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…


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 1

I know. It’s been a while since I’ve been here. And I’m still officially on a blog break. However, a few weeks ago I spent a weekend in Dorset with The Silent Eye, which I really wanted to write about, so here we are.

It usually takes me a little while after such weekends for me to process everything that happened. There are layers upon layers, some of which only become apparent once I’ve had a chance to reflect. There is magic, and impressions – whether they are valid or simply a product of my over-active imagination, I’ll leave to you to decide. There is always joy. And so the weekend began…

I took a train, as I usually do – I don’t drive much and there is something I love about travelling through the landscape where roads don’t tend to go, seeing the way the colours change, subtle tints of leaf and stone and sky. This trip was a long one – first into the bustle of London, then out, past glimpses of the Houses of Parliament and the Thames before heading south through leafy suburbs into open countryside. We crossed the New Forest, past wild ponies grazing in tree-lined clearings, skirted the coastline at Southampton before turning right and ending up in Dorchester, where Sue and Stuart were waiting for me.

It was such a pleasure to see them again. The sun was shining, and it seemed an auspicious start to a weekend that would be spent exploring a sacred landscape close to the midsummer solstice. Once I’d decanted my luggage into the car, we hit the road, heading for our first stop, Cadbury.

South Cadbury is a small and charming village located just over the county border in Somerset. It’s a quiet place with houses built of mellow golden stone, where roses climb and foxes dance along thatched roofs. It is also, according to long-standing tradition, the location of the legendary Camelot, court of King Arthur (I’m not 100% sure about this, as there are several other solid theories, but that’s another blog post). There is a ‘castle’ here of sorts – Cadbury Castle, an impressive Iron Age earthwork crowning the hill that overlooks the village. Evidence suggests it has been inhabited since Neolithic times, and excavations in the 1960s did, in fact, uncover an Arthurian-era feasting hall on the site, reinforcing the legend. We were going to make the trek up the hill to the castle, but our first stop was the small church that sat almost in the shadow of the hill. And so the companions converged…

…the church was quiet, empty feeling. Pretty enough, with roses and tree avenues, views out over the long fields. But there was no power there…

It was a lovely reunion with familiar faces, as well as new, with two lovely Americans making up our group of seven. Once we’d exchanged greetings and spent some time in the church, we took a short walk along the road to the entrance to the castle. It is accessed via a track with a gate – there is no entry fee and the way is deep and hollow, trees curving along its length. I started up the steep path and…

… it was as though she were being pulled up on a string, forging far ahead of the group, feet sure on the rocky path, a hollow way of green. As she neared the end of the path, her attention was drawn to two high points to the left of her, festooned in leaves and branches. Yet there seemed to be someone up there, a host of presences waving their arms. ‘You are welcome here,’ they cried. ‘We are so pleased to see you all! Come join us’. And she knew that on the field ahead there would be tents as far as she could see, white and blue and cloth-of-gold, all come to this place for the dance. But when she reached the field, it was empty, and sorrow overwhelmed her. ‘Do not worry,’ they said, still smiling, still welcoming. ‘We are still here. Come, join the dance…

It was a very strange feeling. I can’t explain it any other way except to say it felt almost as if I could have flown up that hill, the clear joy of being there thrumming through me. Even though I was already far ahead of the group, I had to temper my pace so as not to lose them entirely. It reminded me of another place that had affected me profoundly, somewhere I’d also had impressions of blue and cloth-of-gold – Carl Wark.

I waited at the top of the track for the rest of the group, all of us taken by the trees and air and landscape that undulated for miles around. Notches and earthworks were visible in the landscape around us and, in the distance, like an island rising from a green patchwork sea, was Glastonbury Tor.

…as she looked out to the distant Tor (distant, yet somehow close at the same time), it seemed as though there was a thread between it and where she stood, the low landscape between bursting with light and energy like fireworks, building to midsummer…

We stood for a little while, looking at the view and the impressive earthworks, listening to a short history of the place. It had been overthrown by Romans, who had stationed their legions there, but soon came back under local control. While this did happen occasionally, the scale and success of such an attack would, according to historians, have to have been led by a powerful local leader or king, adding fuel to the Arthurian legend. It was a fascinating site and I was still buzzing, whether from the energy of the place, the simple joy of being there with like-minded people, or a combination of the two, I wasn’t sure. We split up to explore the ramparts, with a plan to meet at the summit point. However, something had other plans for me…

…’Come up and over,’ they said, pulling her across the field. ‘Come dance with us!’ She hesitated, feeling a brief shadow, a time when this place had been rent with sorrow and violence. ‘Do not worry,’ they said. ‘It is but part of this place, and a small part at that. There is nothing but joy here now.’ And so she followed them up and over the green hill, butterflies dancing around her feet as she reached the summit. And there she could see the land stretching away, though this time rumpled and folded, rolling hills and deep valleys, a patchwork of summer green. She twirled, caught up in the joy of the place, of the dance….

I did twirl. Ah well. There was no one to see me except the cows, the undulating nature of the hilltop hiding the others from view. I carried on up and over, the landscape unfurling around me as I took a narrow path through the grass and wildflowers to the summit…

…’ Was King Arthur here, once?’ she asked. Laughter. ‘There have been many kings here’…

Hmmm. I rejoined the group at the very topmost point of the fort, where a stone pillar indicated the direction of so many sacred and important sites: Stonehenge, Glastonbury, Avebury, Maiden Castle… This was a very important landscape, connecting with other sites as far afield as Wales (the hillfort of Dinas Powys). If you are familiar with the concept of ley lines, energy lines within the landscape, it was interesting to note that Cadbury stands on the St Michael line, one of the most well-known. After a moment’s reflection, we made our way along the high earthworks towards the track. I could have stayed up there longer, (as I think could most of the group) but there were hotels to check into, plus a dinner reservation we needed to get to. However, we paused briefly, amused by a romantic message left below, and noted a strange phenomenon in one of the fields. There was no fence keeping those cattle in that line, and there was an earthwork visible on the hillside directly above them. Hmmm again. This was a very interesting place, and a suitably wonderful start to the weekend.

All too soon, it was time to leave, to head down the hollow path and back to the real world. Although, I think we would have been welcome to stay longer…

…’Where are you going?’ The stone hit the pathway with a sharp crack!, just missing her. ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry!’ She stopped, turning to see where the stone had come from. The bramble-tangled banks rose high either side of her, seemingly deserted. Still, it felt as though someone was waiting for a response. ‘I’m sorry I have to leave. But I’ll be back. And I thank you for your welcome.’ It seemed there was a sigh, and acceptance of her apology, and she proceeded down the path once more, unimpeded…

I guess this means I’ll have to go back there again.


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.

Maiden Mother Crone, Part 8 – Farewell

So this was it. The final stop on my weekend with the Silent Eye, not far from where it had begun for me, two days earlier. We were very close to Aberdeen airport, but, other than the occasional plane or helicopter overhead, you wouldn’t have known it.

We were standing on high ground overlooking a river that turned, serpent-like, through a green landscape. A huge boulder sat on the edge of the drop and across the river from us were several homes, nestled among trees. Behind us was a ruined church, roof and windows long gone. Yet it still held secrets.

We went into the tidy churchyard, rows of stone monuments to war dead from both sides reminders of a not-too-distant past. The church itself, dedicated to St Fergus, was built of grey stone, weathered by time like the grave markers surrounding it. Interesting that it was the second church of the weekend – sacred places in the landscape were often overtaken by others as beliefs changed, often as part of the process and against the wishes of the community.

Yet symbols and relics remain, and inside the church were several such reminders of a far more distant past – the Dyce symbol stones. Carved Pictish stones, once again marked with the mysterious symbols we had seen on the Maiden stone and others, stood against the wall just inside the door, a small wooden overhang protecting them from the worst of the elements.

There was a double disc and z-rod, and another of the mysterious beasts that look like a cross between a bull and a dolphin, their message obscured by the passage of years. There were Christian symbols too, reminders of a time when Christianity and mystery dwelt side-by-side. On another carved stone set into the wall itself, white quartz pebbles had been left in offering, a nod to a much older belief system.

After spending some time in the chapel we went back out to where the land rose high above the river Don, one of two rivers from which Aberdeen takes its name. We stood in a circle around the large boulder, water below us, the sky wide above, and shared readings and reflection, a last opportunity to consider all that we had seen and experienced over the weekend.

All too soon, it was farewell. We split up into separate cars, with plans to meet down the road for tea and a last chat. However, roadworks scuppered that plan, sending us in different directions until we realised we had no choice but to simply keep going. I ended up at the airport earlier than expected, finding it strange to be all at once alone. However, I’d booked into the lounge so spent a comfortable afternoon watching planes and helicopters take off and land, still half in a dreamworld of mist and rain and dark Scottish pines, grey stones humming with power and warmth. It seemed a million miles from the modern world of steel and internet, and perhaps, in some way, it was.

Later, as I flew above cloudscapes coloured by the setting sun, I reflected on the weekend I’d just spent, the joy of spending time with companions known and the pleasure of meeting companions new. It seemed to me that it would take some time for me to process all I’d experienced and so it has been, this final post coming some six weeks after the fact. Even now, I can feel the resonance of that weekend, of lessons I think I’m still learning on a lot of levels. Scotland was a challenging land, a land that did not compromise, that refused to conform. Yet it was also a place of great beauty and welcome, and somewhere I instantly fell for, no matter the weather it threw at me.

I can’t wait to go back.

This is the final instalment of my account of a recent weekend away in Scotland with The Silent Eye. Click here to read part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six and part seven.


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 5 – The Maiden

Stone and rain. Rain and stone. It seemed to be a theme of the weekend. No matter the weather, when we reached any stone of significance the rain would fall. From soft misty drizzle to gale force rain storms, we experienced just about all the types of rain Scotland seemed to offer, often in the space of just a couple of hours.

And so it was at our next two sites, both of which featured carved Pictish stones. I’d never seen such stones in real life before, so it was a thrill to see the first one, even though it had been reconstructed and sat in the middle of a modern housing estate. There had been a circle there, once, still marked with a ring in the grass, but it had been pulled down long ago, in days when such monuments were no longer revered, their carefully chosen stones broken for use in stone fences and buildings. Some still remained on site, said to come from the original circle, and, despite the cracks crossing the face of the carved stone, the images were still clear, a serpent and spear, thought perhaps to represent the nearby river, and a semi-circle and broken spear, the shape of which came to have more significance for me, later in the day. The rain was still falling as we got into the cars, a soft cool drizzle, dampening the stones but not our spirits, as we headed out into the landscape once more.

A short while later we pulled up alongside the road and saw the towering Maiden Stone. Sue has covered the legend of the Maiden Stone in her excellent post, but the short version is this: the stone is said once have been a young woman who, when tricked by the devil, ran from him. He caught her by the shoulder, creating the distinctive notch shape, and she was turned to stone forevermore.

I saw no woman in the stone, only the enigmatic carvings left on one side by the mysterious Picts, centaur and dolphin creatures, spear and shield, comb and mirror. One of the companions shared an experience he’d had at Easter Aquhorthies, which shed some light on the significance of the comb and mirror. It involved the moon and the role of priestess, a theme we encountered again and again over the weekend. It is not my story to share, but all of us felt it to be valid. In fact, that was one of the lovely things about the group, and something I’d also encountered on my last weekend away with them – that such experiences, thoughts and ideas could be shared freely and taken seriously, with no fear. I can appreciate that, to some, the things I ‘see’ when I’m on these weekends (and at other times too), can seem a bit out there, a bit like the imaginings of an overwrought author. And there are times when I think that as well. So, when you can share these ideas with others and have them corroborated, there is a validation there, a growth in trusting yourself and your intuition, that is a real joy.

Christian imagery had been carved on the other side of the stone, though the carvings were far more weathered than the earlier Pictish work. An intricate cross and wheel, as well as a figure supposed to be Jesus holding two ‘sea-monsters’. Carving continued along the edges of the stone, criss-cross diamond shapes it was said could represent energy patterns, and more intricate knotwork.

The setting itself was beautiful – next to a curving road, the land rising to one side of the stone, a tall row of pines the other side. I imagine when it was new the stone would have stood out in the landscape, its size and the bright colours that once decorated it making it visible for miles around. The symbols themselves are a mystery – the Picts left no explanation as to why they carved the images they did, but they appear over and over again. Theories range from clan markings to maps to storytelling, but it is all conjecture.

We stood around the stone, each of us taking photographs, sharing our thoughts about what we could see and feel. There was a wonderful sense of age to the site, of something that had been standing since long before we were born, and would continue to do so for centuries to come. But we couldn’t stay for too much longer – it was heading into the afternoon and we still had another site to visit, a site that had tested us the last time we were there. What would it hold for us this time?

This is my account of my recent weekend away with The Silent Eye in Scotland. Click to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.


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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