heroes in a landscape (6) fellowship of the shepherd

Continued from Part Five…

There comes a moment in any weekend event when the carefully cultivated sense of order breaks down… no matter how good the plan. At that point one looks to ‘heaven’ knowing that the success is in the ‘laps of the Gods’.

The man striding up the hill from Great Salkeld towards Long Meg Stone Circle possessed a brain whose capacity for the solution of additional problems had ceased…

You can only do so much to anticipate what might go wrong. This is different from careful planning; which provides a framework which should be resilient, and above all else, elastic.

The companion who was having difficulty walking was, to the best of my knowledge, still somewhere close to Lacy’s Caves; and being looked after by some, if not all, of the walking party. Even with their help, she might be unable to walk out of the Eden Valley.

She was later to write to Stuart and I that there must have been a remarkable amount of ‘elastic in the system’ to bring things to a successful conclusion. At the time, it didn’t feel like that…

The Saturday of the Journey of the Hero workshop had gone very well. The problems were entirely about how it was ending…

(Above: Long Meg and her daughters – the day was ending problematically)

To the best of my knowledge, I was the only one not still ‘trapped’ in the Eden Valley. Somewhat hot and sweaty, courtesy of my self-imposed route-march, I was approaching the Long Meg Stone Circle – where all the cars were parked. Other than breathing deeply and being hot, I felt okay. There was no sign of extreme fatigue. My concern was entirely for the companions farther back along the route.

A glance at my watch showed I had made it back in record time. But there was none to lose. It seemed unlikely that we would be making our early dinner appointment at the Shepherd Inn, Langwathby – the next village, but a million miles away in problems. A prime Saturday evening booking cancelled… they would be rightly annoyed.

I located my car keys in the backpack and opened the door… It’s amazing what sliding behind the wheel of your car can do for the spirits when you’ve spent the past hour walking at a near-run. Now, finally equipped to get somewhere fast, I could begin to put a rescue into effect. Down in the village the large gate was padlocked and I would not be able to take the car on its return mission without solving that first.

I glanced at the Long Meg stones and made my silent prayer, again. Then drove off down the steep lane back to Great Threlkeld.

Five minutes later, I swung the car round the corner and into the small road by the village green to find that three people were sitting on the bench, looking at the arriving fast car. Stuart was one of them. I couldn’t work out what had happened but was relieved to see at least some of the party. They were equally surprised to see me, and explained that they presumed they had been just behind me on my self-enforced march.

It transpired that the lady with the walking difficulties had made a determined effort to have another go at it; and found out that her Covid-suppressed leg muscles had begun to respond to her needs! She was somewhere behind on the trail but being assisted by one of our strongest hikers. In my absence, the problem had begun to resolve itself… There’s a lesson in that, I muttered to no-one in particular…

(Long Meg)

It seemed there was nothing I could do to speed up the situation, so the critical path shifted to getting everyone who was here back to their cars.

Without delay, I ferried them back up the hill to Long Meg. I was about to set off, again, back to the village, when one of the party approached me looking glum and shaking her head.

“I appear to have lost my car keys,” she said in a low voice.

She’s an experienced lady, and hosts workshops of her own. She looked downcast, conscious that the slim possibility of getting to our dinner had just evaporated…

Stuart and I looked around the car, then got down on the ground to see if the keys had dropped beneath. Nothing. Meanwhile, the lady without the keys was searching every pocket she had, including those of her backpack. It was fruitless…they were not there.

The three of us mentally retraced our steps to think where they might have been dropped. She said that, after locking the car, they were always placed in a certain pocket of her walking jacket. She patted it, silently.

(The ‘pink mill’ at Threlkeld – still milling flour using the old water-wheel)

“One of my daughters lives close by. She said, brightening. She took out her mobile. “She’ll not be surprised…”

I always admire self-deprecating humour. In the face of difficulty, it’s a noble thing.

Stuart sighed and said, in the way he does when he’s wearing his Reaper’s look, “Lacy’s Caves… we all sat down for that tea and chocolate…They might have fallen out there!”

(Sometimes one needs a short rest)

No-one responded. The implications were ‘too horrid’, as a long departed mentor would have said.

I took stock: we did have enough seats in the available vehicles to get us all to the Shepherd Pub in nearby Langwathby. We were short two people, one of whom might be limping along the river trail.

It was 17: 40. The dinner table was booked for 18:00. It was Saturday evening; they wouldn’t hold it long.

“I’ll drive back into the village” I said. “You never know, the final two might have made it that far.”

I got into my car, again, opening the side window to catch any last-minute developments. The companion without her car keys was phoning the daughter with the spare set. I could hear the cackle of laughter at the other end.

“Again!”

It was beautifully good-natured. We would be okay, even if we had to dine off fish and chips, standing on the pavement in Penrith…

I drove down the lane, again. This was beginning to feel like the central character in Gerard Hofnung’s story of the bricks… If you’ve never heard it, it’s ten minutes well spent.

The lady with the limp and her stalwart protector were sitting on the same bench. She looked fine. I had a growing sense of amused unreality.

“I’m fine, Steve. My leg started working, again. Just lack of exercise… I should have done some training before the weekend!”

I thanked her protector and we climbed back into the car. I was about to set off for Long Meg when a different plan presented itself…

I dropped them outside the Shepherd Inn in the nearby village of Langwathby with instructions to secure our table and delay things as long as possible. If we were thrown out at that point, we had at least battled and lost. Dinner in that delightful pub was to be the high point of the day and I wasn’t going to surrender it, lightly.

I went back up the hill to Long Meg… (See I told you you’d like the Bricklayer’s tale)

The lady without her keys was standing behind her car, talking with her daughter. The keys being brought seemed to be a minimum of an hour away. All hopes of the nearby dinner were vanishing.

She turned to lean on the back of the car and – to her visible surprise – the boot swung up and open…

“That’s not supposed to happen,” she remarked, quietly, to her bemused daughter on the other end of the line. “I think I know what the problem is…”

Stuart and I looked on in astonishment as, saying nothing, she walked to the driver’s side and pulled the handle. The door opened. It hadn’t been locked…

Flashing me a ‘please don’t say anything until I’ve had a drink’ look, she reached down into the well of the door and extracted her keys…from where she now knew they’d been, all along.

“Done it again,” she murmured to her daughter, who was still on the phone. “Thank you!”

Nine minutes later, our party arrived in Langwathby and parked by the village green, next to the pub.

As we crossed the threshold, I looked at my watch. It was one minute to six…

It was a lesson in the art of the possible – as long as you let the possible happen. A lesson that Stuart and I are unlikely ever to forget… It was also an excellent dinner.

The morning after, we would be climbing a mountain… but not exactly in the way we had planned…

(The Shepherd Inn at Langwathby)

To be concluded in Part Seven.

Other parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three,

Part Four, Part Five,

This is Part Six.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Web of Light…

The Hero’s journey, Sunday, 8th May, 2022…

She carries their gifts… the dead ones, their souls in hers, more than memory.

– Giants Dance

*

Take the pouch of seed-stones and hold them close to your heart centre…

Close your eyes… And place into the seed stones your loving intent for growth… And completion…

And a link to attune with them at will…

And then open your eyes, turn and plant some seed stones close to the standing stone or stones with which you have felt resonance…

After you have done this leave your blessing on the stone or stones…

And then walk to the centre of the circle…

*

After the gestural keys of the Chariot and Lovers our adventurers are given time alone with the ancestors…

*

Let us open the doorway through which all may pass and join together to weave the Web of Light.

At this time, when our word is in turmoil, when the bounty of our planet is being stretched beyond endurance and so many of its creatures face extinction, let us add our voice to the Web that is being woven by Seekers of Light across the earth.

Alone, we can do little, but when hearts come together to work in harmony, we can change the world.

Wherever the sacredness of the earth is remembered, wherever the ancient places are revered, wherever a single heart turns away from fear and hatred to Love, a point of Light is added to the Web.

 

Let this Circle be a point of Light within the Web.

Close your eyes. Find a place of peace within your hearts… and prepare for meditation.

Let us weave the Web of Light together…

 

Feel your body, rooted in earth.

Feel the air as you breathe, in… and out… filling your body with its gift.

Your body is a creature of earth.

Your soul is not of the earth.

Your soul is of a finer substance, your life no more than a chapter in its story.

It is eternal… your body a temporary garment that it wears.

Let it fly free…

In your mind’s eye, see the body of the Circle where we stand…

Your Companions are with you, their bodies too relaxed and resting…

Now see the soul of the Circle.

It too is other than its body.

Its stones are a grove of standing pillars in a vast space filled with Light.

Its shape mirrors the universe…

The Circle beyond represents the evolution of your soul… Above the central point imagine a single, brilliant flame that reaches up into the sky.

Follow the path lit by the flame and rise, higher and higher… passing through the sky and out into the darkness of space.

Look back; you can still see your body, perfectly safe and relaxed within this hallowed space and the single point of light that is the sacred flame…

 

…Turn now and rise higher… higher still.

Around you, the stars wheel in the heavens, bright points of dancing light against the indigo sky.

The land spreads out beneath you, a living shadow that reaches as far as you can see and beyond…

From the central light, silver flame spreads, pulsing, across the earth in a great web of light.

Where the threads cross, you know that stones have been set, groves, mounds and pools… places of worship…sacred centres like our own, harmonising the flow of cosmic Life and Light.

You are part of that web, part of its warp and weft.

You are a tender of the Flame.

Feel the life of the earth coursing through its strands… and through you.

Give yourself to its glory.

See the web blaze bright and clean… burning away all shadows, healing all rifts and lighting the land.

Within you, the flame also burns…

Its essence is a steady point of brilliance in your heart, small as a seed, but vast as the universe.

 

You are its guardian.

 

Now slowly, gently, return to the Sanctuary of our Circle, carrying the vision of light within.

Return to your body… meld with it once more…

Allow yourself to feel… your chest, rising and falling as you breathe… your feet on the earth…

And then… When you are ready… Open your eyes… And this guided visualisation… Is over.

*

‘From a towering ego to the magic and hidden strength of starlight balancing the soul in love.’

*

Mist on the Moors

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… We met up with author and blogger Graeme Cumming and his partner for another wander over the moors. We followed a path that leads from a place of hoary legend and gory history, where a headless body was found, up onto a moor cloaked in low clouds.

We climbed to the plateau, sharing the archaeological features on the way… features mostly hidden by mist and bracken. In the distance, limestone cliffs shelter this place that is hidden in plain sight, unseen from the road that snakes through the valley.

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From here you can see the distinctive shapes of the hills that are shadowed in stone… except that we couldn’t as they were wreathed in cloud. But what you can see, if you know where to look, is a stone circle.

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Like all the circles in this area, the stones are quite small…as if their builders knew that power resides in what lies behind the symbol, not in the form itself. The land seems to centre on the circle and we have passed hours watching the dome of the sky sparkle above us.

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But we haven’t been back for two years… and here, as at Barbrook, reeds and bracken begin to encroach on the space within the stones. For the first time here, there is a sense of unease… not about the land, but an overlay, imposed and alien.

Looking at the stone named for the Fae, where their lights, it is said, can sometimes be seen dancing, we saw a possible reason why. The hollow  in the top of the stone was filled with something that I hoped, just for a second, was a mangled plum… but which I knew was nothing so acceptable.

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The fresh entrails of some small creature… no fur or feathers, no bones of sign of predator, were neatly placed in the hollowed stone. A fire pit in the centre of the circle held newly burned cinders…evidence of a Friday night sojourn beneath a full moon. It is not the first time we have found offerings here, though usually they are just flowers. Nothing so darkly disturbing as this.

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We walked the circle, weaving light about the stones and did what we could. I love these moors and the ancient places they shelter and feel a responsibility to care for them. There was no caring in what we had found. For the first time, we did not linger and I, for one, felt nothing but anger and distaste for what had been done.

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A rift in reality

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We were up at the crack of dawn, not because there had been too much wine the night before, which might have been expected during an evening in an Italian restaurant, but because the bug that had been stalking us for days had decided it would be fun to strike its victims during the celebratory meal and had knocked us off our feet.

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With no clear plan for the days ahead, we lingered over coffee, debating what we should do. The evening was taken care of… we were going to see Robin Williamson. We had missed his Sheffield performance last year, due to the dates of the Ilkley workshop, and his music was the main reason I was lingering in the north.

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We decided that it would be a good idea to check on the stone circle at Barbrook. After the work we had done there, we needed to re-visit the stones and, if nothing else, pay our respects and thank the spirit of the place for the gifts we had been given. The sun was rising steadily as we drove, climbing the long road to crest the hills above the awakening city.

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Three, they say, is the charm…and this was the third time in less than a week that we had passed through the gates onto Ramsley Moor. The morning mists wove mystery from the pale sunlight and the bejewelled land was bathed in gold. It may just have been the beauty of the morning, but the place felt different, alive and awake, as if two thousand years had dropped away and we were stepping beyond the veiling mists back into a time long gone.

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Retracing our steps along the path, just a few days after the workshop, it seemed like a different place. More of the mounds were visible,  shifting  swathes of mist opened pathways and vistas into a landscape of dreams. What we had done had undoubtedly made a vast difference here… though whether that difference was objective or just in the way we perceived the land is another matter.

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Nor does it matter. Reality is only real in as far as we perceive it to be. It is our perception that determines how we can interact with it and what our reaction to it might be. A tiny spider, if perceived as a threat, will make us afraid. If the darkness holds monsters for a child, the fear is real. If a stone circle seems awake… that too is real in its own realm. When we left the moor at last, we were smiling.

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Derbyshire’s Green Man…

*

Beyond the forest’s leafy shade,

The hooded one, with giant’s pace

From pinnacle to pinnacle

Leap’t silently, in moonlit grace… 

*

In eremitic solitude

In caverns deep to meditate…

Within, the riddle of the night,

A key that will elucidate…

 *

Beyond the stones, to four once nine

To where the goddess meets her mate

And heavens dance at winters turn

Bends earthwards to illuminate.

*

A Journey at Solstice

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I wrote this  a few years ago after a journey through the English countryside one Solstice. As the vernal equinox marks the turning of the year once again, I thought I would share this again today.

I have always been aware of magic. A strange, eclectic upbringing allowed me to grow without religious prejudice in a world where Bast and barguests were as possible as any other cat or dog and where Jehovah, Allah and the Buddha were held in equal respect.

I was taught to love the Earth in all her beauty and mystery, through folk tales and science in equal proportion. There was nothing of glamour attached to magic. It was simply there. Always and everywhere.

So what happened at Solstice…just happened…

I work in field sales and one of the privileges of that job is to organise one’s own workload. So, as Thursday dawned windy, but gloriously sunny, I decided to visit customers in the Cotswolds and treat my city–sated soul to the beauty of thatched cottages and rolling English hills. For some reason, I threw a pair of jeans and my painting easel in the car along with the files, which I’ve never done before.

I had a good day with customers and my final visit took me within a stone’s throw of the Rollright Stones, a stone circle set in a ring of trees on top of a hill. I went there once before with a friend and had shown him how to dowse with copper rods. This was the first time I’d been on my own and, being midweek, I had the site almost to myself.

I parked in the lane and stripped off my business suit, feeling that as I did so, I was stripping away the world’s perception of my persona. Donning jeans and T-shirt brought me back to simplicity devoid of pretension or pretence.

Leaving the mobile phone behind I stepped away from the humdrum need to make survival money and felt I crossed more than one threshold as I walked between the gateposts.

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The circle, though weathered, is almost complete. The stones stand like broken teeth around a green lawn, not manicured, but scattered with daisies like little bright stars lifting their faces to the Light. The path enters the circle at the wrong place. A stone there has fallen, leaving a natural entrance, but it was never the original portal. Nevertheless, I enter the circle and as there is no-one around to notice, I bow to the Light and enter barefoot, treading deosil around the perimeter.

The sand is hot underfoot, the circle is sheltered from the wind by a horseshoe of trees, but here and there little dust devils dance. At the four quarters flowers have been left as offerings, sweet williams, with their heady scent and blood red petals, stark against the white and ochre of the lichen covered stones. Last night was the summer solstice and I have heard that this ring is still used by devotees of the Craft. I know that I will find the same flowers at the King Stone, a single monolith, as well as at the fallen burial chamber called the Whispering Knights, which form a triangle with the original entrance to the circle.

Circles and triangles take my mind to the Tree of Life with its great inrush of Cosmic Force and I wonder what the ancients were doing when they built this Temple of Light.

I walk to the centre of the lawn and sit, cross legged, in the circle. I am no longer alone; four men are also seated on the grass, talking quietly. We are isolated here and perhaps I should be careful. Yet I know there is no threat and a deep serenity enfolds me. One of the men stands to leave and I hear the words “Blessed be” repeated softly.

The sky above is a clear blue, scattered with clouds chasing each other in the wind. There is no road noise here; the only sounds are the birds and the rustling of leaves, overlaid by the muted conversation of the men. I close my eyes and begin the fourfold breathing as I have been taught. My body relaxes and I sink into the landscape.

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In my mind I see the circle as a great chalice. It is empty save for its memories, yet I feel it was meant to be full of Light, a beacon for the soul. An empty vessel fulfils no purpose. The chalice is a vessel which gives form to that with which it is filled.

From the centre of the circle I renew my pledge of service. Around me I feel the wind spiralling into a great silver vortex, carrying me skywards on the wings of faith, yet the Earth is steady and solid beneath me and the grass tickles my feet in the slight breeze. Reality contradicts itself and I let it carry me with it, humbled and awed.

The vortex climbs through the azure haze, upwards, outwards, expanding and encompassing, the rhythm a great heartbeat, a counterpoint to my own, carrying reflected Light back to the heavens. The spiralling slows, stops climbing and rests, perfectly balanced on the point of the vortex in the circle where I sit. Then I am falling, in decreasing circles as it winds down and down, until the wind rushes through the Earth, in a subterranean vortex of white fire, funnelled from on high. The afternoon sun is warm on my upturned face as I swirl ever faster in the rushing fire. I can feel a pressure mounting. Suddenly, like a great star bursting, the fire spreads through the stones and out across the landscape. I can see it from my vantage point among the stars, a vast net of pure white force, veins of lambent silver spreading out across the land, carrying Light like blood.

One of the men laughs softly and that seems to fit. Joy is allowed. I open my eyes and smile, a smile shared by the men. Inside I feel different, a golden serenity which carries me home to my hearth.

Later, leafing through a book while I wait to kidnap the bathroom from my hoard of teenagers, I read the author’s words on how to honour the ancient places and smile. Perhaps those who work still at Rollright have kept it alive. It is I who was honoured today. Call it imagination or daydream if you will. I only know how it has made me feel and that today was a day of unforgettable beauty.

Thursday in the north

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Thursday dawned hopefully over Derbyshire. It was the day of our monthly meeting so we headed out for Great Hucklow, where our party converged from various directions on the Queen Anne for lunch before wandering out to Chapel en le Frith in search of a church and a Saxon Cross. We found the medieval market cross first and the stocks, still in the centre of the little town.

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It is a nice little town, all square and solid, built of the local stone that seems to carry stoic resilience in every weathered line. The golden tones that reflect the sun in spring, were darkened by the perennial damp of the winter beneath skies rapidly turning sombre. The wind was bitter, carrying the chill of the distant snows we had seen lingering on the hills.

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Passing Church Brow, a typical old street with its odd mix of ancient cobbles and modern telephone lines, we entered the churchyard. The parish church of St Thomas Becket was first erected by the Normans around 1225AD. Most of what can now be seen is much later, dating back only to the 14thC, with the ornate tower and south front built in 1733.

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The church has a long history, beginning as a forest chapel. Much later, in 1648, 1500 Scottish soldiers were taken prisoner after the battle of Ribbleton Moor, during the Civil war. The prisoners were incarcerated here by Cromwell’s troops in horrendous conditions for sixteen days. When the church was reopened, more than forty soldiers had died and another ten perished as they were marched away.

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We, however, were here to see the Saxon Cross, older by far than such a squalid episode of human history. The carvings are worn and weathered, yet they still hold their mystery and forgotten message… a visual language we can no longer decipher.

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The church was locked, so we were denied all but the briefest glimpse of the interior, stolen through the clouded pane of a window. Even from outside we could see the vibrancy of the stained glass in many of the windows, including an unusual juxtaposition of St Aidan, the Venerable Bede and Melchizedek… a window which will, doubtless, call us back to visit in summer when the doors will stand open with any luck.

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So we wandered around the churchyard, where ancient and modern grimaced at each other in what felt like a good natured battle. The significance of the expression was debated… what does that pulled mouth really mean… and did those who reproduced the expression in later centuries actually know? january hol 2016 030

We repaired to a little tea shop and, thwarted in our desire to see the inside of the church, debated out next move. We still had time before the meeting and we can work equally well on foot…or in the corner of a cosy pub. We had passed a sign for Edale… and it ran in my mind there was something there worth seeing. Certainly, there was a church…and probably a pub. There were also hills, and Mam Tor dominates the skyline. It wasn’t far… We retrieved the cars and off we went in search of Edale… january hol 2016 013

 

Petals, wood and stone

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Friday the four of us met as usual at the Queen Anne in Great Hucklow for lunch and business before the evening’s meeting. It was a damp day, not particularly summery, which was disappointing in the middle of August… but it didn’t matter where we were going. First, though, we had to take a look at the well dressing… the pictures made of flower petals and seeds pressed into damp clay that are created every year for the blessing of the village wells.

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This year the theme was Alice in Wonderland, and in addition to the main well dressing, there was the children’s one by the chapel. Many homes had added extra touches of humour and Alice-style signposts led visitirs on a trail of discovery…

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We work on the hoof much of the time, so we decided we should take our companions to Bakewell and show Steve the scene of the ‘Ben’s’ misadventure… it seemed only fair as he had just finished reading Scions of Albion… and was  now exploring Ben’s thought processes from the depths of Bakewell Gaol… We parked up and crossed the bridge over the river, now hung with lover’s padlocks in a pale imitation of the Parisian bridges now struggling under the weight of too many such locks. I have always found it an odd thing to do… Love shouldn’t need to be shackled to a bridge, but should be as free and as full of life as the river.

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We wandered through the town, the damp bringing out all the colour in the stone. For once we managed to avoid the calorie-laden Bakewell Tarts and headed, instead, towards the churchyard. I have shared so many photos of this church… and yet it is as impossible to share everything as it is to see everything. Each time we visit there is something new… even though it may have been waiting there hundreds of years for us to notice.

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First of all, we had to show our comapnions the stone crosses dating back to Saxon times and carved with images from the Norse myths and Celtic patterns. The larger of the two still shows Sleipnir and Ratatosk quite clearly, while the smaller holds the sensuous spirals that seem to hold a forgotten language in their curves.

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We walked around the outside of the church, admiring the beauty of a huge Rowan in berry and pointing out the ancient arc of the doorway, the Book and Grail carved near one corner of the roof, the strange carved faces, both Victorian and far, far older that dot the walls and guard the windows and the weathered Norman figures, flaking away as the sandstone erodes.

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We finally got as far as the porch and were able to stand back and enjoy the amazement of our companions as they realised the sheer scale and antiquity of the collection of stonework that lines the walls. Even if the church was kept locked, it would be worth the trip just to see what is outside the doors, with almost a thousand years of history looking back at you, tantalising with details half seen and figures from myth, legend and the stories of faith. And that was before we went inside…

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