Riddles of the Night: Connections

We toured the church in Bakewell with our companions, stopping at each of the eight chosen points of interest that highlighted the story we were speculating upon. There is far more in that church than the details upon which we were focussing, but knowing that time was limited, we wanted to ensure we covered the unfolding tale. As it was, our timing was more perfect than we could have planned… a group of schoolchildren left as we entered the church, leaving the place empty apart from our party and the wardens, who locked the door behind us as we left.

There was time to look around though. We wanted to show our companions the fantastic misericords, with their carved beasts and dragons, as well as the Elizabethan and medieval tombs that now occupy the Newark. They also needed time to find the token that had been hidden within another octagram. It would give the party access to the next clue to get them to the first location of the following day. The first clue they had been given had the eternity symbol on the back, itself a beautiful piece of geometry, which, when turned from landscape to portrait, becomes the figure eight.

Before leaving, we stood together beneath the Crossing, where the dowsed anomalies come to a single point within an eight-pointed star, at the centre of an octagonal tower built to a geometrical design so perfect it can symbolise both harmony and eternity.  The eight-pointed star has, in one form or another, a place in almost every religious and spiritual tradition throughout history. From the Sumerian Star of Ishtar, to the Islamic khatim-sulayman, the seal of the prophets, to the Hindu Star of Lakshmi. Pope Francis has chosen to place an eight pointed star on his papal coat of arms to symbolise his personal devotion to the Virgin Mary and, by the time we had researched all this and more, it came as no surprise to realise that the croix pattée, one variant of which is the flared cross associated with the Templars, is also an eight-pointed star in disguise… and very similar to the design on the aumbry in Bakewell church…

We stood in quiet meditation for a moment, each of us dedicating our personal quest to that Light which shines upon all spiritual paths and charged the stones we had brought to continue the sowing of symbolic seeds of Light that we had begun at the Feathered Seer workshop in April.

Outside, the moon was almost at the full and shrouded in pale mists. The day was fading, but there was light enough to see the large, medieval carved head tucked away on one side of the porch and the far-too-tall stone coffin on the other that seems to have been built for a slender giant. The coffin is one of several propped up against the porch and the tallest of us can barely squeeze into the narrow width, yet the person for which it was designed must have stood head and shoulders taller than they.

The great west door is around a thousand years old. It would once have been the main entrance to the church and the octagonal baptismal font would have stood between the faithful and the altar as they came in to the worship. There has been a church here since Anglo-Saxon times at least, but Christianity would have been known here much earlier, and some of those who were with the Roman legions stationed here in the second century could have been Christians themselves.

High on a corner of the north wall is a curious carving… a chalice whose cup and base mirror each other. It is carved in high relief and we believe it may be a mason’s mark. The Chalice is also used as an important symbol in many spiritual traditions. In Christianity, it is the Grail and a symbol of the Virgin as the vessel. Both popular fiction and speculative research have made much of the potential connection between the Templars and the Grail symbolism, but it is also central to many other spiritual traditions and paths, including Masonry, which, like the Templars from whom some say Masonry is descended, traces its roots back to the Temple of Solomon and the Dome of the Rock.

So, we had the beginnings of a theory. Tenuous, perhaps, but with all the other research that has not been added to this account, perhaps not as thin as it may seem. What if, following the forcible disbanding of the Templars, some had escaped to Derbyshire? The Templars held lands in the area, but did not have a Preceptory closer than Yorkshire.  They could have gone ‘underground’. What if they were the ‘wealthy landowners’ who had funded the tower, with the geometries of the Dome of the Rock, and the Newark where the Knights of the Shrine met? What if the Masons had taken over where the Templars left off? What, if anything, did Foljambe have to do with it all?  And was there any proof at all that either the Templars or the Masons had ever had a presence in the area?

Well, that last, at least, was easily and fortuitously answered. Researching Masonic symbols, I stumbled across an article by Amanda Norman and Mark Kneale who share an interest in photography and arcane symbolism. The article contained a picture of a gravestone in Bakewell churchyard and an exploration of the symbolism, which is indisputably Masonic. Amanda graciously gave permission to reproduce the photograph.

Image: Amanda Norman

Interesting though the theory may be, does it really matter, you might ask. Well, it might. Not because of some Da Vinci-esque conspiracy theory, but because of our own relationship with the life of the land and the Underground Stream. What if, instead of asking ‘what if?’, we started to ask what were they doing and why..?

Riddles of the Night: Knights, saints and ley lines…

Walking through the town towards the church in Bakewell, I couldn’t help thinking that it was all a bit weird. There were inexplicable gaps between what we had seen and what we had been brought to realise, gaps that were only filled in by some fairly heavy research. We don’t normally go in for genealogies or land records, but this time, the situation seemed to warrant it.

The St Michael and the Dragon window at Skipton had started us off on a journey we had no idea we were taking until we finally arrived. And we are still not sure whether we have arrived or are merely taking a break. Probably the latter.

Shortly after Skipton, and in preparation for the workshop, we had wandered into Bakewell to revisit the church. We have been to All Saints too many times to count and find something new every time. They are usually things we have already seen, but which become significant only when we have put together new pieces of the puzzle. This time was no different. The St Michael window had set us off talking about the dragons that adorn the church tower in Bakewell. Both St Michael and the Dragon are associated with leys and one ley, or ‘dragon line’, runs through Bakewell from Arbor Low stone circle.

St Michael is particularly associated with the ‘Michael and Mary’ leys that run right across the country. Churches dedicated to both Michael and Mary are found on or around the line and it is something we have been looking at exploring further. In Christian terminology, St Michael is slaying evil, or, quite often, paganism. In basic esoteric terms, the saint may be seen to represent the ‘higher’ self, bringing the ‘lower’ self under control.

We had noted that the tower of All Saints is octagonal and has a dragon on each of the angles. Eight sided towers are very unusual. The church, founded in 920AD, is superb and contains examples, not only of the arts and crafts of a thousand years of faith, but also of many of the anomalies we had found in our explorations.

In the porch is a collection of Saxon and Medieval stonework. We had been primarily occupied with the Saxon period, but now, the eight-sided geometries of the carved crosses on many of the stones caught our attention. Especially as many of these cross designs are associated with the Templars…

Just inside the door is a magnificent carved font dating to the 1300s. Oddly, that too is octagonal. Beyond the font are the information boards, and for once, we read them, looking for any facts about the tower. We learned that it had been funded by ‘wealthy land owners’ coming into the area…  So had the Newark, the newly designed side chapel of the south transept.

St Hubert, with his stag is the first stained glass window you come to. Between the stag’s antlers is the vision of the crucified Christ. Christianity overcoming paganism again? Or the more abstract Christ-force crowning earthly consciousness? St George and his Dragon stand beside him, and looked down on us indulgently as we wandered, taking in the lily sceptre of the little ‘Walsingham Virgin’ who looks like Isis holding Osiris.

A little further down the north aisle is a Henry Holliday window of all saints and all angels, surmounted by the Agnus Dei. While that symbol may be used to represent Jesus as the lamb of God, it is also a Templar symbol much associated with John the Baptist who was beheaded by Herod. And the Templars had been accused of ‘worshipping a severed head’ many believe may have been that of the Baptist. The knights had been rounded up in France, their lands confiscated, and many put to death. In England, some were held at Clifford’s Tower. Others escaped and, following the Underground Stream theme of the weekend, themselves went underground.

The mystery deepened as we looked again at the Comper reredos of St George apparently fixing his dragon to the earth, while above him, two golden dragons support the crucified Christ. In esoteric terms, you cannot help but see the symbolism of ascension through transmutation. All of which seems rather alchemical. But then again, both Comper and Holliday had thrown us curve-balls before.

And there is the almost unique Foljambe memorial, showing the knight and his lady looking out of a window, surmounted by shields bearing their arms… the scallop shells of the pilgrims and the fleur de lys. Godfrey de Foljambe was a prominent landowner and a Knight of the Shrine, a term we had not come across before. A bit of research showed that a Knight of the Shrine is part of a confraternity authorised by the Church and with special dispensations. The Shrine Knights at Bakewell met in the Newark, the south transept that had been funded by wealthy landowners… The same chapel now holds the tombs of the Manners and Vernon families of Haddon Hall.

With all due respect and discretion, we dowsed the entire church and found anomalies indicating an eight-pointed star of currents, directly beneath the tower. We also found a pattern that reflected an odd symbol on a bishop’s tomb in Scotland that had been puzzling us. But it was not until we realised that the geometry of the octagonal tower is based on that of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, that it all began to make sense.

The Templars had identified the Dome of the Rock as the Temple of Solomon. They set up their headquarters in the building next door and used the Dome on their official seals. Legend has it that they found a great treasure beneath the Dome. Perhaps it was not a treasure of gold and silver… perhaps all they found beneath the temple built by Solomon, famed for his wisdom, was the Underground Stream…

And perhaps we should have entitled the weekend Riddles of the Knight?

Riddles of the Night – A walk in the park…

We began at the well that gave the town its name. Baecca’s Well is an ancient healing spring that rises from deep within the earth. It is thought to have taken its name from a tribal leader whose story is lost beyond memory. It is one of the points on a proprosed ley running from the great circle of Arbor Low and yet, it sits incongruously within the modern recreation ground and right next to a children’s wet play area that is open in summer. I wonder if the water for that comes from the spring too and hope that it does… there would be a nice continuity to that… and the continuing flow of the Underground Stream was one of the major themes of the weekend.

The Underground Stream refers to that continuing flow of knowledge and understanding which, like pure water, flows through mankind’s spiritual history, resurfacing from time to time to heal and speed our evolution, both personal and global. Like water, it has neither form, taste nor colour, but takes the shape of the vessel that contains it and traces of the inner landscape through which it passes. Each time it resurfaces, it is shaped by the needs of the times and will take on new forms, new vocabularies and symbols, but the essence remains pure. It is neither teaching nor dogma, but a wisdom distilled from the essence of human experience.

We had visited the well to make sure it was still running through the winter and found that we had been provided with a perfect bit of symbolism. The spring now flows from a relatively modern urn, set, circle within circle, in a sunken garden, both within and apart from the park. Beside it is the old stone trough into which the water once flowed.The spring remains, though in a new form while the old form, which allows us to see something of its origins, has been preserved. The name of the well too has been changed, Christianised to St Peter’s Well, reflecting the changing forms of the spiritual story. The water no longer flows continuously, but intermittently…it flows for a time, then ceases until the pressure rebuilds and then it can flow once more. It was a gift… we could not have asked for a better analogy for the Underground Stream.

As we arrived at the gate, there was another gift… a jackdaw was perched on the edge of the spring. Recent studies have shown jackdaws to be one of the few creatures able to read eyes in a similar way to humans. Curiously, this accords well with their traditional symbolism as birds of vision. As corvids, they are also associated with death, but for the jackdaw this takes the form of transition or rebirth into another state. It has been called the ‘bird of tomorrow’ and looks to the unfolding of the future. Another perfect symbol.

We began the weekend with a blessing and symbolic purification, according the waters once more a moment of recognition, remembering ancient reverence and sanctity and aligning our intent with its unbroken flow. There was also a slightly more mundane reason… in Scotland, at the last Living Land workshop, when we had been drenched, it had been mooted that purification was needed before visiting these ancient sites. In England, in December, the weather needs no excuse to be unpleasant… we hoped that a purification now might save us from a drenching later!

We handed out the riddles that would provide clues to our next location and what we would find there. On the back was the infinity symbol that would play an important part in the work of the weekend…one way or another. The whole visit took no more than fifteen minutes and yet, between the symbolism we had known about and that which we were gifted, what should have been a proverbial walk in the park had deepened into something far more significant. Leaving the well behind, we walked back into the town, in search of fantastic beasts…

Riddles of the Night: Clues on cue

We had known for a long time the main sites we intended to use for the Riddles in the Night workshop. The trouble was, we did not really know why, or what linked them. They are far from being the only sites we could have chosen; we know the area well, we have worked with the landscape in some detail over the past few years and there are enough ancient, sacred and interesting places to fill several workshops.

The sites we had chosen might not necessarily be seen as the ‘best’ or most impressive in the area. And, although most are clustered quite close together, one of them is a fair distance. There are others closer to our chosen base in Bakewell, but they were not speaking to us… at least, not this time. So why, we asked ourselves, had we decided upon these sites? It was almost as if they had chosen themselves without bothering to tell us why.

It cannot be said that we were happy with this uncertain state of affairs, and with only a few possible planning meetings to go, we were getting a little concerned at our lack of insight.

Then on our journey north for the last workshop, by a curious set of coincidences, we met two people over breakfast. It was one of those pleasant encounters where we all seemed to be on the same page, even though our paths differ. They were in Scotland visiting Rosslyn, the Templar chapel made famous by Dan Brown’s novels. We spoke briefly about dowsing, earth energies and the ‘dragon lines’… the leys… all of which tied in nicely with what we would be doing in the north. But it was a brief meeting and we headed our separate ways.

A few days later, ensconced in the last hotel of the journey and with one workshop over, we were glumly contemplating the next, still no wiser about the direction we would take. As if on cue, an email arrived stating that we had a booking from the ladies we had met for the December event… the one we had still to construct.

We had already decided to ask the attendees to solve riddles to find the locations of the sites. This had a dual purpose… both as a bit of fun and with the serious aim of illustrating how, on the spiritual journey, cryptic ‘clues’ are dropped into our lives which can lead us to greater understanding if we pay attention. Like riddles, which always contain all the answers, such clues often become clear only in retrospect, once knowledge is added and understanding has dawned.

We had no intention of hitting the attendees with the proverbial wet fish if they failed to solve the clues. Life has no such compunction and, over the next couple of weeks, set about demonstrating the fact.

It was almost immediately after that booking email that things began to fall into place, as if the flood-gates had been opened. We stared at the brilliant colours of a stained glass St Michael and the best dragon we had seen to date… dragons had been part of that breakfast conversation…. and we suddenly felt that things had begun to fall into place.

Had we been paying attention, we might have gleaned a few more clues that day. The church at Skipton had been built by the Cliffords, the family who held the manorial castle next door. The Clifford family was a prominent one in the early days of the Normans, but fell from grace when Roger de Clifford rebelled against the king in 1322. He was hanged at Clifford’s Tower in York… the tower in which the Templars, rounded up and charged with heresy, were held just a few years earlier. But although the connection to the tower was mentioned, it was only in the context of the appalling anti-Semitic massacre in 1190.

As it was, we remained clueless, knowing only that we were somehow back on track… we still had no real idea where the track was leading. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, though, by revisiting some of our old haunts, seeing new significance in things we had thought we knew well and finally getting into a place we had long intended to visit, the clues began to make sense. When December arrived, we felt we had the outline of a workshop. Where do you begin to tie together centuries of history, sites that span thousands of years and our own quest for understanding? We chose to begin at a well…

Riddles of the Night: Templar Shadows (2)

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Imagine a tiny village, just a few miles from a major Derbyshire town, yet unknown to most people passing by on the busy road between Bakewell and Matlock. The village contains an ancient mound of boulders of millstone grit layered on the underlying limestone base – typical of this part of the White Peak.

Aside from its geology, the intricate and serpentine rocks hold a deeper mystery. They show signs of being used for initiatory purposes for at least the past six thousand years.

Initiation is a process whereby an experience is arranged for an incoming person who has proved themselves worthy of a higher, and life-changing, viewpoint. The selected person(s) is led through a series of strange encounters in order to ‘open’ their being to higher spiritual truths. If successful, the arranged and symbolic nature of what is experienced will trigger a different relationship with the world for that person. Although the deliberate arrangement of circumstance is ‘contrived’ the internal experience of those going through such initiations is not…

Welcome to Rowtor Rocks, Birchover, a tiny dot on the map between Bakewell and Youlgreave… with a very mysterious past. Let us explore it, together…

We look up at the mound of rocks, which have that unique shape characteristic of the weathered gritstone formations in this part of Britain. Many of them are covered in lichen and mosses which shines bright green in the December sunshine. Prompted by our guides, Stuart and Sue, we begin to climb in silence. Even at the lower levels of the mound there are caves – caves which show substantial evidence of workings. Regardless of its isolation, this place has been the centre of something intense and historically ancient… Carved in the stones here are rings and ‘cup-marks’ from the neolithic era – thousands of years ago.

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Our guides stop us beside a font, clearly carved out of the rocks and beautifully symmetrical. The vessel is filled with rainwater. In our mind’s eye a young figure dressed in white skins is led to the water and ritually cleansed of his or her past. There is silence on more than just the physical dimension. The candidate – or to use a more appropriate word, the initiand, enters a world between two worlds, aware that their past is slipping away and that they cannot know what lies ahead – the unknowing is the essence of the process that will elevate…

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Our role is to witness. We watch as the initiand is led to the base of the cliff face and shown the narrow and treacherous path by which they must ascend to the level of the chambers, above. They turn, one last time, and look at us. We remember the nature of the feeling behind those eyes, but turn away. The spiritual process must work its magic, and aloneness is part of it. Their experience must be real or the psychological and spiritual ‘opening’ will not occur. We hear the unsure scrambling of able feet as the one whose fate we guard comes to terms with the physically difficult start of their solo journey up the rocks.

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At the level of the first of the transition chambers we gather in silence. Our path here has been easy, the initiand’s is hard. We close our eyes and say a silent prayer that the very real danger faced is mastered, and inner readiness achieved. They cannot yet know the intensity of that holding that emanates from above them.

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The temple chamber awaits us. The initiand emerges, breathless and wide-eyed from the climb, passes, tested into the sacred space, coming face to face with the twin pillars – simple-looking but the result of months of work during the seventeenth century. The initiand is given time to consider the significance; these rocks, set in place forever by nature, need no buttressing… the pillars represent the mastering and use of the polarities of life by human beings, the generation of goodness in the face of adversity… many other things that they will come to understand in the years of growing wisdom ahead. No explanations are given – they will come later, from within and without.

For now, they are simply brought into the presence…

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It shocks them when the cloth binding is placed over their eyes. Initially, they can see nothing, but, as we gather around them and light the flames, tiny flashes of light penetrate their darkness. Figures come and go, gently brushing against their immobile form; eventually settling into a pattern of eight sides. Our One purpose now has eight faces.

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The Elder, whose purpose has been to block the light from the entrance, moves out onto the ledge. We withdraw from the partially-sighted one, but not before lighting the aromatic herbs whose smoke will fill the chamber.

No words are given. They must draw, now, on their own resources – including intuition. Outside, arranged in a curve that will greet and embrace them, we wait. We can picture the scene within: the swirling, sweet-smelling mists, the bright light creating a half image. We picture their progress as groping hands feel for the chamber’s wall; then the shock as a gentle hand takes their arm. The message of that moment will never be forgotten: In the fearful darkness you were not alone…

The gentle hands take the fingers from the harsh rock and guide the trembling figure towards the vertical eye of light. At the first sight of the hands emerging, the gathered group let out a sigh and reach for the stumbling one, taking the wrapped cloth from the eyes and head.

The glory of the new view of an old landscape is forever burned, with joy, into the newly-opened eyes. No words have been spoken, but much has been conveyed.

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The respite is brief. The initiand is shown a narrow cleft leading back into the central rock and then upwards. The steps are steep and awkward. There is not room for both feet, and yet the ascent cannot begin until the body and its weight are committed to the climb. It is a paradox made physical. To get it wrong risks a painful fall onto hard stone, but there is no other way. Empowered by the emergence from the dark cave, the initiand throws his weight upon an upwardly-stretched leg and propels himself higher. The first step is everything; get that right and the momentum lets the legs return to normal function and the ascent is made.

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A new figure waits at the top of the flight. He takes the emergent one to a higher ledge where there sits a huge rock. Words are finally spoken. “Move the rock.” As witness, you watch the body stiffen, feel the habitual response: “How… It’s a heavy rock.” These are not voiced. no-one says this, but you can hear the mind’s words of doubt… always doubt.

The wise eyes nod in encouragement, indicating another sentiment: “Try, give no home to doubt…”

You watch as the initiand’s hesitant hands reach out to touch and then push the rock. You know what will happen, but the gentle hands do not. The Rocking Stone is one of many on the ancient mound. They are all miraculously balanced about a single point. With very little effort their entire mass can be pivoted and moved, falling back to their previous state when released. You watch the wonder in the eyes of the initiand. The message is clear: right knowledge can move the world…

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From the gullies, caves and paths they emerge, now – the others; the ones who were candidates for this rite in the past. They embrace the initiate; their heat is the clothing of love, of respect…most of all, of belonging

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But such knowledge carries responsibility. The new initiate is taken around another spiral in the rocks. They are pointed at the highest point which is just ahead. It is pillar, a pillar that has been constructed half-broken… Or is it half-finished? Alone on the the top of the whole edifice, it points at the sky. The initiate is shown the faint path over the climbing rocks. The ascent is difficult and brings them back to look down at where you are gathered, below. There is nowhere else to go, now…

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When the questing feet can go no further, the pillar remains a few feet out of reach. The initiate looks around for another way, but there is none. He cannot continue his quest.

Then there comes the sound of skilled footfalls on the rock. Before the initiate can react the thighs are grasped and hoisted. “Reach!” Comes the command as the body slaps flat to the topmost rock surface. Stretched fingers clutch at space, anguished that, still, the final few inches cannot be crossed…

“So it is for us all,” says the kind voice of the Elder, “but the presence of the Companion always takes us closer…”

The initiate is led down from the top rock. The embraces are warm and knowing. All watching have stood here. It is finished… for now. Everyone takes a final look at the high pillar, knowing the meaning, knowing the quest that will fire the life that follows: to take your world closer to the sky… to share the Work with others. Eventually, when the skills are many, to become an elder in the tribe, and one day complete the initiation of another young soul.

The initiatic reconstruction fills us all with wonder. We cannot know the exact details, but we know, without doubt, that we have sensed the heart of it.

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Far below, next to a popular pub called the Druid Inn – the actual meeting point of the Ancient Order of Druids, a friendly society founded in 1781 – is the Church of St Michael, created in 1717 by Thomas Eyre, the owner of the lands around Birchover.

There is historical evidence of intermarriage between the families of the Eyres and the Foljambes, and the land here once belonged to the Templars…

To be here, is to feel that history.

One part of the wall of the church contains ancient stones which must have been recovered from the site. Something ancient has been at work, here, for a very long time…

These researches belong to the work of Sue Vincent and Stuart France. We were lucky enough to be the recipient of this very special weekend, an event that brought together, in a beautiful and living landscape, the fruit of their well-researched thoughts.

End Part Two.

Other parts in this series of blogs:

Part One 

© Copyright Stephen Tanham

Consider the lily…

Riddles of the Night.

1st-3rd December 2017, Bakewell, Derbyshire.

 

 

 

Sometimes it can be hard to see
The difference twixt wood and tree
Seek out the Lily and the Oak
Without a flame there is no smoke…

 

 

What links sacred sites, ancient and modern?

Are the clues all around us?

Do the keys to heaven lie hidden in the earth or are there keys to earth hidden in the heavens?

 

Riddles of the Night…

Hidden in plain sight.

1st-3rd December 2017, Bakewell, Derbyshire.

Discover for yourselves the hidden jewels of the night as the darkness of the winter solstice enfolds the land.

Will you find the jewel at the heart of the mystery?

Join us in Bakewell in the heart of the Derbyshire Dales to explore some of the ancient and sacred sites of our ancestors. The weekend will take the Companions on a true quest, seeking out the hidden magic in the landscape that echoes the magic of heart and soul.

The weekend is informal, no previous knowledge or experience is required. We ask only that you bring your own presence and thoughts to the moment.

Workshop costs £50 per person. Accomodation and meals are not included and bed and breakfast/hotel in Bakewell should be booked separately by all attendees. Lunch and dinner are usually shared meals.

Click below to

Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

For further details or to reserve your place: rivingtide@gmail.com