For an event that lasts for one whole and two half days, ‘Of Ash and Seed’ has taken a lot of preparation!
The issue is not that it is more complex than previous workshops, it’s simply that doing such a weekend in the depths of December is a challenge in itself. The first consideration is the length–or rather, shortness–of the day. Over the years we’ve learned that the ‘working day’ for these Winter pre-solstice weekends begins at ten in the morning and ends at four in the afternoon. That’s not a lot of time….
The second is the weather – December can be very unkind.
Fortunately, Anglesey is sufficiently compact and rich in ancient sites to be able to accommodate this kind of event. The guide books suggest that the island can be split into three ‘tours’. We’ve opted to convert this into two events – one this year and one to follow in a subsequent year, possibly with a changed date of September, as we’re mixing up the team dates for next year to assist the 2018 April dramatic workshop in Derbyshire.
To help with our limited length of day we are carrying out three routes across the island, starting from our base in Trearddur Bay, on the ‘Holy Island’ peninsula in the West, near Holyhead.
The Friday afternoon will see us gathering at one of the hotels, then taking a walk around the whole of Trearddur Bay, drinking in the winds, the crescent beach, the winter sea and whatever else the weather throws at us; in other words, being open to the ‘now’ – something at the heart of what the Silent Eye teaches. We do not visit ancient landscapes because we’re wedded to ancient times, we visit them because they are a beautiful part of our spiritual heritage. We may never penetrate to the heart of their mysteries, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is our presence, with an open intent to be present in these spaces in a way that invites something greater than the little group who huddle from the wind and rain!
And it works… every time. Ask those who have been our guests and who are not Companions in the School, they’ll tell you how magical things can get.
Friday will end well. We know that for a fact, because there will be good food and a little wine; but not too much. We don’t want to spoil the big day.
Saturday 2nd of December – the big day. We’ll meet at the hotel, hopefully collecting one of our Companions who can only join us by rail and for the day. We’ll then set off for South Stack and the Neolithic village next to it. If you’ve been there, you’ll know how spectacular this place is, as the CADW photograph here shows.
There are four hundred steps down the huge cliffs to get to the RSPB bird sanctuary on the old lighthouse island. As long as it’s not icy (we won’t go if it is) the descent is well worth the climb back… but I have to convince the others that this is the case… I am reliably told that there is a new, all-year cafe at the bottom, so I’m hoping that swings it, as there are no facilities at the top!
We will emerge, whole and triumphant, to visit the Neolithic remains, which are spectacular. You get a real sense of being in an ancient village in this place, perched on the edge of the wild seas.
Then it’s on to Presaddfed burial chamber, one of the best on the island. These two neolithic structures, once covered by a mound of rocks or earth, were part of ancient communal life. They were used for burial but not exclusively so. The latest archaeological findings indicate that their greater function was to be a physical and spiritual centre of a community in which the consciousness of the whole was much more central to life than we know it, today.
Our lunch will be taken in Rhosneigr, a busy and friendly surfing resort on the edge of RAF Valley’s runways. Here we will recharge our batteries before each selecting a pebble from the adjacent beach; a pebble we will invest with meaning to be used at the close of the light at the ancient Druid lake of Llyn Carrig Bach, the site from which the famed Anglesey Hoard was recovered in 1943, during the initial construction of the airfield at RAF Valley.
Before that, we will travel to the region of Aberffraw, once one of the three most important locations in ancient Britain, to scramble over the cliff path to find Barclodiad y Gawres – a large burial chamber in a spectacular location. The monument is currently undergoing restoration, but its main features are clearly visible through the protective grill erected to keep us out. Private viewings may be made, but not, sadly, during the days of our visit.
Above: Barclodiad y Gawres clifftop burial chamber
We will then adjourn to the comfort of the Oyster Catcher Cafe set in the lovely sand dunes of Rhosneigr to review the day, do some personal readings, and await the coming of twilight – our cue to drive the ten miles to the once-sacred lake of Llyn Carrig Bach to make mystical and personal use of the pebbles we will have been carrying since lunch.
We will make our way back to the cars by torchlight, then drive in silence to Trearddur Bay for our main social evening with good food, wine and company.
Sunday will see us travelling across the island to Penmon Point, from which there is an unrivalled view across the Menai Straits to Puffin Island and, further, to The Great Orme, above Llandudno. The remains of Penmon Priory house a small but important museum whose artefacts span millennia of Celtic and Christian civilisation in this remote place.
Our final site visit will be to one of the best examples of a Neolithic chambered tomb in the world, with a partially restored entrance passage and mound, on the site of a former henge monument.
Bryn Celli Ddu (pronounced ‘bryn kethli thee’ – the ‘Mound in the Dark Grove’ – is probably the best-known prehistoric monument on Anglesey. It is set within an older pre-history henge and can be entered and explored. Here we will carry out a little chanting and enact a small ceremony that honours the Druids of the island who waited to be murdered by the advancing Roman army… or did they?
Our weekend will close with a light lunch at the friendly Spinning Wheel Cafe in Beaumaris. Then, there will be goodbyes and hugs and many a ‘Merry Christmas’ as we make our ways back to our respective homes.
It will no doubt have been cold, windy, short and utterly wonderful… And we’ll all say we can’t wait to do the next one…
Môna Insula was the Roman word for the Isle of Anglesey, the location for the Silent Eye’s December 2016 pre-Solstice weekend and the last stronghold of the Druids in A.D. 60.