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 – Stonehenge and Solstice

It’s Midsummer today, or Litha in the old calendar, the point where the great wheel of the year turns towards winter once more, the nights gradually growing shorter until Yule, the great festival of Light. On a hot day such as this one the thought of winter is almost welcome, to be honest.

Today is also one of two points during the year when the sun’s rising is marked at Stonehenge, the famous stone monument in Wiltshire. On Midsummer morning the sunrise aligns perfectly with the Heel Stone, and crowds gather to watch the spectacle, one of the few times in the year that people are allowed within the ancient circle of stone.

I have yet to mark Midsummer or Midwinter at Stonehenge, but it is on my list to do so. There is something about the tumbled grey stones, still standing proud upon Salisbury Plain, that tugs at me. The mystery surrounding their use, the precision with which they mark the turning of the year and have done so for millennia, and the astonishing fact that many of the massive stones came from miles away in Wales, brought to the site using technology that still remains undefined, despite efforts to replicate the feat.

I visited Stonehenge most recently in March, on a cool sunny day. Once again the stones remained inscrutable, their message like a song almost heard, dancing on the edge of sound. The light changed the shapes and shadows, and up above a small plane swooped and wheeled, coming so low that concerned staff came out to monitor its progress, worried it might perhaps crash into the stones. But it disappeared after a while, buzzing away across the plains, above the old barrows and hidden earthworks to destinations unknown.

I also visited the brand new visitor centre, set back some way so it is not visible from the monument. It is a vast improvement on the old centre. Shuttle buses take visitors to a point closer to the stones, the road that used to run past them on one side now closed except to walkers, meaning we reached the stones on foot as was done originally. The new centre is very well done, with some excellent interactive exhibits and artifacts excavated at the site – it kept the gorgeous girl busy for quite some time! There were also some replica Bronze Age roundhouses outside, the plaster walls and thatched roofs against a blue sky somehow timeless, and as though they could have been anywhere in the world.

I have wandered to Stonehenge before, and no doubt will do so again – a place holding such magic is worth more than one visit. Thanks for coming on this Wednesday Wander with me – see you again next time!

PS I LOVE this! Nothing like a Spinal Tap reference to make the day complete 🙂


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.

#writephoto – Day 22 – We Dance

anglesey-bryn-holy-island-wales-001Sue Vincent’s #writephoto image this week is a gorgeous shot of mist and trees, and as soon as I saw it these words came to me:

We are mist, smoke, hidden things. We dance along branches and through the hedgerows, down chimneys and across the floorboards before slipping out into dusk once more.

You may see us, sometimes. A glimpse on a frosty morning, a flicker of light in shimmering twilight, a cool whisper in an ancient place. We are always here, though we are forgotten now.

Yet if you seek us you will find us, and we will welcome you. For we are part of you, despite the things people say. Despite the years of turning away, of relegating us to fairy mounds and haunted tales, we are still here.

And we dance, pale pinpricks of light in the gathering dark, a warm glow in a cold world. Mist and wood, ash and stone. You are never alone.

We are the old ones, and we dance.

To read more responses to the image, or to add one of your own, head over to Sue’s Blog. And yes, my response also covers today’s prompt for the 30 Day Writing Challenge, which is: Things People Say.


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.

Thursday Doors – Silves, Portugal

img_0370This lovely little door is set into a wall on an ancient street, directly across from a twelfth century cathedral that may have even earlier origins, in the town of Silves, Portugal.

The street is sloping, as you can see from the line of the cobbles, and there is a view across red-tiled roofs to green hills beyond, the scent of blossom in the air. This little door has a history and age to it, but its story remains a secret for now. I wonder who holds the key?

This is my entry for the 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.

Thursday Doors – Abandoned

IMG_2143I had a different door in mind to post this week, but on a walk the other day I spotted this door and couldn’t resist taking some shots. This building is tucked into the curve of a railway bridge for one of the main lines into London, meaning there are trains passing almost overhead on a regular basis.

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I titled this post Abandoned, because that is what this door seems to be. The steps are mossy and overgrown, no footprints in evidence. But the door itself is in pretty good condition, and the house to which the building is attached is definitely occupied, despite the damage to the brickwork at the upper right corner.

So does someone live here? Do letters still fall through the slot onto a mat below? I guess I’ll never know, but it’s fun to imagine. I wonder if that’s why I like doors so much, because of the possibility of what might lie behind them, the stories they open onto almost infinite.

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This is my entry for 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 🙂

Photo Prompt – By The River

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Another photo prompt from Sue Vincent, this time an absolutely gorgeous shot of a snowy staircase leading through a stone arch. And yet my mind, as it so often does, has wandered somewhere unexpected…

By The River

The snow was crisp, the kind that crunched underfoot, footsteps left clear as though stepping in wet concrete. I smiled to myself as I headed under the stone archway, a few flakes drifting down from the evergreens above to sit like crystals on my hair and jacket before the alchemy of sun turned them to water once more.

This was the place, I was sure of it. The locals were surprisingly taciturn on the subject, despite their initial friendliness, but I’d gleaned enough information to figure it out. The stone arch, the high steps leading down to the rushing river, tumbled with stones and tree branches, treacherous at the best of times.

But especially if you were a child. A child wearing trainers unsuitable for heavy snow, jacket undone to be found, several days later, tangled in tree roots further downstream, sodden and empty. My smile disappeared as I emerged from under the arch and stood at the top of the stairs, the final step terminating at the edge of the river.

The water wasn’t frozen, moving too fast for winter to catch, though there were tumbles of frosty snow against some of the rocks, more of it lining the steps with slippery treachery. The last step was placed almost at the edge of the river, overlooking a dark pool within a half circle of rocks, like a shimmering mirror for the sky above.

I started down the stairs, careful not to step too quickly, my hands out for balance. A few steps from the bottom I paused and crouched down, bringing up the camera around my neck to shoot a few shots, capturing the mountains rising brown beyond the river, one crowned with stones like shattered teeth, lurching and dark against the pale sky.

Then I turned to the pool, adjusting the camera focus as I looked through the lens. I frowned, squinting. There was something in the water. Something that glittered as the wintry light slanted across the pool. I moved carefully down another step, mindful of the fact that, although the pool looked shallow enough, the pure waters meant it could be far deeper than it looked.

I guess the boy hadn’t realised. He wasn’t from the area, visiting with his family. The locals hadn’t said much about them either, though the lady at the general store had clasped her hands together, whispering with watery eyes that ‘it was unfair, really, they were nice people’, before folding her lips tight, her glance darting to the doorway as though someone was there. I thanked her, storing the information for later, returning to my hotel room to type up the memory while it was still strong, wanting to capture her voice.

And now I was here. Where the boy had gone missing, or at least according to the official report. He’d come out alone for some reason, wandering down to the riverbank where he’d fallen in, unused to the slippery stones and deep rushing currents. ‘Death by misadventure.’ Three small words to describe a family destroyed. My job was to try and make sense of it all, to write a story that could, somehow, encompass their pain.

I looked back up the stone stairs, the snowy steps trodden down with footsteps from all the people who had been up and down in recent days, searching the river for signs. Then I noticed something odd. A purple shimmer was hanging in the air, like a summer mirage rippling against the wintry backdrop. I stared, frowning, wondering if my eyes were playing tricks on me. Then it started to move, sliding down the stone steps towards me. All at once there was a buzzing in my mind, a feel as though the ice hanging from the trees was now sliding down my spine, my muscles tensing to hold me in place when all I wanted to do was run. The trees seemed to be curving in around me, the river rising like a glass bowl to cover me and all at once I was in the water, the shock so fierce it blew the breath from me. I struggled, frantic, turning in the depths as my heavy clothing pulled me down towards the ominous glitter at the bottom of the pool, the rocks like hooded shadows circling above and, spreading across the water like an oil stain, the purple shimmer, locking me away from the surface. I opened my mouth in a silent scream and water rushed in, choking me, silver bubbles the last thing I saw before everything went black.

I was choking, gasping, my lungs on fire. Someone or something was hitting me, hard blows between my shoulder blades, my hair in cold strands across my face. I gurgled then water spewed from me, letting in air, the world coming to life around me as I gulped. I could hear voices

‘the river has fed already this season’

‘it’s getting’ greedy, it should not take another’

‘hush yourself, she’s coming round’

I opened my eyes to see boots in front of me. Then they became knees and I managed to turn my head to see a man wearing a flat cap kneeling next to me, whiskey brown eyes creased at the corners.

‘You all right, lass?’

I tried to speak but my throat was raw, so I nodded instead. He had dark curling hair peeking out from the edges of the cap and was probably no older than I was, yet he was speaking to me as though I were a child.

‘Help her sit up.’

This was another voice, then an arm was under my shoulder and I was pushed into a sitting position. My chest hurt, my throat was on fire and I was shivering uncontrollably.

But I was alive.

To be continued…

To read more responses to the prompt, or add one of your own, visit Sue’s blog 🙂

Wednesday Wander – Stonehenge

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I do love a stone circle. There is something fascinating about the fact that, millennia ago, our ancestors expended the effort to place giant stones in specific patterns across the landscape, and we no longer really know why.

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And when it comes to stone circles, Stonehenge is arguably the best known of them all. When I first visited the site as a child in the 1970s, you were allowed to wander among the great stones, and I remember people lying across the recumbent ‘altar’ stone.

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Now, when you visit the site, you are guided on an anti-clockwise circuit around the monument, allowing you to appreciate it from all angles and see how it sits within the landscape, light changing as you move around the stones.

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It is a place of great majesty and power, despite the toll that centuries and human intervention have taken on its original shape. And, as we drove away, it had one last angle to reveal, rising like a crown on the plain above as the land dropped away.

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A place of magic, indeed.

Thank you for joining me on another Wednesday Wander! See you next time 🙂