A prospect of Whitby (3) – Touching the Sun

(Above) Touching the Sun…

There’s something ‘monumental’ about planning to be high on the vast moorlands of the North Yorkshire National Park at the end of the first week in December. Yet that is exactly what we’ll be doing on the Sunday morning of the ‘Keys of Heaven’ workshop on the start of the workshop’s final day – weather permitting.

If it doesn’t, there’s a plan B…

Bridges and pathways…. I wrote earlier about how bridges are significant; how they divide and unite at the same time. That theme of division and unity are the twin poles on which the Silent Eye’s Whitby weekend is based. Its very topical for Britain at the moment – possibly so for the USA, also…

Pathways are significant, too, as any walker will tell you. The work done by centuries of previous walkers is reflected in the path before you – a ‘way’ made possible by their persistence against an often hostile landscape.

There are some very special pathways that cross the 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.

(Above) A warm welcome awaits…

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 that defies the often hostile elements by become a permanent building of refuge.

(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 Yorkshire National Park (1,325 feet), it sits astride a crossing of ancient ways and alongside the more modern linking the coast to Hutton-le-Hole. It 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 history of this highest point on Blakey Ridge has been known to travellers since man first set foot here. We are fortunate in that three of the most significant sites are within a short walk of this very special place.

(Above) The Neolithic Burial mounds just behind what is now the Lion Inn

Cockpit Howe is a Neolithic burial mound just behind the inn which we shall visit after our morning repast. The grave at Loose Howe can be see from the East window in the bar, where a  Bronze Age Chieftain was interred in a boat-like oak coffin, armed, clothed and equipped for his voyage.

(above) Cockpit Howe

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 (see below), who had been unable to find a home in York and received this land for the building of an oratory and other buildings. 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 having at least two.

A Mendicant (‘living in the community’) Friar (image Britannica)

The order of Crutched or Crossed friars (Fratres Cruciferi) was a mendicant order whose origins are unknown. Despite having their own buildings, Friars from Mendicant religious orders lived and worked among those they served – usually the poor. They claimed a middle-eastern foundation in the 1st century AD, but were later reconstituted in the 4th century in Jerusalem. Time has not allowed me to look into possible Knights Templar or Knight Hospitaler links (with deliberately obscured origin) but this would bear investigation, especially given their medical work – their properties usually comprised a hospital and a chapel.

Historically, they were known in Italy in the 12th century, when Pope Alexander III gave them a constitution and rule life similar to that of the better known Augustinian order. In England, the order first appeared in England at the synod of the diocese of Rochester in 1244.

We need to consider also the proximity of Lastingham, which will be our final visit of the weekend. This Celtic Christian church was established in the 7th century, prior to the polemic Synod of Whitby. More on this will be discussed in our final blog, prior to the worskhop.

The Crossed Friars were not a large order in England, but they established houses at Colchester, London, Reigate, Oxford, Great Weltham and Barnham (Suffolk), Wotton-under-Edge (Gloucestershire), Brackley (Northamptonshire) and Kildale (Yorkshire). The order seems to have disappeared in the 15th century, possibly because of Henry VIII’s dissolution of monastic orders.

Returning to the more recent history of the Lion Inn, around 1750, local farmers from Commondale, Danby, and Fryup established a market on the site to sell surplus corn to horse breeders and stable owners from the more prosperous Rydale area,

In the 19th century, the newly established iron mines brought increased custom to the Inn. The arrival of the motor car opened up the moors to visitors, and the age of the modern Lion Inn was begun.

The ancient Waymarks – standing stones and stone crosses – known as ‘Fat Betty’ and ‘Ralph’s Cross’ bear witness to the continuous tradition of passage over this the highest point on the North York moors. Much of its earliest history remains a mystery.

But… stand on the edge, looking down into the twin valleys and ‘feeling’ the inherent spirituality of the peak, and some of that ancient mystery becomes self-evident.

Our Sunday morning begins with a small challenge for those attending… locating and getting to the Lion Inn! So much easier by car than the hours or, more likely, days of walking that ancient visitors had to make to get to this point. Once there, we will gather for morning refreshments and to discuss the final day of our weekend.

We will also consider the ease with which we achieved the ‘climb’ and reflect on the dedication of those pilgrims whose journey was less opulent – such as the journeys by foot of St Cedd; Bishop Cedd as he was then, in the days when he travelled through his ‘diocese’ in this bandit-infested and lawless region of intense winter hostility…

Following our visit to the Lion Inn and its historic ridge, we will descend into the nearby valley to begin our visit to our final location: the magical church at Lastingham… and its wonderful and mysterious crypt…

Lastingham… our final journey

To be continued…

Details of the Silent Eye’s ‘Keys of Heaven’ Weekend

Places are still available. Email us at rivingtide@gmail.com

To be continued…

©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 stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Moment that Teaches

Most people who venture into the mystical encounter it before too long – that momentary sense of the world dropping away and an intense silence taking centre stage. In that silence is a new perspective which does not belong to the subjective, reasoning consciousness.

I think of it as the ‘moment that teaches’.

It is to be sought after as though it were gold. We will not find it by normal methods of analytical reason. The brain cannot reason beyond what it already knows, in some form. It can re-assemble the pieces, but the ‘moment that teaches’ comes into the consciousness whole.

That very sense of wholeness describes it as something other. Other, in this sense, means originating from a place not inside the usual stream of consciousness. The new perspective owes nothing to memory – other than the ability to try to communicate it – like this blog. That very act is doomed unless the receiver; the reader has, at some point in their lives, been ‘touched’ in this way by their own silence talking to them…

It is a natural condition that societal forces have obliged us to put to one side in favour of analytical reasoning. I’m not one who advocates disparaging the brain or its reasoning. It is a magnificent organ of consciousness that has taken millions of years to evolve. It makes sense of the billions of sense impressions available to us every second. Learning is largely a process of diminishing this flow of possible events – thereby avoiding madness and also creating a reliable picture of our world in which we can ‘not bang into things’ as a good friend of mine summarised recently.

In doing this, and allowing us to communicate the essential elements of our existence, the brain serves its purpose. It keeps us alive, and alerts us to potential and real danger. Potential danger can become anxiety, something whose collective danger I suspect we are learning society-wide as we wrestle with the moral foundations of our western lives… and the nature and value of truth.

Beyond morals lie values. And these come from a world which is not based upon logic but upon inspiration – seeing with different eyes. Each element of a moral code has at some time come into existence in the human consciousness as a spark of deeper knowing. It is seen to be ‘right’ and that rightness is grabbed, grasped and remembered by a mind opened to the entry of what mystics call ‘the higher’. The extracted facts can be passed on for contemplation Bearing witness to the truth of the revelation can only exist in the personal consciousness.

The higher speaks to us when we learn to listen to its silence. It speaks to us in moments that teach.

In the Silent Eye’s cycle of three ‘landscape’ workshops each year, we try to provide a formula of experience and place which has the greatest chance of allowing the entry into our lives of such a moment that teaches. Sometimes we do this by being in a place that has a vibrational history of the sacred. Sometimes we do it by being in an ordinary place that we psychologically ‘dress’ in the collective imagination to be somewhere different.

Sometimes, we are lucky enough to have a combination of real history and real sacred place around which to spin a special tale -based on the truth. Such a place is the internal space of Whitby Abbey, the location, in AD664, of the Synod of Whitby.

We will go into the detail in the coming weekend and in the blogs that follow, but in brief, the Synod was the place in which Saxon Britain’s most powerful king – Oswald (Oswiu in old English) set in motion a ‘court of learned opinion’ that would determine some very key elements of how Christianity flourished in the future.

Two streams of Christianity operated side by side in the seventh century. One we know a as Roman, the other Celtic. Celtic Christianity, as practised by King Oswald himself was a descended from St Patrick’s ‘conversion’ of Ireland, through the monastery on the Scottish Island of Iona and to the establishment of the monastery at Lindisfarne, off the Northumbrian coast.

A local man gave his four sons to the care of the monks at Lindisfarne. Two of them excelled in their work and became Bishops. One of them was summoned by King Oswald to carry out what we would now call the ‘facilitation’ of the competing ‘learned opinions’ of the synod.

Our deliberations are made more complex by the fact that King Oswald’s beloved queen was also a Christian, but of the Roman faith – established in Britain by Augustine and gathering momentum as the Pope pushed for consolidation of belief in an important outpost of his religious world view. Husband and wife were therefore on opposite sides of the debate… or were they?

One of the young bishops from Lindisfarne was Cedd – later St Cedd. He had risen to fame and religious prominence by the force of his intellect, and his religious devotion – learned from the Celtic Christian monks on Lindisfarne, only fifty miles north of Whitby.

The man who became St Cedd is the psychological focus of our weekend; and in the story of the last year of his life, we will trace our own footsteps – spiritual and physical, across the former landscape of Northumbria, a place that is now the beautiful county and coastline of North Yorkshire.

It begins on a Friday in December, when Bishop Cedd arrives, via the near two-hundred steps, at the Abbey of Whitby. He has a heavy heart, but knows that his duty to his king must be at odds with the only life he has every known. And he also knows that duty must come before all else, regardless of the effect it must have on everything he has always loved.

Cedd knows what he shouldn’t… and is powerless to act upon it.

In that decision, he opens himself to the moment that teaches… And we will try to follow…

The Keys of Heaven: in the footsteps of St Cedd takes place on the weekend of 6-8 December, 2019 in Whitby and surrounding region. Come and join us in the mind and heart of the man who became history’s St Cedd.

Whitby is the location for our next weekend. Above is a taste of the opening day (Friday 6th December, 2019)… a few places are still available. You can click here for our website’s events page.

©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 stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Landscape that Teaches

When we were creating the Silent Eye’s mentored correspondence course, we envisaged a three-year journey through a mental, emotional and spiritual landscape which would evolve as the Companion’s learning and depth of ‘being’ increased.

This landscape was to be internal – an active, meditative experience, whose presence would extend into the daily life as learning of true cause and effect deepened, and different aspects of modern living were brought into powerful harmony. In the true and ancient meaning of the word, this would become a very magical journey.

Lately, we have begun to re-examine the idea of actual landscapes being used as teaching aides; not passively, but inviting – invoking – them to work with the noble intentions of the workshop in question.

I’ve been to many workshops over the years. Many of them were good. Some of them were very good. Two or three were life-changing…

What’s the difference?

Good ones were well structured; you had a clear idea -going in – of what would be taught and what effort you would have to put in if you wanted to succeed. What was success in this context? Success has to be ‘something added’ to your life; possibly an additional skill, something to be dropped into that ‘kit bag’ that is us; a bit like the tarot Card of the Fool (below), striding, unafraid, into the morning of Life with a little dog nipping at his heels and his few important possessions slung over his/her shoulder…

Tarot image Wikipedia – Public Domain

Very good workshops were those in which you discovered that, whatever you thought in the first few minutes, it deepened way beyond that as the agenda developed. This might have been the appropriateness of the subject matter, or even the approach of the teacher.

A workshop that is life-changing is one in which the attendee immediately feels at home with the event and the inner process of the teaching – generating a hunger. That sense of ‘coming home’ is difficult to pin down, but deepens with each stage of the event.

Why this happens may not be apparent in the early stages; indeed I’ve been to a couple of such weekends where I still don’t know how that sense of sheer magic was created… But I know it was. And the fact that the memory still generates a sense of wonder, years later, shows the power they had.

‘Let go and get out of the way’…

It’s a deeply mystical insight, and it may have a lot to do with the life-changing workshops. There’s an enigma at work, here: you have prepare the ‘skeleton’ of the event in sufficient detail for it to be viable. At the same time, the structure and keys of the weekend should only be the ‘tinder that lights the greater fire’. When this works, it’s obvious that something is happening beyond the planning and the preparation. It is as though an intervention is taking place that broadens and deepens a kind of group presence…

In the Silent Eye, this is what we aim for; that the landscape, itself, becomes the teacher, gradually aligning and moving forward each person to the degree that they are able to be receptive to it. More blogs will follow as we develop this theme.

Whitby is the location for our next weekend. Above is a taste of the opening day (Friday 6th December, 2019)… a few places are still available. You can click here for our website’s events page.

©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 stevetanham.wordpress.com.

A prospect of Whitby (1) The Abbey at the centre of time

Above – A Prospect of Whitby Abbey from West Cliff

The title’s cheeky… Bram Stoker created Count Dracula of Transylvania and had him come ashore at Whitby in a ship named The Prospect of Whitby. We’ll not be talking much about Dracula in our coming weekend workshop; we’ve got enough to contend with considering the truth…

There are many ways to approach the centre of Whitby, but only one to truly approach its heart… In the opening shot the phone camera is straining at the maximum of its zoom abilities, but at least generates a clear image across the considerable distance from West Cliff. Here we stand, not far from where the car is parked, and excited to be back here here after a gap of fifteen years.

The right of the image shows the key detail: the wide, winding steps ascending from the bustling streets to the ancient ruins of Whitby Abbey. Even from this distance – which is across the mouth of the estuary – there is a feeling of sheer importance about that far place… Something of immense significance happened there, and it’s our job to consider it fairly and reasonably without too much emotion… and then turn it into the basis of a deliberately emotional workshop that will involve both heart and mind – and the undoubtedly freezing winds of a December weekend on the famously cold north-east coast of Yorkshire.

(Above) An edited photo of the town map showing (red mark) where we are at West Cliff; and (green marker) where we’re going (The Abbey). The nature of ‘approaches’ is symbolic and important.

To help with that objectivity, I am doing my prep visit with my wife, Bernie, who is an historian by training… and is also a Catholic. I’m not a Catholic. I was raised in a Rosicrucian family which fell foul of the local Church of England vicar in a small Lancashire village… but that’s another story. The important thing is that, between us, we can be objective about the religious importance of Whitby and what happened here…

Fourteen hundred years ago…

We take one last look across the bay before beginning our descent into the town. It’s a bit like a mystical view of a life – seen before birth and imagined as a final glimpse of the whole before you become in-volved and begin the evolution that the individual life brings within the necessarily different existence of the gritty details…

(Above) Captain Cook was here…

Entering the grassed area at the top of the West Cliff steps we noticed an image of Captain Cook. Although not born here, he began his marine training in Whitby, aged eighteen, as an apprentice to the master of a local ship: John Walker. For the next nine years he served aboard cargo ships between London, Liverpool, Dublin, The Netherlands, and the ports of Norway and the Baltic. In the course of this, the gifted James Cook rose from apprentice to mate, developing skills that would enable him to become a master-mariner and lead his world famous voyages of discovery.

The significance of this to our forthcoming weekend is not lost on us as we walk down the steep hill. The steps become a winding road, and the road becomes the harbour that was the home of Fishburn’s yard. Fishburn’s produced all four of the Collier-class ships used by James Cook; including the famous Endeavour.

(Above) Captain Cook is celebrated with marine replicas, too…

In the broadest sense, a ship is a container…

The makers of such soul-carrying containers bear a great responsibility: to ensure they are fit for the passage of time, events and circumstance in which a group of people will travel. Our coming weekend bears little relation to Cook’s epic journeys; except in this regard: that if we make it a fitting vessel, it will serve the consciousness-deepening goals of the workshop with integrity.

“We should begin, then…” I say as we start to walk along the harbour’s quayside. Bernie gives me that look and smiles, knowing I’m about the launch forth into one of the pivotal statements for the coming workshop. “It’s not sufficient to say that the Christianity of the Anglo Saxons resembled two armies that met from north and south to meet at a battle named The Synod of Whitby – in AD 664..”

She inclines her head. Not used to such a fair-minded opening. “Mmmm… Whereas the truth is?” she asks.

“Whereas the truth is that both Celtic Christian and Roman Christian faiths were interwoven from region to region across Saxon Britain and no-one made much of a fuss about it till King Oswald (Oswiu) responded to his wife in the matter of settling the date of Easter!”

“Which was important because…?” She’s taunting.

“Which was important because he followed the Celtic Faith and she followed the Roman, which meant that when he was feasting she was fasting…”

I continue. “And, as King of Northumbria, he was the most powerful monarch in the Anglo Saxon world.

“Quite!” she says, then, “Look – fish and chips ahead… The famous Magpie Cafe… with the usual queues.”

The celebrated Magpie ‘fish and chips’ Cafe – perhaps the Friday night of the weekend?

The sudden switch reminds me that Whitby’s like that… From the deeply historic and serious to the frivolous in an instant. I look around and wonder if a Goth from the adjacent festival might rush us and offer something outrageous.

The swing bridge and then the lovely ‘Whitby jet’ jewellery shops await, on the way to the Abbey steps, but, first, we need something to eat. Breakfast was meagre and a long time ago. We can do fasting when we need to… but in Whitby the temptations are just too good…

St Mary’s Church and the Abbey await.. but it’s a long way up and we haven’t eaten yet

Across the harbour, the East Cliff looms over the town like an old guardian. But our own pilgrims will need refreshments upon their arrival on the Friday lunchtime of the weekend, so the body-not-soul research, trivial though it is, must be done before we make the climb.

To be continued…

©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 stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Above the Lion and the Lamb (part three)

It was past four in the afternoon. We had been walking for over five hours. Despite our best smiles – and Joh’s chocolate – we were tired, very tired.

A home-made drawing of the problem…

We were desperately looking for something – a path that should have been climbing up towards us from the steep lower slopes of the glacial corrie below. But paths – this far into a landscape – can be tenuous things, and all we could see, below and west, was the course of a stream, cascading down the valley.

Searching for any sign of the path, below

Jon was pointing along the line of our high path, towards what I took to be a tarn, set high against the corrie wall. I had a mental picture of Jon’s map and knew that the far glacial wall was too high to intersect our present course.

I knew this wasn’t our path

“No,” he said, immediately understanding my glum expression, and pointing to a gap in the near ridge just left of my line of sight. “There!”

Far below, but climbing towards us, was the path home – seen here with the help of a telephoto lens

I looked… there. A small gulley acted as a cut-away to reveal what I had thought was the far side of the valley. But my perspective had been wrong. Revealed in the ‘V’ was a thin strip of path… climbing to meet the track we were on.

With something approaching joy, we powered up our weary feet and walked forward. In the end, we need not have worried; the two paths intersected not far from the corrie wall – which still towered high above us. We had no desire to sample the – undoubtedly stunning – views from its northern edge.

We joined the downward path – just a smattering of stones at this height – and began our longed-for descent.

The descending path was steep. Even worse, the path and the stream crossed each other all the time, meaning we had to pick our way across the larger boulders to traverse.

In places, the stream would suddenly drop ten, or even twenty feet, turning the way ahead into a partial waterfall. We knew that most walking accidents occurred on the way back from the heart of the walk: when the legs are at their most tired. There was still another four miles of the descent before we reached the level ground at the outskirts of Grasmere…

We were weary, but stopped to photograph this beauty

This is the kind of landscape that will constantly surprise you. When the main section of the descent was done, we sat by the stream – now a river – and had the last of the chocolate and the final sips of water. For some reason, our thoughts turned to the idea of a long, cold beer, reminiscent of the John Mills film ‘Ice cold in Alex’. The idea was potent and spurred us on.

Jon pointed to the top of the ridge, which was now above us and to the left. He thought that there may be a figure standing where we had rested so many hours before, looking down, ruefully, at the bridge… and choosing the long walk.

Figure or bush?

I raised the telephoto lens of the camera and and zoomed in…

Not one, but two late-walkers

To keep our spirits up, we chatted about our favourite sights of the day. Mine had been seeing the Lion and Lamb Rocks from above:

The Lion and the Lamb rocks

Bernie’s had been the hundreds of butterflies flying around a large but solitary thistle bush, close to Gibson Knot:

Painted Lady butterflies

Kathy remarked that discovering that there actually was a path back along the valley had “been pretty special”.

Kathy – “seeing that there actually was a path back!”

Jon remarked that his was yet to come, but he could bear that cold beer calling from Grasmere…

We walked on, knowing that another hour would see us back at our start point in Grasmere.

Around the next bend, a familiar friend awaited us: the bridge we had last seen from nearly 500 metres above our present location.

The bridge to Grasmere

To show her pleasure, the tireless Tess dashed across it and back to collect us.

The tireless Tess, guardian and wayfinder…

We emerged from the glacial Easedale valley and into the farmland around the town. Another half hour to go. But then Bernie looked at her watch and realised we had only fifteen minutes left on the parking ticket.

We reassured her that, at this late hour, we were unlikely to get a fine, but she trotted off, surprising the three of us with her reservoir of energy.

‘Ice Cold in Alex’. The moment will live in our taste buds for ever….

Kathy and Jon waiting for the beer to arrive
18:38 and the best beer I’ve ever tasted…

Bernie arrived back with the car at the same moment the beer was delivered to our table. It was the best beer I’ve ever had…

It was 18:38. We had been walking for nearly eight hours – far longer than we had planned. We had covered eleven very difficult miles. But, we had done three of Wainwright’s peaks and made it home in relatively good shape.

What a day!

©Copyright 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 stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Above the Lion and the Lamb (Part Two)

We were on the Helm Crag plateau, about to climb up and beyond the Lion and the Lamb rocks to reach the start of the ridge. When you’ve just done a steep climb, it’s natural to feel that you’re ‘at the top’. In our case, this assumption was to prove expensive…

A home-made drawing of the problem…
Above: it was time to say goodbye to the gentle landscape of Grasmere, below us

It was time to say goodbye to the glorious views of Grasmere – though we were to get one last unexpected view later in the walk.

Helm Crag lies at the southern end of a long ridge. My simple picture, above, shows its location. Helm Crag is the point at which the photograph below, was taken. Our Collie dog, Tess, is looking at the start of the path which climbs up and along the ridge.

Tess looks, warily, towards the start of the ridge path
(Above) The climb up the back of the Lion and Lamb reveals the A591 main road to Keswick far below…

The path up to the ridge is quite a scramble – and very steep. One of its pleasures is a view of the A591 – the main road between Windermere and Keswick. Once at the top, the landscape changes dramatically. Gone is the gentle basin filled with the bright green of a grassy plateau, to be replaced with the undulating and rocky surface of a different world.

Once we had reached the ridge at Helm Crag peak, we faced a stark choice: we could take the footpath to the left (orange on the drawing) and make the quick descent to the bridge over Easedale Beck – shown below at the end of a long lens – or we could carry on along the top of the ridge, taking in another two of the famous ‘Wainrights’ peaks – a term that refers to a set of hand-drawn and hand-illustrated guides to hundred of walks in the Lake District.

Above: ridge paths can be very narrow places – looking back from Helm Crag at Grasmere, far below

We choose to risk the ridge, knowing that it would take us longer than leaving the high-ground at Helm Crag and descending to the bridge below. What we didn’t know was how much longer the ridge walk was going to take…

I pointed the camera at the vital bridge hundreds of feet below. The long lens made it look much closer than it was. But it was to be a lot more distant before we had the chance to change direction, again….

The Lion and the Lamb Rocks are visible from below, but it is only from above that you get the sheer scale of this famous landmark.

Above: seen from the peak, the Lion and the Lamb rocks reveal their true size

We had made our decision and now time was passing – and we had a long way to go. We estimated that the walk along the ridge, alone, would be at least five miles. Walking at an average speed of between two and three miles an hour, we reckoned that it would take us at least two hours to pass Gibson’s Knot and reach the junction of paths at the head of the valley below us and to the left.

Our first surprise was that we had to climb, again, to follow the ridge-path. Not only that, but the path that had been smooth and stepped on the lower slopes now became rough and rocky. Walking became a process of carefully placing each footfall… and was consequently very slow.

I didn’t help much, either. The trip was the first outing for my new camera. The telephoto lens was wonderful at reaching into the far distance and I ended up taking over a hundred shots… stopping each time to compose and frame them. The photo below illustrates what happens when you do this and look up to see where your friends are!

To our right (the east) the outline of the vast edge of the Fairfield Ring was becoming clear. The Fairfield Ring marks the high glacial bowl (Corrie) from which one of the largest glaciers carved out the northern basin of Lake Windermere – England’s largest lake.

From this perspective (below), you can only see the rim of Fairfield. The full walk around it, beginning at Ambleside, takes six to eight hours! These are not trivial landscapes!

To our left, the steep sides of the fell showed evidence of less and less habitation, as the ground gave way to the rocky floor of one half of the Easedale valley – known at this point as ‘Far Easedale Gill’

Above: Flashing forward in time… The ridge and valley: the two halves of our eventual walk. The photo was taken when we had finally ended our walk along the ridge – but still had to walk back to Grasmere along the valley floor.

The above photo shows the hidden difficulty we faced: each section along the ridge was a serious further climb; a fact that we hadn’t realised when we left Helm Crag. Locate the second ‘hump’ on the ridge. This is the point we had reached in the narrative…

We had developed a method of making as much progress as our diminishing strength would allow. We would walk for an hour, solid, then stop to sit on a pile of friendly rocks and share water and some fruit chocolate that Jon had resourcefully brought with him. It was only later, looking back, that we realised how much we were climbing in each leg.

The ridge was narrow, and each twist of the path revealed new vistas on the right and left. We were ascending, of course, and could see more of the surrounding landscape from each intermediate peak.

It was only when we realised that we had passed Gibson’s Knot (see schematic) without noticing that we became aware of how fatigued we were becoming. Our tireless Collie, Tess, was doing her best to help us – continually running from the back of her ‘pack’ to the front to keep the herd motivated to maintain their progress to market… a true ‘drover’. The photographer was often guilty of being some way behind the other three!

We took another break and reflected… It was 15:41. We had been walking since mid-morning. We had no choices left. Our only hope was to continue along the ridge. We looked at the diminishing water supplies and watched Jon search his backpack for more chocolate… worst of all, we were still at least an hour from the most northerly point of the valley; in other words, we were still walking away from Grasmere, the point where we started!

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Would our bleached remains be found by future walkers?

A slight panic tends to set in at such times. It pays to think laterally if only to clear the head. I found myself wondering if we could cross the high wall of the glacial Corrie to our north and hitch a lift from a passing 555 Bus, which would take us back to Grasmere… clearly ludicrous, as there were no paths marked on the map.

Then, ahead of me, I saw Kathy turn herself into an aeroplane and try to fly… so I wasn’t alone. Could we camp out on the mountain, Bernie might have been  thinking. I could tell by her knitted brows she was worried…

Only Jon seemed calm. And he was studying his map, intently. He looked up and smiled.

“I think I’ve got some good news,” he said. We moved closer, following his pointing finger…

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To be concluded in Part Three

Other parts in this series:

Part One,   This is Part Two

©Copyright 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 stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Above the Lion and the Lamb (Part One)

(Above) The Lion and Lamb rocks, above Grasmere

We were delighted to meet up with some friends from the UK who had emigrated to New Zealand many years ago. Bernie went to school with Kathryn and the couple had kindly collected and put us up in Auckland – their home, now – at the end of our short cruise from Sydney, last November.

Jon is a keen walker, and has fond memories of the Lake District from when he lived in England. He asked if, during their few days with us, we had time to fit in a ‘decent walk’. We decided that the ‘Lion and the Lamb’ offered the best combination of a relatively quick ascent and the possibility of fitting it all into a half-day; thereby allowing some time to wander around the delightful ‘Wordsworth’ town of Grasmere, which nestles below the Lion and the Lamb rocks.

(Above) The Lion and the Lamb sits at the end of a glacial valley overlooking Grasmere (photo from the author’s own map)

The small town of Grasmere is one of the most beautiful in the English Lake District. Famous as the place where William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, lived and wrote much of their work, the town also boasts some of the most spectacular and accessible fells of Lakeland’s central region.

(Above) The start of the climb

We began the four-hundred metre ascent by following the Easedale Road, northwards from the centre of Grasmere. The main A591 road between Windermere and Keswick runs parallel to this along the steeply glacial valley that is part-formed by the fell on which the Lion and Lamb rocks sit.

(Above) The main A591 – visible as a tiny strip in the distance – follows the valley to the east of the Lion and the Lamb

The path to the Lion and the Lamb summit winds up from the river valley to the west of the fell on which the rocks sit – Helm Crag. The river Rothay, below, is formed from the confluence of the Easedale becks that cascade down the steep, glacial landscape.

Even after a short ascent, the valley floor begins to reveal its features; one of which is the lip of Easdale Tarn, which I hoped would form the second leg of a triangular walk, following the ascent of Helm Crag and a cooling drink beneath the Lion and Lamb rocks.

(Above) You can just see the surface of the water of over the lip of Easedale Tarn in the distance.

The path gets quite steep as you near the first summit – Helm Crag. It was there that we encountered a group of the local Herdwick sheep. Herdwicks are a hardy breed, much treasured for their fine and warm wool. They begin as black lambs, then go deep brown and, finally, grey-white.

(Above) The Herdwick lifecycle conveniently displayed! Black (lambs) to brown to grey-white

The final leg of the climb is what used to be a steep meadow; but we found that the ferns had overgrown much of the surface and, in places, there was barely a path remaining.

(Above) The ‘meadow path’ to the first summit – Helm Crag

Then, suddenly, the climb ceases and you are in one of the most beautiful grassy plateaus in Lakeland. To the east, south and west are some of the best views of the central Lakes region.

To the south, Grasmere is revealed in all its picture-postcard beauty. The weather helped, too!

The town of Grasmere and its beautiful lake. Wordsworth’s house is to the left of the town, next to what is now the main A591 road

To the west, the twin valleys of the glaciers that formed this region are revealed. One contains Easedale Tarn – a possible return leg for our walk; the other is bounded by the ridge formed from Helm Crag and Calf Crag; seen here in the distance. Glaciers from both ‘corries’ forged the landscape here and south of Grasmere.

The head of the former glacier near Calf Crag – from later in the walk

To the east, the scenery of central Lakeland gives way to the rugged and high fells that lead hardy walkers to Helvellyn and Fairfield, the latter is the glacial basin that formed the northern half of Lake Windermere. You can see why the Lion and the Lamb walk is justly famous for its views…

(Above) One of the walker’s ways to Helvellyn or Fairfield…

We looked at the views and thanked the elements for such a lovely day. The ever vigilant Collie, Tess, had ‘driven’ us up the hill, front and backing the pack as we climbed. It’s what drover dogs do, in contrast with Border Collies and other herders whose genetic pattern is to round-up.

Tess the ever-watchful Smooth Collie

I had envisaged that, from here, we would descend to cross the river at the bridge and take the short walk up to Easdale Tarn, completing the triangle back to Grasmere…

But Bernie and Jon, who were both voracious studiers of maps, instead proposed that we might enjoy a simple walk further along the ridge (that we had already climbed) and a return leg back via the head of the valley and Calf Crag.

It was a fateful moment… and, contrary to anyone’s expectations, it was to cost us another six hours walking, but led to the best beer any of us has ever had…. But that part of the day’s story will have to wait…

Part two to follow next week.

Have you seen it, yet?

Do you see it all, sometimes?

Turn, doing something strange with your mind

Look back with different eyes

And see the path that led to you?

A moment of vast lucidity…

But there’s one thing you don’t see

The thing that can’t be seen

Have you seen it, yet?

©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 stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The creature on the beach beyond thought

It lay there, head in the sky, gazing at the radiance. Its tail was still in the ocean of thought, the gentle waves urging it back where it belonged…

The gaps in the waves had always been there; they were the rhythm of life. But it had never thought to use them as a way through.

To where?

To beauty, certainly. The sights and sounds and smells of newness were all around it, the warm sand beneath. But it was a different newness. It lay there, laughing at the thought that newness could be new. The sea began to analyse this, pulling it, gently, back into its waves, but it pushed out its hands and grasped the glittering sand, and breathed deep the air that could only be new… and knew it was home.

Why had it never seen that, before?

Perhaps you had to be steered; gently guided into the shallows so the edge of the glittering sand became apparent. Behind it, the ocean of thought began to clamour for its attention, perhaps desperately seeing the last chance to put it back into the sleep of thought’s conditioning.

Conditioning: it was a hard word, and yet described the whole ocean; even the parts where it had tried to reason the way out of it. Life had conditioned it to love, to fear, to survive; and yet the very spark of life had not come from that sea of thought and reaction. The sea was only the cradle for that which could not be conditioned – did not react, because the real nature had a sheer power to be with the truth of anything, just being there was its truth, and all else bowed before it…

All else was its child.

The waves called to it in a different voice, now. They sang of love; of a role performed, of the golden drops of sun-kissed water flowing from the rapidly-changing body and finding their way back into the sea, where they shone – briefly – differently.

Stronger, surer by the second, he raised eyes that were new… to the Sun.

©Copyright 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 stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Pen of the oyster-catcher

Portmahomack, a fishing village on the north shore of one of the fingers of land that jut out into the North Sea, thirty or so miles north of Inverness.

There is something perfect about it.

Somewhere close, our collie dog, Tess, is barking, playing with the waves. I follow the waterline, ensuring that only the thick soles of my boots get wet. It is March and that green-grey sea is icy, here on the Sutherland coast. We’re an hour’s drive from John o’ Groats, the most northerly point on the British mainland. Had it been May, I might have paddled…

I am here to write, not play on the beach; though the early mornings and evenings will be devoted to making sure that the collie has lots of exercise and that I don’t become dull by sitting too long at that old wooden desk in the hotel room; the one that smells deliciously of ancient wood and generations of preserving polish. It even has a hole where the inkwell used to be.

The Oyster Catcher will do nicely for the evening meal. A latté, by itself, for breakfast – the mild hunger helps me think – and, at this time of year there’s nothing better for lunch than a steaming bowl of fish chowder with a chunk of locally-baked bread. I’ll see if I can persuade the hotel to do it; perhaps swap them a glowing review on Trip Advisor… It’s worth a try.

But food is for later. For now, I just want to drink in where I am, a writing castaway in this quiet and relatively unvisited place – at least I judge it so, as we are, as far as I can see, practically alone in Portmahomack.

We each have our own writing triggers. For me it’s a combination of sky, landscape, beaches.. and some inspirational music. Sometimes, I find a place that combines them all… This is one such. I’m looking forward to meeting a few of its residents, but not too many. Maybe a couple of beers, or a glass or two of wine after the evening meal, then an early night with one of my current books – I’m studying how William Boyd writes such apparently simple novels, yet hooks you into the plot early in the first chapter. Try ‘Any Human Heart‘ if you want to sample his best.

It helps to fall to asleep reflecting on how great writers do it… and wake refreshed and determined to have a go…

I’ll set the alarm so that I wake about six. I will open the curtains and look out at that vista, listen to the sea and drink in the the sheer wonder of being here. The start of the day will see me making a rubbish cup of tea from the contents of the wooden tray in the wardrobe, before taking Tess onto the beach across the road. Then I’ll sit down to begin the writing, knowing, at the end of the first couple of hours’ creativity, that a delicious coffee awaits at the tiny cafe along the quay. Later on, someone might be making chowder with home-made bread in the Oyster Catcher.

Sky, landscape and beaches… You can see from the photos how lovely this part of Scotland is, but none of them convey the sheer size of the Scottish sky. We’re less than an hour north of Inverness on the east coast of Scotland, yet we could be in a different world and in a different time. Most of our previous trips have been to the western highlands, which are glorious; but this part of the highlands has been a revelation. We are told that there are far fewer midges here in the north-east of the country. Depending on the time of year, this can be a life-saver.

Across the waters lie the mountains of South Sutherland – which don’t appear to have a generic name – but that may just be my lack of knowledge. We are well north of the famous skiing region of the Cairngorms and the landscape is very different. Golden beaches seem to be everywhere; most of them empty. Good to walk on and Collie heaven…

It’s not so much a question of writing a book as finishing one. Several years ago, we ran a Silent Eye weekend workshop called ‘River of the Sun‘, a modern mystery play, told in five acts, and set against the backdrop of the 19th Dynasty in ancient Egypt. The man who would become Pharaoh Ramases II is sailing back up the Nile to be at the bedside of his dying father – the, arguably, greater Seti I.

Ramases knows his father has little time left, yet he seems in no hurry to return to the royal palace. Instead, he mounts a night-raid on one his father’s favourite temples on an island in the Nile, run by a high-priestess the son suspects of heresy… The audacity and spiritual violence has far-reaching consequences…

The workshop was a success. Several people commented that the plot would make a good novel. As a test I serialised the first part of the book as a series of blogs (see list at the end of this post), but time has passed and I have yet – and inexcusably – to complete it. Hence being here…

We have reached the quayside. It’s quite windy and the farther out along its length we go the more we get blown. We do not linger… but return to the shelter of the village streets. Other days will dawn and the wind will have abated.

From along the beach, my wife, Bernie, calls… Tess barks for our reunion. My wandering reverie is broken. With a sigh I turn the corner of the quay and begin my walk back to where she and the Collie are waiting by the car for us all to depart. In a second, my fantasy of a creative break in this newly-discovered haven vanishes. It is not that it is impossible, just that it will have to be another time, as we are staying in a cottage forty minutes south of Portmahomack, not here.

I take one last look at this idyllic fishing village and get into the car. Tess licks my face and Bernie smiles at my wistful expression.

“A writers’ paradise?” she asks.

How well she knows me… But I will be back, though some other writing room may witness the creative conclusion of The River of the Sun.

For now, there are other places to visit on this lovely winter tour of north-east Scotland. Who knows what other writer’s dens I may encounter in this magical land.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school 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 stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Index to opening chapters of River of the Sun:

Chapter One – Gifts From the River

Chapter Two – An Agony of Sunset

Chapter Three – The Dark Waters

Chapter Four – Touching the Sky

Chapter Five – The Fire Within