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.

A Good Weekend

Double rainbow from my back garden...

Double rainbow from my back garden…

This has been a good weekend for a variety of reasons. First is the result from Ireland, where the population voted overwhelmingly to make marriage available to everyone.

When we were married, my husband and I wrote our own vows. However, when we did so we were surprised to discover that we had to include a section from the Australian Marriage Act, which read in part:

‘marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.’

This didn’t sit well with either of us for a variety of reasons, and we asked our celebrant if we could change ‘man and a woman’ to ‘two people’. However, we were told that our marriage would not be considered legal if we did not include these exact words and, while she didn’t agree with the sentiment either, if we wanted to be married, we had to say it.

So of course we got married. We’d already booked the venue, started planning and I think had even sent out invitations, so it wasn’t really something we could cancel. And we wanted to be married, very much. So it is wonderful to hear that another country has now made it possible for people who love each other to be married, regardless of gender. Love, after all, comes from the heart and I feel we should all be free to express our commitment to another person.

So come on Australia, get on board!


The other wonderful thing about Saturday was the Eurovision Song contest. I love it and watch it every year, and now my daughter is hooked too. So we got our snacks, pulled out the couch and prepared for several hours of kooky European musical goodness. We had our favourites from the semi finals (Israel, Serbia), and we both thought Sweden was a deserving winner. And we were thrilled to see the Australian entry by Guy Sebastian. But our overall favourite ended up being Belgium’s Loic Nottet with ‘Rhythm Inside’, a hypnotic finger snapping beat with overtones of Lorde – it’s on my Itunes as we speak.

I had a message from my US based sister-in-law just before the show started and, when I mentioned I was watching Eurovision she decided to watch too, even though she’d never heard of it before (and this is a woman who knows a lot about music). We pinged messages back and forth, laughing at it all. Around song 20 I messaged her asking if she was still watching. Her response was that not only was she watching, she had put aside her whole day to watch it until the end.

Such is the power of Eurovision 🙂

Natural History Museum and traditional English Bank Holiday weather.

Natural History Museum and traditional English Bank Holiday weather.

Yesterday brought an impromptu visit to the Natural History Museum in London – we don’t live too far away so it was a case of hopping on the train and going. It was great, though very warm inside. I was thrilled to find that the earthquake room that had so terrified me when I was eleven was still there, though updated to reflect the recent Kobe quake. The gorgeous child loved it all, pressing buttons and answering questions, mesmerised by fossils and rocks and dinosaur bones, while I found myself drawn in by the intricately carved walls and ceilings, the building itself as much of a draw as the exhibits. We stood for ages at a coral reef tank, watching brightly coloured fish dart and swim as prawns hid under rocks, hermit crabs with electric blue legs shuffling across the sand.

Afterwards we sat outside in the soft English rain, finding a bench under a spreading plane tree as we ate sandwiches and drank tea. Children ran around on the grass, one with big dinosaur hands chasing another clutching a stuffed dinosaur, another little girl with binoculars naming everything she could see. And as I sat there with my two favourite people, looking at the beauty of the building, the children and even the misting rain, I felt one of those moments of happiness when all is right with the world.

That was my weekend so far – how was yours?