Going west – a simple man

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Behind the High Altar of St Davids Cathedral there was once an empty space, open to the winds. In the early 1500s, Bishop Edward Vaughan created a chapel there which, for me, is the loveliest part of the cathedral. The Holy Trinity chapel seems to be a very simple space of hewn stone; such is the sense of harmony there that the intricate carvings of the fan vaulted ceiling barely register as being ornate.

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Instead, the eyes are drawn to the altar and to a niche through which one can just about see through to the High Altar and the shrine of St David.  Both the altar and the niche use carvings far older than their construction…fragments of history that were recognised as such five hundred years ago. In the niche, a sanctuary light burns before the ancient carved crosses that frame the little window. Above the altar, the reredos shows St James, St Andrew, St Peter and St Paul flanking a scene from the Crucifixion, with a Latin text,”Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world”.

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There is a sense of being enclosed here in an atmosphere of peace hallowed by centuries of prayer. Bishop Vaughan himself was buried in front of the altar. It seems an odd contrast… the churchman was responsible for many of the restorations and improvements that were added to the church in the 16th century and himself had an illustrious career… yet here he lies in an aura of simplicity.

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Just outside the little chapel is another, very simple, where priests and knights rest in stone. Above the altar a depiction in stained glass of St David himself. The image is stylised and idealised, bearing little resemblance to the dress and accoutrements he would have habitually worn. St David was known as a simple man in life, yet his shrine is decked with gold.

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Dewi Sant he is called by the Welsh and he is the nation’s patron saint. Little is known about him apart from those stories that have been passed down through long memory and the legends that arose about the saint. In the Middle Ages he was believed to be the nephew of King Arthur, but in truth little is known about his family history for certain. The tales say that he was the son of St Non, born at the place where the chapel now marks the site of her house within an ancient circle of stones. The Annales Cambriae say that he died in 601, although others suggest the date of his death to be AD544. He is reputed to have been over a hundred years old when he died… and legend has it that he lived till he was 147.

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Much of what is known of the saint comes from the  Buchedd Dewi (“Life of David”), written by Rhygyfarch around five hundred years after David’s death. Scholars doubt the veracity of many of the stories the book contains, believing that the author sought to use them to aid the ecclesiastical politics of the time. The Celtic version of Christianity had remained at St Davids far longer than most places and it was not until the 8th century that Roman Rule was accepted. At the time of Rhygyfarch’s writing, there was still a battle for equal status with Canterbury and certain details may have been being used to score points.

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St David founded several monastic communities adhering to a strict and ascetic Rule of absolute poverty, where the monks worked hard, ate little and prayed much. He was renowned as a teacher and preacher and as a good man. There are a good many miracles attributed to St David. The best known was when he was preaching to a large crowd at the Synod of Llanddewi Brefi. The crowd could not hear him, but a hill rose up from under his feet and a dove landed on his shoulder… a clear sign that the Holy Spirit was with him. He had raised a widow’s son from the dead on the way to the Synod too. Perhaps my favourite is that the phenomenon of corpse candles is attributed to the strength of his prayers and love for his people. He prayed that they might be given a sign when their end was near so that they could prepare themselves to meet their Maker. In a vision he was told that from that day forward, those who lived in the lands of Dewi Sant would see the flickering lights of tapers to warn them of their approaching demise. The size and colour of the flames would denote who they were for. Corpse candles are spheres of light, commonly reported in Welsh legends, that travel close to the ground, especially upon the corpse roads the night before a death.

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Another legend tells of his travels across the sea and how he sailed back upon a stone… the very same Sapphire Stone that is now  housed in the cathedral. The simple, broken slab of blue stone may have been David’s portable altar and the tale more symbolic than true. A great sapphire altar is also associated with the saint that was his gift to the Abbey at Glastonbury, where his plans to rededicate the church we changed by a vision of Jesus, telling him that the chapel to His Mother had been dedicated already and needed no dedication by human hands. David built and extension to the Abbey instead and gifted the great sapphire altar. Curiously, a great sapphire was mentioned centuries later in the inventory…

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The shrine of St David contained his relics, along with those of the French St Denis and St Justinian. They were removed by one bishop in an attempt to halt his veneration and the shrine later desecrated by the religious politics that damaged so much of our heritage and history. Now the shrine has been restored, with beautifully executed and gilded portraits and is once again a place of pilgrimage. In the niches below the pictures are reliquaries that are said to have contained the saints’ bones. Recent analysis of the relics shows this to be highly unlikely, the bones thought to be those of the saint coming from three different individuals and one of them a woman.

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It doesn’t matter. Those who now visit the shrine are not credulous Medieval peasants with a superstitious belief in the power that resides in a shard of bone. Education allows a better understanding and even the best authenticated relic is now seen as representative of that greater Power that inspires faith. The shrine is still hallowed… by the faith of those who pray there. Whatever we fix our eyes and hearts upon in reverence is no more than a focus… a symbol through which the inexpressible can be wordlessly approached and the intellectually unknowable Known. When St David died it is told that the monastery was filled with angels. His last words to his followers have been softened by time and usage and ‘do ye the little things’ is a well-known phrase in Wales. Legend has become the heart of a people and through such stories we learn and grow. Things do not always have to be real in order to be True.

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Whispers in the West – part four (final part)

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Whispers in the West – part four (final)

On the Saturday night, replete with the adventures of the day and a large meal from the Sloop, we could do little else but retire early and sleep the sleep of Kings. The following morning was to be one of the highlights of the trip – St David’s, itself. The famous Cathedral was to be the final destination for the weekend, but first, Lizzy, our guide, had other local gems in store…

A misty St David’s Cathedral, our final destination.

Most of the group were staying a mile or so along the coast in or near a small, family-run hotel (The Ocean Haze). Lizzy had planned it so that we could approach St David’s from the coastal path.

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As you can see from the photographs, Sunday was a very different day from the sun-baked Friday and Saturday. A mist pervaded the coast (and, sadly, the photography), though the weather was mild. The coastal path here offers intense beauty, no matter what the weather, though I have been accused of being a bit of a masochist when it comes to walking in the rain…in my view, it’s all part of the fun as long as you’re dressed correctly!

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After what seemed like a short walk, we emerged from the footpath and directly into our first stop – St Non’s Well and the ancient and modern versions of St Non’s Chapel.

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To quote the signpost, “This ruinous Chapel stands on the spot where St Non gave birth to St David in the sixth century.”

The single site, of about an acre, is home to the Well, the old (ruined) chapel, and the more modern chapel, which is old enough to have its own, interesting history. There is also a retreat centre above the newer of the two chapels.

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St Non’s Well.

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The sign tells us that St Non’s Well is said to have sprung up during a thunderstorm when St David was born, about 500 A.D. The waters are said to cure infirmities.

A Survey of St David’s, done in 1717 (see below) says of it:

“There is a fine Well beside it (St. Non’s Chapel), cover’d with a Stone-Roof, and enclos’d within a Wall, with Benches to sit upon round the Well. Some old simple People go still to visit this Saint at some particular Times, especially upon St. Nun’s Day (March 2nd) which they kept holy, and offer Pins, Pebbles, Ec at this well”

(Survey of St. David’s by Browne Willis, London 1717) quoted from the website at:  http://www.stnonsretreat.org.uk/history.html

There are two versions of St David’s origin. The first is that he was sired by a local nobleman; the second that St Non, then a nun, was raped and made pregnant, but chose to keep the child and bring him up within the church… The gritty truth is often ‘sanitised’ in church history. Either way, St David became a very influential figure in the life of West Wales, and far beyond.

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St Non’s Well is regarded as one of the most sacred wells in Wales. It was fully restored and re-dedicated by the Passionist Fathers in 1951. At the same time a small shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary was placed opposite the well.

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A short distance from the well is the ruin of St Non’s original chapel. There is very little to see apart from the partly-demolished walls – with one exception. In the ruins of the Chapel built over the place of St Non’s house can be seen a 7-9th century creed stone with an incised Latin ring Cross. with a vertical line that descends from the Celtic circle in a very unusual way. This has come to be known as the Cross of St Non. Knowing it to be original I looked at it for a long time after photographing – it had a powerfully, peaceful effect, standing alone in the misty morning of that Sunday.

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Just up the pathway from St Non’s Well is the ‘new’ Chapel of St Non, known as the Chapel of Our Lady and St Non.

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This was constructed  in 1934 by Cecil Morgan-Griffiths, a solicitor from Carmarthen, using stone from ruined local chapels. He had built a house (which is now the retreat) on the site, and decided to build a church, there, too. This resulted in the construction of the most westerly church in Wales and one wonders if he sported a wry smile with reference to nearby St David’s in the process…

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The chapel is a very simple structure and measures 25 feet long by 12 feet wide. It has beautiful stained glass windows of  St Non, St David, St Bride, St Brynach and St Winifred. Cecil Morgan-Griffiths died the year after the new chapel was completed.

It is a truly beautiful place and we all drank in the humble simplicity, which was to contrast, later, in my mind at least, with the sheer size and magnificence of St David’s Cathedral.

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The window to St Non.

We made time for a group prayer, for one of our Companions fighting a terminal illness, then left quietly, bound for the final destination, the Cathedral of St David’s.

Coming from the coastal path, and St Non’s Well, we entered the Cathedral precinct by the ‘back door’, so to speak.

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St David’s has to be one of the most beautiful Cathedrals in Britain, if not the world. It’s location may seem remote to modern minds, but in mediaeval times St David’s occupied a strategic position at the junction of major land and sea routes between England, Wales and Ireland.

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Originally a monastery, St David’s dates back to around 600 A.D.

In its fifteen hundred year life, it has seen tumultuous change. During the first four hundred years of its life, it was attacked and destroyed many times by tribal raids. Two early bishops were murdered in later Viking raids. In the 9th century King Alfred turned to St David’s for help in rebuilding the intellectual life of Wessex.

The Cathedral was visited by William the Conqueror in 1081, when he came there to pray. Then in the twelfth century Bishop Bernard, appointed by King Henry I, secured a “privilege” from Pope Calixtus II, allowing St Davids to become a centre for pilgrimage – an honour it continues to enjoy, today.

During the English civil war, much of the building was destroyed by Parliamentary soldiers. The present structure began to emerge in 1181, when Cathedral status was secured.

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The list of prominent saints and bishops associated with that long history would require a volume or two, in itself. Better, perhaps, to take a few glimpses of the splendour of its wonderful spaces.

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There are so many separate interior spaces that it would take days for the visitor to feel comfortable that she or he had a meaningful mental ‘map’ of the place.

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The main ceiling are so beautiful that you just want to bend your neck and stare – which becomes a strain after a minute or two… Ideally, we could lie down on a blanket and just drink it in!

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The magnificent vaulted ceiling of the tower.

All too soon, we had to go, but not before a light lunch to prepare us for our long journeys home. This part of Pembrokeshire is very beautiful and warrants a return visit or six!

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We said our goodbyes back at the hotel, thanking Lizzy and John for a truly wonderful time. Next year we hope to visit Scotland for our Summer ‘solstice’ weekend. Watch this space for details…

Previous posts in this series: Part One, Part Two, Part Three


The Silent Eye runs four such weekends per year; in April, June, September, and the start of December. Apart from the main April workshop, which combines mystical drama with teachings, they are very informal occasions, but a good way to meet some of the names and faces from the Silent Eye School of Consciousness. Everyone is welcome – we simply wander in a landscape and get to know each other.

The formal teaching programme of the Silent Eye School is a three-year correspondence course, studied at home and in the individual’s daily world, with personal supervision via email, and workshops. The teaching programme is based on a guided journey through the spiritual layers of a nine-pointed figure called the Enneagram (below). The Silent Eye is a not-for-profit organisation and charges as little as possible for its work.

The Silent Eye's version of the enneagram has a few extra features added to the core (but unchanged) symbol.
The Silent Eye’s version of the enneagram.

You can find details of the forthcoming events for the year on our website.

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c0d53-silenteyemodernmasteraa

 

Whispers in the West – part three

Whispers 3 - 1

Whispers in the West – part three

After the group’s successful ascent of Carningli (panorama shot above), the second day of the Silent Eye’s Whispers in the West weekend continued, with a short, further car journey to one of the historic highlights of the trip – Pentre Ifan.

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Pentre Ifan is the best known, and because of its height, the most impressive megalithic monuments in Wales. It is believed to be the remains of a chambered tomb for the communal burial of the dead, which would have been used, continuously, for some period before finally being sealed for good. The tomb was erected in the Neolithic age, perhaps as early as 3.500 B.C.

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The burial chamber itself was once partially covered by a great cairn (see schematic, below), extending well to the rear, but the stones have long since been removed; so it now lacks its original covering.

Pentre Ifan schematic from board

(Schematic taken from a partial photograph of the CADW information board at the site)

Pentre Ifan is classified as of the Portal Dolmen type, with the front of the chamber composed of three large uprights set in an ‘H’ formation – though here it is placed, unusually, at the centre of a curving facade of slabs, in line with the design shown in the schematic.

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The enormous capstone, nearly 17 feet long, weighs over sixteen tons and is supported on just three stones, as can be seen in the above photograph. It is believed that the juxtaposition of supporting and non-supporting stones was part of the design of the dolmen.

The weather continued to be wonderful, as you can see from the photographs. Beyond this, though, and the fact that it was now late afternoon, there was a very peaceful atmosphere about Pentre Ifan. It is a very beautiful and spiritual place. No-one in our party wanted to depart…

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In leaving, we took one final look beyond the perimeter hedge, to see the now-familiar shape of Carningli, mountain of the angels, from which we had just come. Seen from this angle, you can see how high it is, and how it dominates the land around.

And then it was back in the cars for a short journey into a very beautiful valley to the north of Pentre Ifan to see St Brynach’s church in the lovely village of Nevern.

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The church is most famous for one of its many yew trees, near to the gate, which is called the “Bleeding Yew”. The yew tree is about 700 years old, which is extraordinary in itself.

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It has a red sap running out of it which has the consistency of blood – though it dries pink rather than brown. Trees are known to ‘bleed’ when their internal flow structures are exposed, but, according to local legend, St Brynach’s bleeding yew has been in that state for hundreds of years.

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There are many myths about why the Nevern yew tree bleeds: some say that as Jesus was crucified on a cross it is bleeding in sympathy. One myth says that a monk was hanged on this tree for a crime of which he was innocent and the tree is still protesting the injustice. There are many other stories, but the church and its surroundings have much more to offer than just the Bleeding Yew.

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Further up the main path to the church is a large and dominant Celtic Cross, carved with the familiar Celtic knot-work pattens seen elsewhere in western Europe.

The cross is one of the most perfect examples of ancient Celtic stone carving in all Wales. The total height is thirteen feet and the cross is two feet in diameter at its thickest point.

Experts date the cross as late 10th or early 11th century.  The four sides of the cross are carved with geometric interlacing patterns.

The West and East faces have inscriptions. One is Ans, meaning Dominus, latin for Master. The other is not as certain, and could be the word for Hallelujah.

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Language is major feature of the inside of St Brynach’s church, which unashamedly celebrates the Celtic history of the land around it. The famous Nevern Ogham Stone, which has inscriptions in both ‘Celtic – Ogham’ and Latin, has been laid as the lintel of one of the windows in the south side of the transept.

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The photo shows the Ogham lines cut into the corners of the stone to form words. There is even a notice showing you how to use the stone to write your name in Ogham – assuming there are sufficient letters.

And with that, our time in Nevern had come to an end. It had been a long and wonderful day of discovery and we were due to have an early dinner at the Sloop pub in Porthgain, on the twenty mile return journey to St David’s.

Lizzy had arranged things so that we would just have time for a slight detour on the way there to have a very special glass of Welsh cider at a place called (locally) Bessie’s pub in Cwm Gwaun. The valley which houses Bessie’s is well hidden and I would not have liked to find it on my own! Having said that, the village was delightful and full of friendly local people, sitting on their doorsteps in the early evening sun, who smiled at our band of weary travellers and waved us towards Bessie’s – the only pub in the valley.

And the cider? Well, if you get chance, have a pint of Black Dragon if you’re passing through these parts. ‘Nectar of the Gods’ springs to mind…

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The final part of this series of posts will conclude, next week, with our Sunday morning walk to St David’s Cathedral, via the coastal footpath and St Non’s clifftop church and shrine. St Non was the mother of St David.


The Silent Eye runs four such weekends per year; in April, June, September, and the start of December. Apart from the main April workshop, which combines mystical drama with teachings, they are very informal occasions, but a good way to meet some of the names and faces from the Silent Eye School of Consciousness. Everyone is welcome – we simply wander in a landscape and get to know each other.

The formal teaching programme of the Silent Eye School is a three-year correspondence course, studied at home and in the individual’s daily world, with personal supervision via email, and workshops. The teaching programme is based on a guided journey through the spiritual layers of a nine-pointed figure called the Enneagram (below). The Silent Eye is a not-for-profit organisation and charges as little as possible for its work.

The Silent Eye's version of the enneagram has a few extra features added to the core (but unchanged) symbol.
The Silent Eye’s version of the enneagram.

You can find details of the forthcoming events for the year on our website.

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c0d53-silenteyemodernmasteraa

 

Whispers in the West – part two

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Whispers in the West – part two

The second day of our the Silent Eye’s Whispers in the West weekend began with relief – that we didn’t have to drive all the way across South Wales, again, to reach the town of Newport – our starting point for day two.

There are, apparently, many Newports in Wales, but only one of them, some twenty miles up the Pembrokeshire coast from our base in St David’s, has this nearby:

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It stood alone on what looked like the cliff edge, dramatic and serene. In the brightness of a warm June day, with azure skies, we walked forwards in respectful silence… to look at ‘Samson’s Rock’.

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Carreg Samson is five thousand years old… quite a thought, when you consider that its capstone, five by three metres and a metre thick, has rested for a considerable part, if not all, of that time on only three of the six standing stones, which vary from one to two metres tall.

I hadn’t realised until recently, that most of these Dolmens (or Quoits, as they used to be popularly known, although this, technically refers to the capstone, alone) were, at one time, buried, sometimes with enough of the stone visible to form an entranceway. The land has eroded or been excavated around them, yet their fundamental construction was so strong that they remain stable, like stone creatures from a distant age, to tantalise us in our search for their deeper meaning…

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It was as hot day, and we were beginning to thirst for a coffee, at least, so we played a game, with Barbara supervising of how many Silent Eye weekenders can you fit into a Quoiter pint stone glass… sorry, couldn’t resist it!

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Lizzy had structured the day very carefully, to give us all the best the coast and the nearby hills had to offer, and we had to leave the serenity of Carreg Samson and its idyllic location for our next Dolmen, just along the coast.

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Carreg Coetan Arthur is a neolithic chambered tomb, or dolmen, of the same age as Carreg Samson, which sits in its own little ‘park’ within a holiday village built during the late 1980s. According to Lizzy’s carefully prepared notes, its significant location is obscured by the hedging, but it stands a few hundred metres south of where the river Afon Nyfer enters Newport Bay; and just over a mile north of the hills of Mynydd Carningli, towards which the dolmen seems to be orientated.

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It consists of four uprights, and is not much taller than a person. The remains consist of four uprights, only two of which support what appears to be a precariously-balanced, wedge-shaped capstone, which is tilted backwards. There is little trace of any of the original cairn material that once covered the stones.

We stopped and stared, admiring what Stuart had named “Little Bear” before taking as many photos as possible before being shunted out of the way by the next group of visitors.

Lizzy’s plans for the day were unfolding, beautifully, and Carningli, the mountain of the angels, beckoned, as the next item on our agenda.

But that coffee would have been nice… And, as fate would have it, we were about to get one, but in a rather unexpected way. Lizzy suggested a short stop in the small town’s centre and we set off for a nearby car park, in three cars, around the tight streets of Newport’s main road. Sadly, I took a wrong turn and we lost sight of the lead car and ended up doubling back before concluding that we were lost! We had noticed, on our detour, that there had been a sign to a beach car park nearby. The two lost cars turned down this road, reasoning that we might be easier to find in such a location, and we emerged onto a car park next to a very scenic beach with a… tea room across the road!

Well, we reasoned, Lizzy wouldn’t have wanted us to go thirsty in our confusion, and, if we stayed put, there was a good chance she’d find us…

Half an hour later, guzzling tea, coffee and cream and jam scones in the garden of the tearoom, and not looking anywhere near guilty enough, we were ‘found’ by our guide and brought back into the convoy to begin our climb up to the Angels of Carningli.

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Carningli doesn’t rise up like some of the stone masses of Snowdonia, but it does dominate the landscape for miles around; and it is accessible with ordinary walking gear with about a thirty minute climb, as the car does a lot of the work for you.

We began the climb, with everyone aiming to reach the top. Ages and fitness levels always vary on these occasions, so it’s wise to constantly check that everyone’s okay. By the time we had reached the plateau below the rocky summit, it was obvious that there were very determined people intent on conquering that peak, perhaps doing something they had not done for a many years.

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It was a wonderful spirit and got us all to the top – with considerable pride on the faces of those who had had to work the hardest.

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The top of Carningli is very rocky and we had to pick our way carefully to a stable ridge from which we could all look down at the glorious views of Pembrokeshire’s countryside and coast.

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In this magical spot, the verdant countryside is as beautiful as the lovely coast.

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We had climbed Carningli with an additional goal in mind: to hold a distant healing vigil for one of our members who is facing a severe illness. Chris, one of the weekend group who had to work the hardest in the climb, revealed he had a secret goal – to take back a small rock for our suffering friend, ‘charged’ as it were, with the spirit of that shared moment.

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It was a very beautiful, lofty, interlude, and we were glad that Lizzy had urged us to make the climb – the views, alone, were worth it. We came down from the peak of Carningli the direct way, which was somewhat challenging, but we all finally emerged back at the car park and began to dream of a promised cider in a little village that lay close by.

But, first, we had an appointment with another Dolmen – one of the best in Europe; and a wonderful church in a very special valley… So Chris had a lie-down on the grass, instead…

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More to follow in the story of this amazing day… quite a bit more, actually…

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The Silent Eye runs four such weekends per year; in April, June, September, and the start of December. Apart from the main April workshop, which combines mystical drama with teachings, they are very informal occasions, but a good way to meet some of the names and faces from the Silent Eye School of Consciousness. Everyone is welcome – we simply wander in a landscape and get to know each other.

The formal teaching programme of the Silent Eye School is a three-year correspondence course, studied at home and in the individual’s daily world, with personal supervision via email, and workshops. The teaching programme is based on a guided journey through the spiritual layers of a nine-pointed figure called the Enneagram (below). The Silent Eye is a not-for-profit organisation and charges as little as possible for its work.

The Silent Eye's version of the enneagram has a few extra features added to the core (but unchanged) symbol.
The Silent Eye’s version of the enneagram.

You can find details of the forthcoming events for the year on our website.

leaf and flame 014

c0d53-silenteyemodernmasteraa

 

Whispers in the West – part one

Whispers in the West – part one

Whispers St David's Headland

It was early on Friday afternoon. Lizzy, one of our Companions in the Silent Eye, had assembled us for the start of three days of delightful discovery on the western fringes of Pembrokeshire, centred on the lovely town of St David’s, home of one of the most remote cathedrals in Britain.

As promised, we met, on the car park above Whitesands Beach, for coffee and…ice cream. The weather was hot, the air clear and the sky blue – perfect conditions for the opening walk on what was to prove an adventurous and wonderful weekend.

Whitesands beach

The ice-cream reluctantly finished, we resisted the quite reasonable demands for another and set off along the cliff path that leads to the distant vista of St David’s Head.

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The town of St David’s gets its name from the patron saint of Wales, who was a Welsh bishop of Myryw (now renamed St David’s) during the 6th century. He is believed to have been the son of a high-born nun–Saint Non, and the grandson of Ceredig ap Cunneda, King of the ancient land of Ceridigion – now part of Pembrokeshire. Other, more dramatic tales say that the lady who became St Non was raped by a local prince and bore the resulting child as her own, bringing him up to take his place in history, despite the trauma of his conception.

We will return, in the final post, to the Chapel of St Non, in its idyllic setting close to the ocean beyond the present town of St David’s; and to the magnificent Cathedral of St David’s.

Whispers St David's Headland

This part of the Welsh coast is one the the most beautiful places in Wales, and has that ‘other worldly’ feel about it which marks out secret gems of landscape that stay in the heart, forever. It is also the home of some of the most ancient stone structures in Europe.

We reached St David’s head after about an hour of walking. The cliffs are very steep and we were advised to ‘look the other way’ as we rounded curve after curve on the high path – with the dark blue of the ocean a long way below.

Arriving at the headland, we did what a group of Silent Eye folk often do – go very quiet… in the face of the beauty of what lay below, and its ancientness.

St David's headland rocks flowers

Much of the rock in this part of Wales is volcanic in origin, and is over 500 million years old. In the distance, off to the south-west, can be seen the rocky islands of Ramsey, Bishops and Clerks several miles out to sea.

Islands in the Stream

On the section before the headland we had passed the remains of a stone-age settlement.

Ancient settlement

In a recent post, Stuart and Sue raise the very interesting question, “Why would anyone want to live here, in such an exposed place?”

Our historic research duo have carried out extensive work on such ancient sites and gained their own insights by being sensitive to the land’s own story. This journey to a deeper perception of natural surroundings is well-documented in their books.

After a suitable time for personal exploration and meditation, we picked our way, carefully, back over the rocks to take a slightly different path in the direction of a distant hill – Carn Llidi (which turned out to be closer than it looked). After a short way, we stopped in surprise at the sudden emergence of Coetan Arthur, a Neolithic burial chamber (A dolmen in this case) dating from about 4000BC. It has a huge capstone almost 20ft wide, which is supported by a side stone over 3ft tall. It was almost certainly built this way, with one end resting on the ground, as what is known as an ‘earthfast’ megalith.

This use of ‘Arthur’ is not related to the Arthurian tales, but linked to an ancient use of the word ‘Bear’.

Coetan Arthur 1

Approaching these ancient sites, it is difficult not to feel an immense sense of respect and reverence for what the builders crafted. We know very little of their full purpose, though burial of the ‘long bones’ of key individuals seems to have been a common element.

Although they may look crude by today’s standards, the sheer ‘presence’ of these stone megaliths may be a result of the fact that they used rocks of certain size, shape and proportions that were ‘found’ naturally in the earth, thus giving a specialness to their placing. As Sue and Stuart explain, such stones were the very ‘bones’ of the ancient earth and revered as part of a living body that sustained all life.

Coetan Arthur 2We would struggle to recreate them, today. One of the smallest, the capstone of Coetan Arthur weighs 4.6 tons. It is believed that it was created to mirror the nearby peak of Carn Llidi, which was to be our next compass bearing for the final leg of the afternoon’s walk.

Coetan Arthur 3

For my part, I am always taken by the importance of these structures as ‘keepers of time and place in the cosmos’. The were usually oriented east-west, though there are exceptions. They were placed in relation to other stones in the landscape which gave the positions of the sun at the four key points of summer and winter solstice (maximum and minimum days), and spring and autumn equinox (equal night and day).

The passing of the year would have been of great significance to our ancient forebears. The cycles of planting, fallow, growth and harvest were key to their survival and they had to know where they were in the year. There was, undoubtedly, a deeper aspect to it all; in that they felt an intensity of relationship with the sky above them, as well as the air they breathed, the water they drank, and the ground below, in which all foods, apart from meats, grew directly; and meat was dependent upon vegetation in the greater cycle.

Their connection to the natural world, and its cycles, was therefore part of their deepest experience – so much so that people like the Druids were a specially trained layer of their society whose role was to honour and deepen the understanding of this relationship of mankind (observer; man and woman) to that which was observed and whose deepest secrets (untouchable but capable of being seen) were painted in the geometry of the night sky.

It is here that proto-science and mysticism met, adding, nobly, to each other’s cause… in fact, in those times they were indivisible, and the spirit of mystery pervaded the sacred search for knowing

Carn Llidi

The final leg of the walk (though not of the day) was to take the path over the hilltop of Carn Llidi and back to join the road to the lovely Whitesands beach.

Carn Llidi peak details

One of our number sprinted off to gain the actual peak, but the rest of us were content to amble along the high road and take in the scenery.

Summer sun on sea perfect

The day had been perfect and what finer way to cool the feet than to take off the boots and paddle in Whitesands bay…

Beach and sea Whitesands

Then it was time to return to the hotel to change, and a gentle walk into St David’s to have a pub dinner at The Bishop. All in all, the perfect Day One of our Whispers in the West weekend.

The Bishop pub St David's

More to follow…


The Silent Eye runs four such weekends per year; in April, June, September, and the start of December. Apart from the main April workshop, which combines mystical drama with teachings, they are very informal occasions, but a good way to meet some of the names and faces from the Silent Eye School of Consciousness. Everyone is welcome – we simply wander in a landscape and get to know each other.

The formal teaching programme of the Silent Eye School is a three-year correspondence course, studied at home and in the individual’s daily world, with personal supervision via email, and workshops. The teaching programme is based on a guided journey through the spiritual layers of a nine-pointed figure called the Enneagram (below). The Silent Eye is a not-for-profit organisation and charges as little as possible for its work.

The Silent Eye's version of the enneagram has a few extra features added to the core (but unchanged) symbol.
The Silent Eye’s version of the enneagram.

You can find details of the forthcoming events for the year on our website.

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