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.

Autumn Leaves and Winter Work

It’s Sunday evening. The sky is washed with eggshell shades fading to blue, my cheeks still tingling from being outside. The working week awaits… and yet, the working weekend has just finished.

I’m currently deep into the final edit and formatting of Under Stone, book four in my Ambeth series, with a view to publishing very soon. This last push has been accompanied by lining up some associated promotion and deals, so it’s been a very busy time of late (which has made me a not-very-good blogger at the moment).

That being said, you may have also noticed a couple of new things on my blog. One is the mailing list sign-up. If you do sign up, I promise not to inundate you. Rather, I’ll just send through a newsletter once in a while with publishing updates, sneak peeks at upcoming books, the occasional competition and a few other goodies.

The other new thing is a shiny badge proclaming me a member of the 2018 Bloggers Bash Committee. I agreed (was talked into) joining the committee at this year’s Bash, and I’m enjoying being part of the team! Watch this space (and my newsletter) for news about next year’s event.

And now it’s back to formatting once more. The sky is now dark, the nights drawing in early. I don’t mind though – autumn, and the lead up to Christmas, are my favourite times of the year. I love the cold air and crisp leaves underfoot, the sparkle of lights and Christmas songs, good food and warm jumpers, Halloween treats and Bonfire night.

Wishing you all a good week, wherever you are! 🙂

xx

 

 

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.

A Small Update

Life has been extremely busy of late. Part of it has been getting back into the routine of work and school and extracurricular activities, part of it has been all the writing I’m trying to cram in to every spare moment.

For I am writing a LOT at the moment. Funny, the busier we get the more we seem to get done. They do say if you want something done, give it to a busy person and so it seems to be the case here.

Under Stone, Ambeth book four, is back out for a final read before publishing. Silver and Black, my vampire novel, is almost complete (though I may need a new name now that Marvel has greenlighted a superhero film with the same name). Another story, tentatively titled The Grove, has been demanding to be written, and I also have some editing underway, going back to an older story and revisiting the language.

A Thousand Rooms has been chosen as a feature book for September/October on Chick Lit Central, which is a huge thrill, and we’re giving away a signed copy to celebrate! Click here to visit the site and enter the comp.

But this weekend I’ll be doing something completely different. This morning I’m heading up to Scotland, to join Sue and Stuart and Steve, as well as the rest of the companions, for a Silent Eye weekend. I did one last year – you can read about it here – and it was a completely profound experience.

This time we’ll be wandering the stones with Running Elk, who knows the area well. I’m looking forward to the change in pace (though I’m praying for reasonable weather), and the chance to see somewhere new. I’ll be back Sunday and will blog about the experience, as I’m sure it will be quite something!

Happy weekend, everyone 🙂


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.

A Weekend Jaunt

img_5399If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll probably know that I spent this past weekend in Paris. A quick trip, leaving London early Saturday morning and arriving back (late) last night, I went with a close friend from Australia who arrived in England on Friday.

img_5423And it was wonderful. Paris is one of my favourite cities – I’ve felt at home there since the first time I visited, almost thirty years ago. The streets, the language, the way the light falls, the art, the architecture and the atmosphere – something about it speaks to me.

img_5413Even though it rained most of the weekend, the streets shimmered with light. And the sun did, eventually, make an appearance, further gilding an already golden city. And, despite the rain, there was shopping and sightseeing and sitting in cafes talking, catching up on five years of distance and time.

img_5477It was a fabulous weekend, even with the two hour delay at Gare Du Nord, which meant I got home close to midnight, rather than the more civilised 10pm I’d had planned. And so I start the week tired but happy, the scent of coffee and roses lingering with me.

img_5456Happy Monday, everyone!


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.

Oak And Mist on Sale, Plus Some Other Stuff!

Book One of The Ambeth Chronicles*trumpet fanfare* Oak and Mist is now on a Kindle Countdown Sale! For a limited time only, get your copy for the low price of 99c or 99p, depending where you are (e-book only, just so you know).

It’s been a funny old weekend. I posted about this yesterday – well, I meant to write a draft but published by accident, then took it down, then put it back up again. I also just discovered a whole bunch of comments, including a couple of reblogs, in my spam folder! They have been restored, and thanks to you all for commenting and sharing my work. Finally, I’d like to welcome some new followers to the blog – thanks so much for coming to visit and choosing to take the journey with me.

Right, I’m off to a family lunch now, the rain has cleared and I can even see a hint of blue sky. Wishing you all a blue sky happy Sunday wherever you are and, if you’re looking for something to read, Oak and Mist is on sale – yay!

Apricots, Reblogs and Eurovision

So I woke up today thinking that I should probably write another blog post. I’ve been down the editing wormhole these past few days, as the final MS of Hills And Valleys has come back to me, so my posts and comments have been a bit all over the place.

Then I saw that the lovely Suzie at SuzieSpeaks had reblogged one of my posts, and that it had then been picked up and reblogged a further two times, which made me really happy – thanks, everyone! The post in question was a bit of a laugh, really, about writing a completely made-up author bio. However, Kristin over at The Pursuit of Another Adventure tried my bio generator using details of her actual life and the format still worked, so maybe I’m onto something.

Earlier this week, the gorgeous girl and I made some chocolate covered dried apricots. We make these fairly often, to be honest – they’re pretty easy to make and yet taste wonderfully decadent. Each batch we make is usually gone within twenty-four hours. I had thought I might write a blog post about making them – I’m not a chef or anything, and this isn’t really a ‘food’ blog, but I thought it might be fun. So we assembled our ingredients and started to take some photos. But they were kind of boring.

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Then this happened, in an attempt to liven up the shots. (That’s BB-8, in case you were wondering – apparently he quite likes chocolate)

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And then we decided it would be more fun to just make them and eat them, so we did. However, here’s the recipe, just in case you’re interested:

Chocolate covered dried apricots

You will need:

A small saucepan

A metal bowl (I’ve not tried ceramic, which may also work, but I think metal conducts the heat more efficiently)

A plate or tray lined with baking paper

Some water

A bar of good quality chocolate (I use Lindt or Green & Black, whichever is on special)

Some dried apricots

Method:

Fill the saucepan to about 2cm depth with water. Put it on to boil. While you’re waiting for that to happen, break the chocolate bar into small pieces and lay them in a single layer in the metal bowl. (Try not to eat too much of it). Once the water has come to the boil, remove the saucepan from the heat and place the metal bowl on top. It should be a tight fit, so no steam can escape. Then set a timer for five minutes. Make yourself a cuppa, read emails, play with Star Wars figurines, do whatever for five minutes.

When the timer goes off, remove the metal bowl from the saucepan (carefully, as it might be quite hot). Your chocolate will be all melted and runny. Yum! Then, using a spoon, drop your dried apricots into the chocolate and coat them on both sides, then remove and place them on the baking tray. Once you’ve used up all the chocolate, put the tray of coated apricots in the fridge for about half an hour to set. Then enjoy!

I think we might make another batch of these today, as we’re all set to watch the Eurovision final tonight and snacks are an essential part of the viewing experience. Steve from Steve Says is at the final in Sweden (lucky!) and Hugh over at Hugh’s News and Views has written a post listing his predictions for the winners tonight. I’m sure Twitter will be lots of fun as well, so am looking forward to a very entertaining night.

However you choose to spend your weekend, I hope it’s a wonderful one!