The Flickering Present

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(Above: Castlerigg Stone Circle, Cumbria… and the mysterious ‘green flame’)

I’ve taken a lot of photographs during the past ten years, but none of them like the one above. Taken at Castlerigg Stone Circle, near Keswick, in December 2018, it depicts what I’ve called the ‘green flame’.

The photo was part of a set taken during the ‘Full Circle’ Silent Eye weekend. Sue and Stuart had created the weekend and were doing the detailed write ups, so I just filed the photos away without really looking at them. Recently, I was searching for a photo of Castlerigg to use on a blog, when I came across this… and just stared.

First reactions. It reminds me of ‘Kirlian’ photography, where subtle electromagnetic fields around living things are photographed using special cameras. But this is a stone circle, not a living thing.

Castlerigg – one of the oldest stone circles in Europe – is a place of intense ‘spiritual’ focus, and has been so for thousands of years. The presence of the ‘green flames’ would immediately be seized on as evidence of the paranormal by some… I’m open to its vital connections, but I prefer to remain objective about what else it might be…

Many photographs taken in bright sunlight contain chromatic aberrations. These range from mists or fogs, through shadows that look like ghosts, to single or multiple ‘orbs’ that fill part or all of the image with bright and colourful spheres. There are many more types of photographic interference.

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(Above: The Hypostyle Hall of columns at Karnak, Egypt. Image Wikipedia, Licence Public Domain)

For one photo I took, years ago, in the Hypostyle Hall in the Karnak temples of Egypt, I used a flash in total darkness. When I looked later at the image, it was packed with the most gloriously coloured ‘orbs’ filling the space of the columned temple in a 3D progression. The photo is long lost to a system crash on my old PC, but I remember it well. At the time, I dismissed it a pleasing set of orbs.

But when I saw the above photo from Castlerigg, I began to consider alternatives…

At first glance, the photo is so convincing that you wonder if it’s been manipulated in a computer application such as Adobe’s Photoshop. The green flames rising from the winter ground follow the basal contours of all the stones they appear to touch; even changing intensity from a white to green as they leave the earth and lick the stones. I can assure anyone reading this that the photo is completely unretouched, apart from my addition of the copyright to this low-resolution copy.

The green flames are transparent. They vary in ‘density’ and this allows us to see the stones and other features behind them. If I’d had the skills to do this in Photoshop, I’d be proud of the results…

Let’s consider the other side of the argument: that they are a satisfying chromatic aberration. The first thing to note is the position of the sun. It’s almost opposite the camera. It could be argued that this gives the potential for a mysterious accident of the light. But, in years of deliberately using too much sun to create background images, I’ve never seen any such ‘effect’ appear to wrap itself around a set of objects.

The green flame seems to be around the leftmost of the two portal stones – and the small stone on the ground next to it. The portal stones are the entrance to the circle and the place of alignment with the midwinter sunset. The honouring of the shortest day and longest night was a celebration of the initiation of the journey towards the light, rather than away from it, as at the summer solstice. It was a time of profound importance to the ancient priests.

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(Above: Sue Vincent’s photo, from the December 2018 Workshop, shows (bottom centre) the location of the portal stones which were aligned with the winter solstice.

I’ve gazed at the photo for a long time. When I first started to do this it suggested itself as a good illustration of a pet theory of mine: that of the flickering present.

Imagine that each of us is a lighthouse, and our beams of light rotate, not to be seen by ships at sea, but to light up a landscape that is our world. Our brains assemble the flickering images and create something apparently seamless – our lives – from what is seen. Things that are dangerous or very beautiful require us to spend time studying the landscape so that we can spot their patterns in the future.

The speed of rotation of our lighthouse and the brightness of our light determine how well we can see the ‘reality’ of our existence – our ‘out there’. Certain phenomena are rarely seen and appear to be in the ‘wrong’ place in our world. We may call these ‘psychic phenomena’ and they may be frightening – the unknown often is, especially when we are taught fear of it by our elders or forebears. But such things may simply ‘be there’, but not often seen in our ‘beams of light’.

If the green flame is real, then I may just have got lucky with the microsecond timing of pressing the shutter, aided by the brightness of the sun, opposite us in the sky. Certainly, I did not see the green flame at the time of taking the photograph. The green flame may be there all the time… or it may be present at periods of high energy related to its original use, during the Stone Age.

Or it may be an illusion, happily fitting into the contours of the stones in question.

Castlerigg is around 5,000 years old and is one of Britain’s earliest stone circles. Its 38 stones, some as high as three metres, have seen a lot of solstices… Whatever is in the photo, it’s in good company…

[For more information on the Silent Eye’s ‘landscape weekends’, click here]

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Horseman in the Mist

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The lovely town of Cassel, near Lille in Northern France, is shrouded in mist – the same mist that had accompanied our first ever visit to the World War One cemeteries of Vimy and Notre Dame de Lorette.

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(Above: The town of Cassel in the populous Nord region of Northern France)

Six of us are slotted, snugly, into the mid-size people carrier bouncing at speed into the centre of Cassel. Behind us are a variety of warm coats that are going to keep us alive when we get out of the car. It’s freezing out there… and misty. It’s a biting cold that has followed us throughout our trip.

It’s all very French…

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(Above: The market square in Cassel. It’s so cold that taking photographs is painful..).

Christophe beats another driver to the one remaining free spot in the market square of Cassel and steps out, smiling at the cold. He slides on his thin coat. He’s our resident ‘action man’; a runner, swimmer and cyclist. The day before, he insisted on taking us to a long beach in northern Calais so that we could walk one of the family’s dogs… and he could swim in the sea… In mid-mid January, for heaven’s sake…

That brief cameo is amusing but doesn’t do him justice. He’s very intelligent and full of warmth. He’s a man of immense hospitality. Three years ago I didn’t know he existed. My wife, Bernie, discovered his family through the online Ancestry website. We had known the French side of the family existed, as my great uncle Stephen stayed in France after surviving the WW1… including the Battle of the Somme, whose site is only a few miles away. Christophe is his grandson.

Stephen married a French girl – the daughter of a baker in St Omer. They trained him up as (in their own words) ‘a kind of baker from Bolton‘, and he and his new wife prospered and had four children. We’ve visited Stephen and Adrienne’s grave. It was quite a moment.

Christophe is their grandson… and my second cousin. For over eighty years the two branches of the family were lost to each other. I’m hoping to write a book on the story and the amazing stroke of luck that led to the discovery of their existence.

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(Above: location of Cassel. Source Wikipedia)

Christophe and his mother, Mado, have brought us to Cassel as part of a day’s touring to show us some of their favourite towns in this part of France. The department of Nord lies in the far north of France, It was formed from the western halves of the historical areas of Flanders and Hainault, and the Bishopric of Cambrai. The nearest city is Lille -where the other branch of our long-lost family lives. The French Flemish dialect of Dutch is still spoken here, side by side with modern French.

The first thing to say about Cassel is that it’s a town on a hill – Mont Cassel. This is a flat part of France. At 176 metres above sea level, Mont Cassel towers over the surrounding countryside. Its peak offers a vantage point from which you can see all of the surrounding landscape… If the prevailing weather is not freezing fog as it was during our visit.

The main rock of the hill is limestone, capped with a harder outer layer of iron-bearing rock. This geological layering has made it an ideal base for military and social fortifications throughout its long history.

The hill was occupied during the late Iron Age by the Menapii, a dominant Belgic tribe who made their hill fort the capital of a vast territory extending from Calais to the Rhine. The Menapii fought against Julius Caesar, but the Roman governor of Gaul, Carrinas, subsequently quelled their rebellion, and the Menapii culture and territory were absorbed into the Roman Empire. The modern town takes its name from the Roman settlement, not the later middle ages fortification shown in the historic map, below:

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(Above: a painting from a 1641 edition of Flandria Illustrata showing the ‘peak on a peak’ on which the medieval castle stood. Flandria Illustrata was a description of the main towns and villages of the former country of Flanders. Little remains of the castle.
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(Above: The start of a very strange hill…)

But, first, Christophe wants to show us a different face of the hill in Cassel. The summit and its fortifications have long been re-purposed, and Christophe points us up a steep, cobbled path with some very strange concrete ornaments.

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(Above: the Alpin Stairs – considered a Bel Époque masterpiece in its day)

From the information board:

“The Alpin Stairs are a vestige of ‘rock-work’ architecture, typical of the end of the 19th century, like those at Buttes Chaqumont in Paris.

These pseudo-rustic architectural compositions imitate mineral or vegetable elements like stone or wood.’

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(Above: Another visitor postcard from the turn of the century)

I stare at the concrete forms. They are old and dirty; and it’s necessary to see beyond that facade to get to the spirit of their origin. The visitor board goes on to say that they were designed for two purposes: ‘to reflect nature and to remind visitors of the ‘atmosphere of the mountains’. In that latter sentiment, I can suddenly see what they meant… and with that comes a memory of another artist and architect of the time of the Art Nouveau movement – Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

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(Above: Glasgow’s own Charles Rennie Mackintosh had similar goals – to reflect the forms of nature)

At the top of the Alpin Stairs we come into the Jardin des Mont du Recollets (Garden of Remembrance). Normally, it provides expansive views over the plains of Flanders and, on a very clear day, the North Sea, but not today…

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(Above: from the elevated gardens, the view would have been spectacular…)

Historically, it was said that from Mont Cassel you could see five kingdoms: France, Belgium, Holland, England … and Heaven. We smile, ruefully and turn to examine the beautiful gardens.

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(Above: The Ornamental part of Cassel’s Garden of Remembrance)

Beyond the geometric beds, the pathway winds round a beautiful set of willow trees, frosted with the freezing fog. At this point the fog begins to add great beauty to the place..

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(Above: the freezing fog adds great beauty to the gardens)

The Kasteel Meulen is a real ‘Castle Windmill’ situated on the highest point of Mont Cassel on the site of the former castle. The original windmill, constructed here in the 16th century, burned down in 1911. It was replaced in 1947 by an 18th century windmill that was moved from nearby Arneke. The mill works and is still open to the public during the summer.

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(Above: the Castle Windmill is a functioning mill, open to the public in the high season)

The garden also hosts an equestrian statue of Marshal Foch and the Monument of the three battles. Marshal Foch was the Supreme Allied Commander during WW1 and Cassel served as his headquarters between October 1914 and May 1915.

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(Above: the dramatic statue of Marshal Foch, the Supreme Allied Commander during WW1)

He moved his headquarters to Cassel to take advantage of its strategic position near the northern end of the Western Front.

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From 1916-1918, Cassel was the headquarters the British Army under Sir Hubert Plumer. The town avoided major damage during the war, though it came under occasional shelling when the Germans advanced to within 18 kilometres during the Battle of Lys in April 1918, shortly before the end of the war.

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(Above: We leave quietly. The gardens have cast their beautiful spell – even in the cold fog…)

We leave the Remembrance Gardens quietly. They are a place of great beauty and contemplation. We may never be back and it feels good to have spent time here…

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Voices in the Mist (2)

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(Above: The Canadian WW1 monument at Vimy Ridge as it first appears from the car park)

Continued from Part One.

From a distance it looks too stark to be a monument. The eye is, initially, disappointed as the form makes its modernistic impact. Both the height of the pylons and the width of the base ( a massive 6,000 tonnes of steel-reinforced concrete) look devoid of detail… but this is an illusion, for the Canadian National Monument on Vimy Ridge is designed to have many faces; some of them literal, others spoken of in bare symmetry.

The icy mist had continued to haunt us. Our last-minute dash to see Vimy before heading for Calais was a gamble. The damp and misty air made it almost impossible to hold the camera, making the fingers numb after only a few seconds of exposure.

But, if anything, the weather was perfectly aligned with the emotional goals of Canadian architect and sculptor Walter Seymour Allward (1876-1955), who, in 1921 won a competition set up by the Canadian government to create a national monument commemorating its soldiers killed in the First World War. His winning design became the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, established on the peak of Vimy Ridge – the site of one of WW1’s most horrific battles.

Walter Allward said the idea for the monument came to him in a dream:

“I turned my eyes and found myself looking down on an avenue of poplars… I have tried to show this in the monument to Canada’s fallen, what we owed them and will forever owe them.” Walter Allward

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(Above: The mourning mother figure looks down at her empty womb)

As you draw closer along the path that appears to be the entrance, two figures stand out from the base of the shining stone (6,000 tonnes of the purest limestone, quarried from a disused Roman mine in what is now Croatia). The first is a mother figure, naked from the waist up and looking down at her empty womb. The symbolism of her forlorn breasts stabs at the heart; it warns you that this monument is not for the faint-hearted, and marks the place where thousands of young Canadian soldiers died storming the ridge against the well-armed German army.

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(Above: The father figure’s fingers are clenched in anguish and impotence…)

To the right along the base of the monument is the father figure, also half-naked and seated in anguish with his left hand clenched in anguish along the skin of his thigh; his right hand supporting the organ of thought and regret – his head.

The sheer poignancy of these two figures brings home the central story of the monument, which is one of time and events. We were not at the front of the sculptures but at the back. But there are no signs to say so… The visitor centre was closed for maintenance, so only exploration and understanding would bring that knowledge.

And, suddenly, you realise you are not only in story but a process of consciousness…

The two grieving figures represent the sorrow and mourning that comes after the deaths of the young men of their nation on an unprecedented scale. Though compelling, it is desperately sad… and immediately changes your consciousness. From here on across the monument, you are going backwards in time and events, in order to see what led to such loss.

Our eyes were beginning to grasp the design. There are figures high on the pylons at the front and in the rear of the central twin-structure. They represent Peace and Justice, Knowledge and Truth. We would only come to understand them in the context of what lay on the other side of the pylons…

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(Above: The figures of, left, Peace and Knowledge; and right, Justice and Truth)

Beyond the vast base of the monument is the edge of Vimy Ridge; the downward slope is the site of most of the battle. A story was opening up before us, told in classical figures worked with beauty and precision in shining limestone – each one carved by Walter Allward in situ, even those at the top of the near-100ft pylons!

I looked up and wondered, given the state of my fingers here at ground level, how cold it was up there… That sense of having gone beyond and into the unknown must have been one of Allward’s main intentions. It’s beautiful and chilling at the same time; and speaks of the power of youth to go where it is guided – in this case into into the hell of war and isolation found at the top of those towers… the place of death in the wall of bullets from the German machine guns. But that is telling the story on the physical and not the moral level.

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(Above: the first view of what was now revealed as the front of the monument. The wide-angle lens masks the height of the pylons – nearly 100 feet
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(Above: for a brief moment, as you cross the stone floor of the upper level’s terrace, there is only the far wall and the slope of Vimy Ridge below)

Inscribed on the far wall of the terrace is: ‘The Canadian Corps on 9th April 1917 with four divisions in line on a front of four miles attacked and captured this ridge’

Having understood the physical layout of the whole monument, we realised that we could not penetrate the symbolism further without descending to the lowest level and looking back from the perspective of the ridge being ‘attacked’ by the Canadian Army and defended by the German forces.

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(Above: the whole of the newly revealed ‘front’ of the Vimy memorial flows down the slope and is dominated by the solitary figure in the middle)

Knowing what was on the opposite face, we could now appreciate the whole of the monument. Visually, we were ‘advancing’ from below – just as the four divisions of Canadian soldiers did, as told in the words of the visitor plaque:

“After two unsuccessful Allied attempts to dislodge the Germans from this heavily fortified height, the four Canadian divisions, fighting together for the first time, seized the ridge on 12 April 1917 after four days of intense fighting. Meticulous preparation, the use of advanced technology, teamwork and the sacrifice of thousand of Canadian lives produced this remarkable result, It was an important turning point for Canada in the war.”

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(Above: As you approach from below, the solitary female figure of ‘Canada’ looks down in sorrow at the slaughter taking place beneath her gaze…)

The single, central figure is revealed to be that of ‘Canada’. She gazes down Vimy Ridge, moved beyond words… but unmoving. Directly beneath her, at the base of the tall wall, is a tomb.

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(Above: the figures of ‘Sympathy of Canadians for the Helpless’)

To the right of the downward-gazing figure of ‘Canada’ are the multiple figures of ‘Sympathy of Canadians for the Helpless’. It’s a beautifully carved sculpture and leads the eye to the twin pylons above – representing higher principles and forces at work in the human consciousness. This is an important point – the whole of the monument is about the human mind and heart, and their capacity for greatness or war – the ultimate failure of humanity’s communication and learning.

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(Above: The full set of figures of the ‘Sympathy of Canadians for the Helpless’ sculpture

The basal wall is massive and runs the whole width of the monument. On the left of its face is an enigmatic piece known as “Breaking of the Sword’.

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(Above: the full length of the basal wall, with the ‘Breaking of the Sword’ sculpture in the leftmost position)

Beyond the guardian figure of ‘Canada’ the upper level can be gained by either set of stone steps. We returned to this and faced the complete set of figures on the twin pylons.

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(Above: The full suite of sculptures on the Front (downward) face)

The middle two figures, between the bases of the pylons, are ‘Sacrifice’ and ‘The ‘Torch Bearer’. Both stare upwards into the heights of the cold sky… The demands of society and civilisation will carry a high price…

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(Above: The top of the pylons on the Front (down-ridge) face)

The figures here are curious. They are listed as (left) ‘Faith’ and ‘Hope’, but my eyes saw three ‘headless’ figures on the left (see photo) They may have been weather-damaged and in the process of restoration, but I definitely see three!. The figures on the top of the right pylon are listed as ‘Honour’ (top) and ‘Charity’.

Together, these are the focus of the figures of the Torch Bearer and Sacrifice – the very centre of the monument. These two are the ‘centre of the pillars’ – spiritually significant on any level. They tell the story of the whole of mankind, embarked on a near-impossible struggle between the inheritance of the animal nature–and its evolutionary ladder back to matter, and the inner flame of the divine; that which fights entropy by creating its own gradients.

The one quality I found to be unreferenced was ‘Will’. But then, I looked again and could see how Walter Allward had created the perfect tableau, one which took all his own willpower, but left the final ‘stone’ to the future observer. Only in our own hearts and minds will we find the inner will to gaze upwards, with the Torch Bearer and the Sacrifice our witnesses, and seek the peace that encompasses all differences.

I think Walter Allward, and, hopefully Canada, might echo that…

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Voices in the Mist (1)

We had never been to the First World War monuments and graves in northern France. As a young man, I considered them part of a national mindset that glorified war. But, over the decades, that view was moderated and I realised that such places are the result of something much deeper in the national psyche.

And not just national. Like a vast whirlpool, WW1 drew in polarising forces from across the world as the British Commonwealth and its allies faced the might of the armies of Wilhelm, the last Kaiser and Emperor of Prussia. The opening picture is from the deeply moving Canadian monument at Vimy Ridge – to which the second post in this series will be dedicated.

But the first part of our journey was the road up the hill from the small town of Amblain St. Nazaire to the French monument of Notre Dame de Lorette. As we climbed the hill the mist thickened. It was fitting weather to come face to face with a part of France that has been the focus of such intense emotion and international remembrance.

(Above: Notre Dame de Lorette Basilica with its lines of war graves is only part of this hilltop cemetery)

Notre Dame de Lorette is the name of the French Military Cemetery on top of the ridge which was the scene of so much conflict and death in the ‘Great War’. The name applies to the ridge, the basilica and the French national cemetery building. The hump-backed ridge stands nearly 170 metres above the surrounding land and the nearby town of Arras, which I wrote about in the last blog. This hill and Vimy ridge are the most dominant features of this otherwise flat part of northern France.

(Above: It would be hard to describe how cold the freezing mist was…but the sense of ‘rightness’ was complete – the cold horror of what happened along this ridge, and what happens when mankind forgets the power of the dark side of our nature)

Two buildings appear on the left-hand side of the road as you approach the cemetery. First the basilica of Notre Dame de Lorette, then, behind it, a tall tower, known as the Lantern Tower. They form an odd pair… until you stand in the space between them and something dramatic happens.

This part of the ridge has long been consecrated ground. Centuries ago, it was the site of a miraculous cure and gained the name of Notre Dame de Lorette because of the association of the miracle with the Virgin Mary. The present building is really a basilica built in the Romano-Byzantine style but retained the name of ‘chapel’ to honour the older tradition. It is unusual in that the small altar of the chapel is located outside the building at the entrance to the east door. The Notre Dame de Lorette statue of the Virgin Mary with Jesus stands next to the main altar inside the chapel.

Sadly, the basilica was closed for maintenance during our visit, so we had to be content with a tour of the exterior and the space between chapel and tower. But this did give us time to consider several of the beautiful inscriptions on the walls of both buildings.

(Above: the twin stone date markers flank the approach to the ‘chapel’ (really Basilica) of Notre Dame de Lorette)
(Above: up close, the Basilica is much larger than it looks on the approach. Sadly, it was closed for maintenance on the day we visited..)

Between the Chapel/Basilica and its associated tower is what can only be described as vast ‘plain’ paved in the same sandstone as the entrance walkway. Nearer the chapel, but dividing the two structures is what appears to be mausoleum which draws the eye from both in a way reminiscent of Egyptian temples..

(Above: the proximity of chapel to ‘mausoleum’ belies the relationship to the lantern tower, which is only appreciated when you look the other way…)

The ‘red plain’ – whose symbolism is later obvious, but not immediately grasped, is a completely flat surface and draws the eye outside of a human frame of reference and into the ‘spiritual’ world, beyond. Before turning to look at the tower, a larger context needs to be held in the mind and heart: that given on the side of the basilica in the photo below. Bearing in mind its religious link with the Virgin Mary; no stranger, herself, to suffering…

(Above: the engraved message from the eternal self fighting to stay sane in a world of seemingly endless violence)

My French is limited, but Sue has lent a hand: “To thee who from the heart of pain gave birth to Holy Hope, to thee this temple born of tears… Offered by the women of France…”

It just gets to you… In the freezing fog, with tears in my eyes, having grasped some of the import of the inscription and with my un-gloved hands hurting with cold while I held the camera, I turned, in order to look across the ‘red plain’ to grasp the importance of the Lantern Tower. But my eyes were captured by the ‘mausoleum’ building next to where I was standing.

(The ‘mausoleum’ reveals itself as something more…)

The significance of the supposed mausoleum becomes apparent at this point. The sheathed crossed-swords of valour are stationed outside this portico, whose purpose is solely to house the external altar of the ‘Mother Mary’. The relationship is to the words written on the facing walls of the ‘chapel’.

(Above: the twin swords of valour are sheathed in the stone)
(Above: Finally, the eyes are drawn to the Lantern Tower in the near-distance)

The Lantern Tower has, as its name suggests, a light at the top. Louis Cordonnier designed it to revolve five times each minute, once darkness falls… It’s a very poignant monument, and sits 150 feet high, above what is already the highest point on the ridge. The Lantern Tower was inaugurated in August 1925. Until recently, the 200 internal steps could be climbed by visitors, but the viewing gallery at the top has been closed for security reasons.

(Above: the Lantern Tower – light from a dramatic structure…)

The light from the Lantern Tower can be seen for 45 miles – encompassing all the local battlefields at the time of WW1. The base of the tower is a 25 metre square which frames a crypt containing the remains of 6,000 soldiers and a chapel of rest.

A container for relics was placed in the tower in April 1955. It contains soil and ashes from the concentration camps of World War II.

But the left-hand side of the road does not encompass the whole of the monument. Across the way, and only opened in 2014, is a vivid reminder of the horrors of war, and a moving memorial to all those who died in WW1. The French government decided that a monument of total inclusion was appropriate. This means that the names of the fallen among the ‘enemy’ were included in the monument’s role to the casualties of WW1.

(Above: the first of the alphabetic panels in the ‘Round Monument’ : L’Anneau de la Memoire

Such an inclusive approach may be our only hope to prevent such catastrophes in the future: to regard all people involved in wars as victims, and thereby point back along the chain of causality to the real causes… ego, power and bullying in human nature.

The name of Wilfred Owen, one of the most celebrated of the ‘war poets’, who died one week before the end of WW1.

Written on the entrance to the circular monument is written this:

“The 580,000 names are listed in alphabetical order, without distinction between rank or nationality, former enemies and friends side by side……. This memorial was erected in a peaceful Europe in memory of a terrible tragedy which devastated a generation of young men, who for the most part could read and write.

L’Anneau de la Memoire”

“Who for the most part could read and write…” a poignant and telling end to the dedication to an entire generation.

Our time had run out. We were due in Calais in a few hours. But we had found out that, nearby, was another major memorial site: that of the Canadian Monument at Vimy Ridge – the site of one of the major battles of WW1. We decided to steal some time and make the short journey.

It was to be one of the best decisions we could have made… and brought us face to face with what I’ve come to think of as one of the most dramatic of monumental sculptures in the world.

The Canadian monument at Vimy Ridge. See Part Two of this series.

To be concluded in Part Two.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Sun, the Lion and the Ashes

(Above: The beautifully restored town of Arras in northern France)

We are in northern France, visiting relatives that were only re-discovered three years ago, after an eighty years gap… My paternal grandmother was the youngest sister of an elder brother (also Stephen) who survived the horrors of WW1, married a French girl and eventually settled near Calais.

(Above: North-West France, with Arras highlighted bottom right)

When France was overrun, the Nazis wouldn’t allow Stephen to take his family back to England and, eventually, contact was lost… He escaped arrest because his adopted craft of running a local bakery – which his wife’s family had taught him, was a ‘protected’ occupation and so, apart from being watched, periodically, he was left alone.

His frequent assistance to the Resistance went undetected, or his fate would have been very different…

Today there are two branches of our once-lost family: one in Calais (the Duffys – after my great uncle) and the other in Lille (the Bertaloots) near the Belgian border. For the first few days of our trip, we are staying with the family in Lille. Nearby is the small city of Arras, an ancient Roman town whose last-century history is dominated by the First World War. The damage to the town, and the magnificent reconstruction undertaken by the local people faced with the devastation of their home is the basis and the inspiration for this post.

We; the Tanhams, the Duffys (Stephen’s surname) of Calais and the Berteloots of Lille have become good friends – indicated by the fact that these lovely people have taken two days off work to show us around a couple of the places we asked to see.

(Above: Late January afternoon in Arras)

Returning to WW1, the ‘Battle of Arras’ was fought in May 1917, as a joint operation between general Haig – at odds with his Prime Minster, Lloyd George – and the senior French commander, General Neville. The French forces dominated this part of the war’s front and it was Haig’s job to support them.

The French plans proved over-ambitious and Haig’s forces suffered heavy casualties for little gain, though four divisions of the Canadian army combined to take the important Vimy ridge. The nearby town of Arras was largely destroyed during the shelling.

Following the Armistice in November 1919, hostilities ceased and the battered French citizens set about the huge task of rebuilding their city…

(Above: Arras as it looked after the devastation of WW1. From a photo in the town hall. There was nothing I could do to escape the reflection in the glass!)

I found the photos of the post-war ruins poignant and relevant to current British politics.

Recently, the same people who drove the ‘Brexit’ process turned their backs at the opening session while a dignified European Parliament looked on in disbelief. The same people, still funded by the EU, now want to have London’s Big Ben strike out the chimes of Britain’s official ‘leaving date’ at the end of January in a show of jingoistic pride… one could hardly write a novel to match the recent events, but we would be unwise to consider this fantasy… nightmare, maybe.

For me and people like me, they have created a similar devastation in the minds and hearts of the half of Britain’s population who wished to remain part of the united Europe that emerged from the ashes of blitzed London and shelled Arras.

(Above: a Canadian sculpture representing a country’s sorrow after war)

Fascism is innate in human nature. The school bully is a fascist, recruiting the weak and unthinking to a cause of personal glory which elevates his or her ego above any common cause of progress. By doing this, he finally exists… However, the emotionally settled child, perhaps growing up in a good family, knows that their existence must be balanced with the needs of a wider circle of caring humans.

What is little considered is that the dictator-fascist is only a school bully… and that sustained courage will unseat them.

(Above: the restored town hall of Arras)

Arras emerged from its ashes when its people rejected the devastation bequeathed to them by the madness of privileged ego. Everyone came together to rebuild the town; and the collective consciousness of that town recreated the ‘extravagant gothic’ style of each house and shop, street by street.

(Above: inside the restored town hall of Arras)

A little-known fact is that, from the 17th century, it was obligatory for anyone building a new house in Arras to submit a copy of the plans to the town hall. It was the possession of these plans that enabled Arras to emerge, accurately, from the devastation of the war that exploded like a volcano around it, to reconstruct what it had been… Its past, with all its art and tolerance was documented.

(Above: the mother figure – The female Elder – at the Vimy Ridge monument to WW1 Canadian soldiers. She stares down at her empty womb…)

The process of war via fascism – all war and all fascism – is, for me, perfectly symbolised by the nearby Vimy Ridge monument. This startling sculpture by Canadian artist Walter S. Allward rises high above the ridge-line at Vimy – a place where eleven thousand Canadian soldiers were killed in order for the ridge to be taken back from the Germans.

(Above: the father-figure – the Elder – rakes his skin in anguish)

I intend to write a post dedicated to this moving monument and reveal some of its intricately-wrought emotional detail. For now, here is a glimpse of two of the figures that are revealed when you pass through the anguish of the parents and into the actuality of the war as it happened before their loss…

(Above: the process of war; its participants and victims. The downward facing side of the Vimy Ridge monument – the subject of a future post)

To conclude, let’s go back to the title of the blog: The Sun, the Lion and the Ashes.

(Above: the Lion has always been one half of the story of Arras)
(Above: the sun-symbol of Louis XIV – part of the identity of all the towns in this region of France. This example is from the Vaubon-designed Citadel at Lille)

We can all find ourselves the wrong side of how we think things should be. The views above are my own and do not necessarily represent anyone else in the Silent Eye School. What is important is how we react to the ‘ashes’ of our perceived world. If, like the people of Arras, we have ‘documented’ what be believe to be vital in our world, we will be able to begin again in the new circumstances secure in the knowledge that we brought the best of it with us.

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye school of consciousness, a distance-learning teaching organisation that operates on a not-for-profit basis to help people deepen their life experiences without fluff and with personal supervision. You can find out more about the Silent Eye by clicking here.

Keys of Heaven (10): A Final Resting Place

continued from Part 9

The village of Lastingham, of the southern edge of the North York Moors, was a fitting place to end our weekend – both for its mysterious wells and also on the basis that the crypt of St Mary’s Church marks the final resting place of St Cedd. Following the fateful Synod of Whitby in AD 664, Bishop Cedd returned to his beloved Lastingham, the place where he had founded his originally monastery; but tragically caught the plague and died, bequeathing the care of Lastingham to his brother, Bishop Chad – later St Chad. Chad became bishop of Lichfield shortly thereafter and had to manage his brother’s bequest from afar.

(Above: St Mary’s Church, Lastingham, in all its simple beauty…)

We have to wonder at the irony and sadness of this: first to lose (in the service of his king, Oswiu) the Celtic Christian tradition in which he had been raised since a boy; then to lose his life in one final visit to his beloved Lastingham.

Cedd was buried here, and the place of his burial in AD664 became the ground on which all the layers of the present church were constructed.

(Above: The unusual semi-circular apse of St Mary’s church contains the entire history of the building and its ancient foundations)

St Mary’s church attracts visitors from all over the world. Christian and non-Christian ‘pilgrims’ are welcomed here in a warm spirit of spiritual openness. Though not formally a Christian, I am entirely happy with the scriptural idea of Christ as the ideal and perfected ‘inner man’. I am at home in most temples of the spirit, but seldom have I felt the kind of harmonic energies that are present in St Mary’s.

There is, in the words of one of our companions of the weekend ‘Something very special here…’ And you can feel its presence in the air around you.

(Above: Ancient Celtic designs in the crypt)

The original monastery was wooden, and nothing remains of it. But the present church of St Mary’s is built upon its site, and specifically, upon the original crypt that was constructed over the location of St Cedd’s grave two hundred years after his death. This region (of what was then Northumbria) was a wild place, and lawless – possibly one reason why Cedd devoted so much of his time establishing the original monastery as a spiritual refuge for the local people and their hard lives.

(Above: St Mary’s extraordinary crypt)

After the Synod of 664, the seat of religious power moved south from Lindisfarne to York, though Whitby survived for a while, in the form of the influential Abbey whose abbecy passed from Hild to Eanflæd, the wife of King Oswiu, upon his death. A royal princess and later queen to Oswiu, she brought grace and dedication to the abbey in the town that would later become Whitby.

(Above: the Benedictine Abbey at Whitby)

But, the age of the Vikings was upon the land and the northern Saxon kingdoms were eventually overrun. Little is known of life here during that period and the former monastery was left to decay.

Over four hundred years later, in 1078, Stephen, abbot of the recently rebuilt monastery at Whitby, obtained permission from no less a person than William the Conqueror to take a team of skilled monks to restore the monastery at Lastingham as a Benedictine house.

Stephen designed the crypt we see today and built it over the place where Cedd had been buried. Above this crypt he began to build a new abbey church, but work was abandoned in 1088 when Stephen and his monks moved from Whitby to the all-powerful York; there to build St Mary’s Abbey… This may have been due to the increasing lawlessness of life within the hills making things impossible for the monks.

The Lastingham Crypt deserves a post in itself, but our story of the Keys of Heaven weekend (now ten posts) has to be brought to a close.

There was a communion service on that Sunday morning. We took care to arrive after it had finished, but I hoped we would be able to meet one or two of the local team. Historic places are fascinating, but the ‘now’ contains some miracles, too. As we pushed open the heavy oak door, one of the church wardens greeted us and we were welcomed into the ‘coffee area’ of the church and urged to join the larger than expected residual group of parishioners.

(Above: The main floor of St Mary’s interior – above the crypt, but the shape of the apse walls reveals the upwards continuity of the structure)

This was my third visit to St Mary’s. The main floor of the building is special in its own right, but I knew the ‘attracting power’ of what lay beneath. Most of our companions drank their coffees then melted quietly away down the stone staircase and into the crypt. But, by that time, as leader of our group, I had not only been given ample coffee and biscuits, but introduced to a cleric in a splendid set of robes… somewhat grander than I had expected for a small village.

Bishop Godfrey is well known throughout the North York area. He has served the Christian cause all his life and is now part-retired with a special attachment to Lastingham; a place in which he feels very much at home. He asked about our group and I was honest about our affiliations and goals. He seemed delighted with our attempts at local scholarship and offered to solve my one remaining problem of the weekend…

(Above: the kindly Bishop Godfrey with Briony, one of our companions of the weekend)

Ten minutes later, happy to pose for a photo as long as someone else was in it, Bishop Godfrey waved us with his blessing down into Lastingham’s very special crypt – the final resting place of St Cedd. As I walked down the stone steps I couldn’t help but feel just a little ‘blessed’ as we finally entered the place where the mortal remains of another very special bishop were interred.

(Above: a peaceful figure in meditation…)

Most of the group had already found their bearings, and were quietly exploring the beautiful crypt. But, one figure sat in the middle of a stone pew locked in total inner and outer silence. His back was to us, and he later described how the crypt had both embraced and entranced him… exactly the effect it had always had on me.

(Above: the vaults of the crypt are filled with priceless history)

The meeting with Bishop Godfrey had made me late into the crypt and we had two important things to do. With an inner certainty, I knew that this visit was for my companions. I had done my part in bringing them here and the magical place was doing the rest. Snapping a few photographs to supplement the ones I had taken in October, I sat quietly, giving thanks that the weekend had gone well; and that we had largely achieved what we set out to do.

(Above: just across from the church – the Blacksmiths Arms)

I could see that the group were tired and in need of some lunch. Across the road from the church is the Blacksmith’s Arms, a lovely and traditional Yorkshire pub with a fine Sunday lunch menu. There are no ‘facilities’ in St Mary’s church, but Bishop Godfrey and the landlord have reached an amicable agreement. The pub displays a sign saying that those attending or visiting the church may use the pub toilets but are asked to leave a donation towards the upkeep of the church. The bishop had smiled as he told us of the monthly cheque the landlord brought him…

The lunch was wonderful… An hour later, with the afternoon upon us and time running out, we set out on the last trek – a last walk around the village to visit Lastingham’s celebrated wells.

(Above: the first well is on private property)

Space does not permit too much description, but, briefly, there are four of them. Two are set into the walls of local properties and one is in the garden of a private house near the church. None of these are currently flowing… but the fourth one – St Mary Magdelene’s well – is. The problem is that it’s well outside the village and very hard to locate. On our recce trip in October, Bernie and I had failed to discover its location, despite directions from the Blacksmith Pub’s landlord.

(Above: St Cedd’s well)

But now I was miraculously equipped with the more precise instructions from Bishop Godfrey and I could feel the ‘cogs of happenstance’ aligning.

(Above: St Cadmon’s well)

I explained to our companions that we had the chance to discover St Mary’s well in a very real way. We drove to a where the place where I had given up looking in October and I pointed out the sloping bank to which Bishop Godfrey had directed us.

(Above: Finally found! St Mary Magdalene’s well)

Within seconds, Gary – the figure in a peaceful trance in the crypt – had found it…

We stood around it in an arc and I explained the final purpose of the small empty jars given out to everyone on our opening trip to the beach, so long ago on the late Friday afternoon.

St Mary’s well is a small arch of stonework set into a stream-filled bank that leads down to the small river that flows through Lastingham. And now, as the only person with wellingtons, I needed to fill each of the jars. The only way to do it was to stretch my legs over the small valley of the spring and lean towards the stone arch, reaching down (thank you, Pilates) to fill each jar. I could hear the mental bets being taken that I would end up in the water, but reached the last jar still vertical, albeit locked into the muddy banks on either side…

(Now to try to fill the small jars…)

A set of friendly hands were outstretched in case I lost my footing, but, with one last push and the weekend’s second sound of a mired boot breaking free, I managed to reunite my legs and scramble away from the water and mud. Everyone now had a Christmas candle and a small jar of very rare St Mary’s well water to take away.

Moments later, with jars tucked safely into travel bags, we hugged and said our goodbyes. The Keys of Heaven workshop was over; and it had been a success. In silence, I drove back to Runswick Bay to collect Bernie for our promised beach walk for Tess and our extra night in the location to unwind.

Later, we would walk through the darkness to the Cod and Lobster and reflect on the weekend. But that is where our story began…

End of Series

Other parts in this series of posts: Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight Part Nine This is Part Ten, the final part.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Keys of Heaven (9): blown down the mountain

The welcoming warmth of the Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge

continued from Part 8

My companions of the Silent Eye’s ‘Keys of Heaven’ weekend were waiting when I arrived at the Lion Inn. We had coffee and biscuits and discussed the options for our last day of the workshop. Everyone was looking forward to the visit to the celebrated St Mary’s church at Lastingham – the final resting place of St Cedd.

The coffee before the storm…

There was a group excitement; a buzz. Human nature responds to being ‘on top of things’ in both a physical and metaphorical sense. We had all managed to find the Lion Inn – it’s not trivial! We were at the highest point in the North York National Park, but we weren’t here just for coffee and the views. We planned to take advantage of the rich history to be found in the immediate area of the Inn, which, although completely isolated, has a site that has been occupied for hundreds of years; and contains archeology that is thousands of years old.

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(Above) Top of the world…

There are some very special pathways that cross these high moors. Some of them link ancient sacred sites, often marked by crosses that surprise with their age – over a thousand years old in some, cases… possibly a lot older in others.

Where they cross – or meet, might be a better word – they create a special place of exchange and, often, hospitality. Years pass, then hundred of years, and there becomes established a place of meeting. In a few rare cases the meeting point defies the often hostile elements by becoming a permanent building of refuge and hospitality.

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(Above) The Lion Inn – a refuge in the sky

The Lion Inn on the top of Blakey Ridge is one such. As high as you can be in the North York National Park (1,325 feet), it sits astride a crossing of ancient ways and alongside the more modern road linking Castleton to Hutton-le-Hole. The Inn has been run by the Crossland family since 1980. Being on the highest point, it offers breathtaking views down into the Rosedale and Farndale Valleys.

The story of the inn on Blakey Moor dates back to the 16th century. During the reign of King Edward III a house and ten acres of land on Farndale Moor were given to the Order of Crouched Friars, who had been unable to find a home in York.. It is thought that the friars founded the Inn around 1554 to lighten their poverty. Friar Inns are common enough in all parts of the country – Scarborough has two. Since that time there has always been an inn here.

We were fortunate that two of the most significant historic sites are adjacent to the inn. All we had to do was take the short walk from the Inn’s door.

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(Above) The Neolithic Burial mound of Loose Howe is next to the Lion Inn

The grave at Loose Howe (above) is a short scramble up a hillock to the east of the inn. It can be seen from the windows in the bar. Here, a Bronze Age chieftain was interred in a boat-like oak coffin: armed, clothed and equipped for his voyage.

Cockpit Howe is a Neolithic burial mound just behind the inn, facing the Ferndale valley, below.

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(above) Cockpit Howe

The ancient Waymarks – standing stones and stone crosses – known as ‘Fat Betty’ and the Ralph Crosses (previous post) bear witness to the continuous tradition of passage over this pinnacle of the North York moors. The earliest history of these markers remains a mystery.

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We had a plan. Our destinations were all within a few hundred metres of the Inn – two of them much closer. The above photos (taken during our recce trip in October) show how simple it should have been…

But…

What really happened, when we stepped out of the Lion Inn on that freezing December Sunday, was this:

Loose Howe stands about twenty metres taller than the Lion Inn. By the time we had climbed half that height the winds were making it difficult to walk forward. By the time we reached the mound itself, we had to huddle or grasp the stone to stay upright.

The expressions and body language are all the narrative needed. Photo by Gary Vasey
Loose Howe – moving safely was a two-person job! The intense wind was literally tearing at our clothes.

It was no better down behind the Inn at Cockpit Howe. If anything, it was worse. The wind was so strong that it was becoming dangerous.

Even strong figures like Gary struggled to stay upright…

By the time we got to the third site, a marker stone a hundred metres down the Blakey Ridge road, only a handful of us were still able stand against the ferocious winds. We knew when to give up.

Only four of us made the final leg along the Blakey Road to the last standing stone…

My success crossing the bog, earlier in the morning, seemed a long time ago…. The winter had won. Our only choice was to abandon the peak at Blakey Moor and escape down the mountain, earlier than planned… However, wildness has its attractions and no-one seemed unhappy with the experience!

But fate and circumstance have a habit of ringing the changes… and continuing to do so. We retreated to the warmth and safety of the cars and, once warm again, drove – slowly – down to Lastingham,

Where the magic was waiting…

To be continued…

Other parts in this series of posts: Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight This is Part Nine

To be continued…

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Keys of Heaven (7): the path to gentle darkness

The tiny fishing village of Staithes is a place of peaceful beauty. It lies part way between Whitby and Saltburn on the North Yorkshire coast. It’s geography is also one of the few breaks in the vast cliffs that define this region; and which are the main source of the famous Whitby Jet semi-precious stone.

(Above) Whitby Abbey to Staithes along the Cleveland Way. Image Google Maps

Staithes was our destination… and I was taking a calculated risk in order to give us a dramatic contrast to the morning. The visit to the Abbey – to recreate in our own minds the seismic events of AD664 – had been intense. At the conclusion of the synod, Bishop Colman had known that his world was over; that the new age of Christianity would follow the Roman church model. He took his followers and walked out of the Abbey, northwards.

(Above) Whitby Museum – full of ghosts…

We can never know the emotion that flowed between Bishop Colman, King Oswiu (who was, until that point, a Celtic Christian) and the two facilitators of the synod, Bishop Cedd and Abbess Hild, but we can know that it did exist, and that as wise and experienced a king as Oswiu would not have acted without being aware of the consequences – including the impact on the holy island of Lindisfarne…

Symbolically, the group of us walking against the keen winds on the cliffs beyond Port Mulgrave had as little a choice as had Bishop Colman, walking away from Whitby – but our predicament was brief – whereas his changed the rest of his life.

We had been dropped off a Mulgrave… our only refuge would be to get to Staithes. Our risk was not great. The weather has been kind: windy but not too cold. December on the high Cleveland Way can be very different…

(Above) The sun begins to set on the Cleveland Way, which follows the edge of the cliffs from Whitby, north to Saltburn

Development of the Cleveland Way began in the 1930s when the Teesside Ramblers’ Association pressed for the creation of a long distance path in the north-east of Yorkshire linking existing paths along the boundaries of the North York Moors and footpaths on the Yorkshire coast.

(Above) The Cleveland Way: over one hundred miles of wild beauty from Helmsley to Filey (source)

A formal proposal to create the route was submitted in 1953 to the council North Riding of Yorkshire, by the National Parks Commission. In 1969, the path was finally opened – only the second of its kind in the UK.

Our problem was not the cold. It was the light. The path was muddier than we had expected and progress towards Staithes was slow. At an open place where the views of the coast fell away on either side, we stopped for our final exercise of the day. Once again, we revisited the sequence of four words we had each selected at the opening meal. By now, we knew each ‘pointed’ to a process whereby we could bring to consciousness one related set of psychological obstacles to our spiritual growth. Mine was:

Flattery – Pride – Humility – Will

Facing the wind off the sea, we each voiced how our words could be seen as one of the keys of inner transformation.

With the light beginning to fade, we came down from the cliff path and onto the flat agricultural land that borders the upper village of Staithes.

(Above) The high cliffs from which we had descended to get to the fishing village of Staithes

Below us, the lights of Staithes were twinkling.

A ‘staithe’ is an old English word meaning ‘landing place’. The plural name “Staithes” of the fishing port is due to its twin ‘landing places’; one on each side of the stream that flows down from the moor and into the sea- named Roxy Beck.

(Above) Staithes’ twin ‘landing stages’.

Staithes was once one of the largest fishing ports on the north-east coast. It was also an important source of minerals such as jet, iron, alum and potash. These days, the huddle of cottages nestled between towering cliffs is an attractive holiday destination and lies within the North York Moors National Park.

The village is famous as a source of inspiration for artists, in particular the impressionist artist colony known as the Staithes Group, among them Laura and Harold Knight. The quality of light and the variety of perspectives offered by cliff-top views and winding paths have made Staithes a magnet for artists.

(Above) The timeless image of Staithes’ harbour front

The risk had been worth it. We arrived at our destination just as a gentle darkness fell. We had picked the Cod and Lobster tavern on the main quayside as a meeting point. Those who had been unable to make the walk met us there. After the intensity of the day, we needed simple refreshment. Tomorrow would be a challenging day.

(Above) The Cod and Lobster – our final destination for Saturday

To be continued…

Other parts in this series of posts: Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six This is Part Seven

Three Ghosts of Christmas Present

Unfolding nightmares can begin very innocently…

My mother, who is nearly ninety years old, has vascular dementia. She’s had a wonderful life and is enjoying a blessedly slow decline of her faculties – to the extent that she’s still in her own home and able to look after herself as long as the family watch for the ‘monsters’ at the edge of life.

Anything technical and new, or related to problem-solving, is now beyond her, but her zest for life; and the love of walking her little dog, Sammy, is undaunted. I have been surprised how much of a companion this ‘challenging’ little Pomeranian has been in her past decade.

We have a dog – a Collie – so Sammy has always been welcome at our house on the edge of the English Lake District. We are conscious of living in a beautiful part of country – and happy to share it with family and friends whenever we can. My wife’s sister, Joanne, is a frequent guest; and mum and Joanne look forward to spending each Christmas with us – often arriving a couple of days before so that we can all settle into the mood and have few runs out in the Lakes.

A few days ago, I could tell that I was coming down with a nasty cold. Despite my array of juicy oranges, concentrated garlic, salted water snorted up the nostrils (sorry…), the little sod seemed to have got through. On Christmas Eve I dosed off; doped, warm and comfortable in my chair not far from a blazing log stove…

In the dream, people were panicking, and there was the sound of a door to the garden being opened, repeatedly. When you spend a lot of your life in ‘carer’ mode, you get used to springing awake and alert on such occasions.

Mum was racing around the lounge looking for the coat she had dropped when she entered. Joanne, my wife’s sister, was yelling her apologies.

“Well, how long has he been out there?” mum was asking.

“I just forgot he’d gone out…” said Joanne, desperately worried that, in her inattention, she’d lost mother’s dog. “…perhaps twenty minutes or so…”

Both were distressed. Sammy the wandering Pomeranian had done this before, but not for many years. He’s old, largely blind and his back legs are going… poor love. You would think he would just stay in our ample garden with Tess and our cat Misti.

But no…. Pomeranians have a wandering gene… and it doesn’t matter how blind they are or how cold the winter day is.

By now, mum was chasing around the garden, calling out Sammy’s name. I knew in my bones that it was futile… I’d just about woken up and was trying get my befuddled and cold-strewn mind to come up with a plan. To add to this, the light was fading and a very black darkness was taking over the end of the afternoon.

Fellow dog-owners will know the value of the head-torch. These brightly coloured bands of elasticated fabric sport a tough square-ish light that can be focussed in different ways from the forehead. They allow the hands to remain free while you conjugate the million other things your dog needs, such as poo bag use… I’ll not dwell on it. but it’s doubly challenging in the darkness.

I suppose it was my slightly Lemsip-induced state, but I seemed to have left the house without a coat; though I did have thermal jumper on. I was trying to catch up with my mind… actually not true; I was striding through the darkness up the unmade lane that is the only road to our house following what I knew was the last chance of recovering our ageing Pomeranian. In the background, I could hear my mother’s near-crying voice and knew that her dog had long gone. The only chance was to choose the right direction and hope that his slow progress would allow me to catch up.

When you get to the T-junction at the top of the lane, you can go left, right or straight ahead. Straight ahead is up a hill, but the first house on the left is the home of two local dentists, and brightly lit due to them being a fan of decorating most of the house in lights. It’s lovely… sort of. It’s certainly bright.

I checked the dentist’s courtyard driveway, shouting out Sammy’s name and hoping the light might have attracted him – nothing. Breathing in the sharp, cold air, I strode off up the hill to find a genial figure walking down with his own dog.

We’ve met before but I don’t know him well. Graham is on the parish council and always stops to chat. He had heard me shouting out Sammy’s name as I came through the darkness towards him. He stopped and offered to help with the search, explaining that there had been no sign of our dog during his own descent of the hill I was climbing. At least we could tick off that route…

When we got back to the junction and the dentist’s house, the lady dentist was at the gate.

“Have you lost a golden dog,” she asked?

I coughed out my delight. She explained that, a few minutes prior, she had seen a Pomerian entering another, smaller lane, nearer the centre of the village. She had approached it, but every time she got close it ran off – further into the darkness and up the hill. She had been worried about making things worse and had left him to return at his own pace.

But he never has, in this situation…

Graham, my first helper from the parish council, then said we could split up and search the two branches of the dark lane – the place where Sammy had last been seen. One leads to a small housing estate, the other climbs, steeply, into the darkness of the open country and towards the main London-Glasgow railway line…

I told Graham I would take the steeper route and set off – gasping as the cold air hit my sore lungs harder, and with only a head-torch for company. It grew darker and darker – there are no street lights in the village. My spirits began to fall as my analytical mind raced through the diminishing odds of us ever seeing Sammy again – and the stupidity of having practically on the fella without a coat… But I had known, that, unless I left the house that second, we would never see Sammy alive again.

Near the summit of the lane the winds picked up. There can be a ten degree difference in wind-chill up there, as the are fully-fledged Lakeland hills in their own right. Thinking survival, I made sure my thermal jumper was stuffed into my trouser waistband and prayed.

The head-torch, my only piece of ‘armour’ shone valiantly into the darkness….and the unknown.

At first, I thought the reflected beam of light was the torch picking out a limestone wall. But then it got brighter… and I realised there was a car coming towards me from one of the farms on the local uplands. The lane will not permit two cars along its length; not even a car and a person along most of it. Passing places are provided lower down the hill, but not this high. To let a car pass, you have to clutch a branch of one of the bordering trees and pull yourself off the tarmac and partly into the hedge.

I did… hanging in space while the Citroen estate slowed down for an ill-dressed madman with a head-torch.

Half way along the car’s length, it stopped. I clung desperately to my branch as the window opened and warm air spilled out.

“Looking for a dog?”

I could barely speak.

“Name of Sammy?”

I had slipped into a parallel reality. A good story to ease me gently to a freezing death…

“Yes,” my steaming breath formed, hesitantly.

“In the boot!” said the no-nonsense voice of the lady farmer whose face, if not name, I knew. “Was taking him to the animal rescue…, but got to rush – family do!”

In a surreal world, I slithered along the line of the silver car and she opened the boot, electronically. There, looking up out of the warm darkness was Sammy…

Of course, I’d not brought a lead. But my cord trousers sported a belt. Stealthily, I slipped it off and looped it under the errant’s collar.

She, laughed. “Merry Christmas.” I repeatedly chanted my thank yous from the back of the car… frankly in a state of disbelief.

The rescuer waved in her mirror as she drove off, leaving us to descend through the darkness back into the warmth of the village, our house and the tears of my mother when she saw her freezing son shuffling up the lane with her beloved furry companion…

Truly three ghosts of Christmas present… and a lesson in trust in the possible, even in the face of great adversity. But I’d rather not have another one of those anytime soon…

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.