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.

Wednesday Wander – Mykonos, Greece

The Greek island of Mykonos, also known as The Island Of Winds, is part of the Cyclades, a group of islands set in Homer’s wine dark Aegean sea.

According to Greek legend, Mykonos got its name from its first ruler, Mykons, said to be a direct descendent of Apollo. Zeus and the Titans were supposed to have had a great battle on Mykonos, and it’s where Hercules killed the invincible giants of Mount Olympus, having lured them to the island. Also, and I love this, because I guess I have a weird sense of humour, the large boulders scattered around the island are reputed to be the fossilised testicles of those same giants, and this legend is the source of the slang term ‘stones’!

Mykonos has a long history dating back to at least the 11th century BC, and has been under Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman rule. However, since 1831, it has been part of Greece, following the revolution in which Manto Mavrogenous, one of the island’s noted inhabitants, played a part. Manto, a wealthy, educated aristocrat, sacrificed her family’s fortune to help the Greeks and became a national heroine – a statue to her honour stands in the main town square.

The island is well known for its vibrant nightlife and nude beaches (sorry, no photos), and also for its famous windmills. Built by Venetians in the 16th century, they were originally used to mill flour – nowadays most have been restored as homes or storage facilities. There are also several fine museums, including one of the oldest archaeological museums in Greece. I’m somewhat ashamed to say I visited none of them, however, quite unusual for me. But Mykonos was a stop on a longer trip and I suppose I just chose to relax, instead. Ah well, I guess I need to go back.

It’s been quite a few years since I visited, but I still have plenty of memories – of meeting Petros the Pelican, the island’s mascot, of tangy feta and fresh bread, of my washing being done and coming back smelling of sunshine and herbs, of an old woman kissing my cheeks and offering me sweets after I bought one of her hand knitted jumpers (which I still have). There was nightlife, of course, dancing and drinking, the streets vibrant all through the night. But my overwhelming memory is one of sunshine and warmth, of brilliant white and deep blue, and through it all, the sound of the sea.

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.

Wednesday Wander – Aquae Sulis, Bath

Aquae Sulis, or the waters of the Goddess, is the old name for the Roman town of Bath. Named for the natural hot springs, it was a sacred place before the Romans came, dedicated to the Goddess Sulis. The Romans identified Sulis with their own goddess, Minerva and, stuck in a cold country far from home, were thrilled to find a place where they could bathe in the warm waters they were accustomed to, and so built a magnificent bath and temple complex around the springs.

After the Romans left the complex fell into decay, the temple torn down by Christians. The baths remained, though the ground level rose, hiding much of the original Roman remains from view. However, in the 18th century, the baths were excavated and restored to their original ground level. A new complex of buildings, including the famous Pump Room, rose around the ancient ruins, as Bath became a fashionable place to ‘take the waters.’

The whole city is now designated a World Heritage Site, and the Baths themselves are a Unesco Memory Of The World. While the Roman baths are no longer open for bathing, you can still experience in the mineral rich waters in a new bathing centre close to the original baths, which includes a rooftop pool where you can watch the sun rise (or set) over the ancient town.

We visited the Roman Baths on a glorious sunny day, the golden stone and green water glowing in the bright light. The statues around the top of the baths complex are more modern additions, sculpted in the 19th century, but work very well, I think. Inside the complex there is a fascinating museum, where you can see artifacts from the Roman past, including the original temple steps, still in situ. The old Roman drains are there too, coated with minerals from the water which still flows through.

And then there is the main bath itself, still a tranquil space after so many years. Apparently bathing here was mixed, the Romans not subscribing to our more modern levels of prudery. The excellent Bill Bryson is one of the commentors on the audio guide and speculates as to what might have gone on in the alcoves and among the pillars, so close to a place of worship. Pleasures of the flesh and of the spirit were not kept separate in those days.

Although a sign warned us not to, I did dip my fingers in the water. (To be fair, I didn’t see the sign till afterwards – apparently the water is untreated and so considered not safe). And what was it like? It was soft against my fingers, and felt luke warm rather than hot, with a slightly sulphuric odour. We did get to drink some of the water as well, a tap offering a treated version at the end of our tour. Again, it was warm, and tasted of sulphur and metal – I suppose it was good for me!

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Baths, as it’s been on my list of places to visit for a very long time. I hope you enjoyed coming on this Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and want 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.

Thursday Doors – The Tower Of London

I will be doing a post (or two!) at some point about the Tower of London, but as it’s Thursday I thought I’d share a selection of doors from inside the fortress.

The Tower, one of London’s most recognisable landmarks, is almost a thousand years old. It’s built on older Roman foundations, so there are layers upon layers of history.

And there are quite a variety of doors as well, from elegant panelled affairs to hulking great hobnailed beasts, designed to keep people out.. or in.

To be honest, even though we were there for several hours, we didn’t see everything (although we did see the Crown Jewels). So I imagine I’ll be taking a trip back to the White Tower again soon.

This has been my response to Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors Challenge. 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 and want 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.

 

Thursday Doors – All-Hallows-By-The-Tower, London

IMG_2474These two lovely doors are both from the church of All-Hallows-By-The-Tower, in London, England. IMG_2481The church was founded in 675AD, making it one of the oldest Christian churches in London, and parts of the original building are still visible inside. Standing outside, if you look one way you see the Tower of London;

IMG_2479And if you look the other way, you see the ‘Walkie-Talkie-, one of the newest buildings in the city.

IMG_2480If there was ever a building that could be said to encompass the history of a place, then All-Hallows-By-The-Tower is it. Built on the site of an earlier Roman building, you can go down into the original crypt and walk on tiles laid almost 2000 years ago. You can see a Saxon arch made using Roman roof tiles, and interior walls still blackened by a direct hit from the Luftwaffe during the Second World War, which reduced much of the building to a shell. Beheaded victims from the nearby Tower of London were sent to All Hallows for temporary burial, before heading to their final place of rest and the church tower, built in 1658, was the place where Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist, watched London burn during the Great Fire of 1666, the church itself only narrowly escaping destruction in the flames. Truly it is a building that spans millennia – if only the walls could talk.

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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, head over to Norm’s and click the link.

 

 

Wednesday Wander – Guildhall, London

IMG_0193I wasn’t really sure where to wander to this week, so took to scrolling through my photographs in an effort to be inspired. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit many places, though there are still many more I’d like to see – however, this week I couldn’t seem to settle on any one destination.

But as I scrolled through, these images of Guildhall seemed to stand out. They were taken close to home, in that I don’t live too far from London, and are of a place which seems to encapsulate the layers of history that abound in this country. The modern building at Guildhall is now home to the City of London Corporation, while the original building is now used for official functions and events. I’m not normally a fan of modern additions to older buildings, but somehow in this instance it seems to work, the colours of the stone and organic shapes complementing, rather than clashing with, the original medieval Listed building.

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Built in the 1400’s, Guildhall replaced an earlier building on the same site, and has been the site of some of the most famous trials in British history, including that of Lady Jane Grey. But the site’s history goes back even further than that – the black circle laid out in tiles across the square traces the footprint of the Roman amphitheater of London, and legend places the palace of Brutus of Troy in the same area.

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While archaeologists knew that there had to be an amphitheater in London, or Londinium, as the Romans called it, it was not discovered until 1988, when construction began on the new Gallery building. You can go down underneath the Gallery and see the remains of the original amphitheater walls, drainage system and sandy floor, as well as stand in the entrance where gladiators used to enter the arena. Admission is free, as it is to the rest of the Gallery, and it is well worth a visit.

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The Gallery is also home to the art collection of the City of London, including a marble statue of Margaret Thatcher that was famously decapitated in 2002 by a man named Paul Kelleher. He was sent to trial, where he stated that he had damaged the statue as part of his ‘artistic expression and my right to interact with this broken world.’ He also told the police who attended the scene that he ‘thought it looked better like that.’ The statue was repaired and is now back on display, though behind glass.


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