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 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.


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#writephoto – In The Flames

flameI do enjoy Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompts, and the variety of responses she gets for each image. I usually know, when I look at her photos, whether I have something. This is what came to me for this week’s prompt:

What do you see in the flames, little one?’

Her hair was burnished gold, little flickers around her rounded cheeks, small teeth like rice grains as she smiled. ‘I see stories, Nanna.’

‘Stories?’ I raised my eyebrows.

‘Yes,’ she said, reaching her small rounded arm towards the fire. I held out my hand, warning her back and she shook her head, curls bouncing.

‘Oh, don’t worry, Nanna. I know I’m not to touch, Mama said so. I just like to watch the pictures.’

I went still. A curl of excitement started in my stomach. It had been so long I’d almost given up hope. Our tribe had given up, too. I reached to smooth my hand over her soft hair, the fire casting spidery shadows from her long eyelashes as she watched the fire dance.

‘And so what sort of pictures do you see, my precious?’ I waited, half-holding my breath.

‘I see things that have been, and things to come.’ Her voice was deeper for a moment, her childish tones more grown up and I let out the breath. So here it was, here under my very nose. I closed my eyes, knowing that the path before her was long and hard, but that she was the only one who could walk it.

‘I saw the man, the man that came the other week? With the beads and the furs?’ She was all childish excitement again, grabbing at my hand. ‘I saw him ages ago, that’s why I knew what I wanted when he came.’

‘Did you now? Well, that is a fine thing.’ I laughed with her, remembering how she had chosen the small wooden boat, its prow carved like a dragon, like the ones the invaders rode on so long ago. ‘And why did you choose a boat?’

She turned to me, her little face all at once serious. ‘Because I saw them too, Nanna, in the fire. It told me the boats are coming. They’ll be here soon.’


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