Where silver trees have bent their bough
O’er sleepy village streets, we go
to solve the riddle of the stones
A scattered presence in a row.
To nourish soul and body’s need-
A place where ancient bards ovate,
A haunted landscape sows the seed
For seeker and initiate.
A stone that moves, a mount aligned,
And after Glaston’s tower named…
And Bronte’s heroine maligned
Associate of pastor’s fame…
The first riddle of the day would take the company to Birchover, a village just outside Bakewell where we had booked a table for lunch at the Druid Inn. The inn had acquired its name because a Friendly Society, romantically named the Ancient Order of Druids, would meet there in the 1700s. Behind the inn is a hill, reputedly haunted… Rowtor Rocks. The Victorians had erroneously named it a Druidic site and capitalised on the nascent tourist industry. We have been there on a number of occasions, in all weathers, and decided that the truth may be far stranger than any Victorian invention.
We had been mulling over our theories about Bakewell and the Templar connection as we went out there, prior to the workshop, to check on the sites we planned on visiting. For some reason, we wandered down to look at the little church which looks pleasant enough, but rather bland. We had never even bothered trying to go in there… which is unusual, because we will always try the door of a church. An uninteresting exterior can conceal real gems… our favourite chapel of all is a tiny, ordinary-looking place that holds wonders. That morning, some inner prompting finally led us down the lane and through the church gate.
The nominal was interesting in itself given the connections with the leys that we had been looking at. It is a St Michael’s church which fits with at least one of our themes. Behind the church is a peaceful resting place for the village…but, as we half expected, the door to the church was locked. However, all was not lost…perhaps we had found what we had come to see. Over the door was another dragon, carved in stone. Not an ancient beast, this one, the stonework of the porch is relatively new, but a dragon nonetheless. And looking up to the gables, we found the church had a single, small bell tower… an octagonal one.
We were suddenly very disappointed that we could not get inside. Later research would make us even more so when we found that there is a St Michael and All Angels window in the east and a very curious pulpit carved with a creature that combines elements of each of the Four Holy Creatures of Revelation, beloved of both Christians and ritualists. The discovery, of something we have seen goodness knows how many times but never really seen, was so exciting that we completely missed the ancient stonework and heads set into the wall of the porch… one of them almost identical to a Celtic head Stuart had drawn years before. We didn’t find those until our final check, the morning of the workshop.
One thing we did find though, by dint of peering through the clouded Perspex that protects the leaded windows, was a plaque on the far wall of the church commemorating the burial, beneath the church, of the vicar who had built it…Thomas Eyre.
The Eyre family are an important part of Derbyshire history. It was whilst visiting the area that Charlotte Bronte had chosen the name of her heroine, Jane Eyre. The Eyre name has a rather intriguing legend attached to its origins. The tale goes that, during the Battle of Hastings in 1066, a knight named Truelove fought beside William the Conqueror. When William’s helmet was crushed to his face by a blow received in battle, leaving him unable to breathe, it was Truelove who came to his aid and removed the helmet. Because Truelove had given him ‘the air to breathe’ William declared that from that day forth he should be known as L’Eyr. Truelove, now known as L’Eyr, lost a leg during the battle and was granted the use of a severed leg, the ‘leg couped’, as his crest along with a grant of lands in Derbyshire.
Now, oddly enough, the ‘leg couped’ just happens to also be the crest of the Foljambe family. There is another connection too between the Foljambe and Eyre families, through marriages in the thirteenth century. One of these marriages brought Templar lands into the families.
‘Eyre’ is not only a name but also a legal term for a circuit travelled by an itinerant justice in medieval England, called a Justice in Eyre. It also applied to the circuit court over which they presided. The word comes from the old French ‘erre’ which means ‘journey’… which, given some of the other theories we were going to present about the leys, the ‘old straight tracks’ and the pilgrim routes, seemed appropriate. The name ‘Foljambe’ is also French in origin and means literally, ‘mad…’ or ‘foolish leg’ and was originally an epithet for one who walked differently from others. Adding the crests to the translations, we could not help wondering how that tied in with the Journey of the Fool… which in esoteric terms, is the journey of the soul or the journey of initiation. Given where we were going next, that seemed way too appropriate…