A Dorset Weekend With The Silent Eye – Part Four

As the seasons tumble from summer into autumn, the fields turning to gold, I realise that it’s already October and I still haven’t finished writing up my account of The Silent Eye weekend I attended in June. I suppose I’ve been on a blog break (I’ve been doing a lot but have little to report as yet; however, stay posted), so I guess that’s one excuse.

But I also think that Maiden Castle, which was the next stop on our weekend, is somewhere that I’m still processing, the echoes of our visit there ringing through my mind. It was massive, in so many ways. Sue had warned me, the previous afternoon, as we were making our mad time-twisting dash between churches. ‘I want to see your expression,’ she said, ‘when you first see it.’

I hope it was suitably awed – I know I felt it. I can still remember the gut punch of that moment – the first glimpse of giant ramparts crowning an ancient hill, the whole almost too big to take in at once. The nearby burial mounds, rising dark against the flat green of the summerlands, and the rumpled earthworks that marked the maze leading you into the castle itself. It was quite something, and that was before we’d even left the carpark…

‘Do you feel as though you’re about to be tested?’ My companion nodded. She did, she said. I said that I did, too, looking up at the high green walls of the castle. It was an excited, rather than anxious, feeling, but definitely there, a weight of expectation, that somehow I was about to be challenged and would emerge changed by the experience…

It was a very strange feeling, but one that was inescapable. Perhaps a fitting culmination to a weekend where I had felt power building, the land moving towards the solstice. We took the pathway leading up to the entrance, tall grasses and wildflowers waving either side of us. Once these hills had been chalk-white, the grass now covering them removed. Even now, clothed in green and weathered by millennia, the scale was still impressive. Archaeological surveys have discovered that the hilltop was first enclosed during Neolithic times, about 6,000 years ago, and by the Iron Age (around 800BC) it was the pre-eminent settlement in the area, with the labyrinthine entrances and towering banks and ditches in place. The fort remained occupied until the arrival of the Romans in 43AD, a time when most local hill-forts were no longer used, further reinforcing the significance of the site. Even now, it is one of the largest and most complex hill forts in Europe. However, once the Romans settled the nearby time of Durnovaria (now Dorchester), the fort finally fell out of use, other than as a site for a Roman temple (more on that later in this post).

Apparently, there had been activities planned by our guides (sorry, Sue!) but my companion and I, both driven by the same inescapable urge, headed into the labyrinth, leaving the group behind. We each took a different path, meeting at the entrance to the fort where, once again, we felt we had to take opposite paths. My companion headed one way along the ramparts while I took the other…

… and all at once I was wearing leather and furs, shield and sword and bow strapped to me, strong and confident as I patrolled the edge. I knew my focus needed to be outwards, that inside the walls was fire and warmth and welcome, and that it was my job to make sure it was protected…

I stumbled, my hair flying in my face, as I reached a part when the ramparts dipped down. I remember feeling annoyed, as though this section was difficult to defend, a weak spot. However, I picked up the pace again, continuing around to the other entrance to the fort. There is nothing left now of the roundhouses that used to dot the interior, but there are remnants of more recent inhabitants. And that was where I knew I needed to go.

The Roman temple at Maiden Castle sits on what is thought to have been an earlier, pre-Christian temple on the site, as there is evidence it sits within the remains of a roundhouse. It actually consisted of several buildings, although only fragments of wall remain. Roman artefacts, including a hoard of coins, have been found in the temple and at other sites on the hilltop, suggesting that the Romans, while they may not have occupied the site, certainly made use of it.

When I reached the remains of the temple my companion wasn’t there, and I felt a vague sense of disappointment. However, I decided to stay and investigate the ruins, something compelling me to walk anti-clockwise around the outer circle, then the inner one, before standing at the centre, where a small depression was in the earth. I had an overwhelming urge to kneel, and did so…

… all became still, the wind that rushed around me ceasing, warmth descending. I felt a hand upon my shoulder and bowed my head, my weapons to one side, my hood pulled back from my hair. It felt like reassurance, that I was in the right place, doing the right thing, and that I was protected…

Then modern-day me took over and I felt a bit silly, kneeling there with head bowed. I silently gave thanks and got to my feet…

… laughter. ‘You are always in such a hurry. You’re leaving too early, but that’s all right. Off you go…’

I paused, unsure for a moment. Then I shook off the feeling and started back towards the ramparts, hoping to meet up with some of the others. However, before I reached them something made me turn… to see the companion I’d hoped to meet walking into the temple.

‘Oh!’ Overjoyed, I made my way back to meet her. ‘I knew I was supposed to meet you here!’ I said, as I drew closer.

‘I’ve been here already,’ she replied. ‘And I left, then something made me come back.’

‘And I left too early,’ I said. ‘I knew I had, and they told me I had, too!’

We laughed about it, and I made a silent vow to trust myself a little more, to listen more.

The rest of the group joined us and we sat for a while, happy to rest. There was some discussion as we considered the history of the place, Sue painting a vivid picture of what things might have been like when it was new…

… I stood, high above the labyrinth, waiting with sword and flame. There was no light other than the moon, which silvered the curves of earth, lined the dark form of the initiate who walked the path blindfolded. The mark on my hip was the same as that borne by the others who waited with me, our hearts in our mouths, for the initiate to pass their final test. I watched him walk between the hills, disappearing then reappearing, each time a breath blown out. The flame in my hand was held low so as not to give him any clue, my sword edge sharp, waiting for his arrival…

And then it was time to go. Rain was threatening, the wind lifting, and everyone had places they needed to be, including me. I finished my circuit, and started through the (already familiar) labyrinth to the pathway that led down to the car park…

… I felt sorrow to be leaving the safety of home and hearth, yet excited to see the world and all that it had to offer beyond the confines of the castle…

It was strange, as though I walked two paths at the same time – one that of a warrior leaving their home and all that was familiar, the other a more prosaic reality, lunch to be eaten and a train to catch. I could still feel the weight of leather and sword, my hair wild from the wind. Even as we sat in a bright café, it wasn’t until food had been consumed that I started to feel anything like myself.

And there was still one more place to go…

This is part four of my account of a weekend in Dorset with The Silent Eye. Please click here for part one, part two and part three.

A Dorset Weekend With The Silent Eye – Part 1

I know. It’s been a while since I’ve been here. And I’m still officially on a blog break. However, a few weeks ago I spent a weekend in Dorset with The Silent Eye, which I really wanted to write about, so here we are.

It usually takes me a little while after such weekends for me to process everything that happened. There are layers upon layers, some of which only become apparent once I’ve had a chance to reflect. There is magic, and impressions – whether they are valid or simply a product of my over-active imagination, I’ll leave to you to decide. There is always joy. And so the weekend began…

I took a train, as I usually do – I don’t drive much and there is something I love about travelling through the landscape where roads don’t tend to go, seeing the way the colours change, subtle tints of leaf and stone and sky. This trip was a long one – first into the bustle of London, then out, past glimpses of the Houses of Parliament and the Thames before heading south through leafy suburbs into open countryside. We crossed the New Forest, past wild ponies grazing in tree-lined clearings, skirted the coastline at Southampton before turning right and ending up in Dorchester, where Sue and Stuart were waiting for me.

It was such a pleasure to see them again. The sun was shining, and it seemed an auspicious start to a weekend that would be spent exploring a sacred landscape close to the midsummer solstice. Once I’d decanted my luggage into the car, we hit the road, heading for our first stop, Cadbury.

South Cadbury is a small and charming village located just over the county border in Somerset. It’s a quiet place with houses built of mellow golden stone, where roses climb and foxes dance along thatched roofs. It is also, according to long-standing tradition, the location of the legendary Camelot, court of King Arthur (I’m not 100% sure about this, as there are several other solid theories, but that’s another blog post). There is a ‘castle’ here of sorts – Cadbury Castle, an impressive Iron Age earthwork crowning the hill that overlooks the village. Evidence suggests it has been inhabited since Neolithic times, and excavations in the 1960s did, in fact, uncover an Arthurian-era feasting hall on the site, reinforcing the legend. We were going to make the trek up the hill to the castle, but our first stop was the small church that sat almost in the shadow of the hill. And so the companions converged…

…the church was quiet, empty feeling. Pretty enough, with roses and tree avenues, views out over the long fields. But there was no power there…

It was a lovely reunion with familiar faces, as well as new, with two lovely Americans making up our group of seven. Once we’d exchanged greetings and spent some time in the church, we took a short walk along the road to the entrance to the castle. It is accessed via a track with a gate – there is no entry fee and the way is deep and hollow, trees curving along its length. I started up the steep path and…

… it was as though she were being pulled up on a string, forging far ahead of the group, feet sure on the rocky path, a hollow way of green. As she neared the end of the path, her attention was drawn to two high points to the left of her, festooned in leaves and branches. Yet there seemed to be someone up there, a host of presences waving their arms. ‘You are welcome here,’ they cried. ‘We are so pleased to see you all! Come join us’. And she knew that on the field ahead there would be tents as far as she could see, white and blue and cloth-of-gold, all come to this place for the dance. But when she reached the field, it was empty, and sorrow overwhelmed her. ‘Do not worry,’ they said, still smiling, still welcoming. ‘We are still here. Come, join the dance…

It was a very strange feeling. I can’t explain it any other way except to say it felt almost as if I could have flown up that hill, the clear joy of being there thrumming through me. Even though I was already far ahead of the group, I had to temper my pace so as not to lose them entirely. It reminded me of another place that had affected me profoundly, somewhere I’d also had impressions of blue and cloth-of-gold – Carl Wark.

I waited at the top of the track for the rest of the group, all of us taken by the trees and air and landscape that undulated for miles around. Notches and earthworks were visible in the landscape around us and, in the distance, like an island rising from a green patchwork sea, was Glastonbury Tor.

…as she looked out to the distant Tor (distant, yet somehow close at the same time), it seemed as though there was a thread between it and where she stood, the low landscape between bursting with light and energy like fireworks, building to midsummer…

We stood for a little while, looking at the view and the impressive earthworks, listening to a short history of the place. It had been overthrown by Romans, who had stationed their legions there, but soon came back under local control. While this did happen occasionally, the scale and success of such an attack would, according to historians, have to have been led by a powerful local leader or king, adding fuel to the Arthurian legend. It was a fascinating site and I was still buzzing, whether from the energy of the place, the simple joy of being there with like-minded people, or a combination of the two, I wasn’t sure. We split up to explore the ramparts, with a plan to meet at the summit point. However, something had other plans for me…

…’Come up and over,’ they said, pulling her across the field. ‘Come dance with us!’ She hesitated, feeling a brief shadow, a time when this place had been rent with sorrow and violence. ‘Do not worry,’ they said. ‘It is but part of this place, and a small part at that. There is nothing but joy here now.’ And so she followed them up and over the green hill, butterflies dancing around her feet as she reached the summit. And there she could see the land stretching away, though this time rumpled and folded, rolling hills and deep valleys, a patchwork of summer green. She twirled, caught up in the joy of the place, of the dance….

I did twirl. Ah well. There was no one to see me except the cows, the undulating nature of the hilltop hiding the others from view. I carried on up and over, the landscape unfurling around me as I took a narrow path through the grass and wildflowers to the summit…

…’ Was King Arthur here, once?’ she asked. Laughter. ‘There have been many kings here’…

Hmmm. I rejoined the group at the very topmost point of the fort, where a stone pillar indicated the direction of so many sacred and important sites: Stonehenge, Glastonbury, Avebury, Maiden Castle… This was a very important landscape, connecting with other sites as far afield as Wales (the hillfort of Dinas Powys). If you are familiar with the concept of ley lines, energy lines within the landscape, it was interesting to note that Cadbury stands on the St Michael line, one of the most well-known. After a moment’s reflection, we made our way along the high earthworks towards the track. I could have stayed up there longer, (as I think could most of the group) but there were hotels to check into, plus a dinner reservation we needed to get to. However, we paused briefly, amused by a romantic message left below, and noted a strange phenomenon in one of the fields. There was no fence keeping those cattle in that line, and there was an earthwork visible on the hillside directly above them. Hmmm again. This was a very interesting place, and a suitably wonderful start to the weekend.

All too soon, it was time to leave, to head down the hollow path and back to the real world. Although, I think we would have been welcome to stay longer…

…’Where are you going?’ The stone hit the pathway with a sharp crack!, just missing her. ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry!’ She stopped, turning to see where the stone had come from. The bramble-tangled banks rose high either side of her, seemingly deserted. Still, it felt as though someone was waiting for a response. ‘I’m sorry I have to leave. But I’ll be back. And I thank you for your welcome.’ It seemed there was a sigh, and acceptance of her apology, and she proceeded down the path once more, unimpeded…

I guess this means I’ll have to go back there again.


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Wednesday Wander – Rocher De La Vierge, Biarritz

Last summer, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Biarritz, located on the French coast. I absolutely loved it – the light, the water, the people, the food – it was just wonderful. I’ve written about it here and here, but for today’s Wander I’m going to go back to the town’s origins as a fishing village, before Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie made it such a fashionable place to be.

For centuries, the principal industry in Biarritz was whaling. It wasn’t until the 18th century that it became known as a town for bathing, and the 19th century when it became fashionable due to the patronage of the Empress.

Nowadays, there are splendid hotels and a casino along the water’s edge but, if you wander a little further along the beach, you come to the old fishing village and harbour, the water clear turquoise against curving ochre rocks.

The old harbour walls remain and are used today – we spent a few minutes there watching a group of men launching a boat into the water. In the mid 1800s, Napoleon III decided he would like to build a large anchor point and sea-wall, connecting a nearby rock to the coastline. A wooden walkway was built between the two, and a statue of the Virgin Mary was placed on top of the rock to watch over the whalers as they returned to harbour.

The sea can get ferocious in these parts, however, and in the 1880s the wooden walkway was replaced by a metal bridge attributed to Gustav Eiffel (known for a rather more famous metal structure bearing his name). Today you can walk out to the rock and take in the glorious views, past archways of stone over dark blue water, sea birds wheeling overhead.

The day we went was warm and hazy, the water calm, though we had heard that the waves can splash as high as the footbridge on more stormy days.  Also, I think I may have found my dream house…

The Rocher De La Vierge is easily accessed via the coastal walk that runs along the main beach at Biarritz, past the Casino and town centre and leading to the excellent Aquarium. The views looking back are beautiful, as are those beyond, and the walk itself is quite gentle – I highly recommend it.

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


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.

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Wednesday Wander – Caernarfon Castle, Wales

I’ve been to Caernarfon, located on the picturesque North Wales coast, a few times. But my most memorable visit took place quite a few years ago, when a friend and I were travelling through Wales together. We managed to find, on our meagre budget, a guesthouse with a view of the famous castle, a genial host named Norm, and a very generous breakfast (we may even have taken some extra packets of cereal with us for later in the day – very small travelling budget, as mentioned).

I don’t know whether Norm’s Place, as we affectionately dubbed our guesthouse, is still there, but the castle undoubtedly is. Designated a World Heritage Site in 1986, Caernarfon Castle was built in 1283 by Edward I, on the site of an earlier Norman fortress. It was one of a series of castles built by Edward after his defeat of the Welsh, to impose English rule on the land. Edward and his queen visited the castle in 1294 when, it is said, Edward II was born, and was designated the first Prince of Wales. Since that time, the title has traditionally been held by the eldest son of the British monarch, with Prince Charles, the current Prince of Wales, receiving his investiture at Caernarfon Castle in 1969.

The castle, despite its auspicious beginnings, has had a turbulent history. Sacked and set aflame by Madog ap Llewellyn during the Welsh uprising in 1295, the castle was recaptured and rebuilt by the English a year later. In the early 1400s it was besieged by Owain Glydwr, with support from the French – later that century, the Welsh Tudors took over the British throne and tensions eased, but the castle, which had been damaged over the years, fell into disrepair.

Despite being a Royalist base during the Civil War, the castle escaped destruction, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that repairs began. In 1911, the first modern Prince of Wales was named there, when Prince Edward (later Edward VIII) was invested by his father, George V.

Image: Manfred Heyde, Wikimedia Commons

Nowadays the castle, dreaming by the water, looks like something from a fairytale, a fortress from a vanished time. It is a popular tourist attraction, with almost 200,000 visitors in 2015, and is also home to the Royal Welsh Fusilliers Museum. It’s well worth a visit due to its wonderful state of preservation and its huge scale – you can see, looking at the size of the people in the photographs, how large it is. It must have been quite imposing in its day. In fact, it still is.

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


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Wednesday Wander – Graffiti in the Beauchamp Tower

Wednesday Wander is back! I had a little bit of a break due to work and health turmoil, but it’s a new year, all is well, and it’s time to wander again. This week I’m taking a closer look at a part of the Tower Of London. I’ve written about the Tower before, and looked at some of the many doors, but it is a place so rich in history and significant buildings that I could probably write another half dozen posts and not cover it.

This week I’m wandering into the Beauchamp Tower. It looks and sounds rather a romantic place, but its history, as with many of the Tower buildings, is a sad one. From the 1300s it was used to hold high-ranking prisoners, including the Earl of Warwick (after whom the tower is named), the Dudley brothers, and Lady Jane Grey. Many of the prisoners, being wealthy and well-educated, left their mark upon the walls – this graffiti has been preserved and is now a popular attraction at the Tower.

The Beauchamp Tower overlooks the green where high-ranking prisoners, including Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, were executed. Lady Jane Grey watched from this window as her husband, Guildford Dudley, was beheaded, then was taken out and executed herself a short while later. The four Dudley brothers are commemorated within the tower in a piece of ornate carved graffiti, with roses for Ambrose, carnations for Guildford, oak leaves for Robert and honeysuckle for Henry.

Not all prisoners held in the tower were executed, but they must have seen their fair share of horrors through the leaded glass windows, and wondered whether they might be next. Despite the sunshine and the views, it was a cold place, not somewhere you would want to spend a lengthy amount of time. There are said to be ghosts in the Tower of London, and I wouldn’t be surprised if several of them were in the Beauchamp tower…

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


Oak and Mist, the first book in The Ambeth Chronicles, is on sale for 99c/99p until January 31st! Get your copy here

And don’t forget to get your Bloggers Bash tickets – follow this link to join the fun 🙂

 

A Coventry Win, And A Guardian Article – Happy Weekend!

If you’ve read my Author Bio, or my About page, you’ll know that I grew up in Coventry, England. My family have deep ties to the City and most of them still live there, so I visit often. When I returned to the UK in 2012, I spent my first six months back in the country living there again, only moving away due to my husband’s work. It’s a place that holds a lot of happy memories for me.

Coventry is also the real-world setting for my Ambeth books. Alma lives on my old street, and the Gate of Oak is in the Memorial Park, a place that has always held magic for me. It is telling that, when I sat down to write my first book, Coventry was the inspiration and starting point. It is a city I still hold close to my heart.

So, when Coventry was named 2021 UK City of Culture this past week, I was thrilled! I tweeted out my congratulations, adding that I thought it a well-deserved win. Less than an hour later, through the strange workings of Twitter, The Guardian newspaper had contacted me. Would I like to write a piece about the city and why I love it, they asked. Would I? I jumped at the chance, even though they needed it done that afternoon and I was at work – there was no way I was missing this opportunity.

I was given 700 words and a short brief – truly, I could have written double that amount – and feel I only touched on the many layers of history and culture the city holds. The article was approved, and is now live on the Guardian site, less than 24 hours after my original tweet. (If you’d like to read it, click here)

And that’s it! A wonderful, and quite unexpected, start to my weekend 🙂 Wishing you all a great weekend wherever you are and, #happywriting.

xx

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.