It seemed we were learning anew, each day…
The decision to abandon the walk along the long ridge path to Ashness Bridge had been forced upon us by time constraints. It would cost us the boat ride back to Keswick – something that had immense emotional appeal – but, instead, it had given us back… calmness.
After a snack lunch by the lake shore in Keswick, the group travelled to the Eden Valley in three cars. One of the companions lives near to our destination, in Penrith, and would not be returning to Keswick at the close of the day.
Stuart and I were eagerly anticipating this next part of the workshop. The caves we were to visit had been researched by Sue Vincent. She and Stuart had planned to incorporate them into a landscape weekend, but the sad events of 2021 overtook this.
There was the light of a personal pilgrimage in Stuart’s eyes when we all arrived at the stone circle of Long Meg, the start of our Eden Valley adventure. With some regret, we were not able to spend much time here, as the walk along the River Eden would be a substantial – needing to represent the Hero’s challenge as they sought to inherit the ‘magical reward’ promised by the quest – in truth, really a change of consciousness…
During our recce day, we had evaluated two routes. Now, siding with caution and calmness, we set off on the shorter one…which turned out to be a blessing – and one not related to the weather!
The Lacy Caves are located directly above the River Eden. It had taken us about ninety minutes to get there, a half hour longer than forecast. The difference was down to an oversight on our part.
This workshop was the first after the Covid period. Though everyone was delighted to be out in the countryside, again, not all had recovered their former walking strength.
By the time we were halfway to the caves, two of the companions were experiencing tiredness. With one it was affecting her walking. We stopped to allow a period of rest, but the signs were not good – we had travelled a long way into the valley and, regardless of the drama we were about to enact as the day’s exciting finale, we still had the walk back to Long Meg Stone Circle where the cars were parked.
Our pace slowed and, as group leader, I had to take some decisions. The companion in question said she would be okay, as long as the caves were close. They were just around the next curve in the river.
I walked at her side, my arm ready to give support if the going got too difficult. Unlike our recce day, most of the route had been dry, but the final few hundred metres were muddy; adding to the difficulty.
But everyone was happy to continue, and we reached our destination without further difficulty.
Colonel Lacy, a wealthy landowner of Salkeld Hall, owned the land on which the Long Meg stone circle lies. He wanted to clear the circle to make it usable as pasture. On the night he set dynamite to the first stone, a devastating storm developed which caused considerable damage to his nearby farm.
Immediately relenting, he repaired the damage and thereafter swore to protect the ancient circle.
Lacy switched his attentions to the sandstone cliffs a mile away as the crow flies, alongside the river, where he carved out a cave system for parties and entertaining. It was fashionable to have such a folly at the time, and the place was decked out with furniture and had extensive gardens sweeping down to the river.
Having said that, Stuart and I think there was a parallel with Francis Dashwood’s ‘hellfire caves’ at High Wycombe… The truth is lost to history. There is certainly an air of mystery about the place.
We both had suitable outfits to complete the dramatic effect. We were not seeking to make it macabre, simply to shift the mood to a deeper contemplation of two of the remaining Tarot cards: Death and the Hermit.
Stuart prepared for the drama to come, in which we used two parts of the cave system: a well-lighted entrance chamber and a much deeper and darker passageway leading to the innermost space in the complex.
At the entrance, Stuart’s figure of Death called forward each of the companions in turn. showing them the card and asking them to seek the deeper meaning. He then made a loud signal and I appeared – as The Hermit – at the end of the dark passageway, hooded and with a torch illuminating my face from beneath. I am told the combined effect was dramatic…
The companion had to choose to ‘go beyond death’ to find that the inner room actually looked out over the river (of life).
We had completed our tasks for the day. Outside the caves, in the last of the sunshine, we laughed and shared impressions of the Hero’s journey so far.
My rucksack contained a large flask full of still-hot tea, and some chocolate. We shared this- appropriate provisions for this stage of the journey.
All we had to do to finish the day was to get back to the cars and then drive to the nearby village of Langwathby and the comfort of the Shepherd’s Inn, where we had an early dinner booked.
Our rest complete, we set off… to find that our companion in difficulty was having trouble walking at all…
We took stock of the situation. There seemed no way she could make it back to the village on foot. My only choice was to leave her in the capable hands of the group and walk as fast as I could back into the village and up the steep road to the Long Meg circle. It had taken 90 minutes the other way, perhaps I could do it in half that, if I walked at a fast pace.
Once there, I could drive the car back to the farm track and hopefully get the car within striking distance of the lady – even if it meant reversing the car for half a mile or so.
I made good time to the edge of the village, only to find that the large gate to the main road was locked. We had earlier passed through the footpath space. All I could do was continue to the car, then try to locate the farmer or another keyholder and explain the emergency.
The day that had gone so well was ending with peril… And it had nothing to do with our planning.
I remember looking up at the sky and asking, silently, for help…
To be continued in Part Six.
Other parts in this series:
This is Part Five.
©Stephen Tanham 2022
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.