A Dorset Weekend With The Silent Eye – Part 2

Still officially on a blog break, I swear. But there is more to tell about my trip to Dorset, so here is part two of my weekend with The Silent Eye (for part one click here).

Saturday morning arrived early. There was a lot planned, as there usually is on these weekends, so there was no time to lie in my (very comfortable) bed. Not that I was complaining – I was looking forward to exploring the village and surrounding area, as well as seeing what else might happen in the course of the day.

The village of Cerne Abbas is ancient – the hotel in which I stayed started life as a hall in the 12th century, and was expanded by a prosperous owner in the 14th century. It is called the New Inn, despite its age, and its warren of rooms felt somewhat like a puzzle box, layers upon layers of history all held in one place. The nearby Giant, however, may be older still.

We had driven past him the previous evening, on our way to the village, stopping to take in the view from below. He is best seen from the air, oddly enough, though the view from across the valley is not too bad. There are several theories to the Giant’s history and significance – some say that he is a Celtic god figure, thousands of years old, others that he is a later, Roman, depiction of Hercules. Still others state that he is political satire, a figure made to represent Oliver Cromwell during the Civil War – however, it seems a great effort to make in a out-of-the-way village, nor does it explain the Iron age earthwork just above him on the hill, or the long-standing fertility traditions associated with him.

After breakfast, I joined the group, our meeting place just a short walk away. There was something special taking place this morning, and I felt honoured to be part of it. We wandered along picture perfect streets, past ancient timbered houses and a doorway so perfectly garlanded with flowers it looked as though it had been decorated for a wedding. Perhaps appropriate, considering our destination later that morning…

But first there was a visit to a sacred spring, and a ceremony. While rabbits danced in the nearby field, leaves rustling and water falling, one of the companions took the next step on their journey. While this is not my story to tell, I will say that I held the role of scribe, and was very taken with the solemnity and emotion of the ceremony. Sue has written about it in more depth here, if you’re interested.

Once events were concluded, we set off through an ancient graveyard. It had once been attached to the Abbey which gave Cerne Abbas both its name and much of its wealth, until it was dissolved in 1539 by Henry VIII. Not much remains of the Abbey, but the graveyard holds some interesting tombs, including this one marked with Catherine wheels, an icon we had also seen at the nearby spring, and one which echoed other symbols we were to encounter several times over the weekend.

Now it was time to visit a giant. A gate out of the graveyard led us almost to the foot of the great hill where he rampaged, his club raised, manhood erect. Archaeological evidence suggests that there were originally more details, now lost to time, including what may have been a cloak or animal skin on his outstretched arm and, possibly, a severed head in his hand. He is certainly anatomically correct – so much so that, in Victorian times, his phallus was removed from tourist images so as not to offend delicate sensibilities. A maypole used to be set in the earthwork above him, where childless couples would dance in the hopes of conceiving and it is said that, if the deed is done on the Giant himself, infertility may be cured. However, while there may have been some jokes among the group about the strident masculinity on display, all we planned to do that morning was climb the hill, as we’d been told there was a crop circle in the meadow below the Giant, and were very keen to take a look.

Not everyone decided to make the climb, and so it was a party of four who started along the pathway that ran through a small woodland before ascending, quite steeply, to the top of the hill.

…There was no string to pull her aloft here, the way difficult at times. But worth it, as the landscape unfolded around her, the swelling mound of the hill beneath her feet, the giant rampant to one side…

We took the ridge at the top of the hill, past the ancient earthwork, the pathway lined with orchids and brambles, cinnabar moths with their distinctive bright green and red markings fluttering around. The view was wonderful, the landscape opening up around us as it had at Cadbury.

The Giant is fenced off, though not in such a way that you couldn’t gain access should you want to. We chose, however, to respect the fence, leaving the Giant to the sheep who clung to the steep hillside. Up close, he was nothing more than a series of ridges in the soil, making us consider once again how he was supposed to have been viewed, and by whom.

Sadly, when we reached a point where we could see the meadow below, there was no crop circle. Slightly disappointed, we half-walked, half-slid down the narrow chalky path running alongside the giant, meeting the rest of the companions further down the slope. As we skirted the base of the figure…

…‘Can you feel the heat?’ she asked her companion. ‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘I can.’ The side of her closest to the giant felt warm, as though near to a fireplace or furnace. Something was brewing, midsummer only a few days away…

At the base of the hill we paused for a short while to reflect on the giant and what, possibly, his significance may have been…

…heat rising…

Then we wandered along the river that ran past his feet, clear water laughing as we took the green-garlanded path back to the village. It was almost lunchtime and we had a long way yet to go. This was one of those days where time would stretch and twist upon itself…


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.

Wednesday Wander – Rocher De La Vierge, Biarritz

Last summer, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Biarritz, located on the French coast. I absolutely loved it – the light, the water, the people, the food – it was just wonderful. I’ve written about it here and here, but for today’s Wander I’m going to go back to the town’s origins as a fishing village, before Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie made it such a fashionable place to be.

For centuries, the principal industry in Biarritz was whaling. It wasn’t until the 18th century that it became known as a town for bathing, and the 19th century when it became fashionable due to the patronage of the Empress.

Nowadays, there are splendid hotels and a casino along the water’s edge but, if you wander a little further along the beach, you come to the old fishing village and harbour, the water clear turquoise against curving ochre rocks.

The old harbour walls remain and are used today – we spent a few minutes there watching a group of men launching a boat into the water. In the mid 1800s, Napoleon III decided he would like to build a large anchor point and sea-wall, connecting a nearby rock to the coastline. A wooden walkway was built between the two, and a statue of the Virgin Mary was placed on top of the rock to watch over the whalers as they returned to harbour.

The sea can get ferocious in these parts, however, and in the 1880s the wooden walkway was replaced by a metal bridge attributed to Gustav Eiffel (known for a rather more famous metal structure bearing his name). Today you can walk out to the rock and take in the glorious views, past archways of stone over dark blue water, sea birds wheeling overhead.

The day we went was warm and hazy, the water calm, though we had heard that the waves can splash as high as the footbridge on more stormy days.  Also, I think I may have found my dream house…

The Rocher De La Vierge is easily accessed via the coastal walk that runs along the main beach at Biarritz, past the Casino and town centre and leading to the excellent Aquarium. The views looking back are beautiful, as are those beyond, and the walk itself is quite gentle – I highly recommend it.

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


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.

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Thursday Doors – In The Village

img_5301I had a little time after work the other day, so decided to photograph a few of the lovely Georgian doors in the village where I work. It’s a small high street, 16th century half-timbered pubs next to Victorian villas and tiny cottages, older timber framed buildings ‘modernised’ with Georgian facades. The village dates back to Saxon times and is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. In the 12th century it was home to one of the royal Plantagenet palaces, since demolished.

img_5298It’s a lovely place to work, the river running in the valley below next to the more placid waters of the old canal. I’ve seen a kingfisher, flash of brilliant blue, along the river, and at the moment there are snowdrops on the banks – it’s nice to have the option to walk to work, too.

img_5314And I also took a shot of this wonderful fellow. He obligingly stopped so I could take his photo – isn’t he great?

img_5304This is my response to Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors Challenge, for door-lovers from around the world. For more doors, or to add one of your own, visit Norm’s site and click the link.


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

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…

img_3626

Thursday Doors – Blacksmith Row

img_3409This door is the end one in a row of three connected cottages called Blacksmith Row. There is no blacksmith there any more but, as with so many names in Britain, clues to the history of the place lie in the name. When Leverstock Green was a village, before the post-war new town developments made it part of Hemel Hempstead, there was a smithy to the right of the cottages – in fact, right where the resident of this cottage now has a smart fenced garden.

img_3406Even though it’s been absorbed into a larger town, Leverstock Green still has a village feel, with the old pub, cricket played on the green and the picturesque cottages with their lovely gardens. I particularly like how, even though the cottages are separately owned, the owners have chosen to have the same colour front doors. It made them the perfect candidate for my Thursday Doors post this week.

This is my entry to Norm 2.0’s weekly Thursday Doors Challenge. For more doors, or to add one of your own, visit Norm’s site and click the link.

 

Wednesday Wander – Portmeirion, Wales

portmeirion-2I’ve chosen to wander to the village of Portmeirion, North Wales, this week. There are a couple of reasons for doing so; one, it’s a pretty interesting place and, two, it’s fifty years ago this week since filming started on cult television series The Prisoner, which used the village as its backdrop.

portmeirion-3The Prisoner starred Patrick McGoohan as a man known only as Number Six, held prisoner in the village for reasons that remain unclear. Every week he would try to escape, and every week he would fail. The other residents of the village were also known by numbers, rather than names, and huge white balloons called Rovers floated about, preventing the inhabitants from escaping. (For more info, check out this BBC News website article). While the show only ran for seventeen episodes, it became a cult classic – Prisoner conventions are held at the village every year, and the annual music festival  is called Number Six, in homage to McGoohan’s character.

portmeirion-5But even without the bizarre alternate world of The Prisoner, Portmeirion is, as I said, a rather interesting place. Built between 1925 and 1975, it is the brainchild of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who wanted to create an homage to the Mediterranean coast. However, this particular slice of Italianate heaven is set on the rather less balmy, yet no less beautiful, North Welsh coast, where the sea shines silver under rolling clouds, mountains stretching green into the distance.

portmeirion-4

 

The lush gardens and buildings have inspired many writers and musicians over the years – Noel Coward wrote Blithe Spirit while staying there, while Iron Maiden wrote a song called The Prisoner which included a sample of dialogue from the show. The village has also featured in videos for Supergrass, XTC and Siouxsie & The Banshees, to name a few, as well as being used in film and TV productions including Doctor Who and Cold Feet. Frank Lloyd Wright, the esteemed architect (and one of my favourites) visited the village in 1959 – the list goes on…

portmeirion-1

I first visited Portmeirion as a child then, later, returned as an adult. It was as magical as I remembered, even on a cloudy day – the colours and shapes beautiful against the lush green shrubbery. And, hidden among the trees, my friend and I found a small pet cemetery complete with gravestones – a poignant reminder of the family who owned and lived in the village for many years. Now Portmeirion is owned by a charitable trust and you can stay in the village itself, as most of the buildings were designed, and have always been used as, a hotel and self-catering cottages. I think it might be an ideal place to go for a writing retreat – anyone interested? 😀

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