Tag: England

The Pilgrimage

The Pilgrimage

_tsl9753Dawn had not arrived and I was awake. With a heavy heart at leaving the magical Lake District, I prepared by packing my suitcases. After completing the tasks and showering, it was still dark outside so I went downstairs in the wonderful cottage in Applethwaithe and fixed breakfast.

As I finished the kitchen clean-up I glanced outside. The sunrise was going to be spectacular. Maria was still asleep downstairs, Castlerigg was only two miles away and I had yet to get a photo with clear skies of the magnificent stone circle. I grabbed my camera gear and sprinted out to the car.

Of course frost heavily coated every window of the car so while it warmed up I scraped ice. The light grew steadily and I was anxious to get to the circle but being able to see was important and with below-freezing temperatures I couldn’t ride with the windows down.

_tsl9830Finally enough ice was removed to give me a peep at oncoming traffic and I raced over to the circle. There were a few photographers leaving…yes, I had missed the prime pre-dawn light. But what I had not missed was the amazing mist that hovered in the valley below. I spent over an hour photographing mist, ancient standing stones and finally sunny mountains and then said my goodbyes to the stones.

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Our plan for the day was to attempt to find Swinside Stone Circle…we had tried two other days and never made it…snow and ice, timing, fleeting daylight thwarted our efforts. The little red dots appeared on the atlas map of Section 61 along with the name but we had no specific directions. It was near a town called Millom on the Irish Sea.

img_6817After programming the SAT NAV for the seaside town, we took off through the Lake District going from Keswick to Grasmere and avoiding the SAT NAV trap there that tried once again to route us through the narrow roads of Red Bank. Down through Ambleside to the little village of Bowmanstead down to Torver down the A593 to the A595 and down to Hallthwaites and finally to Millom. I knew we passed the turnoff but there were no signs. Our best bet was to ask around in town to see if we could get direction.

The ladies at the cafe that smelled of fish didn’t know but directed us to the library. We couldn’t find the library so asked a woman in the parking lot and she directed us inside a clothing consignment shop. Both people that worked there knew where it was and gave us detailed guidance.

_tsl0237We traveled down a very narrow, dirt road and came to a home and small farm where the road passed through. I got out of the car and asked a man sitting in a car if the stone circle was close. He directed us onward and reminded us, as the two folks in town did, that we were to park along the road before the gravel road…whatever that meant. It felt as if we were definitely in the wilderness portion of our pilgrimage.

The journey Maria and I embarked on was a pilgrimage from the first day of planning. We didn’t know what we would find but prepared ourselves to enter into the adventure as pilgrims…with open minds and hearts in the spirit of learning. The side trip to find Swinside was the final challenge.

Broadgate, the road’s name, was a misnomer. There was nothing broad about it. In fact, we met a large farm truck and the driver backed up and allowed us to ease into a very small pull-out. Just past that was the gravel path so we turned around, headed out and parked in the pullout. We were elated to find a very small wooded sign that directed us up the gravel path to the stone circle.

_tsl0063We began our ascent up the steep path. It was bordered by trees but soon opened up to beautiful meadows with various kinds of sheep. I was walking a bit up the hill from Maria and came to a serious cattle gate with very widely-spaced metal bars suitable for vehicles but not feet of any variety. There was a side gate for walkers and horseback riders so I waited for Maria. There was no circle in sight and no signs.

A truck had passed each of us but neither of us asked if the circle was close by or five miles up the road. We discussed our options as we paused at the base of a large mountain that had captured both of our attentions. It felt like a place of power but there wasn’t a gate or a footpath or sign…only very large cows and who knew if their bull was friendly. But by then we were in an open area where there were no fences and no barriers between us and cows or bulls.

We were still climbing so I suggested we climb to the crest of the road, not far ahead, and see if we could glimpse anything that would indicate a stone circle was nearby. As I had done often on the trip, I spoke aloud our need for a sign, for guidance. Within moments of resuming our walk two heads were seen bobbing up the road from the other side. AH HA!

_tsl0072Not 100 yards down the road was the stone circle inside a fenced pasture filled with rainbow-colored sheep with dark circles under their eyes that looked like teardrops. Dorothy, we were not in Kansas any more.

_tsl0115Swinside, or as the small plaque called it–Sunkenkirk–was the most magical of the circles we visited. There was a definite quality of stillness and peace there most likely due to the lack of human visitation. We spent a good while walking and listening to the silence, each lost in our own experience. I also attempted to avoid the numerous piles of sheep droppings which proved to be the most challenging of all tasks related to Sunkenkirk.

_tsl0084As I stood in the silence, I envisioned people carrying torches from the nearby mountain, winding down in a spiral to the circle, entering through the gateway stones and then spiraling within the circle with their lights. There was no doubt that the mountain and circle were connected in ceremonial use…the atmosphere did not hide that fact.

_tsl0155As I stood observing the energy, feeling it, I realized that this was the perfect ending to our pilgrimage. For three days we had attempted to find the place and on the third attempt did indeed find it. We had to trust that it was there after climbing a steep gravel path, walking through gates, through pastures of grazing cattle and finally, into the territory of the rainbow sheep.

_tsl0197At every step of the journey, each time we needed guidance about what lane on a roundabout to take, a car would appear and show us….every single time. If we needed clarity I would say aloud, “We need assistance” or “we need guidance please.” An answer was always available for us. Even on our first afternoon in Keswick…we needed a grocery store and managed to drive right to one.

_tsl0146Our pilgrimage ended at a beautiful stone circle where ancient ones gathered to count the days in ceremony, where they came together to give thanks for crops and seasons. We met the challenges of finding Swinside or Sunkenkirk…or whatever its true name is.

_tsl0075And in the true form of a pilgrimage, a map at the site revealed that had we entered from the other side of the gravel road the walk to the circle would have been only a few minutes down a level path with an actual car park. We were supposed to make the journey of faith, the walk up to the mountain and sacred circle. A pilgrimage isn’t supposed to be easy or effortless. We faced our doubts, we mustered courage and stepped forward into the Unknown with trust that our hearts would guide us and help would come when we asked.

_tsl0085Perhaps the most important aspect of a true pilgrimage is the effect it has back in the everyday lives of those who take the journey. Maria and I talked for over an hour almost two weeks after we returned to the U.S. Both of us are finding our lives changing, of feeling the need to adjust our paths, to be truer expressions of our highest selves, to leap to the next stage of our work of service…she in the Atlanta area and me here on the Gulf Coast. We are changed from our journey, we miss the peaceful civility of the land and people of the U.K. and we continue to integrate the experiences and lessons learned in our travels.

_tsl9881Wordsworth spoke to me. Ancient ancestors from thousands of years ago spoke to me. The stones and mountains and lakes spoke to me. Now the task is to decipher their messages, apply them to my life and share with others.

 

Grasmere, Ed’s Route and Dove Cottage

Grasmere, Ed’s Route and Dove Cottage

img_6817The intention was to follow Ed’s Route. Ed is a friend that outlined a beautiful route through the mountains near Grasmere. He warned that it was curvy, single-lane and steep but well-worth the drive.

My friend Maria and I had visited Long Meg stone circle that morning and asked the SAT NAV system in the car to choose a route to Grasmere so we could then follow Ed’s Route he outlined on the atlas.

It had snowed earlier and the route the NAV system took us on was over mountains. The higher we climbed the more snow we found but luckily the roadway had been salted and was clear. But as I drove I knew Ed’s Route–the single-lane route up steep, winding roads–was not a good idea. The probability they had been salted was low. So I pulled over and reprogrammed the SAT NAV system to go to Millam, a town near another stone circle we wanted to visit.

I should have heeded the sign: Do not follow SAT NAV but she kept telling us to turn left after we had passed through the town center of Grasmere. Who wants to argue with an electronic voice? Up, up, up and narrow for even a small car…and oh, yes…let’s not forget the curves and moss-covered rock walls. The darling system decided to take us on Ed’s Route after all. Even when we knew it, there was no place to turn around for a very long time.

About the time I expected to find ice and snow on the pavement, a driveway appeared and I carefully turned around and headed down. Oddly enough Audi drivers don’t seem to notice how steep and curvy and narrow the roads are in the U.K. But that’s another story.

_tsl9624After making it to the regular narrow road, I needed to park the car and walk. I pulled into a parking lot at a cafe and realized we had stumbled into William Wordsworth’s home. But oddly, it felt as if I had come home from a very long journey, not just the one up Red Bank’s road.

_tsl9649I just wanted to go sit upstairs, look out of the beautiful glass window at the snow-capped mountains and write. Somewhere in my memories I remember a most pleasant experience of finding peace while gazing out of a window just like the one at Dove Cottage.

_tsl9633We visited the gift shop and I spoke with the guy there and as he told me of Wordsworth’s time there, my heart opened and tears came. What the heck? I was dabbing tears from my eyes in a gift shop just hearing about his writing at Dove Cottage. It was more than sharing the same birthday as William but I’m not really sure what.

img_6806We ate lunch at the little cafe nearby and had a most beautiful view of the mountains. I was not inclined to leave Grasmere.

img_6825A stroll through town and I discovered a cemetery filled with yew trees and ancient markers. I stepped into the peaceful garden while Maria chatted with someone and when I popped back out, she was gone. I wandered around after texting her to let her know where I was. The energy of the place was peaceful and deeply nurturing. It teemed with birds and as I left a jackdaw lit within a few feet of me and allowed me to use my cell phone to capture a photo. They are said to be Merlin’s magical companions. There was magic in Grasmere, no doubt.

img_6843Wordsworth was my favorite Romantic poet throughout high school and college. His love of nature was what captured my heart. He and Samuel Taylor Coleridge hiked the mountains of the Lake District and along with Beatrix Potter birthed literature that remains some of the best ever written.

img_6835At some point in this life I wish to return to live near Grasmere for a time. Six months, a year and perhaps I could find inspiration that would allow future-classic writing, painting and photography to find a channel of expression through me.

_tsl9623Years ago when I visited the moors of Devon in the national park there, my bones vibrated with the land. I had never felt that kind of physical connection to a place before. In the Lake District it went beyond a physical connection to the spiritual realm of heart and mind. It was home to me, where my spiritual roots are deeply anchored.

img_6828Here’s the first and last stanza from Wordsworth’s Daffodils…one of his most well-loved poems:

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er values and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

……

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

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My friend and spiritual sister Maria and I in Grasmere.
Long Meg and Her Daughters

Long Meg and Her Daughters

_tsl9419We had directions from Keswick to the stone circle and a road atlas but I found myself pulling into a small auto repair shop in the middle of beautiful English countryside to ask directions. The SAT NAV system was no help at all and wasn’t like SIRI who will at least apologize for not being able to find something.

I asked the delivery guy leaving if he knew of the circle and he said he wasn’t local, to ask inside. The roll-up door was open and a gentleman was spray painting a car bright green. He didn’t hear me over the compressor motor. Finally I got his attention.

“Excuse me, do you know directions to Long Meg?” I asked.

“Oh, sure. You’re really close. You just passed the turn. Go back, take a right. Go across the next crossroad, then make a right and stay on the dirt road. Take a right at the fence and just keep going. You can’t miss her.”

Having been used to the SAT NAV who reminded me at every turn, I asked to hear the directions again and then repeated them to him and then thanked him and flashed my most genuine smile and did a little bow with hands over heart.

It didn’t sound that complicated but there were no signs pointing the way, nothing to suggest there was a historic stone circle anywhere around…except the red lettering on the atlas page near Penrith. I drove down the small, one-lane road onto the smaller, one-lane dirt road and glanced at sheep and cattle near the fences. Hmmm…..

A very large tractor was coming and I had to pull over and stop and the driver of the tractor did the same but was able to pull onto the shoulder and create a larger space. I waved and then stopped beside him and hopped out.

“Is Long Meg nearby?” I asked.

_tsl9403“Oh, yes love. The stone circle is just up the road. But she’s not in today. She’s gone shopping,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.

I laughed and thanked him and continued driving on the farm road. That’s the best way I can describe it. In a few minutes we pulled under a very large tree and parked. The road went right through the circle.

_tsl9413Long Meg and Her Daughters has one of the largest diameters of any stone circle in the U.K. At 300 feet long, it’s quite impossible to photograph the entire circle at once.

Walking around the circle was challenging. Not so much from the size of it but from the number of piles of slippery sheep and cattle poo. Evidently, they loved the circle of ancient stones.

_tsl9401I felt immediate joy and laughter at this circle. It had a very different energy than Castlerigg. I walked up the slight hill to Long Meg and stood beside her. She seemed to emit the sound of women singing. When I stood in the vast space at circle’s center, I still ‘heard’ women singing and felt laughter and joy vibrating around me.

_tsl9523After about half an hour, a small school bus pulled up and several children emerged with two adults. They had on colorful stocking hats which caused the world to waver a bit. Just two days before, after visiting Castlerigg and having a very powerful experience there, I had drifted off to sleep with a vision of children running and playing in brightly colored hats among standing stones. Here was the exact scene manifested in physical reality.

_tsl9521I paid very close attention to their energy since they embodied a vision. They walked around the circle in pairs counting the stones. Then their teacher gathered them around Long Meg as I knelt among the cow paddies and began talking about the circle, teaching them the known history. How amazing to be a child and grow up among ancient stone circles over 5000 years old. That must add to their human experience a great deal.

_tsl9502After listening, I wandered away to take more photographs. The sun finally decided to show up after four days of gray skies. I had been struggling with gray light for days. To have warm, sunny light to work with made me incredibly happy.

_tsl9461It was very cold and windy and even the sun’s appearance didn’t keep me from wanting to retreat to a warm coffee shop. We decided to try Ed’s route, a scenic drive near Grasmere after leaving Long Meg. But that’s another story for another day.

 

 

The Stones Speak

The Stones Speak

_tsl9187Day dawned dark with news from afar;

Earth, water no longer sacred?

Money won—gods of greed and tar.

Now civil rights mired in hatred.

 

To my knees I fell, sobs escaped my lips;

Oh, my God! Has sanity been eclipsed?

 

_tsl9288Darkness gathered and shadows grew.

Hope dimmed, panic began to rise.

My mind raced, whatever can I do?

Darkness comes in golden disguise.

 

A voice then came through, so clear and so loud:

“Go to the stones and walk among the clouds.”

 

_tsl9141My grief and I put on our boots

And went out in the cold and snow.

We stood with stones in armored suits

And listened as the wisdom flowed.

 

“It’s time to wake-up and see the truth here.

None of this matters in five thousand years.”

 

_tsl9304The stones spoke—ages, wars went by:

Ancient wisdom, patience and trust,

I saw time make the darkness fly.

Peace grew strong, swords crumbled in rust.

 

“This is a moment in time, a heart beat.

Cry your tears, but don’t forever you weep.”

 

_tsl9099The peace of snow and ancient times

Enfolded me with grace and calm.

I walked along those Druid lines

And there I found the sweetest balm.

 

“Wake up and shine and know love is the key.

This world can heal and be one, you will see.”

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Castlerigg

Castlerigg

_tsl8867When I was invited to speak at a weekend gathering in the U.K. I put the question out to the Universe, Where shall I journey the week before? If I was going to make the long flight across the Atlantic, it made sense to extend the journey and connect with this most beautiful of countries. Almost immediately I saw a post on Facebook about Castlerigg and so it was this stone circle that called me to Cumbria, that called me to this pilgrimage.

_tsl8870Much of the preparation for the journey centered on researching the Lake District, where the stone circle is found. The nearest town is Keswick (pronounced kez-ick) so the cottage that stood out as the right one was only two miles from Castlerigg and outside of town, in the rural countryside.

_tsl8877Upon arrival at the ancient circle of standing stones, I was expecting to feel strong emotions and awe but I felt nothing….at first. The energy felt flat which truly surprised me. Nevertheless, I approached the circle with reverence and openness and began to connect with it through an inner prompting or voice.

_tsl8872heard to walk clockwise or sun-wise around it twice and then enter a small sanctuary area near the largest stone. I walked three times around the sanctuary and knelt at a small, flat stone. It felt as if I was laying down everything in my life, surrendering it all…letting go. Then I exited to the main stone.

_tsl8891My hands then found a ledge and rested there. I dropped into silence, into meditation and soon heard, What do you desire? “To serve the light,” I whispered. As if unsatisfied with my answer, the same question arose and I repeated the answer. After I heard it a third time I paused before answering to contemplate. “To be the light,” I replied.

img_6760You are light so it is your task to be transparent and allow the light to simply be, as you are. Be your truest self, be genuine. Remove all masks and preconceived notions about who you think you should be and simply allow the light within you to shine forth.

_tsl8902I felt gratitude for the reminder to be myself and whispered a thank you to the sacred energies of the place. Then I heard to walk three times around the inner circle.

_tsl8901I began to walk sun-wise at the edge yet found my feet taking me on a spiraling path to the exact center of the circle, as if they already knew the way. I stood in silence facing the large stone and dropped once again into meditation.

Soon a vision began to arise. Two blue snakes came crawling to me and intertwined around my forearms and became blue snake tattoos on the inside of my lower arms with their tails wrapped around my wrists.

_tsl8889I contemplated this for a while and then walked back to the main stone and exited the circle.

After the meditations, I enjoyed photographing the circle and being present with the beauty of the area. It was later that I explored the meaning of my experience.

_tsl8895It felt like another dimension was experienced at the stone circle, a place where the ancestors offered guidance and support that reached from ancient times to the present. The Druid-like vision of the snakes felt like an initiatory experience. Snakes have been used as symbology for healing for millennia, the caduceus being one that has made its way into modern medical symbology of physicians–two snakes intertwined on a central staff. In ancient Celtic art, snakes are often depicted with healers or shaman holding them. In the Celtic tradition snakes are symbols of rebirth, awakening, and renewal.

_tsl8882Perhaps the most powerful outcome of the experience within the stone circle was the resulting conversation with my spiritual sister, Maria, who was on the pilgrimage with me. As we talked that evening it felt as if my life opened up before me and I could see the path stretching out before me in a most beautiful way.

That night as I closed my eyes I saw *children gathering in bright, warm hats around stones…running and playing and laughing. The image of a man with antlers on his head came into my mind and a great, joyful chase in the woods took me into a restful night of sleep.

_tsl9003It felt as if I had participated in an ancient dialogue with the sacred world. The timeless message I received was one Buddha shared, “Make of yourself a lamp.”

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Castlerigg is on a flat crown of a low hill surrounded by mountains. The stones are of local origin and the largest weighs about 16 tons. The setting of the stones corresponds to the features of the mountains around them. It is connected by a line of force between the two tallest mountains surrounding it. Two of the construction lines correspond to sun and moon positions. Because of its positioning with the sun, moon and surrounding landscape it was apparently designed as a temple. It provided an accurate solar calendar for the year and its lunar cycle tabulation helped herdsmen and farmers.  It dates back to 3000 BC. (Information from Sacred England).

Long Meg and Her Daughters Stone Circle
Long Meg and Her Daughters Stone Circle

*When we visited Long Meg and Her Daughters two days later in a field outside of Penrith, a small bus with children dressed in brightly-colored hats arrived. The young ones gathered with their teacher to learn of Long Meg’s history. It was the exact scene that arose when I first closed my eyes after the experience at Castlerigg.