Keys of Heaven (10): final resting place…

continued from Part 9

The village of Lastingham, of the southern edge of the North York Moors, was a fitting place to end our weekend – both for its mysterious wells and also on the basis that the crypt of St Mary’s Church marks the final resting place of St Cedd. Following the fateful Synod of Whitby in AD 664, Bishop Cedd returned to his beloved Lastingham, the place where he had founded his originally monastery; but tragically caught the plague and died, bequeathing the care of Lastingham to his brother, Bishop Chad – later St Chad. Chad became bishop of Lichfield shortly thereafter and had to manage his brother’s bequest from afar.

(Above: St Mary’s Church, Lastingham, in all its simple beauty…)

We have to wonder at the irony and sadness of this: first to lose (in the service of his king, Oswiu) the Celtic Christian tradition in which he had been raised since a boy; then to lose his life in one final visit to his beloved Lastingham.

Cedd was buried here, and the place of his burial in AD664 became the ground on which all the layers of the present church were constructed.

(Above: The unusual semi-circular apse of St Mary’s church contains the entire history of the building and its ancient foundations)

St Mary’s church attracts visitors from all over the world. Christian and non-Christian ‘pilgrims’ are welcomed here in a warm spirit of spiritual openness. Though not formally a Christian, I am entirely happy with the scriptural idea of Christ as the ideal and perfected ‘inner man’. I am at home in most temples of the spirit, but seldom have I felt the kind of harmonic energies that are present in St Mary’s.

There is, in the words of one of our companions of the weekend ‘Something very special here…’ And you can feel its presence in the air around you.

(Above: Ancient Celtic designs in the crypt)

The original monastery was wooden, and nothing remains of it. But the present church of St Mary’s is built upon its site, and specifically, upon the original crypt that was constructed over the location of St Cedd’s grave two hundred years after his death. This region (of what was then Northumbria) was a wild place, and lawless – possibly one reason why Cedd devoted so much of his time establishing the original monastery as a spiritual refuge for the local people and their hard lives.

(Above: St Mary’s extraordinary crypt)

After the Synod of 664, the seat of religious power moved south from Lindisfarne to York, though Whitby survived for a while, in the form of the influential Abbey whose abbecy passed from Hild to Eanflæd, the wife of King Oswiu, upon his death. A royal princess and later queen to Oswiu, she brought grace and dedication to the abbey in the town that would later become Whitby.

(Above: the Benedictine Abbey at Whitby)

But, the age of the Vikings was upon the land and the northern Saxon kingdoms were eventually overrun. Little is known of life here during that period and the former monastery was left to decay.

Over four hundred years later, in 1078, Stephen, abbot of the recently rebuilt monastery at Whitby, obtained permission from no less a person than William the Conqueror to take a team of skilled monks to restore the monastery at Lastingham as a Benedictine house.

Stephen designed the crypt we see today and built it over the place where Cedd had been buried. Above this crypt he began to build a new abbey church, but work was abandoned in 1088 when Stephen and his monks moved from Whitby to the all-powerful York; there to build St Mary’s Abbey… This may have been due to the increasing lawlessness of life within the hills making things impossible for the monks.

The Lastingham Crypt deserves a post in itself, but our story of the Keys of Heaven weekend (now ten posts) has to be brought to a close.

There was a communion service on that Sunday morning. We took care to arrive after it had finished, but I hoped we would be able to meet one or two of the local team. Historic places are fascinating, but the ‘now’ contains some miracles, too. As we pushed open the heavy oak door, one of the church wardens greeted us and we were welcomed into the ‘coffee area’ of the church and urged to join the larger than expected residual group of parishioners.

(Above: The main floor of St Mary’s interior – above the crypt, but the shape of the apse walls reveals the upwards continuity of the structure)

This was my third visit to St Mary’s. The main floor of the building is special in its own right, but I knew the ‘attracting power’ of what lay beneath. Most of our companions drank their coffees then melted quietly away down the stone staircase and into the crypt. But, by that time, as leader of our group, I had not only been given ample coffee and biscuits, but introduced to a cleric in a splendid set of robes… somewhat grander than I had expected for a small village.

Bishop Godfrey is well known throughout the North York area. He has served the Christian cause all his life and is now part-retired with a special attachment to Lastingham; a place in which he feels very much at home. He asked about our group and I was honest about our affiliations and goals. He seemed delighted with our attempts at local scholarship and offered to solve my one remaining problem of the weekend…

(Above: the kindly Bishop Godfrey with Briony, one of our companions of the weekend)

Ten minutes later, happy to pose for a photo as long as someone else was in it, Bishop Godfrey waved us with his blessing down into Lastingham’s very special crypt – the final resting place of St Cedd. As I walked down the stone steps I couldn’t help but feel just a little ‘blessed’ as we finally entered the place where the mortal remains of another very special bishop were interred.

(Above: a peaceful figure in meditation…)

Most of the group had already found their bearings, and were quietly exploring the beautiful crypt. But, one figure sat in the middle of a stone pew locked in total inner and outer silence. His back was to us, and he later described how the crypt had both embraced and entranced him… exactly the effect it had always had on me.

(Above: the vaults of the crypt are filled with priceless history)

The meeting with Bishop Godfrey had made me late into the crypt and we had two important things to do. With an inner certainty, I knew that this visit was for my companions. I had done my part in bringing them here and the magical place was doing the rest. Snapping a few photographs to supplement the ones I had taken in October, I sat quietly, giving thanks that the weekend had gone well; and that we had largely achieved what we set out to do.

(Above: just across from the church – the Blacksmiths Arms)

I could see that the group were tired and in need of some lunch. Across the road from the church is the Blacksmith’s Arms, a lovely and traditional Yorkshire pub with a fine Sunday lunch menu. There are no ‘facilities’ in St Mary’s church, but Bishop Godfrey and the landlord have reached an amicable agreement. The pub displays a sign saying that those attending or visiting the church may use the pub toilets but are asked to leave a donation towards the upkeep of the church. The bishop had smiled as he told us of the monthly cheque the landlord brought him…

The lunch was wonderful… An hour later, with the afternoon upon us and time running out, we set out on the last trek – a last walk around the village to visit Lastingham’s celebrated wells.

(Above: the first well is on private property)

Space does not permit too much description, but, briefly, there are four of them. Two are set into the walls of local properties and one is in the garden of a private house near the church. None of these are currently flowing… but the fourth one – St Mary Magdelene’s well – is. The problem is that it’s well outside the village and very hard to locate. On our recce trip in October, Bernie and I had failed to discover its location, despite directions from the Blacksmith Pub’s landlord.

(Above: St Cedd’s well)

But now I was miraculously equipped with the more precise instructions from Bishop Godfrey and I could feel the ‘cogs of happenstance’ aligning.

(Above: St Cadmon’s well)

I explained to our companions that we had the chance to discover St Mary’s well in a very real way. We drove to a where the place where I had given up looking in October and I pointed out the sloping bank to which Bishop Godfrey had directed us.

(Above: Finally found! St Mary Magdalene’s well)

Within seconds, Gary – the figure in a peaceful trance in the crypt – had found it…

We stood around it in an arc and I explained the final purpose of the small empty jars given out to everyone on our opening trip to the beach, so long ago on the late Friday afternoon.

St Mary’s well is a small arch of stonework set into a stream-filled bank that leads down to the small river that flows through Lastingham. And now, as the only person with wellingtons, I needed to fill each of the jars. The only way to do it was to stretch my legs over the small valley of the spring and lean towards the stone arch, reaching down (thank you, Pilates) to fill each jar. I could hear the mental bets being taken that I would end up in the water, but reached the last jar still vertical, albeit locked into the muddy banks on either side…

(Now to try to fill the small jars…)

A set of friendly hands were outstretched in case I lost my footing, but, with one last push and the weekend’s second sound of a mired boot breaking free, I managed to reunite my legs and scramble away from the water and mud. Everyone now had a Christmas candle and a small jar of very rare St Mary’s well water to take away.

Moments later, with jars tucked safely into travel bags, we hugged and said our goodbyes. The Keys of Heaven workshop was over; and it had been a success. In silence, I drove back to Runswick Bay to collect Bernie for our promised beach walk for Tess and our extra night in the location to unwind.

Later, we would walk through the darkness to the Cod and Lobster and reflect on the weekend. But that is where our story began…

End of Series

Other parts in this series of posts: Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight Part Nine This is Part Ten, the final part.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

The Helmet in Morrisons' Sink: Monday 13th January

I could have shown you a picture of my motorbike lying on its side in the car park, but that might have been too brutal…

“It’s not for everyone, the Advanced Rider Course,” my examiner was saying as he helped me recover the Honda 750NT from its prone position in a corner of Morrisons’ huge car park on the outskirts of Kendal. “It’s rather demanding and does tend to shred the ego…”

He’s a very decent man (let’s call him Paul), this examiner of would-be graduates of the UK’s Institute of Advanced Motorists (and Riders). I had known him less than sixty seconds and could tell that he had both integrity and humour – but, as examiners must – a determined and steely nature.

I could see in his eyes a certain degree of concern that his latest charge had begun their examination with an early arrival (tick;) a pleasant and informed greeting (tick); and had then transformed their attempt to put the Honda onto its centre stand – for stability – (tick) into a bruised horizontal motorbike lying on the wet tarmac with a good number of Monday’s shoppers staring on in confusion…

“Let’s pretend it never happened,” Paul said, kindly. “You sure it’s okay for you to carry on?”

It was. There were two scrapes along the exhaust and the rear brake pedal had been adjusted inwards… but it still worked. The wind deflector on the right handlebar had been ripped at its main juncture with the handlebar. If one could be colder than I already was that was going to be my fate on this dark, January morning.

“Do you fancy going up Shap?” Paul asked reasonably, as though I had a choice in this matter. My face conspired to look enthused. Storm Brendan was arriving with a vengeance as we put in our earplugs, under-helmet balaclavas and thick winter gloves. Paul watched me mount my iron steed. I think he’d decided to wait before getting on his own bike… in case I dropped it, again.

Mercifully, I didn’t, and within minutes we were headed into Kendal’s infamous one-way system. Time for me to show off – sorry, demonstrate – my ‘filtering in traffic’ skills. There weren’t too many opportunities, but I managed to steal a march on a few cars and inserted myself in front of them with a peacemaking wave of the left glove.

But then came Shap… You may already know of the celebrated Shap ‘high road’ – otherwise know as the old A6 link to Scotland. It’s twenty miles of Cumbria’s most extreme and barren terrain and boasts the second highest road summit in England. Before the M6 motorway formed its wonderful link with Scotland, going over the ‘Shap Summit’ was the only way to get there – except the train. Winter saw heavy snowfalls and the winding beast of a road was populated with giant truckers’ cafes – several of which were used as temporary shelters in savage winters like that of 1963, when Shap was closed for days and sometimes weeks at a time.

I was winding up the A6, flowing to right and left, matching the changing visibility ahead with the contours of the road, watching as the speed limits changed up from thirty, to forty to sixty – the maximum for a ‘National Speed Limit’ road in the UK – unless it’s a dual carriageway. Sixty is not fast on a motorway, but on wet tarmac in a ‘switchback’ landscape, it’s very easy to overdo it and find yourself in danger.

But managing that had been what I had been taught for the six months of the course; as my two highly-skilled supervisors showed me a completely different way of being aware of the road ahead – and its opportunities and dangers…

Getting into that climbing ‘flow’ gave me time to think… about Jinxi. She’s my ‘spirit of 13’. You see, thirteen has always been my lucky number – really! Anything that comes up with a thirteen is grabbed by me, immediately. Jinxi is the mysterious ‘spirit’ that seems to engineer the benefits and their cost when I try to collect on my lucky thirteen. They usually materialise – but I also have to deal with something else, first.

Today was (and still is at the time of writing) the 13th January. It’s dark, cold and threatened by one of the worst storms in recent memory coming at us from the Atlantic. I’d like to blame the fallen Honda on the winds… but they were only just beginning.

No… the fallen Honda was Jinxi’s work.

Now, the air was getting colder and wilder and seemed to wrap itself around me, trying to breach the suddenly-inadequate textile riding suit and thermals. There’s an inner battle at these moments, when you’re cranked over at a steep angle at nearly sixty miles per hour and your life hangs on the acuity of those beautiful Michelin rubber things that are managing the tarmac for you.

I know the road well – having recently had a strong sense of intuition (Jinxi?) that it would be used by Paul in the real test. I knew he liked how it combined twisty mountain roads with sudden speed changes… and left you feeling very exposed and dependent on your own resources. It’s a tough and often brutal landscape, but, thankfully, this part of the test was only going to take an hour… a very long hour.

About fifty metres behind me, Paul was watching my every move, and checking I had understood the route.

The edge of Storm Brendan had definitely arrived by the time I pulled onto the M6 slip road to begin a short motorway section of the test. The bike started to shake in the side wind and I felt my arms go tense. This is a mistake, but it’s very hard to fight as you start rocking at the side of enormous wagons thundering down towards Tebay at the end of the descent from the Shap summit. And this rocking is now taking place at seventy miles per hour… with just two wheels and an engine underneath you and Storm Brendan behind.

Suddenly, the thought of Jinxi didn’t seem so funny.

Paul is, of course, far more experienced in these conditions than I am. If it’s windy I avoid motorways on the bike. On the test you have to take what comes. I was to pull off the motorway at the Tebay service for a review of progress so far. I could tell Peter was happier with my pace on the A6 than the motorway, but didn’t dwell on it. My last assignment at the motorway services was to perform a U-turn in a narrow width to simulate a road. I had practiced this the day before – ironically at the back of Morrisons’ supermarket – and so had little difficulty.

Then it was back on the motorway for a final, blowy, two miles before exiting at Tebay and joining the snaking Appleby road back towards Kendal. Like most keen bikers, Paul’s preference was for ‘the twisty stuff’, the secondary benefit of which was that the stone walls and hedgerows reduced the savage buffeting of the winds.

I knew that Paul – like all the IAM supervisors I’d met – liked to ‘make progress’. This is a euphemism for going as fast as is safe within the allowed speed limits. I knew I’d not done well on the motorway – I later confessed to him that I had actually been frightened by the wind’s intensity. I had to recover some points towards my total and the only way to do that was to ride like a thing possessed – but safely! Wasn’t that the essence of what I’d been taught for the past six months?

We arrived back at Morrisons, exhilarated and without incident. Peter got off his BMW smiling. “I enjoyed the pace of that” he said, giving me a look that had some hope in it.

A visit to the toilet was essential before we sat down with a hot drink in the cafeteria and reviewed the results of my ride. Motorcycle helmets are bulky things and supermarket toilets are tiny. The only place I could find to store mine was upside down in one of the sinks. As the opening photo shows, it was good fit and utilised one of the few contours that would hold the unwieldy yellow object. Satisfied that it wasn’t going to roll off anything, I turned to wash my hands in the second sink. The water flow was triggered by a sensor and I smiled at the effective automation.

Jinxi was smiling, too…

As I turned to the hand-drier, I could hear that my tap had failed to turn off. I looked again at the sink I had used. Nothing… But in the next sink along, the tap pointed down at my upturned helmet was busy filling the sink’s yellow occupant with tepid water.

There was no point rushing. I stood and marvelled at the deviousness of the familiar spirit of mischief. When it had finished its flood, I picked up the helmet and gently inverted it, emptying a substantial quantity of water into the sink.

Jinxi had enjoyed a busy day. I collected our drinks and returned to the table to see that Paul was halfway through filling out the form that would become my verdict…

Did I pass? Jinxi had done her work and I had paid my dues on this Monday the thirteenth. Later, standing at my now dirty and scraped bike, I swung the sodden helmet onto my head and, water tricking down my scalp and into my jacket, started the Honda.

In my waterproof pocket was tucked a small blue and white card.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

Keys of Heaven (9): blown down the mountain

The welcoming warmth of the Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge

continued from Part 8

My companions of the Silent Eye’s ‘Keys of Heaven’ weekend were waiting when I arrived at the Lion Inn. We had coffee and biscuits and we discussed the options for our last day of the workshop. Everyone was looking forward to the visit to the celebrated St Mary’s church at Lastingham – the final resting place of St Cedd.

The coffee before the storm…

There was a group excitement; a buzz. Human nature responds to being ‘on top of things’ in both a physical and metaphorical sense. We had all managed to find the Lion Inn – it’s not trivial! We were at the highest point in the North York National Park, but we weren’t there just for coffee and the views. We planned to take advantage of the rich history to be found in the immediate area of the Inn, which, although completely isolated, has a site that has been occupied for hundreds of years; and contains archeology that is thousands of years old.

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(Above) Top of the world…

There are some very special pathways that cross these high moors. Some of them link ancient sacred sites, often marked by crosses that surprise with their age – over a thousand years old in some, cases… possibly a lot older in others.

Where they cross – or meet, might be a better word – they create a special place of exchange and, often, hospitality. Years pass, then hundred of years, and there becomes established a place of meeting. In a few rare cases the meeting point defies the often hostile elements by becoming a permanent building of refuge and hospitality.

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(Above) The Lion Inn – a refuge in the sky

The Lion Inn on the top of Blakey Ridge is one such. As high as you can be in the North York National Park (1,325 feet), it sits astride a crossing of ancient ways and alongside the more modern road linking Castleton to Hutton-le-Hole. The Inn has been run by the Crossland family since 1980. Being on the highest point, it offers breathtaking views down into the Rosedale and Farndale Valleys.

The story of the inn on Blakey Moor dates back to the 16th century. During the reign of King Edward III a house and ten acres of land on Farndale Moor were given to the Order of Crouched Friars, who had been unable to find a home in York.. It is thought that the friars founded the Inn around 1554 to lighten their poverty. Friar Inns are common enough in all parts of the country – Scarborough has two. Since that time there has always been an inn here.

We were fortunate that two of the most significant historic sites are adjacent to the inn. All we had to do was take the short walk from the Inn’s door.

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(Above) The Neolithic Burial mound of Loose Howe is next to the Lion Inn

The grave at Loose Howe (above) is a short scramble up a hillock to the east of the inn. It can be seen from the windows in the bar. Here, a Bronze Age chieftain was interred in a boat-like oak coffin: armed, clothed and equipped for his voyage.

Cockpit Howe is a Neolithic burial mound just behind the inn, facing the Ferndale valley, below.

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(above) Cockpit Howe

The ancient Waymarks – standing stones and stone crosses – known as ‘Fat Betty’ and the Ralph Crosses (previous post) bear witness to the continuous tradition of passage over this pinnacle of the North York moors. The earliest history of these markers remains a mystery.

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We had a plan. Our destinations were all within a few hundred metres of the Inn – two of them much closer. The above photos (taken during our recce trip in October) show how simple it should have been…


What really happened, when we stepped out of the Lion Inn on that freezing December Sunday, was this:

Loose Howe stands about twenty metres taller than the Lion Inn. By the time we had climbed half that height the winds were making it difficult to walk forward. By the time we reached the mound itself, we had to huddle or grasp the stone to stay upright.

The expressions and body language are all the narrative needed. Photo by Gary Vasey
Loose Howe – moving safely was a two-person job! The intense wind was literally tearing at our clothes.

It was no better down behind the Inn at Cockpit Howe. If anything, it was worse. The wind was so strong that it was becoming dangerous.

(Above: Even a strong figure like Gary struggled for a secure footing)

By the time we got to the third site, a marker stone a hundred metres down the Blakey Ridge road, only a handful of us were still able stand against the ferocious winds. We knew when to give up.

Our four of us made the final leg along the Blakey Road to the last standing stone…

My success crossing the bog, earlier in the morning, seemed a long time ago…. The winter had won. Our only choice was to abandon the peak at Blakey Moor and escape down the mountain, earlier than planned… However, wildness has its attractions and no-one seemed unhappy with the experience!

But fate and circumstance have a habit of ringing the changes… and continuing to do so. We retreated to the safety of the cars and, once warm again, drove – slowly – down to Lastingham,

Where the magic was waiting…

To be continued…

Other parts in this series of posts: Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight This is Part Nine

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

Keys of Heaven (8): crosses at heaven's gate

The traveller’s ancient friend: Young Ralph’s Cross

The high pass over the North York Moors is seventeen miles long and crosses the ‘roof of the world’ in the heart of the national park. You’d think twice about going there once the autumn has given way to winter. Local photos show the many times that groups of people have been stranded on the long line of its peak. In one case, in December 2010, a group of seven (two customers and five staff) were snowed in for eight days at the nearby Lion Inn that straddles the highest point on the road – a route known simply and famously as Blakey Ridge.

(Above: December 2010. Snowed-in for eight days at the Lion Inn. From the Inn’s own website)

We were arriving at this elevated meeting point – in my case, an hour early – to begin the Sunday morning of the Silent Eye’s Keys of Heaven workshop. The plan was to gather an hour later at the very top of the pass; at the Lion Inn, an historic place of refuge, and the centre of local history going back thousands of years. But, in order to create a dramatic extra experience for the group, I had something else to do, first.

You’d have to take great care if you were planning to take a group there on a weekend in early December. But, if the forecast was good, you might take the risk and gain the sheer exhilaration of being in one of the most wild and remote places you could imagine.

The local weather forecast – clear of snow and ice for our Sunday – doesn’t always show the likely winds…winds that are not an issue, twenty miles away in Whitby, but here on the roof of the world…

(Above: A schematic of the whole North York Moors National Park. Map Google
The heart of the North Yorks Moors. Locate Castleton (middle top) and trace the white road to the words ‘North York Moors National Park’. Just beyond there is the peak, and the location of the Lion Inn – our first destination for the Sunday of the Keys of Heaven workshop. Map Google.

This was my second visit to Blakey Ridge. Bernie and I had visited during our recce trip in October. The weather, then, had been cold, wet and dreary, so we didn’t linger. We had to get across the moors and down to Lastingham to check out the final location… and to find a missing sacred well! We had only a few hours to finish our planning trip and get back to Kendal in time to collect our cat from the local cattery…

Now, I was back; and back in time to do what we hadn’t had time to do on the previous visit: to find and photograph Young Ralph’s Cross

The first step is easy: you can’t miss the junction for the Westerdale road that descends into the Farndale valley to the right of Blakey Ridge. It’s marked by a nine-foot stone cross, set into a sturdy platform – the first of the ‘Ralph Crosses’ – Young Ralph’s Cross. The location of this is important, for it marks the start of a walk that will get you to the more mysterious ‘Old Ralph’s Cross’ – whose location, according to the guidebooks, is not visible from the roadway.

(Above) Young Ralph’s Cross – old, but nowhere near as old as what lies on the ridge behind it

The age of Young Ralph’s Cross is uncertain; but it likely marks the site of a much older Anglo-Saxon wooden cross from the medieval period. The presence of the older cross is referred to in folklore as ‘The Roda Cross’, meaning Rude (primitive) Cross. Folklore tells that the older, wooden cross was carved with a large ‘R’.

Whatever the origin, it is certain that Young Ralph’s Cross is an important way-marker on this ancient ‘high’ way. Sitting in the warm cabin of the car, reviewing my notes, I wondered why anyone would expose themselves to the elements in this way – on foot, or if they were wealthy – on horseback. Surely the valleys below would have been more sheltered?

My question would shortly be answered in a very graphic way…

The legends surrounding Young Ralph’s Cross are even more interesting. The most common folk-tale tells of a local farmer – one Ralph from Danby – who found there the dead body of a penniless traveller who had starved to death on his journey – only a mile from the Lion Inn – a centuries old Friar’s Inn, which, had he possessed a few pennies, could have offered him at least a meal.

Farmer Ralph had the cross made, then carved a hollow into its top. Wealthy travellers, on horseback and mindful of their own need for good fortune, would be encouraged to place a few coins there. The coins would be accessible to any poor travellers who could ‘shin up’ the cross, enabling them to buy a hot meal at the nearby inn.

Farmer Ralph vowed that the tragic death of the unknown traveller would never be repeated… and his ‘good work’ seems to have carried its own spell, though damage to the cross over the past half-century might indicate that visitors have been over zealous in their attempts to scale the nine-foot stone centrepiece…

Somewhere beyond Young Ralph’s Cross lies another, older one. To find Old Ralph’s Cross you have to take a compass bearing from its brother and cross what may have once been a side path, but is now more difficult.

Time to begin, I thought, noting that the car was moving slightly in the wind… As soon as I opened the driver’s door, I realised why the car had felt so buffeted during the half hour journey from Runswick Bay. The large door, acting like a sail, swung open in the fierce wind and I was dragged from the cabin and onto the muddy rocks of the lay-by, my arms and at least one leg in the carriageway of the road.

Shaken but undeterred (must turn that one into a one-liner…) I wiped myself clean of freezing, muddy water and crossed the road; there to take the photos of Young Ralph. I took a bearing on my phone’s compass app and set off across the moor.. with a great deal of trepidation.

“And, boys and girls, he was never seen again…”

The guidebook instructions for locating Old Ralph’s Cross advise walking in summer and with good boots. It was December, but I did have my long wellington-style boots, which were protective and waterproof. As the above photo shows, there are no paths; only joined-up gaps in the heather and bracken.

In simple terms, at least in December, it’s a bog… And I had at least two hundred metres of the stuff to traverse.

The first time one of my boots slid, mid-calf, into the mud, I thought about abandoning the quest. I turned to look back at the car – now quite distant, and the icy winds tore into me again. I reasoned that I had less distance to travel than I had come… and, slowly and noisily wrenching my boot free, carried on… mentally marking the spot and praying it was the worst such location.

And, it was then that I understood the significance of the ridge – the path, now the road… By definition, the ridge had to be made of hard material – stone. Water runs downwards from this, so the valleys below would not be as sure a path in the worst of the weather, but the ridge would alway be there. In my mind, I could see generations of travellers gripping their garments around them and trudging along this track through the day – or even night – to reach the safety of the Inn, a mile ahead.

Shortly after, my resolve to continue through the bog was rewarded by the first sight of the cross in the near-distance. The local landscape had changed – there was a new energy here… as there often is in places that are designated as ‘magical’ in some way. With growing confidence and a sense of elation, I crossed the final few metres through the bracken to stand before Old Ralph’s Cross.

(Above: Old Ralph’s Cross – the highest point on Blakey Moor)

Old Ralph’s Cross is located on Ledging Hill – the highest point on Blakey Ridge. It dates from at least AD1200 and is probably a hundred years older than that. One of the previous owners of the land, Charles Duncombe, had holdings that spanned the 40,000 acre Helmsley Estate on which Old Ralph stood. He had his initials carved onto the north face of the cross in 1708. On the top of the cross – more accessible than Young Ralph’s Cross, is another depression for coins to be left for travellers.

(Above: coins placed in the ‘bowl’ of Old Ralph’s Cross)

Testing my weight, and being as gentle as possible with the ancient stone, I pulled myself onto the plinth and smiled to see a few coins already there. Dangling in the freezing wind. but smiling, I pulled a silver coin from my pocket and placed it into the ‘bowl’. I wanted the ‘ferryman’ to oversee my safe return across the watery bog to the safety of the car.

No-one knows the origin of Old Ralph’s Cross. The symbolism of the cross is pre-Christian, but the majority of ancient stone crosses date from a period when Christianity was becoming the dominant religion. In the case of this former part of the Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria, there were even two forms of Christianity; one of which – what we know now as Celtic Christianity – was much closer to the ‘nature-following’ paths that would now be considered pagan or druidic.

Generally, ancient crosses would supplant whatever ‘landscape marker’ was there before. These would include market crosses, village crosses, wayside and boundary markers.

A short distance from Old Ralph’s Cross I found a more recent memorial (below) – probably pagan. The beautiful flowers, newly placed, felt very symbolic of the joy of getting here…

(Above: I was not alone in viewing Old Ralph’s Cross as reverential… Near to the cross I found another, freshly tended)

The words I had drawn from the bag at our Friday meeting came back to me:

Flattery – Pride – Humility – Will

As the workshop’s author, I knew their significance, but there was a special resonance in this wild place. Sometimes we have to surrender to a greater will to achieve a purpose for a group. In so doing, we make the internal journey towards inner reality signified by the partial ‘path’ of the four words above.

I had hoped to bring the group here after coffee at the Lion Inn – and hence my need to find the path. I realised now that this was impossible. The dangers were too great and we could, literally, die of exposure here… We had enough before us in the local history of the Lion Inn and its historic environs (see next post) and the wonders of Lastingham on this final morning… and at least I had my photographs to share over the forthcoming coffee..

Departing, I walked around Old Ralph’s Cross one last time. It had been a very special meeting. I located the car on the horizon of the moor… lined up the two… and said a small prayer.

(Above: leaving Old Ralph’s Cross.. with a small prayer for my safe path back to the car!. The colour of the sky gives some idea of the winter temperature…)

Fifteen minutes later, grateful but frozen, I made it back to the car without sinking into the bog, again. I sat with the engine running and thought about the sheer intensity of the experience…

We were insulated travellers on this moor. Our cars remove us from the anguish and the ‘being’ of crossing its forbidding paths. What we gain in time is lost in the depth of experience – any walker will tell you this. Are we really equipped to understand the past of a landscape this dramatic?

The journey here was intended to be symbolic of that taken by Bishop (later Saint) Cedd as he walked across this moor to establish his church in the lovely valley at Lastingham. A little hardship had done me no harm at all… and, as I pulled the car back onto the old road and towards the Lion Inn, I gave thanks to whatever ‘spirits’ had guided my feet in that treacherous place.

Ahead of me, my Companions of the Keys of Heaven weekend would be gathering by a warm fire for coffee and biscuits to begin our final day.

The Lion Inn’s fire is always lit during working hours. It awaited me…

To be continued…

Other parts in this series of posts: Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven this is Part Eight

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

#FurryFives – Tabletop Racer

Misti: “Boring, boring…. uh-uh, I feel a transformation coming on!”

Misti: “Out of the pits and onto the long, ‘address label’ straight…”

Misti: Reaching over 100 mph just before paper brook – will she brake in time or spin off?

Misti: “Ooops! Its a race marshal… and he’s not pleased!”

Misti: “Sigh…I didn’t know there was a sin-bin in motor racing”

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Keys of Heaven (7): the path to gentle darkness

The tiny fishing village of Staithes is a place of peaceful beauty. It lies part way between Whitby and Saltburn on the North Yorkshire coast. It’s geology is also one of the few breaks in the vast cliffs that define this region; and which are the main source of the famous Whitby Jet semi-precious stone.

(Above) The path of Whitby Abbey to Staithes along the Cleveland Way. Image Google Maps

Staithes was our destination… and I was taking a calculated risk in order to give us a dramatic contrast to the morning. The visit to the Abbey – to recreate in our own minds the seismic events of AD664 – had been intense. At the conclusion of the synod, Bishop Colman had known that his world was over; that the new age of Christianity would follow the Church of Rome model. He took his followers and walked out of the Abbey, northwards.

(Above) Whitby Museum – full of ghosts…

We can never know the emotion that flowed between Bishop Colman, King Oswiu (who was, until that point, a Celtic Christian) and the two facilitators of the synod, Bishop Cedd and Abbess Hild, but we can know that it did exist, and that as wise and experienced a king as Oswiu would not have acted without being aware of the consequences – including the impact on the holy island of Lindisfarne…

Symbolically, the group of us walking against the keen winds on the cliffs beyond Port Mulgrave had as little a choice as had Bishop Colman, walking away from Whitby – but our predicament was brief – whereas his changed the rest of his life.

We had been dropped off a Mulgrave… our only refuge would be to get to Staithes. Our risk was not great. The weather has been kind: windy but not too cold. December on the high Cleveland Way can be very different…

(Above) The sun begins to set on the Cleveland Way, which follows the edge of the cliffs from Whitby, north to Saltburn

Development of the Cleveland Way began in the 1930s when the Teesside Ramblers’ Association pressed for the creation of a long distance path in the north-east of Yorkshire linking existing paths along the boundaries of the North York Moors and footpaths on the Yorkshire coast.

(Above) The Cleveland Way: over one hundred miles of wild beauty from Helmsley to Filey (source)

A formal proposal to create the route was submitted in 1953 to the council North Riding of Yorkshire, by the National Parks Commission. In 1969, the path was finally opened – only the second of its kind in the UK.

Our problem was not the cold. It was the light. The path was muddier than we had expected and progress towards Staithes was slow. At an open place where the views of the coast fell away on either side, we stopped for our final exercise of the day. Once again, we revisited the sequence of four words we had each selected at the opening meal. By now, we knew each ‘pointed’ to a process whereby we could bring to consciousness one related set of psychological obstacles to our spiritual growth.

Flattery – Pride – Humility – Will

Facing the wind off the sea, we each voiced how our words could be seen as one of the keys of inner transformation.

With the light beginning to fade, we came down from the cliff path and onto the flat agricultural land that borders the upper village of Staithes.

(Above) The high cliffs from which we had descended to get to the fishing village of Staithes

Below us, the lights of Staithes were twinkling.

A ‘staithe’ is an old English word meaning ‘landing place’. The plural name “Staithes” of the fishing port is due to its twin ‘landing places’; one on each side of the stream that flows down from the moor and into the sea- named Roxy Beck.

(Above) Staithes’ twin ‘landing stages’.

Staithes was once one of the largest fishing ports on the north-east coast. It was also an important source of minerals such as jet, iron, alum and potash. These days, the huddle of cottages nestled between towering cliffs is an attractive holiday destination and lies within the North York Moors National Park.

The village is famous as a source of inspiration for artists, in particular the impressionist artist colony known as the Staithes Group, among them Laura and Harold Knight. The quality of light and the variety of perspectives offered by cliff-top views and winding paths have made Staithes a magnet for artists.

(Above) The timeless image of Staithes’ harbour front

The risk had been worth it. We arrived at our destination just as a gentle darkness fell. We had picked the Cod and Lobster tavern on the main quayside as a meeting point. Those who had been unable to make the walk met us there. After the intensity of the day, we needed simple refreshment. Tomorrow would be a challenging day.

(Above) The Cod and Lobster – our final destination for Saturday

To be continued…

Other parts in this series of posts: Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six This is Part Seven

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

Keys of Heaven (6): the greater force

The greater force... What did they know of it!

Anyone could see it in the fall of boulders in the mountains; in the crashing of the seas on the rocks, in the burning of the forests when the wildfires took hold; in the legends of the earth boiling and glowing when the ground ruptured…

But only a few could see it at work in the eyes of men… and some women, thought King Oswiu, looking across the chamber at Abbess Hild, seated across the square of the small, altar-like table in the chamber at the Abbey of Streanshalch, facing her fellow warrior of the mind – Bishop Cedd. King Oswiu had ordered that neither were allowed to take a side in the arguments that had raged all day in the chamber. That was Wilfrid and Colman’s role; but both had steered the course of that passion to bring it to this point of pregnant silence; silent but not finished…

Beside Oswiu, the Queen’s chair was barely cold. The King had sent her to bed, seeing the pain her hunger caused. Perhaps the final part of the day would bring her some ease from the Lenten observances?

The King put down his drained goblet of mead and gazed at the embers of the fire. He had prevented the page boy from replenishing both grate and cup. He wanted to watch their faces as the fire began to lose its power… and the darkness and cold from the clifftop crept into the abbey’s warmth… affecting the imagined power they took to be theirs.

He wanted them to feel that dread, that uncertainty; and to know that was how he had lived his entire life. His ageing eyes followed the thin red flames as flickered across the blackened logs. A distant memory returned, unbidden. He was a boy of four again, gazing at the living source of heat and life in the burning peat of that far place called Iona.

Across the night, and north to Iona – still the seat of the Ionan Christian faith – he sent his undying love back to the monastery established by Columba, to where he and his brothers had been spirited on the death – in battle – of their father. There to be brought up in the love and compassion of Christ within a dedicated and artistic tradition rich in myth, devotion and the potential for individual creation. How he missed the simplicity of those times… Iona had been even colder than this place, yet his life had been warm beyond measure.

Outside, now, was the coldest night. Outside were the robbers who roved the dark paths of his kingdom of Northumbria – more animal than human. The King looked across at Cedd, along with Hild one of his true friends in this theatre of the soul. There were rumours that bishop Cedd wished to build a church in those high places – or the valleys beyond. The King shuddered at the thought… and wondered at the man’s courage.

Cedd must have know that his sovereign’s thoughts were on him. He stood, holding the silence in a way that was customary only for Kings… and yet, with total humility.

“My Lord,” he said. “the hour is late, and you have instructed us to finish this before the sun rises?”

King Oswiu felt the forces of the world-to-be stirring. What did they know of power, these scholars? Or fate or circumstance and the dreaded whirlpools with which it turned the ground beneath your feet to liquid… a liquid that ran away down paths and ravines never seen before; yet which had lived as foundations to a man’s life. Unseen, unfelt, until that terrible moment of unfreezing.

King Oswiu gestured to the page to refill his mead, but did not extend the kindness to the others. “Timely spoken, Bishop Cedd,” he said. “We must find a way of bringing these matters to a head?”

The statement was rhetoric. Both knew. Cedd bowed. “Will the principals from York and Lindisfarne present their closing arguments!” he said. It was not a question. Everyone in the room feared the intellects of both Cedd and the Abbess Hild – a noblewoman in her own right. But all knew that Oswiu had placed them in a position where they could only facilitate, not act as guardians of one position or the other.

Scholar Wilfrid rose to take his place in history, eager and licking lips made dry with fine words. “My Lo–” he began, but was immediately interrupted by the King.

“We will hear the words of Bishop Colman, first!”

The chamber flooded with silence. “My Lord!” Wilfrid bent his head low, keeping it there as he returned to his seat. Bishop Colman rose, stiffly, his older bones slow. He stared at the churchman’s still-bowed head, finding amusement but little comfort in its angle. For a second his eyes, returning to the gaze of the King, found mirth in that shared and momentary exchange. But both knew that such kinship of mind was built on earth that was merely frozen.

The King sipped his mead, allowing Bishop Coleman time to compose the most important words of his life…

These monks knew their scriptures… and knew the King’s passion for that same cause. But Wilfrid’s bird-like eyes did not speak of this. His furtive movements and cruel smile – whenever he or his scholars scored a point against Colman’s men – spoke of the man’s soul. There was a sadness in Oswiu as he studied Wilfrid. He knew the scholar’s presence here was entirely due to the machinations of his own son, Alchfrith – regional king of Deira, part of Oswiu’s overarching Northumbria… and a never-ending source of agitation and provocation.

But Alchfrith had been clever, first promoting the ambitious churchman Wilfrid to his own Ripon estate, then sending him to Pope Gregory’s Rome to prepare himself for the arguments to come. The Pope had sent back the scholar Wilfrid as its intellectual spear, sharpened and focussed for this moment.

Bishop Colman straightened his neck and spoke. “My Lord, the matters before us are simply stated, but dense with implications…” he let the words settle on the gathering.

The King nodded his head imperceptibly. Everyone new what was at stake, here. The matter of the monks’ tonsure was trivial. No-one was going to lose sleep over a haircut.

“You may limit yourself to the important matter of the computus,” instructed Oswiu. “We must end this, swiftly…”

Bishop Cedd let his body fall, gently, back into the chair, freeing the space in the centre of the room for Coleman’s piece. Knowing, with great sadness, that what followed would make not the slightest difference to the outcome. The computus was the method used to calculate the date of Easter, and only scholars understood it. It required a complex cross-reference of the tables of Sun and Moon, now wrenched free of its Jewish roots by Rome, which insisted it be on a Sunday… The original date had been set down by St John, viewed as the most mystical of the scripture writers, whose work now faced being sidelined by political forces.

Bishop Colman was closing his remarks, guided in brevity by his King.

“We honour our God who made the stars and the sun and moon, that in their written heavens lies the truth… unmoved by man’s adjustments, my Lord.” He bowed, and withdrew from the fading warmth of the space by the King.

Scholar Wilfrid of Ripon was eager to bring his case to point.

“And so, my Lord, the case from York – from…” he hesitated, “…from Rome… is this: that the proposed computus is that used in Rome, where the apostles lived, suffered and are buried.”

Wilfrid paused to look at his king. Oswiu’s return stare gave nothing away, but the King’s words had a sting: “I suppose you will tell me that the customs of the apostle John were peculiar to the needs of his community and his times and that, since then, the Council of Nicaea has established a different practice?”

“Yes, my Lord,” continued Wilfrid, seeing no reason to pause in his attacking torrent. “And that this method is the universal practice not only in Rome, where lie St Peter’s bones, but throughout the civilised world. Bishop Columba did his best with the skills at his disposal, but our methods have become more refined…”

The voice in the centre of the room was gentle, knowing that what it had to say would honour the intellectual forebears but hold no sway in what would follow. But like a blade she drove it home..

“Except that this method proposed by York and… Rome is not actually practiced in Rome at all…” Rising to stand, Abbess Hild’s words cut Wilfrid like a knife. “The nearest to Rome these methods are actually in use is Alexandria, in Egypt!”

There came a noise like grinding… then King Oswiu’s goblet shattered with the pressure his right hand was applying to it. Shards of white-edged pot flew from the arms of his throne across the room. No one dared move…

“Power sacrifices truth each and every day,” he said, in deadly tones, silencing the voices of dissent and disbelief. “One question alone will decide this!” His breath was visible and icy in the darkening room. He stood and pulled his heavy cloak around his shoulders.

“Who holds the Keys of Heaven?”

Cedd watched the world melt at the feet of the King as the greater force was released; looked deep into the royal eyes of despair as an age ended and another began to run its muddy coarse; watched as all nobility and striving was lost in the torrent of dirty mud… and then realised what the life of a King truly consisted of…

Minutes later, Wilfrid, triumphant, was led by his acolytes from the room. The King had spoken. The Roman way was to be the way. The authority of St Peter was restored… from Rome to Pope to York, Ripon and, now, the place that would one day be called Whitby, in a wooden building lost to time in all but deed, replaced and commemorated in the rigidness of stone.

The Synod of Whitby had ended…

{the above is a work of historical fiction, though based upon the facts known to history. It was written in this form to give the reader a flavour of the political and religious importance of the events that took place at the Synod of Whitby in AD664}


Bishop Coleman returned to the monastery at Lindisfarne to resign and take his remaining Celtic flock back to Iona, where they prospered for a while among the Scots before retreating back to Ireland, where Celtic Christianity had, for a time at least, a surer footing

Bishop Cedd and Abbess Hild continued their work, adapting to the new Roman ways. Cedd died a year later in Lastingham, after contracting the plague.

It seems that King Oswiu’s son, Alchfrith, disappeared from the historical records in the year after the fateful events of AD664. It is unlikely that he profited from the use of religion to upset the reign of his father via Wilfrid’s participation in the events above.

Wilfrid did, initially, prosper from the synod and was made Bishop of Northumbria by King Oswiu’s son, Alchfrith. Wilfrid led an ostentatious life and refused to be consecrated in England, saying he believed it to be insufficiently sacred ground. Instead, he went to be consecrated in France. While he was away, Alchfrith mounted an uprising against his father, which was unsuccessful. Exposing their collusion, King Oswiu stripped Wifrid of his title and role. For the next decade, Wilfrid repeatedly appealed to Rome for his ball back, but his fortunes were repeatedly dogged by English attempts to thwart him.

King Oswiu lived on in peace until his death six years later, in AD670. His domestic life made simpler by the fact that he and his wife (Queen Eanflaed) could now enjoy their Lent and Easter fasting and feasting together, instead of being out of sync within the different Christian traditions. After Oswiu’s death, Queen Eanflaed succeeded Hild as Abbess of Whitby. She continued this distinguished role until her death.

The Gospel of St John the Apostle and Evangelist continues to be studied by those of a ‘Christian Mystical’ persuasion, in the tradition of Celtic Christianity.

To be continued…

Other parts in this series of posts: Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five This is Part Six

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

Touching the Sun ~ A new book from Steve Tanham

A collection of my recent mystical poetry – assembled with love and care from my scribblings by Sue Vincent – our resident editor and publisher. Thank you for your interest… Steve

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

“The sun is always an adequate symbol for the Light of Lights…”
A.K. Coomaraswamy

In this collection of mystical poems, Steve Tanham, founding director of the Silent Eye, explores his personal relationship between the soul and the sun. Plotting its course through the seasonal round, we can recognise the beauty of this natural cycle and catch fleeting glimpses of the greater beyond.

One day the words will be unspeakable

The splinters brushed aside

By the eye beyond the Opening

And we – the world and it’s child

Will speak in unbroken silence 

Steve Tanham is a founding director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness; a not-for-profit online School of Enneagram-based esoteric psychology. He lives in the English Lake District with his wife, Bernie and a cat and a dog.

Available in Paperback and for Kindle

Via Amazon UK and Amazon US

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Three ghosts of Christmas present…

Christmas Eve, a lost near-blind dog escaped onto the fells… and a head-torch…

What could possible go more wrong?

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at