A Dorset Weekend With The Silent Eye – Part Three

This is part three of my account of a recent weekend in Dorset with The Silent Eye. Click here for Part 1 & Part 2.

After lunch, we were to visit seven churches in the course of the afternoon, starting with Cerne Abbas. This, despite the fact we only had a few hours to accomplish it, seemed completely reasonable. Time was already starting to play tricks on me, stretching and slowing, and the afternoon was to prove even more challenging in that regard…

We started in the lovely parish church at the centre of Cerne Abbas, adorned with carving both outside and in. it was a pleasant church, one that hummed with activity and felt much more alive than the strangely vacant church at Cadbury the evening before.

There was a man painting icons at a table and several of our group spent time in conversation with him. I wandered the aisles, photographing the remnants of medieval wall paintings, the carved screen and ornate pulpit, and a shape painted on the wall near the altar. Known as a Consecration Cross, the shape probably predates Christianity, and was to figure prominently as the day progressed.

Once everyone had had a look around, we met in the small garden to one side of the church, sitting within an enclosure created by espaliered fruit trees. There was a brief discussion about the places we were going to visit, and then we were each invited to choose a coin and a piece of paper. My coin was Aries, and on the piece of paper I chose was the Sun….

…It was time to start the dance…

I hopped in the car with Sue and Stuart, who, very kindly, had ferried me around all weekend, and we hit the road. And this is where things got a bit strange. Sue has written up all the churches we visited in great detail here (Churches one, two, three, four, five and six) if you’re interested. I do remember visiting them all – the problem, however, was keeping them straight in my head. The landscape seemed to flow around me, the curving roads between high hedges feeling like a labyrinth as we arrived at first one lych gate, then another, driving past ancient cottages and old stone walls, tantalising glimpses of hills  appearing before the road twisted again, exposing another view. There were roses and tiny lilies, green grass and tilting tombstones, each telling a story of their own. Even now, it’s tough for me to comprehend how it was we managed to visit all seven churches before dinner time, and my impressions of each are images of light and colour and stained glass and stone…

… a flash of orange light through a high window, gilding each one of us in turn… a strange figure, older than the building it adorned, echoes of a distant past… a church set in a meadow next to an ancient country house, deconsecrated yet still, in its own way, holding power… another church set on the side of a hill, which had a cool clear feeling, like the far more ancient stone altars we’d seen in Scotland the year before… strangely phallic carvings flanked by curving shapes seen on an ancient tithe box… the jewel-like gleam of stained glass… swallows darting inside a stone vestibule… carved wood and stone… a hillside rising, rich with flowers and green grass… a dance of planets, fire and water, sun and moon… the feeling that we were in a place far older, with roots that ran far deeper, than the churches that stood there…

That night, at dinner, there wasn’t much conversation, all of us needing time, it seemed, to process the day. We did discuss the churches, and it was then that confusion set in, for me at least.

‘But wasn’t that the third church we went to?’

‘The fifth.’

‘Really?’ Mind spinning, trying to remember.

‘Earth energy does that to people.’

‘It does?’

I looked around at the table. Two of our companions had left already, pleading exhaustion. The others, while still smiling, were quiet, and we were all waiting for dinner to arrive. The churches spun in my head, as though on a wheel. Or a cross, perhaps – the consecration cross, which we’d ended up seeing in several of the churches we visited, as well as a six-pointed star carving, each with a centre point. And we’d visited seven churches…

I gave up trying to figure it out and ate my meal, marvelling quietly once more at how time seems to become elastic on these weekends, every moment filled with meaning, something to be savoured and considered later.

Now, when I look back at that afternoon, my impression is one of breathlessness. Not because I felt rushed, or was running a lot – rather, I was breathless from being caught in a force larger than I was. There were some lovely moments of clarity, many to do with water, as though taking a moment to look in a font or stream helped me to refocus. And I took hardly any photos, which is strange – certainly almost none of the church buildings themselves. Rather, I focused on details and oddities, as though I was only able to take everything in as fragments. It was wonderful, in the best sense of the word.

But the place we were to visit the next day would dwarf any other we had already seen, in just about every way possible…


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#Writephoto – All That Remains

 

 

 

 

He came to me after dark, as night lay like soft velvet in the hollows of the hills. The fire burned low, his feathered cape laid over the chair shimmering iridescent blue as the birds stirred and gave their first sleepy chirps, my breath coming fast as he touched me and held me close. He told me his name, and I spoke it as I emerged from the dream.

‘Armand.’

The day dawned bright, my room pale, my bed cold and lonely as it always was. Yet the dream stayed with me throughout the long day, making me blush as I worked behind the counter making coffee, smiling at the customers who ebbed and flowed like the nearby sea, only staying long enough to smile and talk, but not long enough to truly connect.

I felt like the island out in the small bay. Close to, but not part of the small town that bustled along the curving shore. It takes time, I told myself, to make friends. Moving to a new place is a big step for anyone. Just give it time.

But at night feathers enclosed me in a soft embrace, my dreams taking me beyond the lonely confines of my world. Sleep became a refuge from the cold days, the aching feet, my broken heart.

One night, sleep eluded me. I sat at the window, my breath misting the small panes as I watched night leave the hills, black sky fading to blue. Glimmers of light appeared below as the town began to wake, gold in the sky over the nearby sea, flashing from the steeple on the hill opposite, soft gold to white, then fading away. My eyelids became heavy, my head drooping over my hands. A voice whispered to me. ‘Come and find me, beloved. I am waiting for you.’

I didn’t go to work that morning. No coffee scented fingers, hair gone limp from steaming milk, mouth tight from smiling so much. Instead I went across the valley, taking a gravel path past mossy walls to where the ancient church slumbered in a cradle of yew trees. And I found him.

Armand De Courcy, the plaque read, much rubbed by time. And on the marble, next to the bones that marked his resting place, was a single feather. Blue, like the twilit hills, like his eyes, like my heart.

This is my response to Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt, my favourite photo prompt in blogland. For more posts, or to share one of your own, head over to Sue’s blog for more information 🙂


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.

Maiden Mother Crone, Part 8 – Farewell

So this was it. The final stop on my weekend with the Silent Eye, not far from where it had begun for me, two days earlier. We were very close to Aberdeen airport, but, other than the occasional plane or helicopter overhead, you wouldn’t have known it.

We were standing on high ground overlooking a river that turned, serpent-like, through a green landscape. A huge boulder sat on the edge of the drop and across the river from us were several homes, nestled among trees. Behind us was a ruined church, roof and windows long gone. Yet it still held secrets.

We went into the tidy churchyard, rows of stone monuments to war dead from both sides reminders of a not-too-distant past. The church itself, dedicated to St Fergus, was built of grey stone, weathered by time like the grave markers surrounding it. Interesting that it was the second church of the weekend – sacred places in the landscape were often overtaken by others as beliefs changed, often as part of the process and against the wishes of the community.

Yet symbols and relics remain, and inside the church were several such reminders of a far more distant past – the Dyce symbol stones. Carved Pictish stones, once again marked with the mysterious symbols we had seen on the Maiden stone and others, stood against the wall just inside the door, a small wooden overhang protecting them from the worst of the elements.

There was a double disc and z-rod, and another of the mysterious beasts that look like a cross between a bull and a dolphin, their message obscured by the passage of years. There were Christian symbols too, reminders of a time when Christianity and mystery dwelt side-by-side. On another carved stone set into the wall itself, white quartz pebbles had been left in offering, a nod to a much older belief system.

After spending some time in the chapel we went back out to where the land rose high above the river Don, one of two rivers from which Aberdeen takes its name. We stood in a circle around the large boulder, water below us, the sky wide above, and shared readings and reflection, a last opportunity to consider all that we had seen and experienced over the weekend.

All too soon, it was farewell. We split up into separate cars, with plans to meet down the road for tea and a last chat. However, roadworks scuppered that plan, sending us in different directions until we realised we had no choice but to simply keep going. I ended up at the airport earlier than expected, finding it strange to be all at once alone. However, I’d booked into the lounge so spent a comfortable afternoon watching planes and helicopters take off and land, still half in a dreamworld of mist and rain and dark Scottish pines, grey stones humming with power and warmth. It seemed a million miles from the modern world of steel and internet, and perhaps, in some way, it was.

Later, as I flew above cloudscapes coloured by the setting sun, I reflected on the weekend I’d just spent, the joy of spending time with companions known and the pleasure of meeting companions new. It seemed to me that it would take some time for me to process all I’d experienced and so it has been, this final post coming some six weeks after the fact. Even now, I can feel the resonance of that weekend, of lessons I think I’m still learning on a lot of levels. Scotland was a challenging land, a land that did not compromise, that refused to conform. Yet it was also a place of great beauty and welcome, and somewhere I instantly fell for, no matter the weather it threw at me.

I can’t wait to go back.

This is the final instalment of my account of a recent weekend away in Scotland with The Silent Eye. Click here to read part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six and part seven.


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 3 – Balance

The next morning I woke early and went to breakfast – to find several of the group already there, including our guide. We hadn’t realised we were staying at the same place, so it was a nice surprise to catch up before the day began. The meeting place for the rest of the group was a short walk away, and I set out after breakfast, wandering past old stone houses and tall pines, glimpses of sunshine giving me hope the day wouldn’t be quite as wet as the previous evening. Nonetheless, I had worn my wet weather gear again. We had several sites to visit that day, and I wasn’t sure when we’d get back to the hotel.

When I think about the second day, the first stone circle we visited remains elusive, for some reason. I cannot quite grasp where we were or what we saw. Perhaps that’s because of what came after, at the place of the dead. Even though the locations of the rest of the weekend are clear, I had to look through my photos to remind myself where we were.

And now I remember. The church at Midmar.

When we arrived, pulling into the small car park, it was wet underfoot but not yet raining, green leaves reflected in puddles along the track that ran nearby. The church itself was charming, blue doors and window frames a bright contrast to the surrounding green and grey. And beyond, just peeping around the building, we could see what looked like part of a stone circle.

The church was built in the 19th century, perhaps deliberately in such a position so as to block the view from the stone circle to a nearby standing stone. The circle itself has been ‘tidied up’, as the sign put it, which meant removing one or two stones completely so hearses or wedding cars could be parked there, as well as replacing several other stones in positions not original to the site.

Despite these adjustments, the stones that remained still spoke, still held power and beauty. The great recumbent lay in place, flanked by its companion stones, their sharp smooth edges, so we were told by our guide, directing the eye to significant solar and lunar events, the circle aligned precisely with the movements of the sky. The church did not diminish their power –rather, there was a sense of unity there, of both temples cohabiting the same site, peaceful on their hillside.

Once again we were invited to find a stone that ‘spoke’ to us, a place where we felt comfortable within the circle. One stone caught both me and another of the companions, inviting us to look closer, to photograph its moss strewn surface, unable, unwilling to leave its side, even when urged to join the rest of the group. It wasn’t until I took a small stone, blessed, from my pocket and bent down, burying it in the earth at the base of the stone, that it released us. As I stood up my companion, who hadn’t been able to see what I was doing, said, ‘Shall we go?’

It was raining, of course, the weather that seemed to follow us from site to site returning, though with none of the wildness of the previous evening. We wandered through the graveyard afterwards, all of us stopping to admire the gravestone of a local artist, decorated with a beautiful tree-of-life sculpture (for more information about this grave, head over to Sue’s account of the day, and the comments by Running Elk).

Before we left, I went to the old tumbled stone wall and, through a space in the trees, took in the beautiful view. Like Easter Aquhorthies, this circle was built almost at the top of a rise – almost, but not quite – for a lovely sense of harmony with the land.

There was a peace to this place, a feel of tree and stone and endless time, even with the more modern church nearby. It felt in balance, as though all things were well. This was in contrast to our next destination…

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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 – Belarusian Memorial Chapel

You might think this little wooden church is somewhere in Russia, or Eastern Europe, but in fact it is in London, England. It’s the first wooden church built in the city since the Great Fire of 1666, and also the first memorial in Western Europe dedicated to the Chernobyl Disaster. This is the Church of St Cyril of Turau and All The Patron Saints of the Belarusian People, also known as the Belarusian Memorial Chapel.

My husband is of Belarusian heritage via his mother, and has visited Belarus (where he still has family). He’s always been interested in this side of his heritage and, when we moved here, he was pleased to find a Belarusian society in London. We attended Christmas festivities there one year, which included a traditional puppet show, obviously an anticipated and much-loved part of their Christmas season. And, when the new church was built, we attended the consecration, which took place on December 17, 2016.

We are neither of us particularly religious – spiritual is probably a better term, as we ascribe to no particular faith. Still, we respect the faith of others, and felt it an honour to be there on consecration day. Many important figures from the Belarusian church travelled to attend the event, which was conducted mainly in their native tongue.

The church is built entirely of wood and glass – even the pegs holding it together are timber. It was featured in the 2017 London Festival of Architecture, and received the RIBA London Regional Award of the London Institute of British Architects. The design is based upon traditional rural wooden churches in Belarus, and has a beauty and simplicity which is timeless. As we listened to the voices chanting, smelt the incense, the red and gold and white robes against the pale wood, it felt like a window into history, into an older time.

Later we stood outside in the clear cold air as the clergy walked in procession, blessing the building. Once the service concluded we departed, heading for lunch in a comfortable pub, blankets wrapped around our cold feet as we drank beer and ate pizza. It felt strange, stepping back into the ‘real’ world. A trip in more ways than one.

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


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.

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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.

A Productive Day and A #ThursdayDoor

I had a very productive writing day today. The kidlet went back to school and (even though I missed her) I managed to clear a bit of clutter out of my office, plus take a walk in the freezing cold sunshine. And it seemed to pay off. A nagging structural issue in Under Stone (Ambeth book four) that had been plaguing me for the past two months was finally resolved. Plus I managed to catch up on a few other bits and pieces, which was nice.

I wanted to write a blog post as well and, as it’s Thursday, thought I might post a Thursday Door. It’s been a little while since I’ve done so, though I did have a few door photos hanging around – I think the blogging challenge I did last month threw me a little bit off course.

Anyway, I digress. Here is my door:

img_2509It’s a rather nice church door, isn’t it? And here is the church:

img_2527As you can see, it’s missing a few components like a roof, an aisle and any sort of interior. This is St Dunstan of The East, a Norman church in the heart of old London. Built around 1100, the church was damaged in the Great Fire of 1666, after which a tower and steeple designed by Christopher Wren was added. However, when the Church was badly damaged during the WWII Blitz, it was decided not to rebuild and, in 1970, it was opened as a public park.

img_2526It’s a tiny park, as parks go – about the size of the ground floor of an office block. But it is a magical space, twined with ivy, glassless windows looking out onto modern London, an oasis of calm seemingly out of time.

img_2503This was my response to the Thursday Doors Challenge, courtesy of Norm 2.0. For more doors, or to add one of your own, head over to Norm’s site and click the link.


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