Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 6 – Release

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 six of my account, parts one, two, three, four and five can be found here… As you pass between the gateposts leading onto Stanton Moor, there is a feeling of entering another world. Perhaps it’s the Cork Stone, a great stone guardian whose sphinx-like profile has monitored the path for millennia, or the old quarry marks, now overgrown. Or perhaps it’s the many cairns hidden amongst the heather, silent indicators that this is a land of the dead.

Humans have been using this place for thousands of years, which is why Stanton Moor is a place of national importance and, as such, is protected.  Prominent signage advises visitors to leave no rubbish, make no marks and, something that became important as we journeyed further into the landscape, keep their dogs on a lead at all times.

The weather was still holding and the place was crowded, people all along the path…

…and another crowd assailed her, many voices calling, the feeling of being surrounded. But this was not the stagnant waves of Eyam. Rather, it was the voices of those who had shaped this land so many moons ago. And they were curious.

But there were too many to answer, and she could make no sense of what they wanted to know…

We spent a little bit of time at the Cork Stone. Once again, there was a tradition of ascending the stone, but someone had, in time past, cut helpful footholds into the rock. Still, none of us felt quite up to the challenge. Besides, we had somewhere to see. We continued along the path, the heather giving way to trees and ferns, fairy toadstools like tiny flames among the undergrowth…

… ‘I can’t understand when you all speak at once.’

A figure detached themselves from the throng. An older man, robed, long of beard and hair. He held out his arm as they proceeded along the path, a gesture of welcome, but also of guidance.

‘Why do you visit?’

She thought about her answer, wanting to get it right. ‘We come to learn from you, of the old ways. And with respect for those who walked here before.’

He nodded once. ‘Then you are welcome. There is–‘

There was a thundering noise from behind and we turned to see what at first I thought were two large dogs, racing along. But, as they ran past me, I realised that it was in fact one large dog, chasing a young and terrified sheep. There was no sign of any owner and, as they sped towards the stone circle ahead of us, a woman there called out accusingly ‘Whose dog is that?’ while looking our way. We hastily denied any involvement and watched, helplessly, as the dog continued to torment its prey. They disappeared down another path but then, a minute or so later, the dog reappeared, securely leashed, their slightly shamefaced but otherwise unapologetic owner making a quick retreat from the clearing. The poor sheep, meanwhile, wandered back among the trees, calling for its mother, a plaintive cry that made us all feel quite sad. As a dog owner myself, I try to be responsible – I keep my dog leashed when I need to, clean up after her and attend regular training so it infuriates me, to be honest, when people ignore simple guidelines such as ‘Keep your dog on a leash.’ It was a strange and somewhat unsettling introduction to our next destination, the Nine Ladies.

One of four stone circles in the area, Nine Ladies is the easiest to find and, therefore, a popular walking destination. Taking its name from an old legend of nine girls dancing on the Sabbath and being turned to stone, there are, in fact, ten stones at the circle, as well as a King Stone nearby, remnant of a ring cairn. It was busy at the circle, people sitting on the stones, camping nearby, children running about. As we drew closer I heard a man, sitting on the grass, say that he would never sit on the stones. I agree with his viewpoint – this is an ancient site of worship, a sacred site, and I would no more sit in the middle of it and eat my lunch than I would by the altar of a church. But I suppose, to many people, such places are not seen that way anymore.

We waited a while, hoping the crowd might disperse, as we wished to pay our own respects. Eventually the circle cleared enough, except for one young woman who was dancing in and out of the stones.

…as the six stepped between the stones, each taking their own path to reach the centre, there was a feeling of power building. And, as the circle of light ignited, that power grew, strong as the flame that burned at the centre of it all…

We stood there a little longer, and it was at that point I turned to one of my fellow group members. A shaman, she had taken me aside the previous evening and indicated I had something with which she would help me, if I wanted. I’d thought about it, and now seemed a good time to ask. So I did.

I won’t go into detail here, as some things are private, but suffice it to say, as we left the circle and headed into the cairn-field, away from the crowds, I became quite emotional. Two of our group had decided to leave, and Sue and Stu were walking ahead, which left the two of us alone on the path…

…and so, in the ancient cairn-field, among the dead in the high places, a healing took place. Something she had carried for many many years was released, and she felt light as the birds circling overhead…

We rejoined Sue and Stu, who had been sitting enjoying the view. I think they knew that something had taken place, but they didn’t ask. Instead, they led us on and out of the moor, across a wheat field towards where a very large stone waited among brambles and rhododendrons. I was still recovering, in some ways, and the shaman was walking with me, ensuring my path was clear. But there was still some distance to go until the healing was complete…


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Maiden Mother Crone, Part 7 – The Dance

It was Sunday morning, and it was raining again. But I breakfasted with friends, warmth and laughter a pleasant way to begin the day. Outside, a raven wandered along the wooden fence – one of our group remarked on him, as he was quite unusually large. ‘He was there yesterday, as well,’ I said. Sue had mentioned to me the day before, as we stood in Midmar circle, that it was the time of the Raven, so it seemed appropriate to see him waiting there.

After breakfast we met the rest of the group at the usual place, before splitting into smaller groups to head to the first of three planned sites for the day. Aftera short drive we pulled up on a road running alongside a petrol station, brambles and bushes tangled along the verge, and what looked like a bit of a wasteland on the other side. Yet, that was our destination

This unprepossessing piece of ground was actually once a place of some significance. As we took the narrow path through tall weeds the land seemed to rise around us, cradling us in a bowl. The long grass hid shapes that revealed themselves as we came closer, a circular henge surrounding three standing stones our destination.

Another carved Pictish stone, the Broomend of Crichie, awaited us and, as we entered the henge, once again soft drizzle began to fall. The modern world seemed to fall away and, as the ancient site was described by our guide, it seemed to come to life around us. The long avenue once featured 12 pairs of stones – though only one stone remained, it was in situ, unlike the three stones in the circle. There have been excavations done on the site, but more work is yet to be done to fully understand this place.

But we had to keep moving. It was the final day of the weekend, the companions all had places to get to before the end of the day, and there were still two more sites to visit. So we headed into the countryside once more, our next destination the Loanhead of Daviot, another recumbent stone circle.

As we walked the pathway to the stone circle my gaze was drawn to the left, to a rise in the woods where I could see a couple of large stones, and I stopped to take a photograph. A tree up ahead seemed to hold the shape of a dragon, and the land itself felt full of wonder.

The trees opened out and we found ourselves on the side of a slope, almost at the summit but not quite, as we had seen with the other recumbent circles we’d visited. This circle was complete, and quite large – over twenty metres in diameter, the huge recumbent stone flanked by two taller stones.

The remains of a circular burial cairn lay next to the circle. Excavation in 1934 found burials with Iron Age & Beaker pottery, while subsequent work uncovered flint scrapers and a Bronze Age sword mould, showing the site was in use for many centuries.

‘Well, this doesn’t feel right. The bits in the middle.’

‘They seem more modern, maybe they were done later’

I was having this conversation with one of the companions, both of us bemused by the large jumble of stones spread across the centre of what was otherwise a perfectly lovely stone circle. There was none of the turmoil of Cullerlie here, but the stones were rough and difficult to walk on, not exactly conducive to ritual. It didn’t feel uncomfortable, it just felt… out of place. As we spoke, we heard our guide explain that the Victorians had moved the stones from the nearby cairn to spread across the centre of the circle, because they thought that was how it should be.

Why they haven’t been moved back I don’t know. I guess it will remain a mystery.

We stayed at the circle for a while, the usual rain appearing to soak us. By now it was expected, and we simply put up our hoods and got on with it. Our guide pointed across the small valley to the slope opposite, asking us what we could see. And there it was, another recumbent with two flanking stones, all that remained of another circle, the rest of it lost to time. Clearly, to the people who worked this landscape, the circles were deeply significant and important enough to make in multiples – it’s a shame that we don’t really know why.

One of the group had stopped on their way in to talk to an older man working on the site, and he had told him a story of a ghost, a woman in a green dress, said to dance in the circle at night. The area was used by Scouts and the story was told to scare them – we found it intriguing, in light of what we’d learned about the circles and their uses.

The stones cannot stop the dance…

I heard this very clearly, afterwards, the words strong in my mind, beautiful with their sense of freedom, their message reaching beyond the circle, a smile in the voice saying them. Whether it was the influence of the charming storyteller, or something else, I’m not sure. But it felt as though someone linked their arm with mine, wanting me to come with them.

Come with me, I would show you something. In the woods…

I went to the trees, a wire fence stopping me from entering the woods proper. But I think I could see what they were trying to show me. A small ridge, stones piled there, the same spot that had caught my attention as we’d entered the site. I took another photograph, because it felt like the right thing to do.

It was time to go, so we bade the place farewell. One more site to visit before the weekend was out…

This is my account of a recent weekend away with The Silent Eye. Click here to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6.


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.

Maiden Mother Crone, Part 6 – Rain to Bow

Along winding roads through green fields, the purpling hills beyond, we travelled back to where our journey began – Easter Aquhorthies. We returned to a circle transformed from the screaming wind and rain of the previous day – this time, the sun drew shadows from the stones, the distant peak of Mither Tap clear against patches of blue sky. There was still rain around, but none really came to trouble us as we once more found our stones and learned more about their alignments.

‘My’ stone was warm, welcoming again, and I gave it a gift, something I’d been carrying with me, looking for the right place to leave it. It seemed to have been accepted. I learned that ‘my’ stone aligned with the winter solstice sunset, and also with the viewing platform we could see through the trees… which also lined up with the circle and carved stone in the housing estate beyond. Truly, the people who created these monuments worked on a large scale and with great accuracy, the alignments of sun and moon and land precise to the decimal point.

Another group came through to the circle, four people, and we could hear them talking amongst themselves, wondering what we were all doing. A joke was made about practising for the sacrifice later, and that we only needed four willing victims. They laughed, but didn’t stay too much longer – we were just joking, honestly!

One of the interesting features of the circle is the two smaller stones sitting against the huge recumbent. They are angled out slightly, almost like welcoming arms and, we discovered that, if you sit down between them, your voice will carry throughout the circle, even through howling wind. However, stand tall and it is lost. And so, with the weather a little kinder, Stuart treated us all to a gentle chant, the notes rising and falling around the stones, vibrating among us all. We were invited to join in, if we chose – I did not, choosing to listen again, my eyes closing as I leaned against ‘my’ stone.

… I stood with my back to the stone and could feel the alignments, arrow straight, running through me to the left and right of the stone, making a perfect angle. The alignments behind me didn’t matter – it was only the ones that ran in front of me across the circle that were important. I could feel the curve of the circle, too, and I was reminded of the shape I saw earlier, carved into an ancient stone – the broken spear, intersecting the curve. The lines were strong, the stone at my back comforting, a gentle guide…

I opened my eyes and the sky was transformed, rainbows around us, bright against the grey clouds. After the fierceness of the previous evening, it felt like a balm, a gift and, perhaps, an acknowledgement. If the storm and rain had been a test, perhaps we had passed?

After ooh-ing and aah-ing and taking photos, we left en masse. It was getting close to dinner time and we were all feeling hungry. After a brief moment of struggle when one of our party’s vehicles became stuck in a ditch (huge thank yous to the LandRover driver who pulled them out!), we headed back to our respective hotels with a plan to meet for dinner later.

To be honest, I was tired at this point. It had been a long and intense day, from the darkness at Cullerlie to the brightness of rainbows at Easter Aquhorthies. I was cold as well – despite the rain clearing it had been windy on the hillsides. My bed beckoned… but I decided to head out once more. It wasn’t often I got to spend time with the group, and I was looking forward to catching up over another meal. However, Saturday night in Inverurie coupled with the size of our group meant dinner bookings were hard to come by – we managed eventually, to find something.

I sat next to Stuart at dinner, and he leaned over and said ‘I have something for you. It’s a book.’ I was surprised, and got the feeling there was more to it than just something new to read. He continued,’ It’s from a friend of ours, who passed away. I’ve been told I’m to give it to you.’

Another coincidence. I’d never met the woman who owned the book, but remembered reading about her on Sue’s blog, and how she’d seemed quite a wonderful character. And now I was to have something of hers. It seemed fitting, on such a weekend, when the role of women was a theme that presented itself again and again, that I was to receive this gift. I felt honoured, to be honest – it was no small thing. And, as I sat opposite another new friend and reminisced about places and people we’d both once known, living in the same town for years but never meeting until this moment, I wondered to myself about the way the Universe seems to present things, waiting until the right moment.

Some of the group decided to head back up to Easter Aquhorthies – the night was clear and it was a chance to see the stars almost as the ancients would have, out among the hills. I declined – it didn’t feel like the right thing to do. Perhaps I was tired, or perhaps I felt unready, but I did feel that I might get the chance to do so again one day. So instead I went back to my hotel to rest, ready for the last day of our adventure…

This is my account of a recent weekend spent away with The Silent Eye. Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.


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.

Maiden Mother Crone, Part 4 – Imbalance

Sigh.

I should have expected this. On the last Silent Eye weekend I’d attended there had been a place that had shaken me, unexpectedly, making my breath shorten, my heart pound. And so it is, I suppose. On these weekends we are challenged as well as inspired, and beauty can hold darkness as well as light. Still, when you reach such a place it is always a shock.

And so it was at Cullerlie. We parked by an old stone wall, and I picked a couple of blackberries to eat as we approached the gate leading to our next site. And then the guardian appeared. A bouncing ball of black and white fur, the collie seemed very pleased to see us all, bounding about on the grass, pausing at intervals on the approach to the circle. My companions (if you read their accounts), saw him as a friendly spirit, welcoming. And I felt the same way… for the most part. To me it felt a little bit as though he wasn’t sure whether or not we should be there, but he led us on nonetheless, pausing every so often to make sure we were following.

Cullerlie stone circle, also known as the Standing Stones of Echt, is described as a circle of red granite standing stones, surrounding eight small burial cairns. The cairns are also circular, and fill the interior of the circle. Hawthorn and willow ash have been found in the cairns, as well as cremated human bones placed there before smaller stones were placed over the top of them. When the circle was constructed in the Bronze Age, the landscape around it was boggy, the stones brought from higher ground to be placed there, in contrast to the other circles we had seen.

The approach to the circle was pretty enough, an avenue of tall trees on soft grass, fairy red toadstools dotting the green. But such toadstools hold poison, despite their beauty – perhaps a metaphor of what was to come. As I approached the circle I’d intended to touch the stones, to travel counter-clockwise and see where felt right, as I had at the other sites. But as I approached the circle it was almost as though I bounced off it, feeling gut-punched, my breath shallow and a pain in my solar plexus. Something, I didn’t know what, was wrong with this place.

‘…A woman, in long dress of green, crying out ‘It is wrong!” Repeatedly I heard her cries, repeatedly I saw her words ignored by the rest of the community who, seeking to emulate the power held in older sites, built this place, ignoring all but the most basic alignments, fragments of an almost forgotten past. A man of power, his face hard, turning from her, from her cries…’

This circle, our guide explained, was built about two millennia later than the ones we’d already visited. While there were some alignments in place, they were only to do with the passage of the sun – the moon had been ignored when the circle was built. The jumbles of stone in the centre felt muddy and convoluted, their placement simply wrong within the landscape. I didn’t want to touch the standing stones, nor set foot in the circle itself. And I was not alone – several of my other companions also expressed their distress and physical discomfort at the place, the feeling of ‘wrongness’.

Man and woman, sun and moon, light and dark, earth and sky. All necessary opposites on the great wheel of life, part of balance in all things. Perhaps that was what felt so off kilter about this place, the lack of balance, of care. I remarked that it felt like a Disney version of a stone circle, although at least at Disney World we know such things are done in play. Here there was still power, but it seemed broken in some way.

We did not stay long, in the end. Even those who were not initially put off didn’t want to linger, and so we made our way back up the avenue to the waiting cars. I did not look back.

This is the account of my recent weekend away with The Silent Eye in Scotland. Click here for Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. ———————————————————————————————-

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.

Maiden Mother Crone, Part 3 – Balance

The next morning I woke early and went to breakfast – to find several of the group already there, including our guide. We hadn’t realised we were staying at the same place, so it was a nice surprise to catch up before the day began. The meeting place for the rest of the group was a short walk away, and I set out after breakfast, wandering past old stone houses and tall pines, glimpses of sunshine giving me hope the day wouldn’t be quite as wet as the previous evening. Nonetheless, I had worn my wet weather gear again. We had several sites to visit that day, and I wasn’t sure when we’d get back to the hotel.

When I think about the second day, the first stone circle we visited remains elusive, for some reason. I cannot quite grasp where we were or what we saw. Perhaps that’s because of what came after, at the place of the dead. Even though the locations of the rest of the weekend are clear, I had to look through my photos to remind myself where we were.

And now I remember. The church at Midmar.

When we arrived, pulling into the small car park, it was wet underfoot but not yet raining, green leaves reflected in puddles along the track that ran nearby. The church itself was charming, blue doors and window frames a bright contrast to the surrounding green and grey. And beyond, just peeping around the building, we could see what looked like part of a stone circle.

The church was built in the 19th century, perhaps deliberately in such a position so as to block the view from the stone circle to a nearby standing stone. The circle itself has been ‘tidied up’, as the sign put it, which meant removing one or two stones completely so hearses or wedding cars could be parked there, as well as replacing several other stones in positions not original to the site.

Despite these adjustments, the stones that remained still spoke, still held power and beauty. The great recumbent lay in place, flanked by its companion stones, their sharp smooth edges, so we were told by our guide, directing the eye to significant solar and lunar events, the circle aligned precisely with the movements of the sky. The church did not diminish their power –rather, there was a sense of unity there, of both temples cohabiting the same site, peaceful on their hillside.

Once again we were invited to find a stone that ‘spoke’ to us, a place where we felt comfortable within the circle. One stone caught both me and another of the companions, inviting us to look closer, to photograph its moss strewn surface, unable, unwilling to leave its side, even when urged to join the rest of the group. It wasn’t until I took a small stone, blessed, from my pocket and bent down, burying it in the earth at the base of the stone, that it released us. As I stood up my companion, who hadn’t been able to see what I was doing, said, ‘Shall we go?’

It was raining, of course, the weather that seemed to follow us from site to site returning, though with none of the wildness of the previous evening. We wandered through the graveyard afterwards, all of us stopping to admire the gravestone of a local artist, decorated with a beautiful tree-of-life sculpture (for more information about this grave, head over to Sue’s account of the day, and the comments by Running Elk).

Before we left, I went to the old tumbled stone wall and, through a space in the trees, took in the beautiful view. Like Easter Aquhorthies, this circle was built almost at the top of a rise – almost, but not quite – for a lovely sense of harmony with the land.

There was a peace to this place, a feel of tree and stone and endless time, even with the more modern church nearby. It felt in balance, as though all things were well. This was in contrast to our next destination…

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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.

Maiden, Mother, Crone – Part 2 – Easter Aquhorthies

I realise that Wednesday is usually my day to wander. However, I’m also writing up my weekend with The Silent Eye. So, I’m combining the two and taking a wander to Easter Aquhorthies Stone Circle, near Inverurie, Scotland, for the second part of my experience.‘I must be insane,’ I thought to myself. I was standing in the centre of a stone circle on a Scottish hillside, near-horizontal rain and hail hitting the back of my jacket like millions of ball bearings. My hands were frozen and I could feel that my waterproof trousers were not living up to their name. And yet… even though I knew the rest of the group were as cold and saturated, if not more so, than I was, none of us made any move to leave. It was one of those moments that defies explanation. And yet, wasn’t that what I was there for, after all? …

A hour or so earlier I’d walked into a shop, glad to get inside. The weather had alternated between rain and sort-of-rain as I’d made the ten-minute walk into the town centre, and I was glad I’d put on my wet weather gear before leaving the hotel.

A small sign directed me into the café where I’d be meeting the group of companions, and I entered to see I was almost the last to arrive, a table full of smiling faces greeting me. A warm hug from Sue and several other companions I’d met on my last Silent Eye weekend, and then I was introduced to the rest of the group.

And so the connections continued. I knew Running Elk from blogland, so it was nice to meet him in person. It was also a pleasure to meet his wife and her daughter, who happened to be Canadian. ‘Where are you from?’ I asked, having lived many years in Canada myself. ‘Oh, just outside Toronto,’ came the answer. I smiled. I knew that answer well, as it was one I made myself whenever I was asked where I’d lived when I was there. ‘I went to high school in––‘ I answered, and the shock in both their faces was profound. ‘That’s where we’re from!’ It was a wonderful extra layer to the weekend, and led to a lot of reminiscing.

But first, we were to be taken to the first stop on the tour. Running Elk had planned the weekend, so Sue, Stuart and Steve were as much in the dark as the rest of us as to where we were going to go. We piled into cars and headed out of town, following the (somewhat vague) directions we’d been given. The weather ranged between rain and clear, small patches of blue visible among the grey clouds overhead. Not the best outlook for a weekend we would be spending mostly outdoors, but it wasn’t going to stop us from exploring.

Heading along a private road, the land rising to either side of us, we eventually pulled in to a small car park. A track led away from it into fields bounded by low stone walls and lines of trees, the landscape opening up around us as we neared the stone circle we’d come to visit, Easter Aquhorthies.

The circle is a recumbent type, one of only a few remaining complete, and the name Aquhorthies comes from a Scottish Gaelic word meaning ‘field of prayer.’ Recumbent refers to the large red granite monolith lying on one side, a feature unique to this type of stone circle.

We wandered up the muddy track and through the gate. Upon entry, our guide invited us to enter the circle, and find a place where we felt comfortable. I skirted the outside at first but, as I passed the huge recumbent stone, the one just beyond seemed to call to me.

…‘stay with me, I’ll protect you’ The stone offered shelter and, as I stood in front of it, I felt a warmth on my back, like sunshine, or a hug, or the heat from a fireplace. Welcoming. There was no other stone for me…

Once we’d all found our stones, we listened as our guide explained the significance of each one, the alignments in land and sky. I turned to look beyond my stone, and saw a pointed mountain in the distance, the peak disappearing then reappearing in the swirling mists and cloud, like a mirage of a lost land.

Our guide beckoned us into the centre, to stand in a smaller circle around him. I was loath to leave the protection of my stone; the rain, which had been mizzling and drizzling since we’d entered the circle, had increased in intensity, as had the wind. However, it was time to join the others so I stepped away from ‘my’ stone and went to join them. By this point the weather had picked up to storm level and, as we stood there in howling wind and near horizontal rain and hail, straining to hear what he was saying, I must say I doubted my sanity. Yet, at the same time, there was no great desire to leave. The dog of one of our companions, who looked around at us all from time to time with a wonderful expression of doubt, sat still in the wet grass, waiting for whatever we silly humans were doing to finish.

… we were a group, a circle within a circle, listening, no matter what the weather threw at us…

Eventually, there came a point where even our guide had had enough, the wild weather turning blue denim black and filling shoes and pockets with water, even waterproofs not enough to withstand its force. The decision was made to go and so we did, making our way along the muddy track back to the cars.

By the time we got there, only a few minutes later, the sky was showing patches of blue once more.

Later, after warm showers and a change of clothes, we all met for dinner, a convivial evening where we laughed about the afternoon’s events, the weather seeming to most of us to have been a test of sorts. Whether we had passed or not, would be decided when we returned the following day. But there were other sites to visit first…


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.

Circles Beyond Time – Joy

img_3714This is the final instalment in my account of my weekend away with The Silent Eye. Please click here for parts one, two, three, four, five and six. And thanks for reading!

After our dawn excursion I returned to the hotel for breakfast, then packed and checked out, as Arbor Low was the last stop on our weekend adventure before I had to head to the train station. I was picked up by two of the companions and we set off, sun shining as we wove through the countryside. The Peak District was glowing with late summer, green fields lush with grass and replete with cattle, the rising slopes rustbrown with bracken and heather. Before Arbor Low, we were to have a quick stop at Monsal, where ice cream could be had while taking in a glorious view of the valley and viaduct below.

img_3712Ice cream, however, was not forthcoming – the proprietor teasing us by bringing out the wagon but not opening it, despite the sunshine and crowds. So we stood for a little while taking in the view, while Sue told us the sad story of an ancient settlement on the hilltop nearby – archaeology has found that the only inhabitants were female, except for boys under the age of four, and it seemed to have been a place of some importance, fortified by a large stone wall. However, invaders came, as they often did in those times…

…the painted people…

…and the settlement was destroyed. Appallingly, the great stone wall was apparently pushed onto the gathered women and small children, condemning them to a painful death. Over forty skeletons of women, children and babies were discovered under the stones, grouped together in one final terrifying moment. It was a sobering story, and so it was in a reflective frame of mind that we continued on to our destination.

img_3718Arbor Low is a large Neolithic stone circle within an embankment, and is often described as the Avebury of the North. But I’ve been to Avebury, and Arbor Low, while of a similar grandeur, feels quite different. Set high in a field along a slight slope, Arbor Low is part of a working farm – we had to walk through the farmyard to get to the burial barrow and great circle beyond. Our entry fee was paid via an honesty system, into a padlocked metal box alongside the stony driveway. We paid our pounds, gold coins rattling into the box, then joined the small group of people heading through. As I walked along, I happened to look down and a piece of stone caught my eye. Broken into smaller fragments, it gleamed in the bright sunlight – I passed it before registering what it was, then realised and went back, picking up a sharp edged chunk, crystal gleaming in the sunlight.

‘That looks like local fluorspar,’ said Sue. ‘That’s for communication.’

As we exited the farmyard, I could see the earthworks rising to the left of us, like a crown upon the hill. Straight ahead the curved shape of an ancient burial mound loomed and I hung back from the group, unsure for a moment.

She clutched the stone in her pocket, feeling the smooth sharp edges digging into her skin. A voice spoke.

‘Go with them,’ it said. ‘Then come to me.’

She listened, wondering if there would be any other instruction, but all she felt was the reverberation of those seven words, like a smile in her mind.

img_3715We reached the burial mound, climbing to the top where it was pointed out that, if we looked around, similar mounds crowned many of the hills we could see. Clearly, this had been a place of great importance. After looking around a bit longer we descended, leaving the barrow to enter the circle itself, via the old processional way. Once inside, we were invited to wander around, get a feel for the place, and see whether any of the stones ‘spoke’ to us. I found a stone I liked, sitting there for a while before deciding to walk the circle, starting along one half of the earthworks, then descending into the circle, moving among the stones. All at once I felt joy, as though this were a dance. I started to move in and out of the stones, feeling as though that was the way to do it, as though I were being guided.

img_3720Once I’d woven my way through half of the circle, I walked the other part of the earthworks, enjoying the view across the countryside, cloud shadows drifting across the land. Then I descended once more, dancing my way in and out of the stones, feeling laughter bubble in my chest as I did so, pure joy.

img_3721Upon joining Sue and Stu in the centre of the circle, we were invited to lie on ‘our’ stone, and see what happened. But someone else had claimed ‘mine’, so I went to another one across the circle, lying back along the ancient sloped surface. It seemed strange to be doing so, yet natural, at the same time. I stared into the sky and let my mind drift.

She could feel energy here, bright and clean as a new penny or a mountain stream, running around the circle counter-clockwise, like a silver rope.

Or a green serpent. She could see it now, its great head entering the base of the circle where the goddess lay, golden eyes aglow with the knowledge it had to impart, golden tongue flickering.

‘Stop trying to force it,’ a voice said. ‘Just look at the sky.’ And so she obeyed, gazing up into the deep blue beyond the clouds, letting herself drift as they did…

img_3724I may have dozed a little, I’m not sure. But then the faint sound of a bell brought me back to myself. It was quite comfortable, lying there, and at first I wasn’t really willing to move. But then the bell rang again, and I turned my head to see the others starting to move towards the large centre stones. I also realised I was getting hungry – unsure how long I’d been lying there.

At the centre of the circle ritual was observed once more, though more to honour the space than anything else – it needed no help awakening. We were invited to share anything we’d experienced while lying on the stones but I said nothing, still not quite trusting what I’d seen. Then, as we left, exiting through the lower part of the circle, Sue pointed out a stone that she said looked like a serpent’s head.

‘Did you say serpent’s head, Sue?’ I asked. She stopped, turning to me.

‘Yes. Did you get a serpent?’ I nodded, sharing what I had ‘seen.’ She smiled.

img_3722‘We think the people here were the people of the serpent,’ she said, and I shook my head. That was a pretty big sign I needed to trust my instincts. After all I had seen and experienced over the weekend, the land speaking to me in ways unexpected, this final synchronicity seemed a fitting end to an extraordinary time away.

Well, it wasn’t quite the end. Lunch beckoned, and a last chance to spend time in conversation with good company. Wasps drove us indoors but bright sun shone in through the open doorway, illuminating our table. After lunch, once farewells had been made, two of the companions were kind enough to take me to the train station, saving me part of the journey. I boarded my train, feeling strangely out of time, the city landscape jarring after days spent among green hills and ancient stones. As I settled back into my comfortable seat and watched the countryside flash past, tiredness overtook me. I finally reached home as the sun set, bookending the day that had begun at dawn on a distant peak.

With thanks to The Silent Eye and all the companions for a wonderful weekend away.

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