Circles Beyond Time – Warmth

img_3626This is the continued account of my weekend away with The Silent Eye. Please click here for part one, part two and part three.

We all gathered around the stone, everyone agreeing that it looked very similar to a sundial. Sue then told us that excavation had shown the stone was deliberately placed and propped at this angle, with one side staying dark throughout the northern Winter, as though to mark the length of the season. We were invited to look at the stone from all angles, to find the ‘devil’s face’ (I think I caught it in the photo below), and also to explore the outer rings of stones, half hidden in the grass, that encircled the clearing. There were at least two rings, if not three, and I headed straight through to the edge, standing in the shade of a silver birch as I marked the low grey shapes curving in both directions.

img_3629Then we regrouped around the central stone, and a meditation took place. It was muggy, the humidity bringing midges out to torment us, but somehow we all managed to focus.

 …as she closed her eyes she could feel the stone as a warm presence, all gentle enfolding heat like a hug, or a warm fire on a cold day. Midges danced along her skin but didn’t bite, as she fought to ignore their tickling touch and focus on the meditation. But it didn’t really matter.

‘All is well. You are welcome here.’

She knew she was supposed to be thinking about the ancestors, or time, or something, but instead all she could focus on was the warmth, the feeling of being greeted. Of being acknowledged. As though after the suffering on the cliff edge the stone wanted, somehow, to offer comfort. Her nausea subsided, and she felt a pull from behind her, as though she had to go towards the large bank of bracken. Something was there…

The meditation ended, we were then given the opportunity to dowse with rods or pendulums. Having never done that before, I thought I’d give it a try, Sue being kind enough to lend me some rods for the purpose. I knew I was supposed to hold them loosely in both hands, and to focus on what I wanted to find. But I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for, other than that Sue and Stuart had mentioned a special stone, and that we were to look for it.

So I stood there, the rods wiggling and crossing in my hands, then uncrossing. I really had no idea what I was doing. Everyone else was wandering about looking serious, various rods and pendulums in their hands. But I couldn’t really pick up anything. That strange compulsion to head towards the bank of bracken was still there, though, so I thought I may as well go that way. I headed off, and was surprised to hear Sue say from behind me ‘Let’s all follow Helen.’ Ha ha, I thought, the rods at this point so useless I just held them both in one hand, sure, everyone follow me. I have no idea what I’m doing. After a few moments Sue came up beside me.

‘There’s something in the bracken,’ I said.

She grinned. ‘There certainly is.’

img_3634As we kept going, a pale grey-white curve appeared up ahead, like the back of a whale breaching the water. We drew closer, and the curve eventually revealed itself as an unusually shaped stone, the pale lichen covering it unlike any we saw elsewhere along the ridge. It wasn’t the specific stone Sue and Stu had wanted us to find, but it was pretty special.

…she could see a child being laid in the dimpled centre of the stone, naked, small limbs curled, their mother bending over to smile at them, reassuring, hands gentle on the tiny form…

Apparently, we were told, archaeology supported the idea that nearby was a place of death rites. It made sense to me that birth would be celebrated here as well, the circle of life completed, just as our modern churches and temples are places to celebrate all the passages of life.

img_3636We left the pale stone behind to go further in, pushing through waist-high bracken until we reached the very special stone. And special it was, carved and set into the ground, the curved markings a mystery. Sue banged on the stone with her staff to reveal its secret. A hollow booming sound took us by surprise. It was fake. A clever fake, crafted to protect the original stone underneath from the depredations of atmosphere, and to allow us to touch the carvings without fear of damaging them. We were invited to discuss the carvings and what we thought they meant. I immediately saw a map. Two enclosures of circular huts, the three ringed circle and smaller sacred space marked nearby. I was a little irreverent then, I confess, stating to one of the companions that perhaps this was a Neolithic ‘buy-off-the-plan’ sign board, and that there had probably once been a display hut nearby for prospective buyers to view. I suppose I needed a bit of levity at that point – still, I did feel quite strongly that the stone was a description of the place, a map of the community. Such things are open to interpretation though, and everyone had their own view on the matter.

Then we were offered a stone of our own, each of us taking our turn to select with eyes closed. Mine was pale, pearlescent white, which fitted quite well with the name I’d been given the previous night. Even though I was the last to choose, it still felt as though I received the stone that was right for me. Interesting how these things work out.

img_3644Now it was time to leave. Lunch was beckoning, we were slightly soaked, and we had other places to visit that afternoon.


My stomach started to roil again at the thought of going back along the cliff edge, but the boggy paths meant there was no other way. Still, I hung back at the gate as the other companions went ahead. Sue had suggested thinking light thoughts as we passed through, in an attempt to soothe the energy of the place. Eventually, I just went for it, thinking ‘sorry, sorry,’ and imagining myself scattering sparks of light as I raced along the shortest path through the stones until I reached a place where the fear subsided, further along the cliff edge. As a group we took a moment to sit, then made our way to the cars parked beyond, stepping back into the real world once more.

At lunch I was quiet. I really couldn’t speak. It wasn’t until I’d eaten my fill that I felt sufficiently energised to join back in with the conversation. That was one of the nicest things about the group, the way we were all given space to experience things as we needed to. I was asked if I was all right, I replied in the affirmative, and that was all that was needed.

To be continued…img_3639

Circles Beyond Time – Sorrow

img_3591This is the continued story of my weekend away with The Silent Eye. Please click here for instalment one and two.

After the visit to Carl Wark and an excellent dinner, I returned to my hotel unable to do anything other than watch TV for a while before falling asleep, thoughts of finishing my short story gone in the face of my experiences on the hill. Besides, I thought, I can look at it tomorrow.

img_3588Despite all the travelling the previous day, I woke early, and was one of the first people down for breakfast in the old oak-beamed dining room. Once finished, I realised I had an hour or so to spare before being picked up, so decided to take a look around Hathersage. Sue had mentioned that I should visit the church, so I upon leaving the hotel I headed left, taking a cobbled path between stone cottages towards where Google Maps told me the church should be. I came to a long muddy road and turned left again, following a glimpse of spire above the trees. After being splashed by an enthusiastically muddy spaniel, I found a gravelled path leading past mossy stone walls. The sign on the tree helped, too. ;-D

img_3590The path led towards a walled enclosure, a grove of trees crowning the hill where the church hid. I wandered up, dodging cowpats and taking care to close the gates behind me, enjoying the views across the village, thinking what a lovely place it would be to live in.

img_3601When I reached the church, I wandered around the graveyard for a little while. It was peaceful, the gravestones grey with age and lichen, family names appearing again and again speaking of an uninterrupted line of existence linked to the village. I love to read old gravestones – the stories they tell of lives lived, of loved ones and families – and there were plenty of fine examples. I didn’t find the Eyre family, which was a shame, but I did find one rather famous fellow.

img_3608This is the grave (reputedly) of Little John, he of Robin Hood fame. As you can see, it’s a very long grave, in keeping with his fabled height, and the gravestone tells the story of how he once lived nearby. Well, why not? I thought, as I took the pathway back towards the gate, smiling at the ladies decorating the ancient stone doorway with flowers, no doubt in preparation for a wedding later that day. But I had somewhere else to be and time was ticking, so I walked back to the hotel, collected my pack, then joined the companions for another day of exploration.

img_3609This time we were heading to Gardoms Edge. I didn’t really know anything about it, but, as we walked through the fields towards to the gate, Sue filled us in. Gardoms Edge was once a Neolithic village – stone hut circles, walls and other evidence had all been excavated and mapped by archaeologists, then left in place for the lichen and heather to cover once more. This sounded fascinating, and I couldn’t wait to take a look.

img_3623We entered via a farm gate, then walked among trees and tumbled stones, hut circles and walls ancient remnants of the people who once made their homes here, thousands of years ago. This would have been a nice place to live, I thought, looking out to the view across hills and valleys, the high ridge protected by virtue of its location.

…until the painted people came…

But as the land started to rise, and we moved towards the edge of the cliff, anxiety began to curl in my stomach, my breath hard to catch. I swallowed, frowning, wondering what the hell was wrong with me. After the release of last night, I had thought to find something similar today. But this was different.

Sue turned to me. ‘You don’t like it here either, do you?’ I shook my head, realising I was almost treading on her heels in my haste to get through this place. The stones here were larger, some piled precariously on the cliff edge itself, other placed in groupings, some alone. Apparently, Sue explained, this was thought to be the place where the bones of the dead were placed, a sacred spot. The valley below was peaceful, green-clad.

…yet she could see people falling, spread-eagled like starfish against the dark green below, pushed from the cliff edge to break upon the desecrated bones of their ancestors, their deaths taken from them, their sacred space destroyed…

Later, when we spoke about the place, I likened it to how a concentration camp felt, invoked 9/11. At the time, when we reached the gate in the modern fence, waiting for the rest of the group to join us, all I could say was that it felt defiled.

‘Do you not feel well? Stu asked, looking concerned.

I shook my head. ‘I feel sick,’ I said, bile rising in my throat as I looked back to the cliff edge, our companions still walking among the stones, taking photos. I had taken no photos, just wanting to get through the place.

‘It took me the same way, when I first came here,’ he said.

…she took a moment to regroup, wondering at the morning she’d had, visiting two places of the dead, one still sanctified, the other not. The dead are revered among all cultures, ceremony and ritual used to send them on their way, the origins of such practices lost in time. And to destroy such a place of ritual is to commit the deepest sacrilege. The reverberations of such an act still resonated in the land, millennia later, affecting her to her core…

As we went through another gate, a fence separating the cliff edge off from the wooded area beyond, I felt the sickness and fear start to ease, my breath coming easier. I didn’t want to go back through there again, though. I followed Sue and Stu through the woods until we stopped at a large standing stone in a clearing. It was set at an angle, notches carved into the head. A bit like a sundial, really…