Whitby Weekend: A Coastline of Ghosts

It felt odd driving down the steep hill to Runswick Bay. I had walked down… and back up… that hill so many times before, equipped with a bucket and spade or a fossil hammer, skipping along beside my grandparents. Little legs remember hills and although mine may not have grown much since those childhood forays, they have carried me far away from those times.

I love the Yorkshire coastline and walked most of it as a child, with parents, grandparents and great grandparents and it felt strange to watch the shade of that curly-haired girl walk with the dead on the screen of memory, carried by love and laughter to places that promised excitement and adventure.

In the half-light of dusk, as the setting sun reflected pink and gold into the receding waves, I was never alone. Not only was I surrounded by friends I love and with whom I was sharing the weekend, I was also accompanied by ghosts, animated memories and a child’s wonder.

Call it nostalgia, if you will, a longing for a simpler time when the weight of adulthood did not bear down so heavily on small shoulders. When life was an adventure yet to be lived, innocence as yet untouched by the shadows of human betrayal and trust was still the natural state of an open heart.

But, like a hologram flickering with uncertainty, the images are no longer my reality. There are gaps in memory, the scenes no more than vignettes. I remember the words that were spoken, but many of the voices have been lost to time. I can still hear my grandmother’s rich chuckle, I can no longer hear my grandfather’s voice at all… it remains only as an echo, a feeling, a taste in the heart.

Although I have played on these shores with uncles, aunts, cousins and brothers… even with my own sons when they were small… it was the memories of those walks with grandad that were haunting me. We would walk along the shoreline, seeking fragments of jet, interesting pebbles and gemstones to take home and polish in the tumbler. We would rummage in rock pools, looking for the strange creatures the sea had left behind. Or beneath the eroding walls of the cliffs, where every storm revealed new surfaces and fossils could be found with ease. We seldom went home without a fossilised shellfish or an ammonite.

As we walked, we talked. I learned about the birds and the wildflowers, the relationship between moon and tides, geological time, history and prehistory. I would think, then ask this apparent oracle those unanswerable questions that occur to us when the world is still new. He would answer the questions of a child as if she were an adult, able to understand the strange concepts that he explained. He never assumed I would not understand, but, I suppose, chose his words to meet my need. More than anyone, it was he who revealed the intersecting maze of paths that could open before my feet and showed me how to feel my way forward until I found the one that was right for me.

So it felt right, more than right, to stand on that beach with my companions in the fading light, watching the cormorants, gulls and turnstones play with the remnants of the day. Now, it is I who am the grandmother and growing old, with stories to share and answers to find for those unanswerable questions that all children ask… and trust you to know. My ghosts gathered round, a circle of love around the circle of light that we wove in the sand, as I held in my hand, and as my heart, an empty vessel filled only with possibility.

For a moment I was a child once more. Then realised that I will always be a child beside the beautiful Being upon which I stand. That we are all children, taught by great Nature as much as we can encompass, in ways we may begin to understand. That I am less than a child… a grain of sand upon an infinite shore…but without which, that shore would be incomplete. I am no more than a spark of possibility against the vast backdrop of time and scintillating space that surrounds us. That we are all sparks of possibility… and every one of them matters, for without a spark, no flame can ignite to bring light and warmth to the world. And that my ghosts were never lost spectres of the dead, but gifts of love and life, given by those whose stories I will always carry, in my genes, in my memory and in my heart.

Rites of Passage: Off Duty…

We left Tideswell with one eye on the clock and the other on the horizon. The drive to Castleton would take no more than twenty minutes and we had plenty of time before we were due to meet for dinner, but Castleton and its surrounding countryside deserve to be seen and the light was fading fast.

The limestone country of the Peak District in Derbyshire is spectacular. Dry stone walls follow medieval field boundaries, enclosing green meadows, while above them tower the hills, scarred white with old stone that was once a seabed. I took the long way round, driving westwards into the setting sun, because I wanted to drive our companions down Wynatt’s Pass, the narrow, steep sided gorge guarded by pinnacles of rock. We were gifted with a sunset that spilled liquid gold across the horizon before setting the sky on fire.  There are times I wish I had a roof-mounted camera on the car…

As we approached the top of the pass, we pointed out Mam Tor, the Shivering Mountain, so called for its habit of shedding its friable stones. Mam Tor, the Mother Hill, is a hillfort, with traces of the ancient settlement still clinging precariously to its sides.

Below it, Wynatt’s Pass snakes between the hills and there was still light enough to see the valley unfold before us. The Pass is said to be haunted by the ghosts of Alan and Clara, lovers whose family disapproved of their union and who eloped, planning to marry and begin a new life together.  Thieves, seeing their wedding finery, ambushed them in the Pass, stealing their savings and murdering the couple. Their bodies were thrown down a mine shaft and only found a decade later. The thieves, though, did not enjoy their ill-gotten gains for long, as each one of them died in strange and horrible circumstances…

Beneath the Pass are many caverns and mines, from the old lead workings of the Odin Mine to the caverns where the rare Blue John stone is found. Appropriately enough, I had been given a beautiful pendant set with Blue John and peridot as a birthday gift that morning. Wearing it seemed to deepen the connection to this landscape that I love.

On the horizon was Lose Hill, one of a pair of conical hills in the area, steeped in legends of giants and battles. And, on the hillside above the town, the skeletal remains of the Norman Peveril Castle, once one of the most important strongholds in the area, now just a shell of its former glory.

Castleton is one of those place that seems to have everything, from the industrial history of rope-making in the caverns, to prehistoric sites, a medieval church, a ruined castle and a wealth of legends and folklore, from ghostly apparitions to treasure, highwaymen and thieves. It was just a shame there was not enough time to share it properly. We may have to base a future workshop there…

With the church closed, the light fading and the temperatures rapidly dropping, we decided against exploring the town further and headed, instead, for the warmth of Ye Olde Nag’s Head, the seventeenth century coaching inn where we were to meet the others. It was a lovely evening, and a perfect end to my birthday. All that remained was to drive back to Sheffield and fall into bed…  we were going to have a busy morning ahead of us next day….

Rifts in reality?

x sheff jan 134

There was a fleeting conversation  that got me thinking again on something I have pondered over for a long time. There are lots of ghost stories flitting about, wafting their sheets for our delight, some making us shiver even more as they approach the reality with which we are more familiar. Somewhere in the back of our minds lurks that question… ‘What would I do if I saw a ghost?’

There is, perhaps, an even better question. Who says you haven’t? How would you know? Unless they adapt their appearance to our preconceptions, how can you be sure that the person you pass in the street is real?

We don’t even know what a ghost is. Everyone seems to have an opinion. Are they the shades of the departed? Undispersed etheric energy, some form of earth energy? Optical illusion or a vision of the soul? Phantom memories of past events imprinted on the ether? Figments of our imagination, created from within our own minds somehow? Or just plain bunkum. There seems to be a general consensus that they are something…

Perhaps the most equivocal, but strangely accurate definition I’ve heard is that they are perceived figures that cannot be physically present. That just leaves it wide open as far as definitions go…

There are the classic signs, like temperature drops and the hairs on your neck standing on end… but does that happen every time…or only sometimes? Unless a ghost does something fairly obvious… like walking through walls, dripping gore or tucking its head under some other part of its ectoplasm, we really can’t know whether or not what we think we see is actually there.

For starters…it isn’t. Nothing is what we perceive it to be… walls are not solid… we know there is space between the various particles that make what we see as a wall and, were we to drink Alice’s potion and become small enough, we could walk right through solid reality. Equally, were our own particles to disperse, we could, in theory, flow through the spaces between.

The ‘space between’ is a good phrase. It reminds me of a conversation shared up on the moors. It is a long story… but to be brief, we wondered about the reality of time and whether ghosts were not perhaps due to a glitch in the veil between ‘nows’… perhaps heightened emotions alter something… When we see phantoms, are we actually seeing reality, but across the veil of time… and would we appear to them as phantoms too?

Time, space, physicality and the true nature of reality comes into such discussions and as soon as you ask one question, another half a dozen appear. And there are no objective answers… only empirical ones. Except for one that seems to make its presence felt fairly rapidly… that we do not fully understand either the nature or extent of reality. Not by a long way.

Which basically means that just about anything is possible. I rather like that idea.