A Hebridean Diary (2) : Long Road to Uig

The day was already old by the time the ferry from Ullapool had docked at Stornaway. We had been warned that shops were few and far between on the Hebridean island of Lewis and advised to take advantage of the supermarkets in the capital.

The no-sunday trading laws imposed by the ‘Wee Free’ Presbyterian church were in force across the island, and we were unlikely to find exceptions, so stocking up the provisions was a really good idea – tired though we all were.

(Above: an arial map of the north-west of the island shows how deeply the Atlantic ocean penetrates the land)

Finally equipped with a large box of groceries, we set off, somewhat weary, for the Uig peninsula, all the way across the width of the island. The route seemed straightforward, and didn’t look that far on the map. What we didn’t know was that most of the island’s roads were single-track, with passing places.

(Above: the beaches on the mainland had been wonderful, but we were assured that those of Lewis were even better)
(Above: the arial map of the terrain shows the extent of the mountains of the far west of Lewis – and also the coverage of the famous beaches)

Fortunately, the main route east to west was a normal, two-lane highway, but it turned out this only took us half-way to our destination. Coming to the end of the major road, we were faced with single-track and having to use the stopping places to let oncoming cars pass us. The locals are used to this kind of driving, and are well able to judge the road, ahead. They were also very fair with ‘who was there first’. It took a few days for us to get the hang of it. Once you do, you can make much faster progress using this ‘protocol’ from the past.

(Above: the typical Lewis hinterland. The mountains in the distance line the shore of the western coast – next stop America!)

The sheer ’emptiness’ of the island makes an immediate impact. The landscape is unchanging and composed of low hills, winding lochs and innumerable outcrops of white rock. The view across to the west showed a line of large mountains – presumable the last land before America. It was to take us several days before we had any sense of geography – or even orientation. There is no such thing as a straight line, here. The land is marked out by the need to follow the lochs, most of which end in the open sea, but take a convoluted route there.

(Above: busy sea-loch near Uig)

Eventually, we arrived in Uig – a peninsula on the north-western shore of Lewis famed for its beaches. It had been a long journey from Poolewe, via Ullapool and the ferry, and we were ready to make a quick supper and turn in.

(Above: Arriving at the peninsula of Uig. A few small villages and an occasional site for camping and caravans)

It was then we noticed how light it was. Despite being nearly ten at night, the sky looked as bright as an afternoon. The two dogs needed walking, so we decided to put off dinner for an hour and seek out one of the local beaches.

(Above: first sight of the famous Lewis beaches – our nearest one, Note the coats!)

A ten minute drive from the holiday cottage and we found the small road that led down to our nearest beach. In the back of the people carrier, the dogs were going mad; being able to smell the sea after being cooped up in the car for most of the day…

But the next half-hour restored the wonder of the whole journey – and one of the primary reasons for coming this far. On either side of us, the near-white beach stretched out for what looked like miles.

(Above: as far as the eye could see… doggy (and human) heaven!)

It was scenic but – despite the summery sky – still cold. Lewis was a strange place, but we were warming to it… And tomorrow was my birthday… That long-awaited new coat would finally be providing me with real warmth!

Part One: http://suningemini.blog/2022/05/24/a-poolewe-diary-1/

Part Two, http://suningemini.blog/2022/05/31/a-poolewe-diary-2/

Part Three, http://suningemini.blog/2022/06/06/a-poolewe-diary-3-the-loch-on-the-back-of-the-oats-box/

Part Four, http://suningemini.blog/2022/06/14/a-poolewe-diary-4-once-upon-a-time-in-the-far-north-west/

Part Five: http://suningemini.blog/2022/06/21/a-poolewe-diary-5-over-the-minch-to-lewis/

Continuation onto the the Hebridean Island of Lewis:

Part One

This is Part Two


©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

A Hebridean Diary (1) Impressions of Lewis

(Above: the many lochs of Lewis have their own distinct character)

Although it was a continuation of the same trip, it would be misleading to continue with the ‘Poolewe Diaries’ as a title. The sailing from Ullapool to the Hebridean main island of Lewis marked the second week of our Scottish adventure, so a change of title is appropriate…

Arriving on the island of Lewis, you get a strong sense of the remoteness of the place. Our departure port of Ullapool was remote enough, but then adding a three-hour ferry crossing just emphasised how separated this community is from the main population areas of Scotland.

(Top left: the main Hebridean island of Lewis

Image from Apple Maps, post processed by the author)

The largest town on Lewis is the port of Stornoway, famous for its appearance as the second item in the BBC’s maritime ‘shipping forecast’. The Shipping Forecast is a BBC Radio broadcast of weather reports and forecasts for the seas around the far coasts of the British Isles. It is produced by the Met Office and broadcast by BBC Radio 4 on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

(Above: the main port of Stornoway – Wikipedia)

Stornoway is the main town of the Western Islands (the local name for the Outer Hebrides). It was founded by Vikings in the early 9th century, with the old Norse name Stjórnavágr. The settlement grew up around a sheltered natural harbour and became a trading hub for people from all over the island. Local travel to Stornoway was either by family boat, or (more slowly), by horse-drawn coach. The town of Stjórnavágr was the main base for trade with the rest of Scotland and further afield. 

In the 15th century the local castle, the ancestral base of the MacLeod clan, was breached by the cannons of the Duke of Argyle, and local taxes were imposed on trade. This was hated by the islanders, who rebelled against such shipping rights being imposed. Continued resistance succeeded against King James VI, who, in 1598, tried to establish his own trading company on Lewis: the ‘Fife Adventurers’.

(Above: There are many bridges on Lewis. This one crosses the Atlantic Ocean!)

It failed. Declaring it ‘ungovernable’, James transferred Lewis to the MacKenzies of Seaforth in 1610. Stornoway Castle was later demolished to expand the harbour. A few remnants of the old stonework are to be found beneath the sea, alongside the pier foundations.

I have a personal connection with the island of Lewis – one that’s cultural rather than genetic…

(Above: Rivington Pike, Lancashire – an English Civil War ‘beacon hill’ – sits directly above William Hesketh Lever’s former estate)

I was born in Bolton, Lancashire. As a boy I used to walk the moors above the town of Horwich, marvelling at the ‘lost city’ nature of the ruins of the old ornamental gardens – long abandoned after the house that used to be there was burned down by the Suffragettes.

(Above: the tower where Lady Lever did her embroidery, looking out over her beloved moors)

Later, I found out the mysterious gardens were the creation of William Hesketh Lever and built as a summer retreat on the site of where he and his wife did their courting. For many years, I looked into his life and built up a collection of facts and images. In a sense, his personal industry and success inspired me.

(Above: We were entering a very different world)

William Hesketh Lever, a man born to a working-class family in the centre of Bolton, built up a local soap business and became increasingly successful and prosperous, eventually creating Port Sunlight on the Wirral Peninsula, an entire ‘model town’ where the workers in his vast factories were guaranteed quality homes in the pleasant village. Until this trip, I had not realised that there was a link between William Lever and the island of Lewis.

In 1918, Matheson sold the island of Lewis to the soap millionaire – who had now become William Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme. Lord Leverhulme owned the island for only a short time. His economic plans for the Lewis (together with various business setbacks) overstretched his finances.

Faced with failure in Lewis, and unlike his predecessors, he gave Stornoway parish to the people of the town. The Stornoway Trust was formed and continues to administer the town for the people.

(Above: Approaching Lewis… Was that sunshine on the horizon?)

The Lever Brothers soap empire eventually became part of Unilever, the modern multi-national corporation whose cleaning products grace most supermarkets.

If was the Friday afternoon. We needed to stock up on essential supplies from a local supermarket, as Stornoway had the only sizable shops and we were staying many miles away. The following day was Saturday, which would allow us to get our bearings in the Uist Region of the island – before the almost total closure that is Sunday on Lewis.

(Above: the beaches on the mainland had been wonderful, but we were assured that those of Lewis were beyond compare…)

We had been warned that there was a strong and specific religious presence on Harris; one that pervades many aspects of life on the island. In Lewis’ case, it was the ‘Wee-Frees’. The entry in Wikipedia refers:

The Wee Free in modern usage is used, usually in a pejorative way, of any small group who because of their, arguably obscure, religious principles choose to remain outside or separate from a larger body. A Wee Free attitude might show as a preference for being part of a smaller but ideologically sound group rather than a larger compromised one.[

The term ‘Wee Free’ was an epithet commonly used to distinguish between two Scottish Presbyterian Churches after the union of 1900: The Free Kirk and The United Free Kirk – the latter being some 25 times larger in its congregation. The rhyming Scottish diminutive became the adopted familiar name of the smaller entity.

(Above: other passengers looked remarkably like our own Collie!)

The Island of Lewis is dominated by the Wee Free Presbyterian Church. It has its presence in every aspect of the island’s life. The church is energetically anti-Catholic and regards the Pope as having been artificially ‘inserted’ by dogma between mankind and God. One of the tenets of the Wee Free community is that you protect the Sabbath.

Holidaymakers are welcome to attend the churches or simply enjoy their time on the island. But nothing is open on Sundays… well, almost nothing, as we were to discover…

Part One: http://suningemini.blog/2022/05/24/a-poolewe-diary-1/

Part Two, http://suningemini.blog/2022/05/31/a-poolewe-diary-2/

Part Three, http://suningemini.blog/2022/06/06/a-poolewe-diary-3-the-loch-on-the-back-of-the-oats-box/

Part Four, http://suningemini.blog/2022/06/14/a-poolewe-diary-4-once-upon-a-time-in-the-far-north-west/

Part Five: http://suningemini.blog/2022/06/21/a-poolewe-diary-5-over-the-minch-to-lewis/

This is the continuation of our adventure, now on the Hebridean Island of Lewis, and is Part One of ‘A Hebridean Diary’.


©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

Heroes in the Lanscape (7): End of the Quest

Continued from Part Six…

The final day of a weekend like ‘The Journey of the Hero’ has to serve many purposes. It has to reinforce what has been shared; it has to send people on their homeward journeys with a smile… and a desire to do it, again. In short, it needs to embrace the companions with a warm hug!

It also needs to bring closure to the ‘plot’ of the story. All workshops need a good story – a thread of purpose and often mystery that defines the sequence of experience. Those attending should feel they were the ‘players’ and not simply the participants. Most will embrace this…

As with the other stages of the weekend, timing would be vital for our final day. To make sure we had workable planes, we had taken a day out, in April 2022, to dry-run the sequence for the final half-day, ending where we began at Castlerigg Stone Circle… hopefully with kinder weather.

(Above: seen from Derwent Water, Keswick nestles beneath both Skiddaw and the lesser Latrigg hills)

We met at the usual Cricket Club car park in Keswick, from which the two peaks of Latrigg and the much larger Skiddaw are prominent.

(Above: Latrigg seen from the Cricket Club car park. Photo take in in April)

Even from the car park, Latrigg appears to be anything but simple. The footpath rises from the river valley and becomes a small road that dramatically crosses the ravine carrying the main A66 carriageway. It then merges with a number of small lanes, eventually snaking up the side of Latrigg, to end in a shambolic and muddy car park not far from the summit.

There was mischief afoot – but well-humoured mischief. Gazing up at Latrigg from the Cricket Club, it looked a challenging climb, and one that wouldn’t fit well with a relaxed and reflective morning. In reality, the companions would soon find themselves whisked up to within a level half-mile of the summit by car.

At least, that was the plan. The photos, below, taken during the recce day in April show how wonderful the views are from the path edge facing Keswick and its two lakes.

(Keswick below – a long way below, but the car has done most of the work)
(above: A clear view down the whole of Borrowdale)
(Above: The summit of Latrigg lies back from the edge

At what you think is the summit – as in the first two photos, above, you turn round to see that the path continues climbing gently for another half-mile to reach a point where you can see the Borrowdale Valley, the A66 main road….and Castlerigg Stone Circle.

The symbolic idea was that, nearing the end of the quest, the hero would be granted a final view of the destination. But first they would have to find it!

(Above: At the limit of the iPhone’s zoom, and not easy to locate, even with a guide’s pointing finger, Castlerigg sits on its own plateau, awaiting the close of the Hero’s Quest. Locator: two thirds the way down and left of centre)

That was the plan. Sadly, something else was in store for us. On the recce day in March, we had little difficulty in getting up the twisty, tiny road to the car park. I remarked at the time that I wouldn’t want to turn around in that tight place if there was much traffic…

Sunday morning, 8th May 2022, offered beautiful skies and a warm day. Everyone seemed to be converging on Keswick. Those that know the access points to Skiddaw also use the top of the Latrigg road as their start-point. The place was rammed.

But the time I’d crawled the car up the busy hill, there were only one or two very tight parking places available, and other cars were frantically trying to escape the mayhem and get back onto the broader roads below.

We had to abandon the idea of parking at the top. I offered the alternative of leaving the cars just off a lower section of the road a short distance below us, but tension had set in – along with the spectre of not being able to retrieve the vehicles in a timely fashion, later.

We managed to reverse everyone out and cut our losses – heading directly for Castlerigg, and noting, for future trips, the lower points on the hill from which a short additional climb would have made the whole plan feasible.

One of the companions, a lady who lives locally, suggested that we take a break at the new Climbing Centre just down the road from the stone circle. It proved to be good choice. A coffee and cake later, we agreed that, over the three days, very little of fundamental importance had gone wrong… and we could swallow this one hit…

After all, Castlerigg could now be explored at our leisure and in sunshine. It had plenty of its own magic to offer.

(Above: taken on an earlier visit, and completely unretouched, mysterious ‘flames’ appearing from the base of one of the larger stones. Image ©Copyright Stephen Tanham)

Back at Castlerigg, I pointed at the nearby hills and the secondary edge where we would have stood to look down on where we were, now. You can just imagine our ghostly presences waving…

(Above: the back of Latrigg – where we would have stood to look down on Castlerigg)

The revised agenda allowed us to spend more personal time within the Castlerigg stones, before calling everyone together into a quieter place to the side of the main site to complete the Hero’s Quest and confer on all present our customary bag of coloured ‘raw gemstones’, for ‘placing or planting’ at other specials locations in each person’s future travels.

To those that were leaving straight from here, we said our goodbyes by the cars. Then, one final journey back into Keswick to reunite the main body of the group with their vehicles and we were done. Everyone had enjoyed it. A few even looked wistfully back up at Latrigg as we were leaving to envisage how the full morning could have gone.

(Above: Herdwicks: “You’re welcome to come, but we’re promising nothing…”

The workshop had proved resilient. Everyone said they felt that a meaningful journey – including a degree of needed ‘hardship’ – had been achieved. A landscape had been ‘absorbed’, a quest fulfilled, and a deeper understanding of a few key Tarot images had been not only gained, but also used in a way that none had seen before. The Heroes had returned to their start point, to – as T.S. Eliot wrote, and known it for the first time. And with that knowledge, able to go forth empowered…

It was still a beautiful day. Stuart and I ambled back along the A66 and joined the M6 motorway southbound. I took us off at the junction prior to the usual one and surprised my co-Director by emerging from a small lane next to the Station Pub – the place we hold our monthly management meetings close to Oxenholme Station – the only West Coast mainline station in a village!

Sadly, time did not allow the usual pint of Guinness, and soon he was being whisked south to Preston by the Glasgow-London train…and I was driving the short distance to home.

(Above: Keswick had been a good base, and given us easy access to wonderful landscapes of many kinds. Photo taken in the winter)

Keswick had served us well, but it was good to be back in Kendal. We hope you’ve enjoyed the journey…

September 2022 Workshop

There will be another workshop of this kind, but with a different theme, in the first half of September 2022. All are welcome. The admin fee is £75.00 per person.

You can register your interest in the comments section or via an email to Rivingtide@gmail.com

Other parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three,

Part Four, Part Five, Part Six.

This is Part Seven… the final part.

©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

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

Heroes in a Landscape (5) River and Cave

(Above: The Lacy Caves above the River Eden)

It seemed we were learning anew, each day…

The decision to abandon the walk along the long ridge path to Ashness Bridge had been forced upon us by time constraints. It had cost us the boat ride back to Keswick – something that had immense emotional appeal – but, instead, it had given us back… calmness.

After a snack lunch by the lake shore in Keswick, , the group travelled to the Eden Valley in three cars. One of the companions lives near to our destination, in Penrith, and would not be returning to Keswick at the close of the day.

Stuart and I were eagerly anticipating this next part of the workshop with. The caves we were to visit had been researched by Sue Vincent. She and Stuart had planned to incorporate them into a landscape weekend, but the sad events of 2021 overtook this.

(Above and below: Long Meg and her daughters – the second largest stone circle in Britain)

There was the light of a personal pilgrimage in Stuart’s eyes when we all arrived at the stone circle of Long Meg, the start of our Eden Valley adventure. With some regret, we were not able to spend long, here, as the walk along the River Eden would be a substantial – needing to represent the Hero’s challenge as they sought to inherit the ‘magical reward’ promised by the quest – in reality a change of consciousness.

During our recce day, we had evaluated two routes. Now, siding with caution and calmness, we set off on the shorter one…which turned out to be a blessing – and one not related to the weather!

(Above: the path by the River Eden, an easy walk along most of its length…)
(Above: The beautiful River Eden. photo taken in April)

The Lacy Caves are located directly above the River Eden. It had taken us about ninety minutes to get there, a half hour longer than forecast. The difference was down to an oversight on our part.

This workshop was the first after the Covid period. Though everyone was delighted to be out in the countryside, again, not all had recovered their former walking stamina.

(Above: the rock structure begins to change to the sandstone as found in the Lacy caves)

By the time we were halfway to the caves, two of the companions were experiencing tiredness. With one it was affecting her walking. We stopped to allow a period of rest, but the signs were not good – we had travelled a long way into the valley and, regardless of the drama we were about to enact as the day’s exciting finale, we still had the journey back to Long Meg Stone Circle where the cars were parked.

(Above: The entrance to the Lacy Caves)

Our pace slowed and, as group leader, I had to take some decisions. The companion in question said she would be okay, as long as the caves were close. They were just around the next curve in the river.

I walked at her side, my arm ready to give support if the going got too difficult. Unlike our recce day, most of the route had been dry, but the final few hundred metres were muddy; adding to the difficulty.

But everyone was happy to continue, and we reached our destination without further difficulty.

(Above: Inside the complex cave structure)

Colonel Lacy, a wealthy landowner of Salkeld Hall, owned the land on which the Long Meg stone circle lies. He wanted to clear the circle to make it usable as pasture. On the night he set dynamite to the first stone, a devastating storm developed which caused considerable damage to his nearby farm.

Immediately relenting, he repaired the damage and thereafter swore to protect the ancient circle.

Lacy switched his attentions to the sandstone cliffs a mile away as the crow flies, alongside the river, where he engineered a cave system for parties and entertaining. It was fashionable to have such a folly at the time, and the place was decked out with furniture and had extensive gardens sweeping down to the river.

Having said that, Stuart and I think there was a parallel with Francis Dashwood’s ‘hellfire caves’ at High Wycombe… The truth is lost to history. There is certainly an air of mystery about the place.

We both had suitable outfits to complete the dramatic effect. We were not seeking to make it macabre, simply to shift the mood to a deeper contemplation of two of the remaining Tarot cards: Death and the Hermit.

Stuart prepared for the drama to come, in which we used two parts of the cave system: a well-lighted entrance chamber and a much deeper and darker passageway leading to the innermost space in the complex.

At the entrance, Stuart’s figure of Death called forward each of the companions in turn. showing them the card and asking them to seek the deeper meaning. He then made a loud signal and I appeared – as The Hermit – at the end of the dark passageway, hooded and with a torch illuminating my face from beneath. I am told the combined effect was dramatic…

The companion had to choose to ‘go beyond death’ to find that the inner room actually looked out over the river (of life).

We had completed our tasks for the day. Outside the caves, in the last of the sunshine, we laughed and shared impressions of the Hero’s journey so far.

My rucksack contained a large flask full of still-hot tea, and some chocolate. These were shared out: appropriate provisions for this stage of the journey.

All we had to do to finish the day was to get back to the cars and then drive to the nearby village of Langwathby and the comfort of the Shepherd’s Inn, where we had an early dinner booked.

Our rest complete, we set off… to find that our companion in difficulty was having trouble walking at all…

We took stock of the situation. There seemed no way she could make it back to the village on foot. My only choice was to leave her in the capable hands of the group and walk as fast as I could back into the village and up the steep road to the Long Meg circle. It had taken 90 minutes the other way, perhaps I could do it in half that, if I walked at a fast pace.

Once there, I could drive the car back to the farm track and hopefully get the car within striking distance of the lady – even if it meant reversing the car for half a mile or so.

I made good time to the edge of the village, only to find that the large gate to the main road was locked. We had earlier passed through the footpath space. All I could do was continue to the car, then try to locate the farmer or another keyholder and explain the emergency.

The day that had gone so well was ending with peril… And it had nothing to do with our planning.

I remember looking up at the sky and asking, silently, for help…

To be continued in Part Six.

Other parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three,

Part 4,

This is Part Five

©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

HEROES IN A LANDCAPE (2) LESSONS IN THE DELUGE

(Above: the splendid setting of the Castlerigg Stone Circle – but it didn’t look like this when the workshop began on the Friday!)

Those familiar with the attempt to hold any kind of drama in the open air will know the difficulties to be faced…

The vagaries of the British climate are well documented but the severity of the rain as we travelled through the blinding spray along the last few miles of the A66 towards the Castlerigg Stone Circle was a thing to be seen.

We had a brief respite, ahead, however. Although hoping to do a run-through in the stones before the arrival of the full complement of participants, we had offered a lift to an old friend who had travelled by train from the south of England, arranging to collect her from the local mainline station at Oxenholme, near Kendal. She asked us if we had time for her to check into the guest house in the centre of Keswick.

(Above: the sodden entrance to Castlerigg)

We were pleased at the potential this offered for a ‘pit stop’ with refreshments in the town centre. There is nothingof this nature at Castlerigg and a break would be welcome before the workshop was due to start at 2:30 in the afternoon. After a struggle with the satnav, which for some unfathomable reason thought we were in Turkey, we located her lodgings and were able to park outside on the road. Leaving our companion to check in, Stuart and I walked into the heart of the town and located a pub, there to shelter and await her return; at which point we planned to have a snack before returning to the stones to begin our afternoon’s work.

What we hadn’t allowed for was the poor and varying quality of phone signal in Keswick centre. We waited and waited, eventually deciding that something unforeseen had happened and we should try to contact her. Only then did we discover that for both of us, there was no signal at all…

We paid our snack bill and ventured out into the rain. In our final dry moments, we had run through a set of scenarios: she had arrived to find her room unready, but been asked to wait for a short while… which had turned into nearly an hour; she had been fed by a kindly landlady and unsuccessfully tried to contact us, being met by the same technical problem… or she had given up on the signal and was, at this moment walking the streets of Keswick centre, in the rain, in the hope that she might bump into her hosts. She needed our car to get to the stone circle. On foot it would be at least an hour’s walk from the centre of town.

(Above: The companions filter into the Castlerigg site from the nearby road)

Feeling guilty that our companion might have eaten nothing, we went into a neighbouring baker’s shop and acquired a Cornish pasty, asking for it to be double wrapped against the downpour. As we emerged from the shop, our gleeful missing companion was to be seen walking down the street towards us – also clutching a Cornish pasty – this one half eaten. She was happy to take the second pasty and explained it was her first meal of the day since setting out from Hertfordshire in the early morning.

I remember musing to myself that these are the real things that disrupt or enable a workshop!

It was one of those moments that carry a mixed message: she had found us; therefore ‘something’ was looking after us, but it was also a pointer to the nature of challenges ahead. We could not assume that translating a formula that had begun life in cosy village hall to a rugged hillside would be an easy transition.

(Above: Castlerigg on the Friday. We had to begin, storm or no…)

We located the car in the middle of a maze of Keswick’s oldest streets, and headed for Castlerigg. Any rehearsal time had vaporised. We were going to have to roll straight into the first drama on arrival – deluge or not.

We parked the car on the small lane alongside stone circle. We had invited the companions to enjoy the famous stones in front of us before gathering together and could see a few of them scattered across the dark landscape ahead.

I had taken the precaution of uploading our script – created by Stuart – onto my phone. I knew that once we started, every second would count, and I couldn’t imagine trying to read from a paper copy in that force of rain. In my experience, the modern phone is the safest and most waterproof place to store such vital information.

(Above: A plan of the Castlerigg Stone Circle. Stones 39-48 are known as ‘The Cove’. The entrance is between stones 1 and 2)

We gathered the group of hardy but undeterred companions together, welcoming them and explaining the use of the small rectangle of inner stones called ‘The Cove’. This would be the main site of the day’s drama, with each participant receiving a combination of instructions to allow them to understand the Tarot cards used for this part of the weekend. The Cove was to be the stage for the first three parts of the Monomyth, as described in last week’s post, and summarised below:

1. The hero’s adventure begins in the ordinary world.

2. He/she must leave the ordinary world when they receive a call to adventure. This is sometimes refused – initially.

3. With the help of a mentor, the hero will cross a guarded threshold, leading them to a supernatural world, where familiar laws and order do not apply.

The rain intensified…

I took my phone out of its waterproof pocket and flicked it on, ready to begin speaking my changing role of ‘Fool’ to ‘Magician’. The phone jammed in the opening screen as the waves of water cascaded onto it, and no amount of frantic finger movement or tissue drying would return it to operational normality.

Stuart looked at me, mute. His device was working fine…

I looked up at the heavens…. The rain was winning.

To be continued in Part Three.

Other parts in this series:

Part One,

©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

Heroes in a Landscape (1) Arrival

(Above: the splendid setting of the Castlerigg Stone Circle – but it didn’t look like this on the Friday!)

It’s a method for uniting a group of people to a common purpose. It’s a technique for ‘washing’ the immediate environment and dedicating your effort to the highest motive and energies. It’s a wonderful way to align yourself to your immediate surrounding, teasing out that sense of really ‘knowing’ what’s around you – especially in a landscape as beautiful and powerful as the English Lake District…in spring.

We can call it ceremony. Modern psychology, recognising its value, named it psychotherapy and psycho-emotional journeying. For thousands of years, it has been known simply as ritual and, once you remove the populist rubbish from around its edges, there lies revealed a beautiful and empowering use of the human mind and emotions.

The best example of ritual I know is the simple hug. It has rules: the touching of bodies is proscribed in a certain non-sexual way. The hands grasp the other in a gentle embrace, and the heads align so they don’t clash. The duration of the hug and, indeed, the distance of the other person, can be adjusted according to the level of personal trust involved. A hug carried out with loving respect is a powerful and uplifting thing… It’s a wonderful ritual.

Like many ‘mystery schools’, we use ritual. But only when appropriate. The greater part of our ‘communion’ with the landscape on the Journey of the Hero weekend was simply walking and taking in the fresh green delight of spring in northern Cumbria. When we did use ritual, it was powerful…and in some cases, created there and then to adapt to the specifics of the landscape of beauty around us.

The idea for the ‘Journey of the Hero’ workshop began shortly after Sue Vincent’s death, a year ago. Keen to signal that the Silent Eye would be continuing its work, despite her sad loss, we came up with the idea of adapting the core of Joseph Campbell’s book; ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ into a three-day event that would reflect the Lakeland spring’s splendour, using the hills, lakes and even rivers of the region to provide a series of delightful challenges for our group of ‘happy adventurers’ – as Stuart named them.

(Above: the 1949 edition of Campbell’s groundbreaking book. Wikipedia)

A happy and wonderful bunch they turned out to be… But the weekend was to challenge us all in ways not always foreseen. The idea that the organisers were actually in charge of events in the underlying hyper-myth: life itself, was to prove deeply amusing…

Campbell proposed that all the world’s myths and fairy stories followed a common theme; a kind of ‘meta-structure’ whose building blocks were the skeleton on which each detailed journey was mapped. We wanted to use this structure to find synergy in the landscape, rather than an actual story. In this way, we would be more focussed and more in-tune with the beautiful places in which we wandered. He proposed the name ‘Monomyth’ for the underlying meta story.

The Monomyth contains the following stages;

1. The hero’s adventure begins in the ordinary world.

2. He/she must leave the ordinary world when they receive a call to adventure. This is sometimes refused – initially.

3. With the help of a mentor, the hero will cross a guarded threshold, leading them to a supernatural world, where familiar laws and order do not apply.

4. There, the hero will embark on a road of trials.

5. Allies sometimes assist.

6. As the hero faces the ordeal, they encounter the greatest challenge of the journey.

7. Upon rising to this challenge, the hero receives a reward or boon.

8. They return to the ordinary world, empowered to act in a higher way. The world gains much from their renewed presence.

(Above: the Tarot Card ‘The Star’ from the Paul Foster Case deck)

While I concentrated on the locations and the vital timings, Stuart was busy crafting a method whereby the above stages of the Monomyth could be emotionally linked to their sequence. He proposed the use of the Tarot cards – that ancient method of both ‘divination’ and, more importantly, perhaps, the use of ‘active imagination’ to take us into a series of meditative states that reflected the Hero’s journey.

(Above: The ever-present Skiddaw mountain)

We were to begin, on the Friday afternoon, with the famous stone circle of Castlerigg, a ring of large stones at least five thousand years old, set on a natural plateau surrounded by some of Lakeland’s tallest mountains. Simply standing on that plateau is an act of magic, as nature quietly invites you to contemplate and share the reasons for the existence of this remarkable edifice.

(Above: Lakeland most famous weather – heavy rain!)

As we approached on the busy and fast A66 road, the skies began to darken. By the time we arrived at Castlerigg, we were in the middle of a full-blown Lakeland downpour… showing no signs of stopping.

It began to look like the ‘ordeal’ stage of our Monomyth was going to be thrust upon us ahead of schedule…

To be continued in Part Two.

©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

Orderly and aligned

(Image by author)

There’s an old aphorism in the field of teaching mysticism: that if you endeavour to do something of significance; something that requires careful planning and even more careful resourcing, then you will be surprised how ‘testing’ the ‘final approach to the event will be. Moreover, the difficulties thrown at one may- humorously – be taken as a reflection of the event’s importance.

(Above: Castlerigg Stone Circle in its magnificent north-Lakes setting)

The word’s ‘final approach’ are borrowed from the art of flying a plane. As a much younger man, I did have ‘private pilot’ flying lessons; about fourteen hours of them in total, nearly enough to do my first solo flight – a big moment in a trainee pilot’s life… Sadly, we set up a software company at that point, and I didn’t have the time to dedicate to anything other than commercial survival…

I remember those days of flight-training, well. I learned a lot about how focussed pilots have to be in those last few minutes – then seconds – before the wheels hit the ground, hopefully together and in an orderly and aligned way. My instructor had a great sense of humour and those words of his stuck in my memory.

The same is exactly true of running a mystical workshop – any workshop, in fact, that requires acres of planning and ‘what if?’ testing.

(Above: the town of Keswick, seen from the shores of Derwent Water)

In theory, the Silent Eye’s ‘Journey of the Hero’ workshop, centred around the beautiful town of Keswick in the northern part of the English Lake District, was ready to roll about a week, ago. All the proposed walks – along lakes, rivers, ridges and mountains, had already been rehearsed and timed. The written material for our opening and closing ceremonies at the wonderful stone circle of Castlerigg had been examined and fine-tuned.

The only thing that remained was for me to design a new language…

(Above: the shores of Derwent Water)

J.R.R. Tolkien was a professor of ancient languages, and once designed the whole Elvish language so that the books comprising the Lord of the Ring trilogy would be founded in an actual spoken tongue. My admiration for this knows no bounds, especially since I’ve spent the last several weeks attempting to create an infinitely simpler language of ‘gesture’ so that we can carry out part of the workshop in complete silence…

It’s part of a series of ‘triggers’ that, with the right sense of place can induce the ordinary rational mind to have a rest and let the whole of our being come out to play. For hundreds of years we have lived too much in one side of our minds, and much damage is being done by this. The high goal of the Journey of the Hero weekend is, in some small part, to extend this.

(Above: the man and his amazing digger)

And then the Fates began to have their sport…

On Sunday, Simon – a local contractor who has done wonderful things with a small digger to remodel what was once an old canal and now actually looks like a garden – called by in his pick-up truck to tell us that he was ready to start work on our new fence… the day after. The old fence having been storm-damaged some time ago. I swallowed hard. Part of the deal with Simon is that, when needed, I act as his labourer. It’s not exploitation; it’s just that he’s a one-man-band and wants to stay that way. It’s not even a money thing, it’s simply a question of time. He’s very good at what he does and works on the projects he likes and with the people he gets on with. The issue is that he’s always short of time to finish each project, and deeply appreciates my help fetching and carrying things and materials (like truckloads of earth) to his point of focus in the garden. We had waited three months to get him back, and the spring was in full riot… I had little choice…

(Above: Lakeland’s weather can change in an instant)

In the middle of his first day, with me a dirty and sweaty bundle, the phone rang, again. This time it was the company from whom we have just ordered two exterior doors to replace the low-budget ones we had to settle for when the ‘building fund’ ran out, ten years ago. This company came highly recommended and we were eagerly awaiting their arrival… just not this week. We said yes, of course, knowing that it was going to detract from the available time to ‘write that language’.

Fast forward to this morning, when, after the third 05:30 start in as many days, we were driving through a violent downpour on the M6 south, enroute to our annual checkup at our old dentists near Chorley. We liked the team there so much, we elected to stay on their books and put up with the hour’s travel when needed. I’d already allowed for this interruption to the week’s plan, but not in concert with the other two… My ‘light aircraft’ was fast becoming, in the immortal words of Johnny Depp in the film Pirates of the Caribbean, ‘full of ‘oles’. I was beginning to lose my presence of mind.

(Above: who knows… we might even have time for an evening sail on the lake)

And then, on the outskirts of our destination, the mobile rang in the car. It was the receptionist from the dentist… frantic. She’d just arrived in, to find a phone message from her boss (the dental surgeon) to report that he’d been up most of the night with food poisoning – possible Norovirus. She knew we had driven down from Kendal through torrential rain… for nothing.

It was then that the magic happened. My wife and I looked at each other and burst out laughing; assuring the lady that it was okay; just another link in the testing chain of the week and something that could be re-arranged.

So here I am… typing away, having lost three days of my ‘finals’ week and hoping my remaining energy reserves will pull off a small miracle and deliver that ‘language of gesture’ before we leave for Castlerigg on Friday.

It’s not the first ‘final approach’ to an event that has been bumpy like this. Hitherto, they have gone well. I think I can see that small strip of safe landing space in the far distance. It’s starting to look orderly and aligned… I just hope my wheels are, too. Wish us luck!

©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

Painting the Universe (1)

There are some ‘big blocks of colour’ in an understanding of the mystical perspective – which is the inner truth of our lives. Even a cursory examination of these brings insight. Let’s consider them…

Foremost of these is that there is a more powerful Life behind life; that the life we see is seen through a lens that distorts, and that our belonging, our real identity, is with that which is beyond the distorted lens. The basis of this is quite simple, but let’s approach it carefully.

The Sufi philosopher and poet, Rumi, wrote:

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

What did he mean? Was he simply talking about love between two people – that we should devote our lives to ordinary love as we know it? Clearly this is insufficient. We can sense something vast in what he was trying to import, something that used the passion of love as a metaphor.

The Sufi poets used both ‘love’ and ‘wine’ to convey the experience of what lies beyond the clouded lens we use to look at the world. They also had a special meaning for the word ‘Beloved’. We will examine all of these in this series of posts.

True teachers of the ‘mystical life’ see – by direct experience – that there is a deeper life centred in the human consciousness. Our ordinary consciousness is a product of a ‘self’ developed from birth onwards. This self sees and feels objects around it. Some of them are pleasant and some aren’t. Because the newborn has no sense of itself – it simply is – it hungers to know more, and so adopts these reactions to the objects around it.

It’s a tasty world, and the child is hungry to understand it… and even more hungry to understand it-self, since this is where all the impressions of its world come to reside and stay. Even at this stage, the brain is busy recording the history of the person, generating a vast store of experiential data that will be added to all its life – as the primary filter (memory) against which all experience will be judged.

The adoption of these vivid early impressions becomes its first identity. We all have a primal hunger to know who we are. These patterns of identity, like and dislike, become the foundation of its character, its self. As the child grows, we say it develops a personality, more accurately, an egoic self.

We all have one… we were all once children experiencing this, hopefully under the loving eyes of our parents, who could do no more than guide the child to be what they were…

The word ego was bestowed on the developing self by the pioneering psychologist Sigmund Freud, whose work showed that the egoic-self had three divisions: id, superego and ego. As the child developed, it suppressed – under guidance from the parents – some of the wilder instincts in its nature (the id) – in order to fit in with the expectations of the parents, and, later on, society. This pattern of censure became the superego. Between id and superego, the child developed an identity of ‘acceptable me who gets praise’ and this is viewed as the ego, though really it’s part of a three-fold psychological structure.

From this early stage, the child colours everything that happens to it with the lens of its egoic-self. As the growing human becomes more capable, it fortifies its self. By adulthood, it is a suit of armour, which, initially, is wonderful… but gradually is seen to progressively dull the experience of life. This ‘dulling’ invites a question: If the suit of armour of the egoic self is all there is, then how does it know that fresh expereince has become ‘dull’?

Wordsworth famously wrote:

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy!”

It is a profound re-telling of what I’ve written above but written in the 1790s. It illustrates the depth of perception that great poetic and emotionally sensitive minds have always found, in ages that did not possess the idea that truth had to be numbers…

We shall have more to say about these ‘clouds of glory’ and – without trying to upset anyone, God, in future posts of this series.

For now, let’s close Part One, with the idea of ‘Object Relations’, an understanding of which, in the context of the truly spiritual, is the basis of these blogs.

The different experiences that colour the infant’s perception, and eventually becomes adopted or ‘imprinted’ on the child’s consciousness as building blocks of its identity, are referred to in developmental psychology as ‘Objects’ – that is, they are recognisable as separate things, capable of being labelled by the consciousness. In others words, they have repeatable properties. The field of Object Relations is one of the backbones of modern psychology. But this series of blogs is not intended to focus on psychology, beyond borrowing some of its words. Our purpose is to pursue Wordsworth’s ‘clouds of glory’ to see if the nature of the early ‘objects’ in our consciousness actually contain signposts back to the Greater Life from which we came…

And whether we can, in our modern world, remove the many barriers to Rumi’s ‘love’.

©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