things about the group, and something I’d also encountered on my last weekend away with them – that such experiences, thoughts and ideas could be shared freely and taken seriously, with no fear. I can appreciate that, to some, the things I ‘see’ when I’m on these weekends (and at other times too), can seem a bit out there, a bit like the imaginings of an overwrought author. And there are times when I think that as well. So, when you can share these ideas with others and have them corroborated, there is a validation there, a growth in trusting yourself and your intuition, that is a real joy.

Christian imagery had been carved on the other side of the stone, though the carvings were far more weathered than the earlier Pictish work. An intricate cross and wheel, as well as a figure supposed to be Jesus holding two ‘sea-monsters’. Carving continued along the edges of the stone, criss-cross diamond shapes it was said could represent energy patterns, and more intricate knotwork.

The setting itself was beautiful – next to a curving road, the land rising to one side of the stone, a tall row of pines the other side. I imagine when it was new the stone would have stood out in the landscape, its size and the bright colours that once decorated it making it visible for miles around. The symbols themselves are a mystery – the Picts left no explanation as to why they carved the images they did, but they appear over and over again. Theories range from clan markings to maps to storytelling, but it is all conjecture.

We stood around the stone, each of us taking photographs, sharing our thoughts about what we could see and feel. There was a wonderful sense of age to the site, of something that had been standing since long before we were born, and would continue to do so for centuries to come. But we couldn’t stay for too much longer – it was heading into the afternoon and we still had another site to visit, a site that had tested us the last time we were there. What would it hold for us this time?

This is my account of my recent weekend away with The Silent Eye in Scotland. Click to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Plas Newydd, Llangollen

This week I’m wandering to a rather wonderful place tucked away on the hillside above Llangollen. This is Plas Newydd, once home to the famous ‘Ladies of Llangollen.’

The two ladies in question were Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Charlotte Butler, who came from Ireland in 1778 to live in Llangollen, North Wales. Their story is a fascinating one. Both born to noble families, they met at school in 1768 when Sarah was 13 and Eleanor 29. Sarah was an orphan and ward of Sir William and Lady Fownes, while Eleanor came from the Ormonde family and lived at Kilkenny Castle. Lady Fownes was friends with Eleanor’s mother, and Eleanor was asked to keep an eye on Sarah while she was at school. The two became close friends, corresponding for several years until, both unhappy in their home lives, they decided to run away together. Eleanor was under pressure to enter a convent, while Sarah was enduring the unwelcome attentions of Sir William, who had decided she would make a perfect second wife (even though his first wife was still alive!).

The two women first attempted to escape in March 1778. Dressed in men’s clothing and armed with a pistol, they made it as far as Waterford before being apprehended and brought back to their families. Despite further pressure, Eleanor managed to escape again, running to Sarah. Faced with such devotion, their families finally relented and they were allowed to leave Ireland in May 1778 to start a new life together.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons – Manfred Heyde (own work)

They moved into Pen Y Maes cottage, as it was known then, in 1780, renaming it Plas Newydd (welsh for New Hall). They extended and renovated the cottage, including the addition of stained glass windows and extraordinary wood carvings on the interior and exterior of the building, many of which were salvaged from old churches and furniture. You aren’t allowed to take photographs of the interior, but I did manage to find this image of one of the staircases, just to give you an idea of what it looks like inside. The details around the exterior doors are also extraordinary, and it must have been a magical place to live. The Ladies lived there for almost fifty years, in what they called ‘a life of sweet and delicious retirement’, until Eleanor passed away in 1829, Sarah dying just two years later.

During their lifetime the ladies were figures of curiosity, well-regarded and attracting many famous visitors, including Lord Byron, the Duke of Wellington, William Wordsworth (who composed a poem while staying with them) and Madame de Genlis. Their relationship was seen to embody romantic friendship, a high ideal much sought after at the time. The true nature of their relationship is still unclear – they shared a bedroom, sleeping together in the same bed, and referred to each other as ‘Beloved’. They also dressed in men’s clothing and powdered their hair, as can be seen in the few portraits that survive.

Whether The Ladies’ relationship was simply one of platonic love, or something more, doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that they were both strong enough to live their lives outside the conventions of the time – yes, they both came from privilege, but this was still a time when women were reduced to ‘wife of’ once they were married, no longer allowed to hold either property or their names. I love the story of the Ladies because it’s a story of love, of friendship, and the desire to live life as they pleased. The house in its in green gardens, ruined castle on the hill beyond, stands as a beautiful memorial to life, to the Ladies, and to love.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Thursday Doors – United Reformed Church, Nuneaton

img_5077My Thursday Door this week comes from a small Midlands town called Nuneaton. It’s a town I’ve been to many times – it has an excellent market and, when I was a child, Saturdays usually included a visit there. When I was three, I was even briefly lost at the market – I remember standing between two stalls and a tall young policeman bending down to talk to me. He asked my name and address, then took my hand. He bought me an icecream before my mother, who had been looking for me, found us, and apparently the following week at the market I kept running off in an effort to get lost again, hoping for another ice cream.

img_5074This past week I took my own daughter there. She’s older than three and capable of asking for her own ice cream, so I didn’t worry too much that she’d run off. We did some shopping and had lunch, and it was a very pleasant day. On the way through I spotted this rather lovely old building. I especially liked the doors – wooden doors like these are my favourite types, especially with the big ornate hinges.

img_5075This is the United Reformed Church. There has been a church here since 1714, but the present building was built in 1903. Designed by Birmingham architects Ingall & Son, it cost around £8000, or £8,000,000 in today’s money! The building has some lovely architectural features, including carving around the doors and windows, as well as leaded stained glass. I didn’t get to see inside, sadly, but apparently all the period features are still there, which is nice to know.

img_5083This was my response to this week’s Thursday Doors Challenge, courtesy of Norm 2.0. For more doors, or to add one of your own, visit Norm’s site and click the link.

img_5082


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

Thursday Doors – Aldwych, London

img_2429It’s Thursday, and time for Norm 2.0’s weekly Thursday Doors Challenge. This week I have a photo of a door I took last summer but forgot about – I found it while scrolling through my photo library looking for something else.

img_2430There were a few reasons I took a photo of this door. One is its size – you can’t really tell from the photo but it’s huge, well over two metres tall. I also liked the lion head door pulls. But I really liked the inscription over the door, and the way the word ‘North’ seems to have been added as an afterthought. It made me wonder about why that could have happened – was it because they built another, more easterly wing and had to rename this door? Or did they check the direction after the door was put in and realise it was wrong? Or does the interior of the building move independently of the door, so while it originally led into the East Wing, subsequent movements have now made it the entrance to the North East Wing. Hmmm.

There might even be a story in that…

This has been my response to Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors Challenge. For more doors, or to add one of your own, visit Norm’s site and click the link.


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.