Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 7 – Fear Itself

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 seven of my account, parts one, two, three, four, five and six can be found here… As we approached the Andle Stone its size, half hidden by the slope and vegetation, became more apparent, as did the fact that this was obviously a significant part of a larger landscape. Once again, there seemed to be a tradition of climbing attached to the stone, as someone had incised footholds as well as graffiti, and cup marks higher up indicated it had been in use for a very long time. However, it was a good four metres or so to the top so we decided to leave it, pushing through the shrubbery to the front of the stone, where an inscription lay hidden.

The Andle Stone is inscribed to the memory of Lieutenant Colonel William Thornhill of the 7th Hussars, a veteran of Waterloo, and to the Duke of Wellington, who commanded the decisive battle against Napoleon and who, strangely, died on September 14, 1852, exactly one hundred and sixty-seven years to the date of our visit. We paused for a moment to contemplate the idea of war, how a young man may have felt on the eve of conflict, and how fear was put aside in the service of one’s nation and cause. It seemed an odd place for a memorial, hidden from view as it was, and I wondered at the decision to place the inscription there (and yes, I know the trees would not have always been there).

We left the stone and sat nearby, enjoying the sunshine and talking. After our failed attempts to climb stones, we were surprised to see a young man approach and, in what seemed like a matter of seconds, make his way to the top of the Andle Stone. While we admired his prowess, we were amused when, a minute or so later, we heard him say ‘How do I get down?’…

But we had other places to go, so we left the stone and crossed the field, following the path of a drystone wall into a small wood, the shaman still clearing my path. I knew we were going somewhere special, but I wasn’t prepared for the jolt of fear I experienced when I glimpsed the small stone circle through the trees. I may have sworn. I know it was a gut thing and, despite the assurances of my companions, I found myself unable to walk past the entry stone into the glade.

It was a very strange sensation, as though there was a physical barrier holding me back. I took a moment to try and centre myself, taking in some deep breaths. Meanwhile, the others had entered the glade, the circle opening. And a message came to me, clear as day:

It is only your fear that is holding you back

This was incredibly profound, and still is, on many levels. As soon as I heard the words and accepted them, I was able to move forward and stepped into the grove. I can’t explain it – all I can do is relay it as it happened.

Doll Tor is a Bronze age stone circle consisting of six stones, with further stones outside the perimeter (including the one that ‘stopped’ me from entering). The circle stones were once connected by drystone walling, and there is a burial cairn very close to the circle (and within the outer stones), where the skeleton of a woman and several burial urns containing the ashes of children were found. It was obviously a place of significance, even though it was hidden away among the trees. It may not have always been so hidden, of course – the vegetation we see now does not always reflect how things would have been when the landscape was first laid out.

However, the trees seem to add to the magic of the place, the forest cradling, rather than overwhelming, the circle. That could have something to do with the power the place still holds, something we decided to try working with while we were there. Preparations were made, we took our places, and…

She saw…

…The ocean…

A woman in a green dress…

A stag coming to the edge of the clearing where he waited, cropping the green grass…

A darkness, womb-shaped…

And in it, gleaming, a single red point of light like a winking ruby or pomegranate seed…

It felt like possibility…

A buzzing… a cawing…

She saw all the companions, strings of light connecting them…

She saw the shaman, enveloped in a globe of light that went above and below her…

A weaving of light around the stones, all of it connected…

The green of midsummer leaves…

And then peace…

And a circular shape, like a seal upon the earth…

Once again, I can’t explain it. I can only tell it as it happened. Whatever I saw was powerful, my body bending back beneath the force of it. And, as the others concurred, it felt like a healing. In light of what had happened to me earlier in the cairn field, I could only take it as a gift, and be grateful that I had come to this place, and for the lesson it had taught me.

We talked for a little while, then paid our respects. There was some joking about the number of blog posts the trip would entail – though these weekends are only 48 hours or so, time seems to stretch and twist, each moment heavy with significance. To cover them in detail requires quite a few words. I took some more photos, then we left, leaving the grove behind. However, the magic of it remains with me now, and it’s one of my favourite places I’ve ever visited on a Silent Eye weekend.

When we got back to the car, we realised we had a bit of time before dinner, so Sue and Stu suggested we visit a place of interest nearby, not to work, but simply to have a look around. We had closed the circle for the day, so it sounded like a fun idea. Little did we know the weirdness that awaited us there…

(I know – the day had already been pretty intense. But trust me – Rowtor Rocks was weird)


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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.