a hebridean diary (5) when power is unchecked

(Above: the beautiful monument at Reef to the displaced people who lived and worked there..)

From the road that curls around the small hills on the way to the beach at Reef, in the Uig district of Bhaltos, it looks like a large cairn. The second time we drove by we saw the noticeboard and stopped to take a closer look.

We climbed up the path to find a beautiful and touching monument on the hilltop, whose design was not visible from below. It was surrounded by views on all sides. Two things strike you, immediately: The isolation of the hill, itself; and the ancient connectedness of the people to this place – suggested by what looks like a giant tau-cross, but is based upon a stone construction method used in Neolithic times.

(Above: Literally ‘In Memory of those who were, by force, displaced…’ reads the central panel. Details are provided in Gaelic and English)
(Above: although the monument’s hill was modest, the views were spectacular)

The curse of constant rain seemed finally behind us. We had become more relaxed and able to take in the beauty of the lochs, as in the view from the monument’s hill, above.

The Highland Clearances are well known as a dark period in Scotland’s history. They were the evictions of a significant number of tenants, many of them small-holding crofters, in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, mostly in two phases from 1750 to 1860.

The goal of the rich landlords was to replace humans with sheep, which were more profitable than the small rents charges to the farmers, whose only real assets were their culture, small-scale farming skills and love of the land. The crofters had lives, jobs, songs, families and folklore… and this was the only landscape they’d ever known.

A group of them refused to leave.

The notice board reads:

“To the memory of the men and women who resisted eviction from Reef before being forcibly removed in 1850-51…”

For three years, ending in 1850, 28 Reef families peaceably resisted all attempts by the estate of Sir James Matheson to remove them:

We had no arrears of rent and therefore we refused in a body to do this and stood out against it for three years, when Mr Scobie’s (the factor) term of office expired…”

The ‘factor’ was the man who enforced the land management and the will of the landowner. The following entry shows both the honesty and the naivety of the crofters:

We naturally expected justice from the next factor but, on the contrary, he took up at once the work his predecessor had begun and at last got us forcibly evicted”

(Above: the ‘dispossessed; of Reef)

In 1850, they were dispossessed of their homes and removed from the land of their ancestors. Some were scattered throughout the Isle of Lewis and others sent as far as America.

The following year a further fourteen families were evicted from Bhaltos and Cnip. By the late 19th century, the remaining population of this peninsula, in the district known as “fourteen penny lands” were crowded together in two villages with no access to the land surrounding them, which had been deliberately added to large farms. Those crowded onto the single village included 31 squatter families, who owned nothing.

The resolute resistance continued and, in 1884, HMS Assistance, with a force of up to 100 Marines, arrived in Loch Roag to arrest eight Bhaltos men accused of placing animals on the offshore islands for grazing, not paying rents and ‘deforcing’ Sheriff’s Officers.

The men were sent for trial to Edinburgh and served time in prison. The following year ten men and seven women were fined for separate but similar actions. The women were charged with “mobbing and rioting and breach of the peace” and their fines, 5/- (shillings) each, were paid by the London branch of the Highland Land Law Reform Association, an influential organisation that was fighting for fairer land rights to reflect usage as well as ownership.

In 1891 and again in 1896, the Deer Forest Commission recommended that Reef should be scheduled for re-settlement…but no action was taken.

On 28th November 1913, 15 landless squatters from Bhaltos and nip drove the farmer’s stock fromReef to Timsgarry Farm. Alasdair MacKay, one of the raiders, told the parish Policeman:

“You can have plenty of prisoners now. We’ve waited too long. Reef was promised us long ago and now we have made up our minds to take it, whatever may happen to us.”

Interdicts were issued against them in February 1914 and when these were defied the raiders were cited to appear for trial in Edinburgh where the Court of Session sentenced them to six weeks imprisonment. This gave rise to much indignation throughout Scotland and a campaign led to them leaving prison after two weeks. Most of the raiders went off to fight in the Great War and those who survived came back more determined than ever to claim their own “land fit for heroes.”

In February 1920, 11 of the original raiders wrote to the Secretary of State for Scotland:

“We are demobilised soldiers and sailors unemployed since September …. we are compelled to begin Spring work on Reef Farm. If you will send the Commissioners of Small Holdings to us for the purpose of dividing the farm into crofts and putting us in possession as we trust you will, we will delay our operation to the 1st of March. If they are not here by that time we will be under the necessity of beginning work as a means to our livelihood”

Finally, in 1921, the land was restored to crofting tenure. The fact there is a population here today and a future for this community is due to the struggles undertaken by those who secured a just outcome at that time. As so often happens, the right outcome is fragile and often hangs by a thread.

The monument ‘An Suileachan’ was commissioned by the Bhaltos Community Trust and designed by artists Will Maclean and Marian Leven. It was constructed by island craftsmen – the stone circles by John Crawford, the iron brazier by John Macleod and the woodwork by John Angus Macleod.

The An Suileachan memorial is only seen in its full extent when you are on the high level. There is a central path that links two separate areas. At the central point of the path is what we named the ‘Tau gate’. You have to pass through this to see both ‘faces’ of the structure.

(Above: what we called the Tau gate)

At the seaward end is a brazier, a beacon that gives off heat and the light of warning and preparedness.

At the landward end is a circular stone plaque around which are carved the names of all those brave souls who were evicted from Reef by the second ‘Factor’. In one sense, the light and heat of the brazier-beacon highlights and protects them. They did not know that the great wrong done to them was to be corrected by friends and relatives after their deaths – to the great benefit of their community.

Their only weapon was the sense of truth and rightness they felt in their cause. A rightness much like the Biblical story of David and Goliath, where the monstrous apparent power of the giant is overcome by the simple stone of truth…

(Above: the landward end with the marked circular stone)

We can only aspire to such courage. You can tell in the quality of the monument how precious the memory of those brave souls is…

(Above: the glorious coastline is never far away)

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 Hebridean Island of Lewis:

A Hebridean Diary: Part One – Impressions of Lewis

A Hebridean Diary: Part Two – Long Road to Uig

A Hebridean Diary: Part Three – Of Coats and Kings

A Hebridean Diary: Part Four – The Drowned Lands

This is: A Hebridean Diary (5) When power is unchecked

©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 (3) Of Coats and Kings

We had gone to bed early – exhausted by the journey from Poolewe to Uig.

What felt like a full night later, I woke, refreshed, to find the sun streaming through the bedroom curtains… Not a sight we were used to on this trip.

I smiled. It’s always nice when something really special ‘just happens’ on your birthday. Ahead of me was a day of gentle celebration and good food… However, for the next hour at least – since my travelling companions were all good sleepers – I had the world to myself.

(Above: our new holiday home was a step up from the Poolewe cottage)

Leaving my wife, Bernie, peacefully sleeping, I eased myself out of bed, put on a T-shirt, shorts and sandals and quietly ventured out into the lounge, then into the kitchen of the holiday cottage, smiling at how much better this place was than our rather basic accommodation at Poolewe.

I made a pot of tea – a cup is never enough – and grabbed a handful of cashew nuts; my usual start of day. Following the glow of the intense sun, I turned to go out onto the patio. As I slid the patio door open, I caught sight of the wall-clock. It was 05:30 in the morning…

As with the previous evening, the extent of the summer light was startling. The outside deck was flooded with the dawn, and it seemed to spill over into the rest of the garden. Clutching my tea, I sat down to commune with a dawn that had just broken over the nearby hill…

I could try to describe the beauty of that moment, but with this photo we can share it…

(A birthday golden dawn. What more could you ask?)

A birthday dawn of extreme beauty. I sat and gazed for a long time…

After two more cups of tea, I reluctantly left the natural splendour of the loch-facing garden and ventured back into the cottage. The ever-present midges were starting to feast on me and it was time to get the day started.

(My cards lines up on the window-sill, It was time for the longed-for main present!)

A leisurely two hours later, we were enjoying an egg and bacon breakfast surrounded by sunshine in the dining room. But as the meal progressed, the skies began to darken, and a chillier wind could be felt entering the open door. My main present brought a smile: my longed for coat… I would finally be not only warm, but weather proof…

(Above: the long-awaited birthday coat)

No-one apart from Paul, whose people-carrier we were travelling in, realised that I had left my walking coat back in Cumbria, and had been relying on a windproof top plus three layers for survival…

Not any more! I slid the new coat on and ate my final slice of toast and marmalade wearing it. The darkening skies were beckoning… I was ready for the challenge.

We had a few simple things planned. After the tiring previous day, we wanted a gentle pace. We had heard that there was a local cooperative store a few miles away. The plan was to top up the car with fuel and see if they had any fresh produce. The following day would be Sunday and all the island’s shops would be closed.

But first, the two dogs needed some serious exercise; and a beach was called for. The frisky Collie and the blind but happy black Labrador had been wonderfully patient throughout yesterday’s journey. Now they would need a good run on another of Lewis’ famous beaches.

(Above: Uig Beach – endless sands)

We consulted our detailed map and located a long beach – Uig Sands – not far from the cooperative store. A two-in-one approach would suit us well. We drove straight to the beach without stopping, but noticed a mysterious sculpted figure set back off the road. The dogs were too desperate, so we didn’t investigate. There would be time on the way back.

(Above: a mysterious figure caught our eye…)

The Collie and the Labrador howled their way out of the people-carrier and we watched them chase off along the sands. My new coat – on since breakfast, was perfectly warm against the increasingly cold winds on the open expanse of beach. It was a warm and happy moment!

(Above: we walked until it was too wet to continue)

We walked for over a mile along the beautiful beach, stopping only when the incoming tide made the sand too wet to continue. An hour later, we were back in the car and intent on a coffee at the community co-op. But first we wanted to investigate the mysterious figure by the main road.

We had heard of the Lewis Chessmen, but didn’t know on what part of the island the famous Viking figures had been discovered. It turned out that the mysterious figure marked the most likely spot, though the exact location is not known.

(Above: a very solemn king)

The figure above, carved in oak by Stephen Havard, was commissioned in 2006 by Uig Community Council and erected with the co-operation of Ardroil Grazings Committee. It is based on one of the kings in the famous collection of walrus ivory chess pieces which were discovered near here in 1831.

(Above: More of the Lewis Chessmen. From the notice board at Uig Sands)

They were found by Malcolm Macleod of Pennydonald, hidden inside a small stone structure in a nearby sand dune. Eleven of the exquisitely carved figures are in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and 82 in the British Museum in London. They were probably made in Norway in the twelfth century during the 450-year period when the Norse ruled the Western Isles.

Back at the holiday cottage, the two ladies and I were treated to several rounds of gin and tonic. Paul had nobly offered to drive that evening to the local ‘fish and chip’ shop to get our tea, since nothing else was open. We were to eat them in the car overlooking Uig sands…

At least that’s what they told me… You can imagine my surprise when we pulled up at the most modern looking building on the island – the Uig Sands Restaurant

(Above: The Uig Sands Restaurant – remote and fabulous)
(Above: Waiting for our seafood dinner with the wonderful culprits, Siobhan and Paul)

We had a delicious seafood dinner. The restaurant – one of the best on Lewis, is run by a local fishing family who have successfully diversified.

(Above: The perfect birthday comes to an end with Uig Sands stretched out below)

Soon, we were back at the cottage, being warmed for bed with a dram or two of single malt. It had been the most wonderful day… and I hadn’t been cold, once.

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:

A Hebridean Diary: Part One – Impressions of Lewis

A Hebridean Diary: Part Two – Long Road to Uig

A Hebridean Diary: Part Three – Of Coats and Kings (this post)

©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

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

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

The Light in the Cathedral

All cathedrals are places of wonder…

Whatever your beliefs, the sheer scale of the construction, the devotion of effort and vision – often spanning centuries – humbles us as we struggle to take in the vastness of their creation.

Chester Cathedral is no exception but it does have an additional quality that I’ve not found when photographing similar buildings. – the softness of the light.

I’ll be doing a blog dedicated to this deeply peaceful place, shortly. For now, here’s a few photographs…

©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

#StillLight : Sunrise Ceramics

Once every two years we go to a local ceramics fair, held in the middle of the Cumbrian countryside. The majority of items are pricey ‘artisan’ pottery. We usually admire them and move on, but occasionally we’ve been deeply impressed by a piece and made a purchase.

The other day, we were cleaning and partly rearranging the living room. My wife suggested we relocate two of our favourite pieces onto one of the windowsills that face the garden.

We decided to give it ago… then sleep on it; seeing how we felt in the morning. The following day, we were delighted to find bright sunlight streaming through the blinds with such energy that it patterned the ceramics and their surroundings with shadow-stripes…

A quick snap with the iPhone later, I had the above photo…

You can’t always capture the moment; but, here, the camera did its job well. Let’s hope the summer lives up to this bright promise.

©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 lighthouse of man

(Above: the lighthouse at Maughold Head)

We have friends who live on the Isle of Man, a once-Viking stronghold which lies in the Irish Sea between England and Northern Ireland. Once or twice a year we exchange visits. I’ve always been fascinated by the presence and the symbolic importance of lighthouses, and this trip offered the opportunity to discover a new one, in a wild and wonderful setting.

(Above: the north-east corner of the Isle of Man. Our walk took in the right-most headland, as far as Mooar Bay and then back to the edge of Ramsey, as above. Image by Apple Maps)
Above: details of the Maughold coast, Isle of Man. Image: Apple Maps

Our friends live close to the sea in the area just east of Ramsey. Mark is a keen walker and has explored most of the local paths. We had a morning to spare while the ladies visited the town. Mark proposed a walk to Mooar Bay whose return leg would take in the Maughold Head Lighthouse.

(Above: the view of the Maughold Coast from the edge of Ramsey)

To me, a lighthouse is more than just its physical presence. These are quite ‘ancient’ monuments to mankind’s ingenuity and our desire to protect and guide those brave enough to sail on the unpredictable sea. I find in that a parallel to the mystical path, and those who have gone ahead to explore what appears to be a mysterious world where solid land gives way to the more shifting realms of our shared sea of underlying consciousness…

(Above: Mooar Bay – all to ourselves)

November is an enjoyable time to visit the island. The TT Motorcycle races are in the summer, when, for two weeks, the place is packed with tourists. In contrast, the pre-Christmas months are quiet, and you can often have an entire cove to yourself, as we did when we reached the farthest outward point at Mooar Bay: photos above and below.

(Above: Mooar Bay, pronounced ‘more’)

Until Mooar Bay, we had been following the county lanes. Now, it was time to leave the security of the paved tracks and pick our way across the rocky shores and onto the coastal path – which rises steeply towards the distant Maughold headland and its lighthouse. The gentle walk soon became a lung-stretching climb, as we got our first glimpse of the lighthouse.

(Above: the rocky coastal path and the first sight of the Maughold Point Lighthouse)

A lighthouse is a fixed object, yet it guides those who are travelling. Its light rotates – each one a unique number of seconds to complete a rotation. This warns the mariner to avoid the deadly rocks, but also shows them where they are, with reference to their nautical charts. A sighting of two such ‘blinking’ lights leads to a process of triangulation, whereby a ship can locate its precise position. Take two of these over an interval and you have a line of travel – the course you are on.

In the days before satellite-based location systems, this (and the stars, if you can see them) were all the sea traveller had to locate themselves, often in perilous and stormy conditions. After that, survival was down to good maps and even better seamanship.

(Above: the sign warned us that we were approaching ‘rough walking’ along the Brooghs (pronounced ‘brews’). This is a local name for the bumpy landscape of the high path across this coast. I can confirm that parts of the Brooghs are demanding territory, but nothing that can’t be tackled if you have good boots on)
(Above: leaving behind the gentle landscape of Mooar Bay, we climbed towards the lighthouse)

It’s interesting and symbolic that the lighthouse helps mariners to locate themselves. We can compare this with the great works of spiritual writers whose power of description of the progressive experiences on the inner sea enables us to locate where we are in that great quest to arrive at an inner ‘us’. Guided by these lights, we leave behind the ordinary life of ‘the world and me’ and begin to take a different voyage – one where the shifting sea is very much a friend.

The climb was arduous, but, soon the lighthouse was not only ahead of us, but below… We stood in silence for a while. No words were necessary to augment the enduring edifice.

(Above: the lighthouse at Maughold Head. This is as close as you can approach. Those are dangerous cliffs! But what a feat of engineering and intent…

Beyond the lighthouse, the path continues to climb, until a new view is revealed. To our left and further south arose the spine of the North Barrule range of mountains, second only in height to the famous Snafell – the highest point on island, and one of the most fascinating challenges of the TT races, as the bikes climb the mountain switchbacks at over 150 mph.

Extending my lighthouse analogy, the darting and nimble motorbikes could be likened to our thoughts: useful in the moment, but unable to give us a secure path without the deeper aid of the road. The well-travelled road becomes our personality; but its routes are not the only way from A to B. Looked at from an ‘aerial’ view, we might come to some startling conclusions.

(Above: North Barrule, one of two mountain ranges that form the spine of the island)

There was one more uphill section before we reached the highest point on the coastal path. From there we could see several miles along the coast to the sunlit buildings on Ramsey’s seafront.

(Above: the first sighting of Ramsay, still several miles away)

It was at this point that Mark said that we were headed for what is known locally as the ‘Bus Shelter’. The reference being to a concrete building dominating the headland at the path’s highest point. The building was built and gifted to the walking community by the original owners of this section of the Brooghs at the same time as the land was gifted to the Manx National Trust.

(Above: the ‘Bus Shelter’ – the bus service is not good)
(Above: The ‘Bus Shelter’ has two rooms, one facing the sea, the other, inland. In the seaward one we found this memorial board)

The inscription is not clear, due to decades of weathering. It reads:

‘Part of these Brooghs were presented the Manx National Trust by Mrs E.M. Halahan and family in memory of Mrs A.E. Groves of the Varrey, Maughold.’

From here, the path is much easier, gently winding up and down so that height is maintained. Ramsey is a busy working port, and several ships were moored off the coast, awaiting clearance to enter and dock.

Finally, the path turned back inland, and we knew we were descending and returning to the road on which we had begun, two hours prior. But the adventure was not over…

(Above: there’s a beach down there, beneath the waves; and you can walk it all the way into Ramsey… at low tide, of course)

There are many grand houses, here, and several directly overlook the sea. But the ancient paths and tracks that have direct access to the beaches and sea have been maintained. You can walk down what looks like someone’s drive and find yourself overlooking the beach – with stone steps down. When I took the photos, it was high tide; the beach was under several metres of water, but it’s there and accessible whenever the tide permits.

A popular pastime is to walk, a low tide, into Ramsey, which has an excellent social life. There are no worries about having a drink or two, and you can get the bus or the famous tourist tram home. The local stop is just up the road…

Soon, we were back home, with an hour to relax before setting off for a well-deserved Manx kipper lunch at the fishing port of Peel…. But that’s for another day.

Mind you, there’s a lighthouse in Peel, too…

(Above: the pleasant fishing port of Peel, on the west coast. The place where our Manx Kipper lunch awaited…)

©Stephen Tanham 2021

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