A Walk with dogs, The Lune and St Michael

The Lune Valley is always worth exploring. The river Lune rises as a stream near Ravenstone Dale, Cumbria, and gathers momentum and volume as it winds towards the sea at Lancaster and its one time port, Glasson Dock. Devil’s Bridge, above, is, perhaps its most famous landmark, and was once the main highway between Yorkshire and the north Lancashire region – prior to the rejigging of the ancient counties that created Cumbria from Westmorland and bits of old Lancashire.

It is near Kirkby Lonsdale that the Lune Valley is at its most beautiful. We jumped at the chance to be part of a sponsored walk along the river and duly met up with the other participants in the Sun Inn, in the centre of the town, where we began the day with the time-honoured breakfast of walkers: the bacon butty…

The landlord of the Sun Inn, himself a dog owner, was joining us on the walk, and served out breakfast for his fellow hikers. Duly fed, we navigated ourselves and the dogs (It was an abandoned dogs charity we were supporting), and made the ten minute walk to the park area at Devil’s Bridge.

No-one is sure how Devil’s Bridge got its name, but the lady guide brought in for the occasion explained that it was normal for churches to fund bridges. Sometimes they didn’t and the fund-raising fell to the hard-pressed locals. In retaliation, they named their creation appropriately!

In similar fashion, no-one knows where the name ‘Lune’ came from. We had always assumed it to be a Norman-derived name for ‘moon’ but the guide explained that there were three theories:

1. It was Roman for ‘healthy and pure’.

2. It was named after the Roman God Lalonus who featured prominently in local worship.

3. Lune can refer to a prominent oxbow curve in the river, for which Kirkby Lonsdale (‘lunes’ dale) is famous – in the shape of what is seen from the spectacular Ruskin’s View near the church (photographed during the Summer):

Our guide was an English teacher who had a passion for local history. She had constructed two such walks. The first – the one we were on – was more suitable for dogs, and hence the choice on the day. The second was more concerned with the early industrial history of Kirkby Lonsdale. We may do it in the future.

Having cleared the edges of the town by crossing the perilous A65, we settled into a reasonably fast pace along the river bank. The walk was planned to last just under three hours, allowing for a couple of discussion stops. The route was constructed around a rectangle that would allow us to walk along the river to a point where we could turn right towards the historic town of Whittington, home of an ancient church and a rather unusual pavement…

We were blessed with cold but clear weather. The bright sunshine made the opening leg along the riverbank particularly pleasant. The golds and yellows have been strong and striking this year.

The happiest walkers were the dogs. Our Collie, Tess, discovered a good friend in a nine-month old Golden Retriever. They ran and ran in the bright sunshine, never seeming to tire.

The path divides after about two kilometres. Leaving the river path, it is necessary to scramble up a gulley to reach the start of a path that leads towards the village of Whittington.

Here the fields stretch on either side of the path. To the North lies Ingleborough, one of the highest peaks in nearby Yorkshire, and part of the famous Three Peaks challenge, during which contestants have to scale all three in a day – a very demanding ordeal.

Eventually, the horizon is lost behind hedges that hint at a more domestic landscape. The village of Whittington comes into view.

Whittington is a small village with a famous church. It forms part of a cluster of sisters along the Lune valley. Each of these has evidence of a castle’s motte and bailey fortification. This is the densest concentration of Norman castles outside of the those on the Welsh border.

St Micheal’s Church is strongly linked with two nearby churches of St John the Evangelist, Gressingham, and St John the Baptist, Arkholme. The church stands within the bailey of the former Norman castle, as can be seen from the above photo. It is thought that a church has stood here since around 1200. The oldest part of the present church is the tower, which dates from the early 16th century. The rest of the church was largely rebuilt in 1875, funded by Colonel D.C. Greene of nearby Whittington Hall.

Being a Sunday, the church was in use and we were not able to venture closer than gate. Happily, there was a compensation…

Beneath our feet, was a pebble-based mosaic, created, locally, to mark the millennium, by Maggie Hogarth, a local artist and sculptor. The photo does not do it justice. It marks the Church of St Michael the Archangel with great respect.

To complete our journey, we had a further climb of about a kilometre. From this, the highest point, we could see the whole landscape of our walk. The view across to Ingleborough was the best of the day.

Kirkby Lonsdale lay at the foot of the far side of the hill. Slightly weary, we trudged down to the Sun Inn, where a discounted lunch awaited those who had completed the walk.

©️Stephen Tanham


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

The peripatetic ant

The ant crawled across the windscreen of the car, right in my line of vision. Ever since the spider-bite incident, I am wary of creatures that have any kind of personal arsenal hitching a ride, so my first thought was to defenestrate the little blighter. It was only a split second later that I realised how far he was from home.

I had been driving a good half an hour without stopping, so he had probably hopped aboard before I left. Ants are social creatures, pretty much defined by their role within their community. What, I thought, would a lone ant do if he suddenly found himself in unfamiliar territory, miles from home?

Would his sense of belonging be so decimated that he would curl up and die? Would he find another community… and if he did, would he be accepted or slain as an intruder? Or would he begin the long trek home, drawn by some unseen force to the place of his beginnings?

I couldn’t do it. I left him to wander the dashboard, hoping he would understand that all he had to do was let the journey take him where it would, before it carried him home.

I thought about him a lot as I drove, wondering what his reception would be after the journey? What tales might he communicate to his nest-mates about the big, wide, world out there and all the things he had seen. Could they believe him? Like the fantasy hero who steps into a magical time and place, he would have been gone no more than an hour or two from his home, yet his odyssey would have carried him as far as a worker-ant might walk in a dozen ant-lives. Would they accept his fantastic story or think him delusional?

Ants who had never set foot outside the colony would almost certainly dismiss his tale. Those who had ventured out, but only within the known confines of their territory, might doubt. Some would be envious, others would scoff. The likelihood is that only those who had themselves risked stepping beyond known ground, exploring the world on behalf of the colony, would see the glimmer of truth and recognise an echo of their own explorations in the traveller’s tale.

And what of the little ant? Was he afraid of the unknown, or excited to explore new and unimagined realms? Did he recognise the landscape that flew by at such speed as being akin to his home, or did he feel as if he had been plucked out of his world and transported to some magical otherworld by a giant with a roaring steed? How would he see life-after-journeying? Would it seem flat and boring, or safe and comfortable? Would he cower in corners, afraid of stepping outside his comfort-zone ever again? Would he ‘dine out’ on his travels, boring is nest-mates with tales of ‘when’ and ‘where’? Or would the change in his circumstances and perspective have been so dramatic that he would spend the rest of his life pondering existential questions or striving to be worthy of the privilege he had been accorded?

Such musings occupied my mind until we once again reached home and I set him down on the grass beside my parking space. Like the ant, I had taken a journey, within the journey that is my life. Because this was ‘my’ world, the destination and the route were both familiar to me, though there are always unknowns on the way and no-one can predict what will happen, or how the comfort-zone of familiarity will be challenged… especially when you look at life as a journey.

There is beauty to be witnessed, there are mysteries and magic to be found; we never know when or where, nor do we know how we will greet them or how others will react if we try to share such experiences with our own community.

I watched the tiny creature scurry away into the grass. I suddenly wondered what I had done and whether my interference, though well-intentioned, had produced the right effect. Had I set him down anywhere near his home? What if he’d been with me a while… had come from my son’s home or the supermarket… and was now lost in some strange landscape? Had my intervention caused more harm than good? Or was he destined to be a blackbird’s breakfast no matter where he wandered?

To some questions we will never have answers, but I felt a keen sense of kinship with the ant as he disappeared beneath the grass. We are both on a journey. It will carry us where it will and we will experience what we must… and we are both on a greater journey still, finding the way back to the beginning.

Bright in the dark: endeavour and the lighthouse (3)

SE Lighthouse from sea gates4AA

Something had happened when we decided to approach the strange village by walking along the beach and coming to it via the old but grand harbour, with its mighty blocks and sea-gates. It was only later that we realised that what we had, inadvertently, photographed in the far distance was the focus of the whole story.

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You could relate it to one of my favourite Gurdjieffian pastimes: stopping the world. This technique requires a degree of stealth and an ability not to be embarrassed by the unusual – and your part in it! Stuart and I once caused such a moment of presence by each turning around from our table (shared with a very amused Sue) in a cafe and facing the opposite way (outwards). We were not trying to be irritating, just to do something unusual. The people we were sharing the cafe with took it in good part and assumed we were doing something humorous, possibly for a bet.

On that day we had stopped after a few seconds; we had no desire to prolong it, simply to create the experience, good-naturedly, as an extension of the serious conversation we were having.

There is something about the silence generated that tells you you've got it right. It doesn't have to be in public, but there's something about that arena that generates a feeling that something else is watching…

As we walked – the wrong way – through the harbour gates and into the strange village of Hynish, I had that same feeling…

The name 'Stevenson' was on a plaque by the harbour wall. It rang a bell. I remembered a Robert Louis Stevenson as the author of Treasure Island and Kidnapped; and had the idea that he might also have written The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; but I didn't think he built harbours…

What I didn't know was that the name Stevenson was that of a family of gifted and determined eighteenth century Scottish engineers, and that the uncle of Robert Louis Stevenson the author was a man named Alan Stevenson, and that what he and his father – Robert Stevenson – accomplished was the reason for the strange village of other-worldly buildings on this remote corner of the Scottish island of Tiree.

 

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The view from the harbour was of a set of what looked like cottages, with a tower to their left.

The tower was related to that view out to sea; the cottages were the modern home of the Skerryvore Lighthouse Museum, which had been established by the Hebridean Trust and lovingly restored and re-established over the past ten years to protect a vital piece of Scotland's history.

Scotland's past

To understand the importance of Hynish and Tiree to Scotland's past you need to understand the way Glasgow developed in the 18th century. From a purely personal perspective, Glasgow has always been my favourite city, north of the border, because I have family there and it was the scene of many happy holidays in my teens – one of them involving my first long motorbike ride (in the pouring rain!). To find, all those years later, that Glasgow's early success as an international city had justified what happened at Hynish was a thrilling discovery.

Following the Act of Union in 1707, Scotland was free to trade, on equal terms with England, with the New World. Lucrative cargos of rice, tobacco, cotton, sugar and rum could now be imported to the Union via the deep estuary of the River Clyde. James Watt's 1760s invention of the steam engine also made Glasgow the most important exporter of manufactured good to the colonies. However, Between 1790 and 1844 more than thirty ships were known to have been wrecked in the area off the western edge of the inner Hebrides, as they fought the seas to enter and leave the Clyde.

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In 1814 an Act of Parliament was established to survey and fund the construction of an offshore lighthouse on the obstructing and deadly skerry.

The Skerryvore rocks, located just off the bottom left edge of the map, above, were ten miles west of Hynish and the father and son team appointed to survey, design and build this enormous undertaking was Robert and Alan Stevenson. Work began on the construction of the lighthouse in 1738.

Our cycle ride had stumbled on the Shore Station that was built to support the construction of the Skerryvore Lighthouse – ten miles offshore. Later, a more makeshift station on the Skerryvore rocks, themselves, was constructed. As an indication of the severity of the weather, the latter, comprising a three storey structure for supplies, managers and thirty workers, was completely destroyed by a storm in November 1838. It was redesigned and built again in time for the following spring – the workers having agreed to stay and work on the rock through the winter!

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The most complex part of the lighthouse was its clockwork revolving light, which, incredibly, amplified the wicks of only four oil 'lamps' and projected them across the deadly darkness. The key to this optical power was the use of the latest Fresnel multi-part lenses, which Alan Stevenson commissioned from the French Fresnel brothers in 1840. The eight lenses were (and are) only the size of dinner plates, but could project a bright beam over thirty miles!

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The lighthouse went operational in 1844 and the Shore Station was converted for use as living quarters for the shift of lighthouse keepers and their families.

Today the lighthouse is automatic, and it is controlled remotely from Edinburgh. The entire structure of Stevenson's design has remained in near-continuous operation since its commissioning.

Without the museum you would never know that the line of waves breaking far offshore, marks one of the world's engineering marvels, nor the reason for the existence of this strange and haunting place where so much happened, but which is no so quiet…

Despite the weather, our  day had brightened. We wondered if we dared hope for a continuation of our good fortune?

An aside…

I was really moved by this visit and wrote a poem shortly after, which was published on my personal blog  Sun in Gemini blog. It is reproduced, here:

The Skerryvore Light

In tiny Hynish's western shore

Where gentle waves now kiss the sand

The resting seas recall the names

Of they who built the Skerryvore

Forgotten in the passing nights

Unknown to most, of even few

Who chance on Hebridean soil

And stumble on the wreck of lights

For ears a story here in stone

Which value engineers of night

Of iron and glass and fearsome seas

That rivals any ancient tome

Not shifting sands or limestone frieze

No Pharaoh wise, nor Mayan king

Have ever dared to light the night

With giant tower upon the seas

In deep of howling winter's night

I'll sit upon my writer's keys

And 'Stevenson' will be the word

The image: glass infused with light

So come from history, taking bow

From we who sail on greatness past

We bow to you, who built our age

Forgotten on the quiet sands of now

©Stephen Tanham

To be continued…

Previous posts in this series:

Part One, Part Two

Steve Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye school of Consciousness. His personal blog is at stevetanham.wordpress.com

©Copyright Stephen Tanham, text and pictures. Re-use with permission.

Bright in the dark: endeavour and the lighthouse (2)

SE Lighthouse from sea gates4AA

‘Surreal’ is an often used word and does its best to convey a moment, usually quite fleeting, in which there is both a heightened sense of ‘being there’ and another feeling of strangeness. The two come together and we feel vaguely uncomfortable that something for which we have no real words envelopes us.

This state of consciousness is described in more detail in the Silent Eye’s consciousness course as being a temporary cessation of the ‘filters’ that cloud our experience of the seemingly ordinary world. A better word for the experience is ‘present’, as in present to what’s real.

In truth, nothing is ordinary, and reality is seeing that

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Our first ‘present’ moment of the day happened when we carefully bypassed Henrietta and entered the sanctuary of the Farmhouse Cafe in Balemartin. My first post in this series, last week, resulted in several offers to adopt Henrietta, the bike guardian, so I reproduce, above, the photograph of her doing her day-job. I don’t think she’s available for adoption…

The impending storm had quickened our minds, in the way that survival does, and, with the first of the rain driving at the windows, we found we had entered an establishment that had just opened. The staff – four quite young people – looked at us as though we had camped outside overnight, falling through the door, in desperation, the minute they unlocked it. I suppose we looked a bit alien in our bright cycling gear.

For a short while, we had the place to ourselves. The interior was plain but functional, as though it were half a farmhouse, which I suspect it was. The staff had the air of close family and riends, with at least three daughters on duty. Life on Tiree revolves around tourism and farming, with everyone helping out for both. Everyone we met on the island was very friendly, though you could detect a certain island manner.

The cafe owners had a proud display of rosettes for their competition cattle. We were about to ask when a group of eight or so people arrived for an early lunch, closely followed by another, even larger group! It was Saturday and restaurants are scarce on Tiree. We could see why all the family were employed, as the place went from empty to full in about five minutes.

The day had started a long time ago. We had planned to have a coffee and, perhaps a piece of cake to keep our strength up. But, with the rain lashing at the windows, we consoled ourselves with a longer-lasting choice of some delicious soup and local bread, and wondered if our day’s adventure had ended before it had really begun…

The downpour continued and we were forced to add some cake and a second pot of coffee to the mix before we stepped out into a dripping Balemartine. The saddles were sodden but a few minutes of emergency finger-wiping restored them to a usable condition. Ominously, the sky had not brightened, and we wondered if we were wise to leave the relative safety of the cafe.

That sense of leaving ‘for an uncertain destination’ has always seemed to be at the heart of mysticism, too. The familiar is safe, but the dark skies of the unknown landscape can just as easily brighten to the beauty of the beyond, when the possible storm is observed to be a shallow and passing thing. The ‘inner quietness’ of such a spiritual moment was mirrored in our journey as we crested the next hill.

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Before us was a line of beautiful beaches, but that wasn’t what took our eye. Beyond the beaches was what looked like an old military base. We had only a basic map and no idea what the landscape offered, though we knew the island was relatively flat. The little map of the road showed we were travelling into a dead-end, so all we had to do was keep pedalling and we’d get there.

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The traditional Highland longhorn, grazing by the beach. The coat was shorter than I’d seen before. Perhaps they are trimmed for the summer, or maybe there is natural shedding? Assistance gratefully received…

Wild flowers, some of them quite exotic, were abundant by the sea. On the little meadow in front of this beach we even found a few wild orchids.

And then the road came to a fork, with the dark cluster of buildings ahead. We decided to approach by the seaward track, leaving the bikes parked by a wall. We had been told there was no crime on Tiree, so we could leave them as we liked – even without Henrietta to guard.

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The wild beauty of Tiree – with a prophetic glimpse of a dark rock on the horizon

Wonderful things happen when you choose an unusual path to an envisioned goal. In this case the approach we made for ourselves, along the edge of the sea, brought us to a most dramatic vista.

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It was obviously a harbour, with the ability to seal off the flow of the tide so that some kind of vessel could be maintained. The sea was calm on our day, but we could envisage how violent it might be in the depths of winter. But what had been its purpose?

The ‘dark village’, apparently constructed of the same stone, and at the same time, as the dock, seemed quite deserted, yet was, or had been, very important in Tiree’s past. What was this ‘ghost town’ on our tiny island?

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We climbed up onto its walls to get a glimpse of the whole complex of buildings from this perspective.

The answer would teach us as much about the city from which our flight had begun, only three hours prior, as the island of Tiree, itself… Despite the ever-threatening weather, it was becoming a very magical day.

Because we had entered from the sea, we still had no idea what the dark village was, nor why it had ever justified such a grand and robust harbour.

The answer was a glimpse into Scotland’s proud history and a revelation of something quite astonishing in its scale and importance. It was also a lesson in how we take for granted the ‘giants on whose shoulders we stand’ as Newton said.

Bell

 

To be continued…

Previous posts in this series:

Part One,

Steve Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye school of Consciousness. His personal blog is at stevetanham.wordpress.com

©Copyright Stephen Tanham, text and pictures. Re-use with permission.

Bright in the dark: endeavour and the lighthouse

SE Lighthouse from sea gates4AA

The tiny airport was a refreshing change to the madness of modern flying, with its scarring signature of  ‘security’. You could imagine a kindly local lady rushing out and saying, “Hamish the Russian terrorist is on holiday today, so I’m just going to wave you through, dearies…”

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The Royal Mail man fixes the engine prior to takeoff… probably.

There was, though, little distance to wave us through. Tiree is one of a pair of Scottish islands in this westernmost part of the Inner Hebrides – the other being Coll. Tiree is just twelve miles long and three across, and is relatively flat. It is renowned for its simple life, friendly people and beautiful beaches.

The main building of the airport comprises just three rooms: an arrivals/departures main space which doubles as the baggage arrival hall; an office for the staff and a departures lounge. Outside, a man in a transit van waited for our small party with four hybrid mountain bikes – part of the package trip and a great way (we hoped) to see the island in a day.

Our plane – an HS Twin Otter, sat on the tarmac outside the terminal, ready to take the six or so passengers who were now walking across the apron to climb its pull-down steps. An hour later, in the mirror of our inbound flight, they would be in Glasgow, having covered a distance that, on previous Scottish holidays, had taken us about ten hours by road and ferry.

The whole day-trip was a combined Christmas/birthday present from two long-standing friends who have drawn up their ‘bucket-list’, and asked us to share this part of it with them. We were delighted to be there. The four of us are happy with the idea of such an adventure, though the other couple have explored far-flung parts of the world with a fearlessness what we do not possess.

When you write blogs regularly you need inspiration. One of the most productive and creative methods I know to be inspired is to take a current theme to a new landscape and see what comes from the place. The trip to Tiree seemed ideal for this.

On the flight, as the green highlands, lakes and seaways drifted by far below, I emptied my mind to allow the ingress of the most ‘topical’ comments made, recently, by our Companions – those who take the three-year journey of spiritual self-discovery with us via our mentored correspondence course.

The answer that arose in my consciousness was an unlikely one: the topics of intrinsic perfection in the ‘world’ we experience and the idea within this of right action. It was unlikely because the simple landscape of Tiree was likely to be just that – simple and lacking in sophistication, though that was not expected to detract from its appeal.

The idea of perfection, in this context, is that the world is not as we initially see it, but ‘clouded over’ by lenses of the personality. Only by self-knowledge of how our daily ‘self’ has ‘hardened’ around a set of foundational reactions to life can we approach the cleaning of these lenses. When we do, we begin to see powerful changes in our lives – in fact, the world seems to change, whereas what is really happening is that we are seeing the truth for (possibly) the first time since early childhood – but with the gift of adult discrimination.

The idea of intrinsic perfection is that the above journey to great personal truth illustrates that the ordinary world does not ‘see’ what is before it. As we develop our ‘seeing’, we come to know it differently. Taken to the limit we perceive that what we experience when we don’t react in a habitual way is increasingly perfect, since it is driving the personal evolution of so many incarnated souls…

The idea can produce a lively debate, as you can imagine, so it is generally reserved for the third year of our three-year guided journey, where it forms one of nine ways of considering ‘objective reality’ – that which simply is – beyond personal opinion.

Leaving Tiree’s tiny but wonderful airport, we collected the bikes, turned left towards the island’s circular coastal road and, within five minutes, found ourselves at the main junction and beside a lovely beach.

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As the photo of Bernie (above) shows, the weather was worsening, with a stiff breeze coming off the sea. With some trepidation, we began to pedal away from the relative familiarity of the airport’s grounds and into the darkening unknown.

The small plane that had brought us to Tiree did not have provision for refreshments – the co-pilot came out of the cabin and read out the safety notice before we took off, then returned to help the captain fly the plane! By the time we encountered the beach road, we had all decided that an early cup of coffee with a comprehensive look at the map would be very welcome – as well as giving us a potential place of shelter in the event of a downpour.

Our opening few miles were quite difficult. The wind off the sea was brisk, to say the least. This was in stark contrast to the weather we had left in Cumbria, which, for once, had been warm and sunny!

One of our group hadn’t ridden a bike for many years and needed a settling-in period, which was duly provided. They quickly recovered cycling skills that few really forget and, despite the constant stream of cars from the ferry port – indicating the arrival of the other form of transport to the island – we made our way, with increasing smiles, to the tiny village of Balemartine, where the map said, there was one of the island’s cafes.

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Belmartine under a lowering sky

We had initially missed the cafe. Only the signpost alerted us to our error and we doubled back to find it just opening, which was just as well as the heavens opened and we fell into its welcoming and well-staffed embrace. I was last in, as I wanted to check the bikes were not intruding on the parking space. And then Henrietta, was we came to know her, joined us to guard the cycles. She stayed nearby for the whole time we were in there.

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Henrietta offers a free bike-guarding service… it’s best to accept

To be continued…

Steve Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye school of Consciousness. His personal blog is at stevetanham.wordpress.com

©Copyright Stephen Tanham, text and pictures. Re-use with permission.