Following Woodland Paths

I was lucky enough to be camping in woodland for a week last week, in an area hitherto unfamiliar to me, the Forest of Dean. Unlike that other ancient hunting forest, the New Forest which has more moorland than woodland, here trees go on for miles: an amazing expanse of green. The type of trees vary, but where we were camping (near Symonds Yat) it was mainly beech with some oaks and occasional yews, plus rare native whitebeams and small-leaved lime trees around the edges by the cliffs.

One evening towards the end of the week I went for a walk by myself, and having not been there yet, set off in search of the nearby hill fort.

Dog rose, Rosa canina, flowering in an old quarry

There were no direct paths shown on the map from where I was to the fort, but this is a woodland which seems to generate many paths of which only a few are planned and plotted. I started out well, past a disused quarry where I found dog roses flowering, and then briefly explored some caves. A choice in the paths, I headed deeper into the woodland and then along in the general direction of the fort. Another choice, I chose woodland. I regretted this fairly soon as the path veered off downhill towards the river Wye, so I took the next available turning back uphill again. This path continued for a distance, until I met with a wall and a gate that was too blocked with fallen leaves to open. Jumping over I met with a track only a short distance away, going in roughly the right direction; I kept an eye on the compass and also the time. It went well for a short distance, even being built up over a rocky section to leave a smooth path. Then a couple of fallen and now dead beech trees blocked my way. The track continued under the first, so I climbed my way through. Then it petered out to nothing. I headed up the steep bank, picking my way carefully and wishing I had hiking boots on instead of trainers. I kept expecting to come to another path, but it seemed some time before I eventually hit on a higher track. Having few landmarks and no clear view since crossing the wall, I managed to follow this the wrong way for a short distance. Realising my mistake, I turned around and discovered where the track turned in the right direction a short distance back from where I had joined it. Further along there was a style over the wall that I had crossed earlier (no the wall wasn’t straight), so I took note of it for my return. After another turn, the track led me to open space at the top of the hill, where longhorn cattle were grazing, and there, finally, lay the hill fort before me.

I was out of time, so I went no further that evening. Instead I followed the other path option I had seen, and returned to the caves in half the time of my outward journey. Pretty, but no drama. We used this path the next day to all explore the hill fort, where we found wild strawberries just ripening.

It occurred to me that had I taken the direct path the first time time, I would have had a very different walk and experience. I had expected to have trouble finding the hill fort; as a result I hadn’t looked for an easy route and therefore my expectations were met. It was tricky to find the right hill going my way! It was also thoroughly enjoyable and adventurous and fun! I had a proper woodland experience, connecting with what was around me. I saw a boar, deer, heard foxes, not to mention rabbits and squirrels, plus all the birds from buzzards to robins just on that one walk. Not only that, but on my return journey I fell in with a local who showed me some of the more hidden delights of the area – which I was able to share with my family the next day.

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Beech woodland, with edge of rock spiral in the corner.

While I am writing about my woodland experiences, I also had an interesting experience with a tree on my last day. It was while walking a rock spiral someone had made – I reached the centre, looked up, and my eyes immediately fell on this tree in the picture. It seemed to be watching me and being amused, yet at the same time friendly and open to conversation. I felt welcome in the woods.

Friendly beech tree watching me.

However, the lesson I received when I meditated on this later was quite different. My notes read as follows: “Beech tree I was drawn to – an individual, standing by itself with its own character, despite being one of many in the forest. Similar but not identical, I would know it again. I could have been drawn to the group of 6/7 all growing so close they were almost as one, but I wasn’t. I didn’t even photograph them – light is an excuse and could have been overcome had I felt the need, [they were rather dark!] it was the individual I noticed, and that says something about me, and how I feel about myself, how I want to be. Unique, maybe even a character.” That’s told me then!

Blackwell Stone “Circle”

Blackwell Stone “Circle”
(Click to enlarge.)

Here is a Peak District novelty that I happened to spot on the way to somewhere else, and stopped to take some photographs on the return journey. Five large stones placed in an arc on a raised bank in the middle of a field, near the hamlet of Blackwell, clearly visible from the B6049. Grid ref: SK1267.7194 (last digits approximate – it is private land so I didn’t enter the field and pace out the exact position.) At first glance it might appear to be the remains of a stone circle.

However, as a circle, it doesn’t quite fit and I suspect it isn’t really trying to. The stones are limestone, whereas Derbyshire stone circles are all on gritstone – apart from the much older henges. Their size and shape also feel incorrect for a historical circle, since nearly all are ‘female’ in shape and are too close together proportionally. (Avebury alternates male and female for example, other circles are nearly all male.) Being approximately 3-4 feet high, this is also unusual for Derbyshire as most circle stones are either considerably smaller, or 6 feet plus. And the bank they sit on was probably created to support the stones and shaped around them, it does not continue to complete a circle but slopes off evenly in all directions before the ground rises again near the wall.

And yet… There is a totally unexpected power and majesty of these five stones erected carefully and precisely by human hands. They line up neatly in their arc with a precision many circles lack, and they are substantial lumps of rock. Even if it can’t be called a circle, it is an intriguing rock sculpture and deserves praise for that alone.

I was unable to meditate with the stones, given they are on private land, but I did return to them in a mediation journey later.

My first impression was a surprise of how strong energy links there were between the stones. They had come from the same place and were all strongly connected to each other, and that was replicated in their alignment. It made me see how other stone circles could easily build up such a strong energy field around the circle. However I then tried to feel beyond the stones, even within the arc, and there was nothing. If I had ever been in any doubt that this was never part of a circle, this would have confirmed it, as there was absolutely nothing across the empty space. Not even a path where people might have walked from the nearby farmhouse to the stones. I have found that it is usually possible to feel the energy of where stones were and feel the circle even when it is not visible, but that wasn’t the case here. Possibly this is an opportunity missed – there are other circles around with only 4 or 5 large stones, eg see photos on my blog about Duddo Stones, Northumberland, and also elsewhere in Derbyshire that I haven’t written about yet. But more likely whoever erected the stones just wanted them to feel like part of something bigger, and maybe one day there will be more.

The other discovery of interest from my meditation was that the stones were each already quite weathered and shaped, and I could see how this would increase over time making them each into sculptures in their own rights. Some would hold water, others would develop fissures and other interesting shapes, but all seemed to have somewhere smooth you could run a hand over.

Walking with an Angel

Last weekend I had an unusual opportunity to have a longer walk than normal, by myself. Nowhere particularly exciting – I could choose a drop-off point somewhere along the route the rest of my family were going to be driving, and then I could walk home from there, but this had the advantage that some of the walk would be on unfamiliar footpaths. Total distance around 6-7 miles, with about 3 hours before I needed to be home.

Ducks and Tree Roots

The first part of the walk was through a country estate (lots of those still in Derbyshire!) with a lake that turned out to be a popular place to feed the ducks. I had hoped to stop somewhere around here and meditate, but it didn’t feel like the right place to stop, and there was a very cold wind blowing. I just took a few photographs instead.

The walk continued to be pleasant through the park with various non-native 200 year old trees dotted about, and then into farmland. A brief visit to a small village and out again along a very pretty stream. Still nowhere to stop, and various chatty dog-walkers about.

After that I took a ‘wrong’ turn, not following my original plan. I realised my mistake almost immediately, but it looked inviting so I decided to continue across an old railway line that is now a footpath although not shown on my map. It seemed to mark a boundary, as from that point on I met no other walkers all the way home. I had sadly left the prettiest bit of the walk behind me, but also the populated areas and the people. I found a sunny, sheltered patch of grass next to a farm track to sit on and have a bite to eat, and then continued walking as it wasn’t somewhere I wanted to linger.

Finally I realised I wasn’t going to find my perfect meditation spot anywhere. I was still 3-4 miles from home, knew most of the paths, and they didn’t go through any woodland or watery places or pretty spots or drama; it was just fields with the occasional bit of road to cross. I wondered if I could do my meditation while walking. I let myself go into Alpha state, dulling the sensations of the world around me and opening to my inner world. My question was simple: having been reading about guardian angels, and the fact that angels are spirit so can take different appearances as needed, were the other spirit friends I meet with regularly simply my angel choosing that form to help me, or was an angel different?

First I met with one of my dragon spirit friends. Then he helped me meet my guardian angel. I could feel the energy as completely different. There was no way I could ever confuse the two. I thanked dragon, and then talked with my angel for the first time. Staying in alpha, we walked together, and I felt my angel’s loving presence, knew it would be there for me no matter what. Other guides are just that – guides, or teachers, or advisors, but I understood how the angel was a guardian, just there for me, whether I asked it to be or not, and would always be there. Most of the time we just walked in silence together. Finally as I entered my village and was almost home, I said thank you and left alpha state. My inner world closed, and the physical reality around me was once again my reality. But I was somehow changed. Filled with love, with light, a feeling of lightness, and connectedness. I had a sense of who I was, as Spirit but with an extra dimension to previous spiritual experiences.

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I didn’t post this last weekend as I wanted more time to process what I had experienced, and also because new questions arose in my mind and I wanted to see what would happen next.

A few days later I was again walking by myself, this time just a short distance late in the evening as it was getting dark. So I tried contacting my angel again, this time by myself. I knew it was there, but I was not on the right wavelength to have any meaningful conversation. I returned to the spirits I knew, and felt immediately among friends. I then understood them to be octaves apart in terms of vibration, and I was clearly more comfortable at one level than the other. It may also be that the first time I asked for help with a particular issue in which a higher level of love and trust was needed to dissolve a fear, so the angel was best placed to help me with this. I didn’t have this same need the second time, and the playful company of dragons was perfect. It is now my understanding that Angels will always give help when asked, and unconditional love, but they are not beings for ‘just hanging out with’ as I often do with other spirit friends. (Dragons or other animals.) Anyway I decided I would share this in case it interests others and helps anyone else on their own path.

Stone Circles in Derbyshire

I have started a new project recently, one I have been cogitating since the start of the year. My aim is simple – to photograph and meditate at all the stone circles in Derbyshire. Needless to say, it gets more complicated from there!

The first question I looked at is why stone circles, and should I include anything else? Most stone circles can be reasonably dated to the Bronze Age from finds within the circles – but there are also huge numbers of other Bronze Age sites in Derbyshire which include cairns, burial mounds, carved stones etc as well as evidence of settlements. However, Derbyshire has been inhabited since at least the last ice age, with various pieces of evidence from limestone caves in the north of the county as well as near the river Trent in the south – and there are two older (Neolithic) henges, one of which (Arbor Low) also includes stones. Did any of these have an influence on the Bronze Age circles, and if so how? Then of course there are the later Iron Age hill forts, not to mention all the Roman roads and forts through which these circles have survived, and which the circles may have had some influence over. There are also other complications: some circles do not exist any more; some recorded as circles may have been ring cairns rather than stone circles; and there are also several standing stones, age generally unknown, which are even less clear in their purpose than stone circles but which are sometimes more dramatic than a circle with one small stone remaining.

So my first meditation was to answer these simple questions.

A circle, I realised, is something special. The energies flow in particular ways, it is very feminine in form, it is related to the circle witches cast, and it is healing in its centre. For some reason these are apparently all things I need right now. Many also have alignments to the sun at different times of the year following the larger cycles of our lives, so it would be good to visit them at their appropriate times if I can.

Stone Circles in Derbyshire

Stone Circles in Derbyshire, with rivers.
(Click to enlarge)

The beginnings of my map, shown here, includes 34 ancient circles, of which 8 destroyed (yellow) leaving 26 (green, darker for better preserved) to be found and photographed. Two of these are henges (double circles), one with stones and one without. There are also three modern circles (brown squares) to investigate – two apparently built new but using old rocks, the other entirely modern as a public space – to see if anything of a genuine ancient circle is created.

It is of interest to me how all the Derbyshire circles are concentrated in a small area mainly following the Derwent valley. They appear to be features of hilly areas where there are naturally rocky outcrops – yet sometimes the rocks were moved some distance from these outcrops. (There is no great concentration of stone circles just over the borders into Yorkshire, although there are larger numbers roughly following the Pennines north, as well as in other upland areas further west such as Cumbria, Wales and the South West. Very few stone circles exist in the East of Britain until you get to Northumberland and Scotland.)

Those known to be lost were possibly in more intensively farmed areas – whether there were more circles at one time is impossible to know, although my feelings are that it is unlikely since we would be talking about pre-enclosure days, when few would have worried about some rocks in the way of their sheep! What is more likely is that there were wooden circles built in lowland areas which simply would not have survived.

Happy New Year … Again!

We have finally reached the last of the ‘New Years’ for the winter – the one generally celebrated across the country! As a pagan I normally like to work with the rhythms of nature rather than an arbitrary date, so have celebrated a new year’s cycle beginning at the start of the dark at the Autumnal Equinox, the general Pagan new year at Samhain, and the return of the light at the Winter Solstice. And yet besides being the day we turn all the calendars over, 1st January probably has one of the strongest rituals I can think of associated with it as people who share the Gregorian Calendar all around the world make resolutions for the year ahead. To be part of a collective humanity is valuable – just like any shared activity, or shared and repeated ritual, the more often it is repeated the more the power within it can grow and be used positively.

The only reason for making new resolutions or promises that I can see is to shine a light onto my path ahead and see what I need to do or what choices I need to make about my direction. Last January I had a list of various specific things I wanted to achieve – sewing projects, glass, swimming, drumming etc – most of which has been written about here over the course of the year. It was helpful in focusing my mind when I was struggling to see what was important to me independently of the rest of my family.

Now I am noticing how the different areas of my life have become more interrelated as time goes on, one influencing another and all becoming part of a whole which is me moving closer to living in harmony with everything around me. I made a list of what I wanted to do, and achieve, and then realised that every single one of them depended on me finding quiet space and time to really connect at a deep level. Being out in nature walking, swimming or gardening; taking photographs; writing; carving wood; looking after M; creating a home… So for this year, I have just one resolution – which covers just about every area of my life:

I will take more time for meditation – to include attuning myself to what I am doing, just being, and learning to stay calm.

It is not as if I don’t meditate now; I do, at least once every day, although it is often quite short. But I have been thinking a lot recently about this quote by Saint Francis de Sales, a Swiss clergyman who lived 1567-1622:

“Half an hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed.”

The first time I read this I laughed, assuming either he was making a joke, or he was saying that we needed to cut back on some of what was filling the time up, that we were overdoing it. However as I looked at what changes I wanted to make in my life, I have seen that meditation is related in some way to all of them.

The first is simple. If I am too busy to meditate, I won’t get any answers from within and therefore will not move forwards – besides not reaching the still point of Just Being that is so valuable and only seem to comes when I have dealt with any pressing issues. I am finding that out of stillness arises creation.

After dwelling on this quote a little longer however, I started to see the idea of being busy and needing longer to meditate differently. There are always going to be more things I want or need to do than I can fit, because that is the way I am. If I don’t seem to be managing to do everything, meditating seems to help me focus on what is important and how to do it easier, and which things maybe I can leave out. A daily set time and place is difficult for me as it gets squeezed out too often, but when I don’t manage my ‘regular’ slot I need to make another space.

The second part is to make a more conscious effort to meditate in different places – attuning myself to the environment through meditation, either to make a connection with the environment, or as part of whatever work or craft I am doing. Outside before I begin gardening for example, if I am serious about wanting to work with the nature spirits in the garden. When working with glass to literally work with glass and be part of it, or with wood, or with anything else I wish to craft, such as I just discovered with the origami dragon and its bigger brother from red shiny wrapping paper that is now nestled in the tree. The whole process of creation changes and becomes bigger than just me.

Finally the third and fourth parts are related, as I have learned to ‘just be’ in some circumstances and not others. I know, this could take a lifetime or more to master! In the short term however, am hoping improved meditation can help me stay calm even when provoked, or that I can see alternative ways of handling difficult situations. Anger or frustration I see as emotions intended to force or inspire change so not negative in themselves, but they need channeling and directing and that, for me, starts with meditation. Or at least it will this year.

It has also been a very interesting experience having committed to writing weekly, as the writing itself has almost become a meditation exercise. While some weeks it has been clear to me exactly what I want to talk about, other times I have got to Saturday evening or even Sunday morning and still have no idea. However, in every case these have been the posts I personally have learned the most from because there always seems to be some subject hovering around the edges of my consciousness that needs bringing into the open and properly examining instead of shying away from. They are not always the stories that make me look good, and sometimes I have had to think quite hard about whether or how to share. Admittedly a few end up in my ‘unpublished blogs’ file, but the writing of them was still a valuable experience which wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I have learned an awful lot in this way, and I hope that by sharing more of my own stories other people have also found them helpful. Even this one – which has strayed a very long way from my original list I started a week ago!

Finding a Parking Space – The Witch’s way

I used to hope I could find somewhere to park. I was often disappointed. Then I tried trusting that I would find somewhere to park, which usually worked although I might have to walk further than I wanted to at times. And it might be on a curve, or a tight fit for getting a pushchair out of the boot. But now I have a better way. I simply ask for a space.

To do this I access the same state of mind I use when dowsing, a sort of light-meditation, functional but not interfering in any way with my awareness of my surroundings. Given I am usually driving at the time this can be important! (So too can be choosing a quiet moment.) Then I frame my request something like: “An it harm none, please find me a suitable parking space. As is my will, so mote it be. Thank you.” The first part allows Spirit to make the best possible choice for everyone, while leaving my request unspecific. Adding the second sentence, and the gratitude in advance, I know it will happen – I can then let go and see what unfolds.

What has been interesting to me is the range of parking spaces that have become available to me using this method. Places I might not ordinarily have thought of parking but where one car has shown me a new option at right angles to the road in a natural layby, or by a disused lot. I have also found that all spaces have been really easy to get in and out of, a rare thing given my previous experiences, and have been on the right side of the road for getting M in and out of her seat. Once I even parked a hundred yards from where I normally do, so used a different footpath to join the river path, and then found my normal footpath was temporarily closed off.

So I am now left wondering does this work because I have invested greater trust in finding a space, taken out any specifics of what I think I need, and am therefore open to seeing the unexpected; or because I have accepted my spiritual nature and asked for help, thus opening new opportunities?

Collecting memories

It appears to be a fact of modern life that technology becomes obsolete by the time you have opened the box. Our computer is now over six years old, security updates are no longer automatic, websites don’t always work properly and films over an hour in length freeze up in the middle. It is time for a complete system clearout and software upgrade – so if there is no post from me next week, we are still rebuilding…

Just as I like to tidy a room every few years and clear out what has become ‘clutter’, I have spent the last week going through my computer files. It is amazing how many folders remain untouched since the last clearout, that may as well be moved into ‘Archive’. A few thousand emails have been deleted, while a handful of wonderful ones have now been stored in appropriate folders to make me smile again at some point in the future. Photos of nieces and nephews remind me of when they were small. Good wishes or news from friends who live overseas. Memories and video clips of canoeing trips.

I am reminded how those who have lost all their possessions treasure the personal, the photographs, the keepers of memory. As the reward for this process of clearance, I will have a new printer that can do colour, so that I may collect a few of the most treasured pictures into a book. Something tangible that may be worth rescuing. Am I crazy to fill my physical shelves as well as the computer files? Well probably, but which will M enjoy looking at in years to come? Also I expect there will be at least two more computer rebuilds before she becomes an adult…

There are other, more pagan- or possibly witch-specific uses for physical photographs as well. While I am not a great one for spells, especially those involving living people, using photos for connecting to recently deceased ancestors is much simpler than trying to get hold of relevant objects to represent them. I have had a frame for some time now waiting for pictures to be printed out and inserted so that it may stand on a side table.

It seems to me that human nature hasn’t changed much; for thousands of years we have painted our memories, first directly onto our walls, then on wood, leather, canvases or parchment. We may puzzle at the exact meaning today, but we still value the pictures. However just as we have hidden files in silicon crystal that may be accessed in the future, so did the ancients, in the form of quartz crystals. Meditating with a stone, or even a skull, can reveal all kinds of truths and memories that have been stored there.