Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 9 – Heights

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 nine of my account, parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven  and eight can be found here… I couldn’t get to sleep until very late Saturday night, despite being exhausted – for some reason I found it difficult to relax and, when I did, tapping noises ensued which kept me from sleeping. I finally called out ‘For god’s sake be quiet and let me get some sleep!’ The next thing I knew, my alarm was going off…

Sunday morning dawned grey and drizzly, the glorious weather having disappeared overnight. It wasn’t cold, though, and the rain, though not ideal, was more of a soft mist than anything else. Which was good, as the morning’s plans involved us being outside. We headed into the green once more, grey stone villages softened by rain, hillsides blurred by soft clouds.

We pulled into a carpark, alighted and, as a group, walked around a stone building to find ourselves at the start of a long winding valley. Ahead of us was a strange stone outcropping I’d noticed the previous day when we were driving around – Sue had warned us that we might find the site challenging, but my initial impression was one of beauty…

…The stone seemed wreathed in rainbow colours, which spilled out and along the valley floor, a river of energy beckoning them forward…

Peter’s Rock, a natural rock outcropping thought to have slid away from the adjacent hillside, is so named because it apparently resembles the Dome of St Peter’s in Rome. The valley approach holds several hermit caves and, beyond, leads to the ancient sites of Monsal Head and Finn Kop. The latter is thought to have been a sacred place of study, and there are plenty of indications that his has been an important landscape for a long time. (For more information about the landscape and its history, see Sue’s excellent post about it here).

As we approached the rock, we stopped at one of the hermit caves to discuss the history of the place, and also to open the circle. I couldn’t stop looking at the rock – I found it fascinating, something about it drawing me in. There were a few other walkers about, despite the weather, as well as some lovely dogs, and once again we took a moment to chat. I also managed to capture this shot, which I like to call ‘Modern Hermit.’ A meditation was shared, an idea discussed of what things might have been like in the valley in ages past, and what might have happened here. And then we moved forward once more.

There had been some discussion about climbing the rock. Apparently, there were rough steps running up a natural cleft in the centre, the top wide and flat enough to accommodate us, should we be so inclined. Now, I’m not a fan of heights but something, perhaps the healing I’d experienced the day before, made me feel as though this was something I could do. As the valley curved, a path split off from it, moving up and along the side of the hill towards the rock. We took the path…

… and there was a weight on her chest again, like the weight she’d felt in Eyam, making it difficult to breathe. But up ahead, the stag waited. For her…

We continued along the pathway, the rock looming above us. Several of us were feeling the weight now, something pressing down on us…

…the stag waited at a point higher on the path, horns held high. Her chest heavy, breath coming hard, she stopped to kneel to him. When she rose he came to her, rubbing his velvet snout against her cheek, his antlers around her like a blessing. Her heart lighter, she moved forward.

When the pathway ended, we were almost at the base of the rock, which seemed a lot larger (and higher) than it had from afar. Once again I wondered whether I’d be able to climb it, after all…

…Two hooded figures waited, perched high above the valley. A third, a guide, came to her and took her hand, asking a question. She answered, and was led higher along the ridge, the land dropping away steeply to the side of her. But despite her usual fear of high places, here she felt as sure-footed as a deer, the hand that guided her a formality only, as though she floated above the rocky ground.

The first figure raised a lantern, presenting her with a gift. She took it, bowing, then moved along the ridge once more to where the second figure waited, cloaked in velvet. Another question, another gift, and then she was left to sit and contemplate it all, turning her closed eyes towards the grey skies. And it was as though sun shone down on her, warmth on her face, bright light coming through her closed lids, and another lesson came to her.

You need to embrace your truth to move forward

And when she opened her eyes the skies were as grey as they had always been. But light shone within her, and the rainbow energy of the rock seemed to be everywhere in the landscape, all the colours hiding among the green…

I stood at the base of the rock, looking up. Well, if this weekend was about facing fears, then I should at least try to climb it, I told myself. Four of us elected to do so, in the end, and we ascended via the split in the rock where, as promised, a very rough set of ‘stairs’ awaited. When I got to the top my legs were a bit wobbly, so I sat on the wide grassy space to the back of the stone, while the other stood on the higher, ‘domed’ section. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself for getting up there, though, and the views were lovely.

…and as the shaman’s rattle echoed from the hillsides, soft rain falling on her upturned face, she felt the light inside her as a small flame, a warmth and a beginning of a new path…

We descended and joined the rest of the group, when it was decided to visit a very unusual pub nearby. The weekend’s activities were now over, and I had a train to catch in a couple of hours, the rest of the group also having places to go. But there was time, still, to sit together and enjoy hot cherry pie with cream, conversation and reflection. Inside, the pub seemed unchanged for centuries, massive blackened beams over the ancient fireplace, all of us perched on handmade wooden stools or creaking benches, and the figure of a mummified cat in a case in the corner, apparently found hidden in the chimney as a charm against evil spirits. It was a fitting end to a remarkable weekend.

It’s always a bit sad when the weekend workshops are over, yet there is also a sense of peace and accomplishment, and the joy of having explored new places with like-minded people. This weekend particularly resonated with me, and I was grateful for having experienced it. Fears had been faced and truths revealed, and I had a lot to think about. As my train rolled through the Hope Valley, bearing me towards Sheffield and reality, the rain that had been threatening all day began to fall in earnest, obscuring the hills and their mysteries with a veil. Ravens flew overhead, their ways parting, as did mine with my fellow companions.

I was going home.

Thank you to everyone who’s been reading along and commenting – I know it’s been a lot of posts, considering it was only a weekend! Regular blogging now resumes (well, as regular as I can make it, anyway 😉 )…


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Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 7 – Fear Itself

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 seven of my account, parts one, two, three, four, five and six can be found here… As we approached the Andle Stone its size, half hidden by the slope and vegetation, became more apparent, as did the fact that this was obviously a significant part of a larger landscape. Once again, there seemed to be a tradition of climbing attached to the stone, as someone had incised footholds as well as graffiti, and cup marks higher up indicated it had been in use for a very long time. However, it was a good four metres or so to the top so we decided to leave it, pushing through the shrubbery to the front of the stone, where an inscription lay hidden.

The Andle Stone is inscribed to the memory of Lieutenant Colonel William Thornhill of the 7th Hussars, a veteran of Waterloo, and to the Duke of Wellington, who commanded the decisive battle against Napoleon and who, strangely, died on September 14, 1852, exactly one hundred and sixty-seven years to the date of our visit. We paused for a moment to contemplate the idea of war, how a young man may have felt on the eve of conflict, and how fear was put aside in the service of one’s nation and cause. It seemed an odd place for a memorial, hidden from view as it was, and I wondered at the decision to place the inscription there (and yes, I know the trees would not have always been there).

We left the stone and sat nearby, enjoying the sunshine and talking. After our failed attempts to climb stones, we were surprised to see a young man approach and, in what seemed like a matter of seconds, make his way to the top of the Andle Stone. While we admired his prowess, we were amused when, a minute or so later, we heard him say ‘How do I get down?’…

But we had other places to go, so we left the stone and crossed the field, following the path of a drystone wall into a small wood, the shaman still clearing my path. I knew we were going somewhere special, but I wasn’t prepared for the jolt of fear I experienced when I glimpsed the small stone circle through the trees. I may have sworn. I know it was a gut thing and, despite the assurances of my companions, I found myself unable to walk past the entry stone into the glade.

It was a very strange sensation, as though there was a physical barrier holding me back. I took a moment to try and centre myself, taking in some deep breaths. Meanwhile, the others had entered the glade, the circle opening. And a message came to me, clear as day:

It is only your fear that is holding you back

This was incredibly profound, and still is, on many levels. As soon as I heard the words and accepted them, I was able to move forward and stepped into the grove. I can’t explain it – all I can do is relay it as it happened.

Doll Tor is a Bronze age stone circle consisting of six stones, with further stones outside the perimeter (including the one that ‘stopped’ me from entering). The circle stones were once connected by drystone walling, and there is a burial cairn very close to the circle (and within the outer stones), where the skeleton of a woman and several burial urns containing the ashes of children were found. It was obviously a place of significance, even though it was hidden away among the trees. It may not have always been so hidden, of course – the vegetation we see now does not always reflect how things would have been when the landscape was first laid out.

However, the trees seem to add to the magic of the place, the forest cradling, rather than overwhelming, the circle. That could have something to do with the power the place still holds, something we decided to try working with while we were there. Preparations were made, we took our places, and…

She saw…

…The ocean…

A woman in a green dress…

A stag coming to the edge of the clearing where he waited, cropping the green grass…

A darkness, womb-shaped…

And in it, gleaming, a single red point of light like a winking ruby or pomegranate seed…

It felt like possibility…

A buzzing… a cawing…

She saw all the companions, strings of light connecting them…

She saw the shaman, enveloped in a globe of light that went above and below her…

A weaving of light around the stones, all of it connected…

The green of midsummer leaves…

And then peace…

And a circular shape, like a seal upon the earth…

Once again, I can’t explain it. I can only tell it as it happened. Whatever I saw was powerful, my body bending back beneath the force of it. And, as the others concurred, it felt like a healing. In light of what had happened to me earlier in the cairn field, I could only take it as a gift, and be grateful that I had come to this place, and for the lesson it had taught me.

We talked for a little while, then paid our respects. There was some joking about the number of blog posts the trip would entail – though these weekends are only 48 hours or so, time seems to stretch and twist, each moment heavy with significance. To cover them in detail requires quite a few words. I took some more photos, then we left, leaving the grove behind. However, the magic of it remains with me now, and it’s one of my favourite places I’ve ever visited on a Silent Eye weekend.

When we got back to the car, we realised we had a bit of time before dinner, so Sue and Stu suggested we visit a place of interest nearby, not to work, but simply to have a look around. We had closed the circle for the day, so it sounded like a fun idea. Little did we know the weirdness that awaited us there…

(I know – the day had already been pretty intense. But trust me – Rowtor Rocks was weird)


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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…


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 5 – Failure

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 five of my account, parts one, two, three and four can be found here…

We left Tideswell and headed into the hills. The sun was shining, the temperature warm enough for just a light jacket – not exactly the kind of weather one associates with fear. However, so far we had faced pestilence, death, and the idea of losing everyone you hold dear to be left alone in a changed world. Quite intense for the first afternoon! I started to get the inkling that this weekend would be about challenging myself internally, as well as externally…

Fear is something that is both universal, and specific to the individual. There are fears that hearken back to our ancestral roots – the fear of being vulnerable, cast out, or killed by some predator. Then there are fears that are more personal – some people suffer from claustrophobia, whereas others dislike large open spaces. Some people are scared of heights, others of spiders – it really depends on the individual. There are modern fears – nuclear war, gender-based violence, terrorism – and age-old ones such as poverty, bankruptcy, homelessness. Fear is unique to each individual, and yet is something we all share. Our next destination was a place where people were tested against an ancient fear, yet where the same tradition is still observed to this day.

We arrived at a very busy car park with people everywhere, a coach disgorging even more walkers near the entrance. While it was a pleasure to be out in the Peak district in such glorious weather, rather than in the rain I’d experienced last time I was there, it did mean it was a bit more crowded than usual. There also seemed to be some sort of event on, with officials seated a tables, people wearing numbers and carrying water bottles. Still, it was a wide and glorious space and there was plenty of room for everyone, plus it made for a more social walk, with lots of lovely dogs to be petted and conversations to be had. Nothing to be scared of here, unless you don’t like dogs or conversation.

After a short conversation our group split, with some of us taking the path running along the cliff edge, while others took the more gentle path among the heather and cairns. For this was a land of the dead – an ancestral burial ground, with scrying bowls carved into stones, small piles of rock dotting the landscape. It didn’t bother me, though – the dead are at peace in such places. So I took in the view, and we remarked how it felt as though the wind was scouring us clean, blowing away the last vestiges of the strangeness we’d experienced the day before.

As the path turned a large stone, standing alone among the cairns, became visible. This is the Eagle Stone, so named because, from one angle, it looks like an eagle at rest. Carved by the elements into fantastic shapes, it has been used since time immemorial as a testing ground for young men to show that they are ready to be wed. Before they were allowed to marry, the young man at first needed to climb the stone to the top, a test of manhood to prove their worth.

While it may seem a simple task, closer inspection revealed there is no easy way to the top. A couple of our group tried, but even to get a short way up was far more difficult than it looked. This would have been a test of both strength and ingenuity, an indication to the tribe that the young man in question was a suitable candidate to marry and pass on their skills to their children.

So the fear to be faced here is the fear of failure, both on a personal level, and of the tribe. If no young men were able to climb the rock, then the tribe was doomed to weaken and die out. And for the young men in question, they would lose both respect and the chance to marry the one they loved. Interestingly, the custom persists, as young men from the village below still climb the rock before they get married, often with the help of friends, and with a veil tied around their waists. As Sue put it so eloquently, ‘perhaps ‘manhood’ is not only defined by the ability to face fears and overcome hurdles, but by the ability to cooperate and help each other.’

As I stood in the shadow of the rock I considered how, perhaps, ancient traditions designed to propagate the strength and fertility of the tribes have become twisted over the centuries, so the idea of fighting for a woman’s favour, of not giving up until it’s bestowed, the idea that it is somehow owed in return for making an effort, has gained traction with some segments of society. And that there is a different kind of fear attached to such behaviour today.

But, as we laughed and joked and made friends with yet another lovely dog, I felt a world apart from such things. It had been a lovely peaceful morning, especially after the strange events of the previous afternoon, and it was nice to sit in the sunshine and enjoy the fresh air. However, I had no idea what the rest of the day had in store…


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Facing Fear with The Silent Eye, Part 1 – Arrival

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 one of my account…

My journey began on Friday 13th, amid the hustle and bustle of St Pancras station, my train waiting beneath the great arcing span of glass. Perhaps it was the day – I’d given myself plenty of time to get there, yet still found myself rushing at the last moment, a wrong turn taken meaning I had to run the length of the station to get to my platform. But I made it on board and settled in for a pleasant journey through London and out into the green, past the dreaming spires of St Albans and further north, buildings of golden brick changing to red, then to grey stone.

This weekend was to be given over to fear, so I reflected on what that could mean as we headed north. I don’t particularly care for spiders, but I wasn’t sure the weekend would involve me facing countless arachnids. Heights? Maybe – we were going to be wandering the moors and high places, so I wondered whether that would be part of the challenge. Then I went deeper, to more primal fears. The loss of family, of home. Of life itself. One thing I knew – to expect the unexpected. These weekends tend to work in mysterious ways, and it was probably best if I just accepted that and went along with things, knowing that I was among friends and in full control as to what, if anything, I chose to experience.

The train discharged me at Sheffield, where I had a 15-minute wait for the local train bearing me into the hills. Once on board, we entered a long tunnel, a strange transition through darkness. On one side the industrial town; on the other, small villages and green hillsides, quaint stations with names like Grindleford and Hathersage. I had only a short journey to Hope, where I’d arranged to be picked up and taken to Tideswell, where I’d be staying for the weekend.

Tideswell is a beautiful village, all grey stone and pointed roofs, mullioned windows winking in the sunshine. It was a glorious day – the sun shining, sky blue, warm enough for a light jacket, even in the hills. Once dropped off, I made my way into the pub where I was staying, being shown to a room with a four-poster bed, of all things, before enjoying an excellent lunch in the small dining room, bounded by ancient oak beams and flagstone floors.

Then it was time to go. Sue and Stu had offered to pick me up and, at the allotted time, I went outside to be greeted with hugs and smiles. Then we hit the road, heading for the village of Eyam. I was excited to be going there, having enjoyed reading Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders, a fictionalised version of the events that took place in the mid 1600s when plague came to Eyam. I’d also watched a fascinating documentary about the descendants of the survivors of that terrible time, all of whom still carried antibodies for the plague which also, apparently, rendered them immune to HIV, as both viruses work in a similar manner. (I’m in no way an expert on this – I’m just stating what was reported in the documentary – apparently these antibodies are being studied in the hopes of developing more effective HIV treatment). Eyam, quite simply, was a place with a story. And I love stories.

But I was not prepared for Eyam…


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

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.

A Dorset Weekend With The Silent Eye – Part Three

This is part three of my account of a recent weekend in Dorset with The Silent Eye. Click here for Part 1 & Part 2.

After lunch, we were to visit seven churches in the course of the afternoon, starting with Cerne Abbas. This, despite the fact we only had a few hours to accomplish it, seemed completely reasonable. Time was already starting to play tricks on me, stretching and slowing, and the afternoon was to prove even more challenging in that regard…

We started in the lovely parish church at the centre of Cerne Abbas, adorned with carving both outside and in. it was a pleasant church, one that hummed with activity and felt much more alive than the strangely vacant church at Cadbury the evening before.

There was a man painting icons at a table and several of our group spent time in conversation with him. I wandered the aisles, photographing the remnants of medieval wall paintings, the carved screen and ornate pulpit, and a shape painted on the wall near the altar. Known as a Consecration Cross, the shape probably predates Christianity, and was to figure prominently as the day progressed.

Once everyone had had a look around, we met in the small garden to one side of the church, sitting within an enclosure created by espaliered fruit trees. There was a brief discussion about the places we were going to visit, and then we were each invited to choose a coin and a piece of paper. My coin was Aries, and on the piece of paper I chose was the Sun….

…It was time to start the dance…

I hopped in the car with Sue and Stuart, who, very kindly, had ferried me around all weekend, and we hit the road. And this is where things got a bit strange. Sue has written up all the churches we visited in great detail here (Churches one, two, three, four, five and six) if you’re interested. I do remember visiting them all – the problem, however, was keeping them straight in my head. The landscape seemed to flow around me, the curving roads between high hedges feeling like a labyrinth as we arrived at first one lych gate, then another, driving past ancient cottages and old stone walls, tantalising glimpses of hills  appearing before the road twisted again, exposing another view. There were roses and tiny lilies, green grass and tilting tombstones, each telling a story of their own. Even now, it’s tough for me to comprehend how it was we managed to visit all seven churches before dinner time, and my impressions of each are images of light and colour and stained glass and stone…

… a flash of orange light through a high window, gilding each one of us in turn… a strange figure, older than the building it adorned, echoes of a distant past… a church set in a meadow next to an ancient country house, deconsecrated yet still, in its own way, holding power… another church set on the side of a hill, which had a cool clear feeling, like the far more ancient stone altars we’d seen in Scotland the year before… strangely phallic carvings flanked by curving shapes seen on an ancient tithe box… the jewel-like gleam of stained glass… swallows darting inside a stone vestibule… carved wood and stone… a hillside rising, rich with flowers and green grass… a dance of planets, fire and water, sun and moon… the feeling that we were in a place far older, with roots that ran far deeper, than the churches that stood there…

That night, at dinner, there wasn’t much conversation, all of us needing time, it seemed, to process the day. We did discuss the churches, and it was then that confusion set in, for me at least.

‘But wasn’t that the third church we went to?’

‘The fifth.’

‘Really?’ Mind spinning, trying to remember.

‘Earth energy does that to people.’

‘It does?’

I looked around at the table. Two of our companions had left already, pleading exhaustion. The others, while still smiling, were quiet, and we were all waiting for dinner to arrive. The churches spun in my head, as though on a wheel. Or a cross, perhaps – the consecration cross, which we’d ended up seeing in several of the churches we visited, as well as a six-pointed star carving, each with a centre point. And we’d visited seven churches…

I gave up trying to figure it out and ate my meal, marvelling quietly once more at how time seems to become elastic on these weekends, every moment filled with meaning, something to be savoured and considered later.

Now, when I look back at that afternoon, my impression is one of breathlessness. Not because I felt rushed, or was running a lot – rather, I was breathless from being caught in a force larger than I was. There were some lovely moments of clarity, many to do with water, as though taking a moment to look in a font or stream helped me to refocus. And I took hardly any photos, which is strange – certainly almost none of the church buildings themselves. Rather, I focused on details and oddities, as though I was only able to take everything in as fragments. It was wonderful, in the best sense of the word.

But the place we were to visit the next day would dwarf any other we had already seen, in just about every way possible…


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