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

A Poolewe diary (4) : Once upon a time in the far north-west

We’ve got to approach this, carefully… Or you won’t have as much fun as I did.

Badacro Creek… I’m not sure there’s a ‘creek’ in there, but if there’s not, there should be. Badacro is well known in these parts as a safe anchorage for boats, particularly sailing boats. It lies at the heart of a ‘jigsaw’ of inlets and creeks just south of Gairloch.

At least, that’s what the guidebooks say… The reality is something far more vivid than such words can convey. And there are surprises here, too.

(Above: Badacro ‘Creek’, south of Gairloch’)

Badacro is a hidden gem, tucked away in one of the most beautiful, yet secluded parts of the North-West Scottish coast.

Standing at the top of the tiny lane, these things are made apparent by a combination of the faded map and old, weather-worn signposts. Badacro has an inn, and as it seems to be down by the water, I’m drawn to it. I love shoreline locations. I’ve known about this one for all of two minutes…and I’m intrigued, and intent on following the narrow lane that winds down towards the sea.

We look at the sign at the intersection; it groans as it flexes in the cold wind. The day looks warmer than it is. No change there, then…

And it’s not raining – which only adds to the sense of something strange (but beautiful) happening.

It’s rained continuously since we got to this far corner of North-West Scotland nearly a week ago. But now, there’s an hiatus. We have an undoubted ‘window event’ opening up, here. I’ve learned to recognise them over the years. There’s a kind of inaudible crackling in the air… which fades to an intense and pregnant silence.

Something’s gonna happen here… a familiar and mischievous voice in my head chuckles. The skin on the back of my neck prickles, supportively. Definitely…

Cue the music… ‘Once Upon a Time in the West‘… ( link: https://youtu.be/6MZw_Iv0wdU)

It’s my nomination for the best-ever western, and it has nothing to do with this part of Scotland…except that the music comes to me every time one of the ‘window events’ occurs.

Every Christmas, in a stolen slice of late evening, usually on Boxing Day, I watch the whole movie, having hypnotised the family into thinking that I’m walking the dog…

(Above: to the sound of Charle’s Bronson’s harmonica, we wind down towards the creek)

That wailing harmonica – played by good guy Charles Bronson – whose character is only known as ‘Harmonica’ – to a nearly empty hotel bar… Those eyes! Cinema at its 1960s best.

(Above: ‘harmonica’ played by Charles Bronson. Image YouTube)

Bronson’s mysterious ‘Harmonica’ eventually wins out against the emerging railroad’s chief enforcer, ‘Frank’, played by Henry Fonda.

It’s a good fit to the brightening mood in Badacro Creek.

(Above: the first building – disappointingly – is not the inn)

Back in Badacro, the first roof-line comes into view. But the lovely cedar-panelled building on stilts over the creek is not the Badacro Inn. It’s a nautically-themed gift shop. They don’t take dogs, not even acting dogs that understand Ennio Morricone’s music, so we carry on walking down the steep slope, anticipating that the inn is close.

As we near the waterfront, there’s that slightly unreal feeling. At the next turn, The Badacro Inn comes into view… If you’re an old romantic like me, it’s what you want to find at the end of a lane that curves down to the sea so beautifully. Everything seems to be lined up. The music is playing. Bury me here, my love, I want to say, but the Collie says stop being stupid, Dad.

(Above: a sea vista that begins with an ocean view from the deck… heaven)

The image above is only half the story. To the right of this, there’s another unexpected feature.

(Above: All this with Pizza and Prosecco thrown in! Are we dreaming?)

We didn’t get to find out whether the ‘Pizza and Prosecco’ trailer is part of the pub or a licensed extension. Either way, I can only imagine it being a welcome offering to sailors, locals and wet gunslingers in search of refreshment… and fun.

Claudia Cardinale provided the fun in Once upon a time in the West. Her character rises from supposed seediness to noble heroine, despite the death of her husband-to-be at the brutal hands of the icy arch-villain of the piece – Played superbly by a steely Henry Fonda – ‘Frank’.

(Above: the Theatrical poster for the film’s launch in 1968. Image source Wikipedia)
(Above: beneath the furl, the fabric reads Guinness. It just gets better and better)

I’m not a frequent beer drinker, but when I do, I love a well-kept pint of Guinness. With this thought, the laughing feeling grows, triggering remembered stories of how one’s favourite things and places are arranged as experiences at the end of life… It’s not a morbid thought, but it invokes the mischief-maker within and the harmonica music, of course. Always the harmonic music.

(Above: The quayside full of sea-facing tables is wonderful. The pub, itself, looks promising, too…)
(Above: just when you feel that – courtesy of that pint of Guinness – you’ve got your handle on reality back, a Collie changes your mind…)

We go inside the Badacro Inn and it’s just as tempting. There’s an old naval chart showing the location of this part of the shore. I’ve ringed it in red in my photo.

(An old sea-chart shows our location, just south of Gairloch)
(Above: It’s a bar styled like a ship. How could you better that? Bernie is used to watching me ‘go off on one’ – artistically, of course.

The Badacro Inn used to offer accommodation, but the Covid years seem to have changed that. It may need some tender loving care to help it back to full functioning . Let’s wish it well. It’s simply a beautiful place, but, for now, the gunslinger may just have to move on. Here’s how Sergio Leone handled Harmonica’s departure. This is not how it ends, only how it ends for now.

Somehow, the return to Poolewe feels flat. The rain begins, again of course. It’s comfortably familiar…and today is our last day in the village. Tomorrow, very early, we leave for Ullapool and the car ferry to the Outer Hebrides. It will be a very different world.

But, then, so was the Badacro Inn… and the fine memories that, briefly, lived again.

(Above: Leaving Poolewe)

©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

A Poolewe Diary (3) : The Loch on the back of the oats box

Continued from Part Two…

Food manufacturers learned, long ago, that small children, sitting at the morning table to have their much-needed breakfasts, eagerly consume whatever reading material is in front of them.

(Above: the present Scott’s Porridge Oats package, recently updated, but in my childhood, a source of historical information. Image: Amazon)

My mother’s favourite breakfast for us was Scott’s Porridge Oats. The figure on the packaging was dressed in Highland Games’ regalia. Quite why he is tossing the heavy ball towards the loch, below, is anyone’s guess, but the image remains in my consciousness.

Unlike, say, Cornflakes, you couldn’t have an instant breakfast with porridge. You had to wait patiently, while Mum did strange things with a cauldron-sized pan that bubbled like something from Macbeth, until the grey substance emerged onto the table in a large bowl, its top floating with milk and sugar, whose initial purpose was to cool it down to prevent small boys from scalding their mouths…

Happy memories. But there’s a serious side to this; Scotts were a clever company, driven by a Scottish ethic to educate as well as feed. During one period, the back of the pack featured dramatically illustrated images of huge ships floundering in icy seas, with under-equipped young sailors fighting for their lives in something called the ‘North Atlantic’.

(Above: from Wikipedia, but reminiscent of what was on the back of the Scott’s oat boxes)

Those images have stayed with me. Here, I was finally to come face to face with the reality…

(Above: The shores of Loch Ewe, today)

I suspect most of us would fail the geography challenge. But if I asked a group of people to mark the outline of Russia on a map, (see below) we would draw the outlines of Norway and Sweden at the ‘top’, then possibly Finland, eventually moving to the north-western border of Russia. What we all tend to forget is that Russia sits over the top of all of them.

At this time of tension with Russia’s territorial aggression, that’s a terrifying piece of geography, but during WW2, Russia was allied with the West against the might of Nazi Germany. Helping Russia to win on the Eastern Front was vital to the future of a free Europe.

(Above: British ships had to sail through icy and treacherous waters to reach the far-north Russian ports, like Archangel.

Britain’s part in this was to supply the Russian ports in the far north – Archangel and Murmansk (marked in red top right). To do this, Allied shipping had to brave not only the icy seas, but also the constant presence of Germany’s deadly U-boats. The Arctic convoys delivered over four million tons of vital supplies to the Soviet Union including tanks, fighter planes, food, fuel, medicines and boots.

(Above: a modern reminder on the headland)
(Above: Lock Ewe’s modern oil terminal – a link with the Navy and the past)

Loch Ewe was a vital part of the war effort. It is a deep sea-loch with direct access to the north Atlantic Ocean. This made it a perfect base for the convoys. At times, up to ninety-five Merchant and Royal Navy ships anchored in the loch.

(Above: Loch Ewe as it is today…)

(Above: The Russian Arctic Convoy Exhibition keeps the memories alive)

The ships were protected by anti-aircraft guns located at sites around the shore. Military personnel and local people manned lookout posts along the coastline to keep watch for enemy aircraft, submarines and ships.

(Above: the depiction of the sailors was often emotional and nostalgic. So many did not return…)

The most direct route to the Soviet ports of Murmansk and Archangel was a hazardous two-week voyage. This took the ships into the Arctic Circle and east across the freezing Barents Sea. The convoys braved constant attacks by sea and air from German U-boats and aircraft flying from bases in Nazi-occupied Norway.

(Above: An artists rendering of an attack on the Allied convoy. Picture the property of the Russian Arctic Convoy Museum)

Each convoy was made up of Merchant ships protected by an escort of Royal Navy warships. They moved in a strict column formation and sailed only as fast as the slowest ship. Merchant ships were not designed for speed and the convoys were an easy target. They were exposed to relentless attacks from bomber aircraft during the polar summer, when the night sky was constantly light.

Fierce storms, blizzards, towering waves, gales and extreme cold were a constant threat during the long polar winters. The water was so cold that waves could turn to ice as they smashed against the ships. Men were known to freeze to death on watch. Crew had to constantly hack the ice that built up on the ships to stop it becoming so heavy that it would sink the ship. Extreme care had to be taken never to touch metal with bare hands as the skin would. literally, be torn off.

If the convoys made it to Russia, they still had to face the return journey. At the mercy of the Arctic weather and under threat of attack from above and below. More than three thousand Merchant Navy and Royal Navy sailors lost their lives.

Our rented cottage was on the very edge of Loch Ewe. Its peace today belies the violence and desperation of those times…


Loch Ewe was heavily fortified. A metal ‘boom net’ spanned the mouth of the loch and protected against enemy submarines and torpedoes. An underwater ‘Guard Loop’ laid across the entrance to the loch monitored changes in the electrical field. Controlled mines could be detonated if ships or submarines were detected.

Barrage balloons helped protect the skies from German bomber attack. They were used until storms blew most of them away – this is a volatile part of Scotland. So many were lost that a reward was posted for their return! At a time of severe rationing of food and materials, they made good hayrick covers and some even ended up as handbags and purses.

(Above: Loch Ewe’s volume of shipping at the war’s height)

“I can remember entering Loch Ewe late on a fine evening at the end of August, It was a magnificent spectacle. The loch was crowded with merchant ships, the green fields of the crofts rose up from the shore and on the eastern horizon, the mountains of Wester Ross were outlined red in the sunset.
Reuy Clarke – Ordinary Seaman, HMS Farndale

(Above: The River Ewe flows into the quiet waters of the Loch)

The Scott’s Porridge Oats boxes never sought to glorify the Navy’s war. I learned a lot from my boyhood reading of them. It was unexpected and moving to come across such confirmation of the bravery they conveyed in their dramatic pictures…

©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 (3) Learning from Nature

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

Continued from Part Two…

My phone wasn’t dead – it looked perfectly bright against the dark landscape, but it wasn’t responding to any finger gestures. And it contained my copy of the script, now locked away by the storm.

I reached into my ‘Fool’s’ kit bag, a sturdy old canvas friend that I’ve used for years. Often in the run up to workshops, I will, at the last minute, throw in a paper version of a script as an absolute backup. My wet fingers encountered paper and I extracted what turned out to be a last but one version. That would be okay, as long as I remembered the final changes we had made.

(Above: ‘The Cove’ within Castlerigg Circle! Photographed on the Sunday)

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.

I held it up at chest level and began reading. The group let out a collective sigh of relief, but they couldn’t see the heavy raindrops dissolving the ink and melting the paper as it became increasingly saturated.

(Above: Castlerigg at Sunset)

I had the idea to memorise the next few lines, then fold the paper along its original creases and hold its axis vertical to the descending water. It worked – after a fashion – but every time I reopened it, the text was less legible and the paper itself had continued its journey to mush.

We have survived a few scrapes; Stuart, Sue and I, and found that it’s not unusual for something unseen to come to the aid of the drowning performer. But in this case, only we had the scripts. Our companions were being guided by our words, alone. Their faces expressed empathy, but they were powerless to help.

It’s difficult to remember at exactly what point I abandoned the ‘toilet paper’, as Stuart later christened it. He could see the change, he said, because I began to relax… simply letting what we have always called ‘the flow’ take over. And trusting…

…simply letting what we have always called ‘the flow’ take over. And trusting…

It did… Instead of behaving like someone reading a book, I let the flow take me and improvised in the moment, thankfully recalling from memory what we needed the Fool/Magician to do to get the companions through to the final gate and release them into their symbolic strange, new world, where – within the context of our play – nothing would behave as it had in the previous place. A fitting tribute to what we had just endured.

Somewhat post-storm, we left the Castlerigg circle. We would return here for the final act in our landscape play, but not before seeing the site from a mystery great height – fitting for a Hero looking down on the end of the quest.

The rain was abating but we had another problem. One of our companions – who had confirmed and paid for his attendance – was missing. During the damp ceremonials, I had thought he might be sitting it out in the car, having arrived late. But he was nowhere to be seen.

I didn’t have his mobile number but sent him an email as we left the circle. He had the information sheet and would know where we were headed next.

We had two important things to do…

The first was to escort everyone to a specific car park on the outskirts of Keswick. This would be our meeting point for the rest of the weekend, and it was essential that everyone knew its location.

The second was to have an early dinner. Weather, tension and stress had taken their toll… We were starving.

Our usual format for a first evening in Keswick is to have an inexpensive fish and chip supper. The central Moot Square boasts a fine chippy with upstairs restaurant, which offers vegetarian options. The small convoy drove the short distance to the car park and, now on foot, we followed the path of the river along the park and over the bridge into Keswick centre.

Dinner was a joyous affair. We laughed about the difficulties of open-air mystical theatre and resolved to learn the lessons of the day. This will be covered in the next post. Part way through the meal, the evening was brightened by the arrival of our missing companion. He had endured a nightmare journey up the M6 motorway with tyres that had been wrongly inflated by a defective pump at a service station near his home. At one point he felt the car was ‘floating’ and going to crash. He had the good sense to stop at the next services and get the problem diagnosed and fixed. But it had cost him the afternoon.

Stuart and I both had the thought that we might be able to do something creative about that…

The skies were clearing. The evening sun was mellow and promised a better day tomorrow. We had little idea how much better, though the long Saturday would not be without its challenges…

(Above: The day was ending gently)

To be continued in Part Four.

Previous parts in this series:

Part One, 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

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

From Beneath

Photographs are meant to be taken from above, except….

Except when they’re not, and there’s some compelling reason to take them from beneath.

Often, I walk the collie in the early evenings. It’s impossible in the winter, except with a flashlight; and then you get strange looks. But in spring and summer, you can still find strong evening sunlight – full of golds – emerging from hedges and shrubs in patterns that often resemble diamonds.

(Above: hidden glories beneath the foliage; and a matching ‘orb’ to boot!)

My favourite; easier than finding the fragmenting light, is to simply insert myself beneath several layers of the leafy canopy and point the camera upwards… as in the image above.

(Above: the ‘ghost’ of what is beneath)

Sometimes it’s not what’s there, but rather the ‘ghost’ of what is there within the suppressed rays of light – its shadow… If you’re lucky, you might get the moon, too.

©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