St Just…

*

Not only did our last hotel

fail to provide any windows, to speak of, in our room,

  it also failed to provide us with a breakfast…

*

Which is just as well, really,

for we were up, and off, and away

long before breakfast would ordinarily

ever have been dreamed of…

*

However, by nine bells one might be forgiven

for expecting the local sea-front eateries to be offering

something in the way of refreshment?

*

Not so!

So, we headed for St Just…

*

How to disguise your sacred monument…

 

*

Firstly, cover it with the Dragon’s Breath…

Secondly, consign it to a relatively late historical period…

Thirdly, invent for it a plausible name…

*

*

“What is a miracle play, anyway?”

“It’s a medieval drama based on episodes from the life of a saint.”

“What, like St Just?”

“Yes, just like St Just, Hermit and Martyr.” …

*

“And what did St Just do?”

*

*

“Well, apart from displaying his true colours,

and confirming the link between the stonework

of ancient and less ancient sacred sites,

he also reminded us why we’re here.”

*

*

“That’s the church of St Just, what did the real St Just do?”

“Oh, pretty much the same sort of thing, I expect.” …

***

A Sacred and Profane Memoir

 by Alfred John Prufrock

*

Note on Celtic Saints:

These ancient savants seem of an entirely different cast to their Roman Catholic successors.

Like the Bards of old they travel the land far and wide, taking their entourage with them, seeming reluctant to ever settle…

St Samson, though born in Wales of ‘royal stock’, enjoys legendary status on Caldey, in Ireland, Cornwall and Brittany!

These places are all centres of stone.

The official hagiographies of the saints often seek to conceal much more than they reveal.

One charming account has both Samson and Arthur, as children, playing together in their eponymous Dolmen.

The notion of St Samson as Itinerant Pendragon is greatly appealing.

 

Excerpt from Kith ‘n’ Kin by Stuart France and Sue Vincent…

***

 

Lands of Exile:

KITH ‘N’ KIN

Stuart France & Sue Vincent

The Beeley Stone, ‘liberated’ from the churchyard at Bakewell, stands proudly in the centre of its village green once more. While the locals enjoy the fruits of its restoration, Ben, who had led the daring raid against authority, still languishes in jail.

Don and Wen, arrested and released without explanation in Ireland, now plot an erratic course through the wild places of Wales, while Jaw-Dark and Kraas, seeking the legendary stone of Fergus Mac Roy, have been separated in the most uncanny of circumstances…

As the darkness closes around them, the Black Shade haunts the moors above Beeley and, in the shadowy rooms of the old tower, an ancient and even stranger story begins to unfold…

Available via Amazon UK, Amazon.com and worldwide, for Kindle and in full colour illustrated paperback

***

‘The Book of Assassinations’

sheffield chesterfield hare 003

We were determined not to get wet, so we went to Chesterfield, on the general principle that there would be both indoor parking and a cathedral big enough to keep us both dry and occupied for some time. We got those points right… but we failed miserably in the staying dry department as the heavens open and the chill, northern rain pelted down. As my companion made a judicious dive for the porch, I found a convenient tree under which to shelter the camera and get some shots of the famous crooked spire.

sheffield chesterfield hare 004The church dates to the 13th Century and the tower was added in around 1362. The tower is twisted by 45 degrees and leans 9’ 6” from true centre. Several local legends tell how it became so contorted, many have to do with the Devil and the purported virginity of brides. Wikipedia says : “One well established legend goes that a virgin once married in the church, and the church was so surprised that the spire turned around to look at the bride, and continues that if another virgin marries in the church, the spire will return to true again; with only 3 weddings in 2010 in the church it seems that this legend understandably discourages marriages at the church. Another legend is that a Bolsover blacksmith mis-shoed the Devil, who leaped over the spire in pain, knocking it out of shape.” There are others, and it is well worth looking some of them up.

sheffield chesterfield hare 005

I didn’t linger too long under my tree. It was raining quite heavily and my feet were already squelching in the little slippers I habitually wear for some strange and unfathomable reason. You would think I would have learned by now… Even the pigeons had given up and had taken shelter where they could, so I too followed their example.

sheffield chesterfield hare 034

For all the church has been embellished over the centuries, being the foremost building in the area, it still retains its atmosphere of calm peace, and every nook and cranny inside hides symbols and artistic treasures, bits of history and the evidence of the faith of hundreds of years.

sheffield chesterfield hare 053

The Lady Chapel, as so often for me, had the most attraction, and a curious Revelations window in the north chapel too had us thinking. There is an eclectic mixture of styles here, from a dreadful neon cross to lovely sculpture with an African feel, from medieval marble tombs to a modern St Francis window full of gentleness.

sheffield chesterfield hare 039

The place was full of visitors, though, and that always ends up with me documenting as much as I can with the camera while my companion wanders in search of his own inspiration… we then adjourn, usually to a local pub, and compare notes; knowing we have enough to go on in order to make a decision about coming back on a quieter day. It is these subsequent visits where you begin to really get to know a place, both by its details and by its feel.

sheffield chesterfield hare 070

Today was no exception, but, unfortunately for us there was a bookshop and we became a tad sidetracked as we delved through the shelves, exiting with what rapidly became known as the Book of Assassinations as we trawled its pages under an awning while the rain still fell.

sheffield chesterfield hare 072

It is odd, of course, we think we are going to places for our own purposes, but so often, if you are open and ready to go where you are led, you end up finding far more than you had envisioned. We had gone to see a cathedral, but came away with a couple of years of speculative thought confirmed by the well-thumbed pages of a dog-eared book. Not a bad way to spend a rainy Saturday in Chesterfield.

sheffield chesterfield hare 065

The watchers

sheffield chesterfield hare 590

We were being watched. It was palpable. In fact, as I raised the camera to watch the watchers, others could see it too… we weren’t imagining it. They had been following us all day, dark, hooded figures flitting in and out of vision, all across the Derbyshire landscape. Sitting on fences, following our footsteps, watching our every move at every site we visited. We even had evidence in bag and pocket… and the camera had quietly documented their stealthy observation…

Sitting in the little courtyard of the pub in Castleton, by some miracle on the part of my companion, the staid half of shandy I had reluctantly asked for had been transformed into a nicely chilled Stowford’s … I love Derbyshire!… and we were surrounded.

sheffield chesterfield hare 579

There were jackdaws on the low rooftops, on the chimneys… whole families of them, including the young one that misjudged and went flying in a way that failed to involve wings.

I snapped away happily while the pint of Guinness and half of Stowford’s slowly disappeared, then passed the camera across to my companion so he could see the day’s photographic haul. As always I wait, judging his reaction by the tilt of his head and the set of his lips.

“We’ve got our Dark Sage.”

sheffield chesterfield hare 576

Yes… it looked a bit that way. We had been waiting to be ‘given’ a picture for the cover of the next book… Doomsday: The Ætheling Thing is in the final stages of editing and the second book in the series is about to begin. Honestly, with all the stuff we have at present we barely dare go out in case we find some more! Not that we have to… from north and south of the land the pages of books rustle, the keyboard taps research terms and texts and emails fly between… some of them so weird that they sound like coded messages. The latest research has seen me rifling the tool box in search of a saw and soldering iron…nothing like some practical experience! Mind, the scalpel should be interesting…

But we had a meeting to attend, so it was time to go, reluctantly and promising ourselves a return trip in the not-too-far-distant future.

We had a lovely evening; the meeting went well and in spite of absent friends everyone seemed to bring something beautiful and individual to the mix and we took the long road home much later feeling relaxed and awake… which may explain the late night talking in our accustomed positions… my companion on two legs of the chair, I on the ‘hobbit cushion’ on the kitchen step.

sheffield chesterfield hare 589

Saturday morning brought rain. For once we decided to avoid getting wet and drove to the pub… only for coffee and toasted teacakes, I might add, and access to the internet… and there we played with pictures and created the cover for Dark Sage. It is odd, but it isn’t until we have a cover that we feel we have a book, and starting with the cover always seems to be the point of departure for the next phase of the adventure.

Then, as the heavens continued to douse the world in water and with continued determination not to get wet again, we very sensibly turned the car towards Chesterfield and the ancient cathedral with the twisted spire….

sheffield chesterfield hare 565

Dans Maen…

Cornwall Recce, 2018…

*

This kind of weather

adds to the atmosphere of these places,

and makes the sun big…

*

The Merry Maidens stone circle

is another of those with an attendant legend…

*

  Which posits the stones as people

petrified for dancing, or making merry, on the Sabbath,

and which, ‘sort of makes one want to dance here’…

*

*

It is, perhaps, natural to speculate

on the original inhabitant of our next site…

*

*

Given its proximity to Dans Maen,

a short walk away,

and to the road, which would have been a track,

but a few feet…

*

*

It is tempting to ascribe it a hermit’s tomb…

Our notions of that venerable occupation,

today, differ somewhat from the undoubted

reality of the situation…

It is difficult for us to imagine him or her dancing.

 

 

Sidetracked to breakfast

X ilkley weekend 011

The Haystack seems a misnomer for the huge rock that sits beside the path that leads towards Backstone Beck and looks down to the Cow and Calf. It is a very special rock. Between archaeology, myth and the stories woven by my grandfather, it has a very unique life for me. It is an altar, a place of ancient sanctity as sacred as any other.

X ilkley weekend 1401

It stands at the edge of the Green Crag cairn-fields… a place of the dead from a time when the dead were honoured; their presence sought, their wisdom valued, and their place in the Otherworld perhaps not so far removed from the hearths of the living. This huge, altar shaped boulder, covered in carvings stands at the entrance to the necropolis which extends across Green Crag and beyond.

X ilkley weekend 157

My grandfather showed me how to pace out the two circles of small, almost buried boulders that surround the stone and told me that this was a place of sacrifice where the groove in the rock carried the blood out to the edge of the moor. In spring you can faintly see a strip of lighter green… Of course, the lurid tale delighted the child I was, sending those delicious shivers down my spine, yet I never saw a problem with sacrifice in essence, only in the bloody practice. It always seemed to me as if they had the right idea, but had misinterpreted the deeper meaning and the death need not be physical. Then, you see, I was an odd child, I suppose, with an even odder upbringing.

X ilkley weekend 153

These days, I still delight in sharing that tale, although the circles may now be officially classed as prehistoric walling dividing, perhaps, the realms of life and death. I feel that this may have been an altar upon which the dead rested on their journey to the cairns to be brought to birth in the Otherworld. Perhaps the carvings map the heavens or the journey through the veil to that Land of the Dead… perhaps they map the moor itself… We do not know. My grandfather told me the figure carved there was the sun god… perhaps he was right. Or perhaps it is simply a man… or a woman, a goddess, about to give birth… Or maybe it is something we cannot know. It doesn’t matter. It matters only that it shapes our thoughts and fires the imagination as it points across to the Pancake Rock.

yorkshire 024

This stone too is covered with faded carvings. It juts out from the edge of the moor with the necropolis behind it. From one angle it looks like a hawk poised for flight, but most of the time it is the profile of a face, the flat rocking stone on the top his hair, or his hat. It is said that only an honest man can move the rocking stone. It is also said, with a certain amount of local pride, that no Yorkshireman ever has… Some say it is the face of a druid, some that of a god; I was told it is Giant Rombald who sleeps there… he for whom the moor is named… guarding the sleep of the dead. These are the legends and stories of my childhood, and these are the tales I wove into the adventure in Swords of Destiny. So much more could have been written… maybe one day I will, before the old tales are lost.

X ilkley weekend 159

We walked down to the beck, drinking first, then washing the peat stains from feet and my shoes… which, made of soft fabric, we already soaked and could dry on my feet. The menfolk were hungry and ready for breakfast by this time. We had been out for around five hours and it was only about nine in the morning. I, however, wanted to show them a hidden place, Rocky Valley, where the great stones cling to the crags like monumental totems. “We’ll never get her down…” I heard the mutter of despair, but set off up the track. They waited a while as I climbed the ridge that separates the valley from the little wood where another godlike creature is carved in a stone, and where memory lay in ashes for me. They joined me in silent companionship and we looked across the beauty of the moor.

X ilkley weekend 150

Retracing our steps we crossed the beck a final time. I showed them the little waterfalls and the pools where I had played as a child, where my sons had dammed the stream and where my memories were all of laughter. Then we passed once more through the heather and headed down for breakfast.

X ilkley weekend 151

El Drac? …

*

Geography!

Never our strongest suit.

There are some places though, where we seem to already know the lay-out.

Edinburgh for one, and Durham.

Tavistock proved to be another of those.

And coming so soon after our Elizabethan workshop, one has to wonder…

*

*

Not to be outdone, our ‘Old Friend’, Kempe, decided to get in on the act.

Insisting we ponder again the expedience of canonising angels.

“Isn’t it obvious,” says Wen, with a twinkle.

“Only when you already know.”

“It’s about opening lines…”

“Of communication?”

*

*

Anyway, our ‘heavenly overseers’, had clearly, not quite done with us, yet.

Fittingly fortified, we finally headed off for a reunion, and the start of our adventure…

*

 

 

Backstone Beck

X ilkley weekend 060

As the sun continued to rise at our backs, the light dancing and changing with every passing minute, the three of us, Steve, Stuart and myself, headed over… and up… towards Backstone Beck. The water tumbles down the moor, over boulders of millstone grit, sparkling clean, yet coloured with the amber of peat and iron. Nothing tastes quite like it, no other drink, for me, assuages the thirst of body and soul like a clear draught taken from these moorland streams, with naught but hands for a cup. Ilkley was famed for its healing springs long ago, and the gentry came from far and wide to bathe and drink the waters described as  “mellifluent, diaphanous, limpid, luminous transparent, pellucid” and “its purity and softness , which makes if more efficacious, by passing sooner and to the utmost and finest limits of the circulation than any water known.” I, however, am reminded of my younger son, a child still, and halfway up Ben Nevis; quenching his thirst at a mountain stream and saying in wonder that he was drinking the clouds. Here, perhaps, it is the earth we drink.

X ilkley weekend 059

I know this stream well. I played here as a child, so did my sons, damming the waters… a futile game, of course, as the water always finds a way through the pebbles. But that was never the point… it is the relationship between the child and the land, the movement and the stone, the flowing together of child, rock and water. It is play. It is a place of memory. Odd to think that of the thousands of rocks and pebbles that line the stream, some I have held in my hands, decades ago, and yet they now lie, unrecognised, in the water.

X ilkley weekend 149

We crossed the stream, stopping to drink, and followed the path that runs beside it as the moor climbs to the next level. Many visitors look up from the Cow and Calf at the edge of the moor with its steep cliffs and think that is the highest point. Those casual visitors who climb to the ridge seldom leave the path that runs along it… there is, after all, little reason to do so. They might, if they did, find the poet’s rest where we waited a while, watching the sun. The view is spectacular, the heather, when it is in flower, is a sea of purple and there are rocky outcrops, huge stones and cascading streams enough for any walk. For now the fresh green of young bracken cloaks the hills. Yet venture ‘further up and further in’ and the atmosphere changes. Traffic noise… almost non-existent at this time of morning anyway… simply falls into silence. You are alone with the breeze and the bracken, the stones and the sheep, the sky and the songbirds in a place that seems untouched by man, save only for his tracks through the heather.

X ilkley weekend 084

Yet look closer and you can see where the old ones walked. There are hut circles, ancient settlements, strange carvings on the boulders; stone circles and cairns dot the moors and if you are lucky, and very observant, you may find the knapped flint tools… arrowheads, blades and scrapers… with which they carved out their lives. Memories in stone that go back nine thousand years. There are older lives in the rock too…of creatures and plants that lived in the sea that covered these high moors four hundred million years ago. In the vast sea of uncurling bracken and nascent heather, that knowledge alone strips you of many masks, leaving you feeling simply a human… being.

X ilkley weekend 028

The birds led us onward; tiny meadow pipits, skylarks with their characteristic flight, grouse noisily protesting our intrusion…The small birds hopped and flew, a few paces, a few curling fronds at a time, looking back and waiting, for all the world as it they wanted us to follow them… which, of course, we did, following their lead to find the ‘lost’ Backstone Circle. And all the time the glorious sunrise unfolded behind us.

X ilkley weekend 0911

Solstice dawn

X ilkley weekend 0432

We rose as the moon still sailed the heavens and left our hotel just before four on Saturday morning, greeted by our ibis who seemed intent on managing the whole dawn chorus single handed. Now, there may be a case for suggesting our ibis is actually a curlew. Odd as it may seem, given our fascination with birds, we do not care. For us, on such a magical morning, this particular bird was unquestionably an ibis… the bird of the Egyptian Thoth, a symbolic completion of the triad of the hawk of Horus and Isis’ kite.

X ilkley weekend 007

Three were meeting in the car park below the Cow and Calf to watch the dawn. We were not alone, of course; it was the solstice sunrise and this stretch of moorland is so rich in history, carved with ancient symbols and graced by circles of stone, it has long been a place which draws those who seek the touch of the numinous in the land.

X ilkley weekend 030

The grass was misted with dew in the pale light, drenching our shoes as we climbed together to the top of the rocks and waited for the sun to crest the eastern hills. Colours were muted, details lost in the last shreds of night, there was a softness, a gentleness to the morning. The sky was already that palest of blues, the sun had risen beyond the Pennines but had yet to climb above them and our ascent mirrored that of the dawn. Above the eastern horizon a dark line of clouds veiled the golden glow that suffused the sky; to the west great banks of cloud came down to play in the valley, touched with the reflected pink of morning.

X ilkley weekend 057

From our vantage point the hotel was very close; a few cars were parked by the little café that would not open until breakfast, many hours from now, and in the valley lights twinkled as the world began to wake. It is a familiar landscape, one we recognise in time and place as our world. But turn to the moors and time falls away into the breathless wonder of a life older, deeper and slower than the little life of man. We think we are the crown of creation? Merely jewels, perhaps, embellishments that sparkle briefly as light touches the heart; as transient as dew, but just as beautiful too… maybe all the more so for our very impermanence.

X ilkley weekend 045

We watched the light grow until the pre-dawn chill forced movement, then turned to climb a little higher as we waited for the disc to clear the enshrouding clouds. We walked to the quarry where Steve had three stones to return to the land before heading for Backstone Beck, a clear stream that tumbles down from its source on the summit of the moor near the Thimble Stones.

X ilkley weekend 052

A line of molten gold outlined the clouds before the sun opened its Eye on the land, lighting the misty morning from within, painting the mists in the pastel blush of a goddess and setting a fire in the heart of the dew that glistened with the light of a thousand rainbows.

It was a beautiful dawn.

X ilkley weekend 0691