Category Archives: Walks

Pointing the Way

Signs. The subject for this weeks WordPress photo challenge.  All these photos were taken over the course of my week-long reconnoitre trip up to the Holy island of Lindisfarne during Michaelmas last week.  (see also Pilgrim on Horseback for the back story).  Click on any of the photos if you wish to read the messages more clearly!

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Normally, I would jump at the chance to use a title like this to go down the esoteric route and interpret it as ‘signs as symbols’.  Something I am always seeking to find in the landscape as personal messages for me.  These, however, are signs that are literally pointing the way.

this is one I hope to become very familiar with

this is one I hope to become very familiar with

Some are warning signs, some have been defaced: a sheep turned into some of rhinoceros. Information boards, a scratched dedication to a loved one on a bench, and a way marker looking like a crucifix.

Then, on a wild and desolate moor in the North Yorkshire Dales, I come across the Red Flag which stopped me in my tracks.

On the Holy island of Lindisfarne, the signage becomes grand and imposing to shepherd the thousands of visitors around the island as well as marking the way for pilgrims wanting to follow in the Saintly footsteps of Cuthbert.  A couple of the signs, however, are cracked and old-fashioned and seem oddly out-of-place against the ‘corporate’ signage of a place that has become a major tourist attraction.  (Naively, something I was not expecting and found rather disturbing).  For me, these signs seem more home-spun and real and speak of the people behind them.  (Like the dedication on the bench, above)

And looking at them all again, collectively, there is an element of deep symbology for me in them, each one unique in its own way telling their own story.  On my epic journey, I shall be looking for these signs to guide me along the right path, both physically and spiritually.  Not least as a little bit of entertainment to also delight and amuse.

 

To see how other people have interpreted signs, here.

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Filed under my sketchbook pages, Paths of Enlightenment, Personal Philosophy, Pilgrimage Walks, The Artist as Pilgrim, Walks, Wordpress Photo Challenge

Layered Textures of a Pilgrimage

Exploring physical textures is a constant theme that runs through my life like a thread that gets woven into every aspect of what I am doing, thinking or creating.  Last month that ‘textures thread’ was ‘grown’ in a digital 3D lab to create a collaborative artwork for the The All Makers Now ? Conference exhibition at Trelissick House, Cornwall.  (see previous post).

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a mechanical device that is programmed to reproduce objects out of extruded plastic, fine enough to replicate fine details and surface textures.

Then, by way of a complete contrast from the mechanical manufacturing of 3D digital textures my focus moves to the spiritual texture of a pilgrimage.  On another one of Richard Dealler’s, 6 day guided Pilgrimages following the Mary / Michael Pilgrim Route.  This time across Bodmin Moor from St. Austell to Liskeard, walking between the pyramids of spoil and aqua waters of China clay mining country to the pony and sheep dotted wilderness that is Bodmin Moor.

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As the days pass, the biggest pyramid gets smaller and smaller as we get further and further away from our starting point until finally it is obliterated from view by the mist.

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I relish the chance to walk once more in silence.  The chance to journey inwards and rekindle that still place within me whilst making visible and felt connections to the natural world around us.  And once more happy to relinquish responsibility for where we are going to our leader, Richard, who has found a new oak staff to walk with.  The one which he had abandoned out of guilt for breaking it free from its mother tree, only to find it again propped up on the gate post where it had been carried by an unknown individual to await his passing by the following day.

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Each overnight camp is marked by a different farm animal and its dung: in order of appearance, cow, horse, dog (heard in the distance only from a rescue centre nearby) and sheep.  Waste products seems to have been a theme running through this pilgrimage.  My shadow on a slurry strewn dairy farmyard on our first camp making a beautiful pattern.  The aroma that stuck to our boots hung around for days.

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Another theme that begins to emerge is that this land has apparently been fashioned by giants.  Lying on the ground as if some giant had just tossed them there with abandonment, are these huge boulders.  They lie scattered across the fields all across this area and have somehow been built into the field boundary walls.

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And then in a clearing in some unidentified wood, there is what is believed to be the largest free-standing boulder in the British Isles.  It lies as if suspended in mid-air, propped up by lesser boulders, huge in their own right.

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This daddy of them all is so big, I struggle to find an angle in which to photograph the whole thing.  It dwarfed us all in its magnificence.  When we toned inside its open chamber, the stones hummed back as if in gratitude of our acknowledgement.

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In this land of giants, we crossed an old viaduct built out of huge blocks of granite.  What is Richard saying?  (Chance for a caption competition here?)

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In the cool, dark woods at Bolitha Falls, we found a spot away from the madding crowd, to sit and eat our lunch.  The deafening sound of rushing white water made having any kind of conversation impossible, anyway.

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We made a mandala of pilgrim feet on the leaf litter in the woods.  The trees giving up their old leaves to be recycled into humus as the circle of life goes on.

a mandala of pilgrim feet

We feed our bodies with nature’s bounty, and Christoffer’s delicious suppers,

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and the porridge bowls are always polished clean.

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We replenish our souls with holy water from sacred wells,

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finding solace, peace and a cool retreat as well as reliving poignant memories inside churches we visit,

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captivated by human stories of war-time heroes,

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or by the patterns and symbols, in the tracery of window panes

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and in the crosses we find outside in the churchyards, like this one at Lostwithiel.

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Or along the way, where the old and the new jostle for our attention alongside each other to signpost our way.

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We walked across many fields of sun-burned grasses,

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and barefoot up scraggy hills to relieve blistered feet.

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Or stopped to meditate or doze away an hour, propped up by the stones in an ancient stone circle of circles that is the Hurlers and shared sacred heart prayers on a node point buzzing with energy.  Here Richard relinquishes his heavy oak staff for someone else to pick up.   Then on to marvel at the stack of boulders that is the Cheesewring on top of Bodmin Moor where the giants seem to have been at work once more.

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But no sign of the Beast.  Only muddy tractor tyre tracks to be found.

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and rusting pieces of old farm machinery seemingly abandoned by the wayside.

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On the final day, we begin our walk with a shamanic walking practice led by Andrew.  Walking with a creeping, cat-like stalk, this very slow, high-stepping crocodile, connected by an imaginary thread begins its snaking progress along the path.  What a sight this must have been and after I managed to suppress my initial urge to giggle, it did provide an opportunity for us to stop and really observe the details in the landscape around us.  To appreciate the ‘accidental beauty’.   Something that I felt up until that moment, because of the pressure to reach our destinations, had been somewhat missing.

And those observations, for me, summed up the sensory textures of this pilgrimage: noticing the variety of grasses with their different seed heads swaying together in the gentle breeze.  Noticing underfoot, the contrast between the dry, ruminant-nibbled grasses and the cool squelchiness of the boggy patches of moss and reed, or the sharp, stoney graveliness of the farm track, remembering the ‘trudge’ through the rain on our first day.  As we turned in unison to gaze upon the slope of the hill rising before us, seeing it as if for the first time: the fields divided by remains of old, crumbling stone walls now dotted with pristine white, sheared sheep, no doubt washed clean by the very squally wind and rain that had blown through the night before.  It was a biblical scene to be sure.  The symphony of bleating notes as ewes and their lambs call to one another, echoing around the hills.

In this place of sleeping giants and semi-wilderness, and in this very moment, the silence is both deafening and beautiful, the scenery both harsh and nurturing.  Wiping the sheep poo off my boots, I am minded to relinquish the old, the wasted, in order to replenish the new as the cycle of birth, death and rebirth is an ever-present element that is woven into the textural fabric of our evolving lives.  Every breath we take is an acknowledgement of that.

 

 

For more WordPress photo challenge: Texture here

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Filed under Digital, Mandalas, Paths of Enlightenment, Pilgrimage Walks, The Artist as Pilgrim, Walks, Wordpress Photo Challenge

Contrast Between Joy and Sadness

Summer Solstice, 21st June, 2014:  Walking on Dartmoor.

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a pilgrims view of her feet – her most important asset!

This is the third day of a 4 day pilgrimage across Dartmoor, beginning at the church on the hill, St. Michael de Rupe at Brentor and finishing at the Church of the Holy Cross, Crediton, following the Mary/Michael Line.

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It is also the Summer Solstice and promises to be another hot, dry day on Dartmoor.  By the time we have finished tucking into Caroline’s delicious breakfast, the mist has dissipated from the tops of the distant moors.   With sun cream liberally applied to exposed areas of skin and full of anticipation for the day ahead, we leave Moorgate Cottage behind us and walk up once more onto the open moorland heading towards a stone circle near Belstone called Nine Stones Cairn Circle.  A couple of pilgrims stop for a quick dip in the stream at Gulliver Steps on the way where I am only prepared to bare my feet to dip into the cooling water.  Nine Stones is a small and intimate circle where we place a couple of heart-shaped stones picked up along the way in celebration of this, the longest day, and re-arrange a bunch of wild flowers left by a previous visitor into a mandala shape around them.

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an offering of thanks for the Summer Solstice

I am reminded of the many Summer Solstices I have celebrated in the past at Boscawen-un Stone Circle in Cornwall.

As we head out on the other side of Belstone towards what will be our steepest climb of the pilgrimage, to Cosdon Hill (550 metres above sea level), I am wondering what I should do with the stone that is still in the bottom of my backpack.  It was discovered lying on the river bed at the base of the waterfall at Lydford Gorge which we visited a couple of days ago.  It bears the cross of St Piran on it, the Patron Saint of Cornwall and has been given to me presumably because of my Cornish connections.  I know there has to be a place along the way where I must leave it, but at this point, I don’t know where that place is.  Somehow, I know that when the time comes, it will become clear what I should do with it.

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the falls at Lydford Gorge, like a stream of light which reminds me of the depiction of the holy light in the stained-glass window above the altar in Belstone church.

It is a long and hot trudge up to Cosdon, with the benefit of a cooling breeze the higher we climb.  The 6 kilos of weight I am carrying on my back feels more like 12, and sun hats are dunked into Lady Brook on the way up to cool over-heated brows.  The footpath is not always clear, either breaking up into animals tracks or we find ourselves making our way across rough, tussocky ground  between squelchy boggy patches of springy heath and cotton grass.

This long climb is easily the most challenging part of the whole pilgrimage and just before we reach the summit, my mobile phone rings.  I manage to dig it out from one of my zipped trouser pockets.  It is Paul, the vet who is treating Sadie for a ‘spontaneous prolapsed disc’.   He tells me her condition has deteriorated and there is nothing we can do now to reverse the situation.  That the time has come for us to end her suffering.   Barely able to splutter out the words, I make David promise to hold Sadie for both of us so that I can be with her too in her last moments.  In that moment, I understand why I have been carrying the ‘Cornish’ stone.

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After my cooling bathe, I decide to walk barefoot up the stone row

On the descent from Cosdon on the other side of the hill, we stop to walk up an ancient stone row.  With the Cornish stone now burning in my hand, I walk up the narrow alley between the stones, imagining Sadie by my side, running up the track for the last time.   I see her elegant body gliding along in slowed, poetic motion, embodying all the runs she has ever done, in joyous harmony.

At the end of this stone row is a small cist or burial mound.  Here I carefully place this stone which now represents my little Cornish whippet, tucking it into a cosy corner amongst the fallen boulders and vegetation that covers the mound.

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cotton grass grows in boggy moorland patches (photo taken from image on greetings card)

I discovered later that this stone row is known as ‘the graveyard’.  I know I will come back to this place one day.   After that, the remainder of this joyous Solstice day is a bit vague, except I remember the large granite standing stones at Spinsters’ Rock (Burial Chamber).  I remember them particularly because they were humming.  A low-level hum in response to some toning we had done which I found strangely comforting, and something I have never heard before.  It was hard to comprehend why I was the only one that seemed to hear them.  Then the long road walk to Drewstaignton, and welcome rest.

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long winter beach shadows of long narrow dogs – Sadie feels like that shadow now

Sadie’s body now lies buried in a shady corner of my paddock where she once frolicked with her pack.  And I am reminded of the stained glass image of St Michael in the chapel on top of the hill at Brentor at the start of our pilgrimage.   In one hand he holds up a sword-cross and in the other hand he carries a pair of scales.  A reminder that life is a precarious balancing act.  In St Michael’s case, a balancing act between the forces of good and evil: lightness and darkness.   I do not think it is possible to have the one without the other.

Even so, perhaps I should have been more prepared for what was to come knowing that the best laid plans can go wrong.  Before I had even begun this pilgrimage, I had missed my train connection and the bus I was travelling on to catch up with the rest of the party had broken down, its engine simply ‘cutting out’, as if to reinforce the notion that rare incidents do happen.

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passengers waiting by the broken down bus for the next one to come along

This pilgrimage for me has represented the fragility of life, the acceptance of unexpected things that happen that probably have some meaning for us if we care to examine them.  The synchronicity of being in certain places at what felt like the right times, and how in a single day, it is possible to experience both the joy of nature at its zenith, and the sadness we feel at the premature passing of a precious life from this earthly world.  Yet another poignant reminder that the cycle of life (and death) goes on regardless of our best laid plans.  Rest in peace, my darling Sadie.

Contrasts

 

 

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Filed under Pilgrimage Walks, The Artist as Pilgrim, Walks, Whippet Story, Wordpress Photo Challenge

A Creative Retreat: Part Two

Room to Grow

My intention is to use my time on Bryher (see part one) as a space to make work.  That’s fine, but I discover that when it comes to it, I am left wondering, is that what I really want to do?  I unpack my boxes of materials, open my sketch books, but when I start going through the motions, the old routines, I feel strangely numb, the actions robotic.  What is causing this impotence?  I am in a stunning location but I feel powerless to render so much beauty with any sense of justification.   Is a fear of failure causing this inertia?  Is my own judgement getting in the way of my creative intentions?  What am I actually trying to do?

An aerial view of an island?  Or the hull of a boat being prepared for painting at a boatyard at Porthloo, St Mary's?

An aerial view of an island? Or the hull of a boat being prepared for painting at a boatyard in Porthloo, St Mary’s?

While I was pondering my condition this quote popped up out of the blue. “I believe it was John Cage who once told me, ‘When you start working, everybody is in your studio—the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas—all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you’re lucky, even you leave.”  Philip Guston.

But I recognise some of these inhibiting factors from past experience, so I revert to my default mode and concentrate on getting a feel for this place, its people, its history, its topography, before I even attempt to tackle what is in front of me head-on: more a quest to decode the sign language this landscape presents to me.

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a long, thin dog walking in a large pebble labyrinth just above the beach.

But first, in order to break through this temporary creative blockage and chase away this Bryher-sized mountain of expectations, I need to ground myself and establish my bearings by walking the landscape and scrutinising the cartography.   The first couple of days here on Bryher I have felt strangely unsettled.  My North / South internal orientation has flipped and it takes a while to re-adjust to the magnetic North within my own body.

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As you can see from this image above (taken from one of the guide books kindly left for visitors in my cottage), the Scilly Isles looked very different 5,000 years ago when sea levels were lower.

from my 'Isles of Scilly Guidebook' (Friendly Guides, 2011)

from my ‘Isles of Scilly Guidebook’ (Friendly Guides, 2011)

Compare that with a current map of the Scillies and I begin to imagine how prehistoric Scillonians might have lived their lives.  For instance, areas of land dedicated to the dead, such as the northern section of Bryher, would have once served a larger community and is echoed by the Northern slopes of Tresco, now separated from Bryher only by a narrow channel of water (see above map).

The duality of opposites:  my desire creates a battle between the opposite twins of hope (intention) and despair (fear).

In terms of creative inspiration, in the past, I have found that exploring opposites is fertile ground for me: light / shadow; above / below; beauty / imperfection (arguably the same); staccato / slow movement; colour / absence of colour; composition / chaos; stasis / flow, etc. etc., and this retreat is no exception.

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I wasn’t looking for opposites, certainly not expecting to find them, but the more I walk around Bryher, exploring its nooks and crannies and feeling its voices echoing back at me through the ages, I begin to feel a distinct pattern emerging.  A notion that this is an island story of two halves.  Take its extremes of weather: it faces the full brunt of winter storms thrown at it from the Atlantic, yet a peaceful idyll when the seas are calm and the sun blazes down on deserted, bleached beaches.  This sense of calm in a time of peace also belies the amount of ships that have floundered off these treacherously rocky shores, thwarted by rows of jagged teeth that emerge from the waters along its western coastline, aptly nicknamed the Wreckers.  This is a place that can bite back and gobble you up if you are not careful.

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looking towards twin peaks of Samson island

Even this seemingly benign island is divided by its topography.  The gentle southern slopes of Bryher are sheltered, verdant and inhabited.  Flowering succulents grow in profusion like weeds in the hedgerows and the air is scented with herbage.  (Similar conditions to the famous Abbey Gardens on Tresco, just across the small channel that separates these two islands).  You would be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled into a garden paradise which time had forgotten.

By contrast, the northern plateau of Bryher feels like a shadow land: a desolate and eerie place where the terrifying might of the waves gouge out huge, black gaping holes in the coastline and the thin layer of vegetation hugs the ground to escape the desiccating winds.

I begin to realise why this northern place, inhospitable to man as a place to live, the exceptional concentration of cairns here indicating it was probably much more suited as a place to bury the dead, even though in the Bronze Age this would have been good agricultural land due to the mini heat wave conditions at the time.  It was also used for defensive purposes with names such as Badplace Hill, and House of the Head (a chilling reminder of the Iron Age Celts and their cult of head worship) which can be reached only by going over The Gulf.

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Shipman Head Down, underfoot a thin, springy carpet of vegetation, eroded into crevices and cracks on its north-western slopes

Entering into this place that overlooks Hell Bay, is like going over a threshold.  There is even a demarkation line where the vegetation clearly changes from small, neatly mown fields to untamed scrubland with a spider’s web network of paths strung over it.  I didn’t meet another soul on my visit here, even on a warm Spring day, when the wind was moderate, and the sea slight.  I was constantly worried about the dogs disappearing over the edge of the cliffs and was pleased to leave this plateau and its ghosts behind me.

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But it didn’t leave me.  I was left pondering about this landscape.  On top of Shipman Down Head, lying amongst the many cairns, I come across a long row of granite standing stones.  Was it a stone row or ceremonial way, a defensive boundary, or a tribal boundary?  Who Knows?  It echoes the row of stones I found on the beach at Green Bay in the south, which were the remains of prehistoric field walls, now submerged by the tide twice a day.

This discovery threw up another contrast, this time extremes of tones: the stone row standing starkly ‘white’ amidst the darker vegetation, contrasting with the submerged field boundary, its seaweed covered boulders marching into the sea, broodingly ‘dark’ against the blonde, sandy beach.

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Having explored as much of the island as I can, going from granite outcrops, entrance graves, cairns, beaches, hilltops, sand banks, even a Hangman Island and back, I am beginning to get a feel for the place and add my sketch books, pencils and pen to the collection of dog bags and old stick of lip slave in my pockets before I set off on my daily roamings.   And just draw.  Anything.

No drawing takes more than a few seconds to do.  I have to work quickly especially when rain drops fall onto my paper wanting to make their own contribution to my presence.

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A boulder on the beach, a line of rocks in the sea, a tree blown into shape by the wind, and in the process, I realise that my drawing is a way of looking, a way of seeing the landscape around me.  A way into a process.  What could be more elemental than that?  Each mark made with the pencil or pen comes from an unconscious place, unfettered by judgement or notions of precision.  A simple interpretation of what is in front of me rendered by a line, a scratchy mark, a dash, a smudge.  A shaded patch here or a line going off at a tangent there.  I am beginning to be ‘left completely alone‘.

And tried a few simple mono prints based on my drawings.

Back home, I may not have achieved what I had set out to do but I have returned buzzing with new ideas, consumed by the names of that shadow land: The Gulf, Hell Bay, House of the Head.  Entering that dark place via a Threshold (my word): A Gateway between this and the Otherworld, between normal consciousness and a spiritualised consciousness.

Combined with insights that emerged from my recent pilgrimage, these are the things that fire my imagination, the places that I want to inhabit, re-visit, to explore what they mean to me in my own deep places, and it is to these very places where I shall be heading with my next body of work.  Where the visible and the invisible meet in me and find an outlet in my practice.   And in that free-flow, reach that still point in my heart, the meeting point between heaven and earth: the only really meaningful meeting of opposites.

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This retreat has served to remind me that my desire to create can only be achieved once I have let go of any expected outcome.  Where hope and despair dissolve into simple, clear vision.  Something, obviously, I need to keep reminding myself.  And it is in this process where, if I’m very lucky, ‘I’, the judgemental part of ‘me’, will leave.

To visit other ideas about ‘room’, this weeks photo challenge, see here.

 

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Healing Chakra Walks on St. Michael’s Mount

light coming through the C16 stained-glass window, in the chapel dedicated to Archangel Michael, St Michael's Mount.

light coming through the C16 stained-glass window, in the chapel dedicated to Archangel Michael, St Michael’s Mount.

For the past few weeks, I have been creating a special Chakra Walk  to take place on St. Michael’s Mount, the culmination of the St. Michael’s Way.  I offered to run one of these walks in aid of Freedom from Torture, the former medical branch of Amnesty International, with kind permission from the St. Aubyn family and help from the management team on the Mount.

I want to limit the numbers to 12, so I have decided to run two walks and have chosen 2 dates that coincide with a favourable tide as  walking across the causeway is an important element of the walk.  Hopefully, one of these dates might suit you?

chakra walk - plain doc copy

If you, or anyone you know, might be interested in doing one of the walks, or you just need more information, please do get in touch with me:

email: caro@carowoods.co.uk,  or call me: 01736 874388

or download the above flyer: chakra walks – with contact details.

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Filed under Mandalas, my sketchbook pages, Pilgrimage Walks, St. Michael's Way, The Artist as Pilgrim, Walks

Piety and Blisters

In the post today, I received a Sunday Telegraph article from a friend, dated 1st December 2013.  She had saved it and promised to send it to me so when I picked the letter out of my mailbox, recognising the writing and feeling its crackley paper contents, I knew what it was.

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The article is about the nature of pilgrimage, ‘A Pilgrim’s Progress’, and was written to accompany Simon Reeve’s TV programme that was aired about the same time.  It was a three-parter in which “Simon Reeve retraces the adventures of our ancestors, and learns about the forgotten aspects of pilgrimage – including the vice, thrills and …” delving into the minds of early ‘spiritual’ travellers and why they sought to make pilgrimages.  Simon Reeve’s own journey in the making of the programme turned out to be a revelation to him.  ‘Like many of us, I had associated pilgrimage only with piety and blisters‘.

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So, in this most holy of holy weeks, it seems fitting to ask why many of us still seek spiritual enlightenment through pilgrimage, even though, like Simon Reeve, my own pilgrimage is also of a secular nature?  And how might I define my own interest in the nature of pilgrimage?

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To answer this question, I revisited some of the ideas I put together to form the basis of my research project.  (As it is written in academic speak, I have since created a more easily digestible version, have a look at my website: terra incognito).  And quite by chance, I took these 3 pictures when I recently took shelter from the rain in the doorway of the former Bucca Gallery in Newlyn.  It appears that someone has made a bonfire in this space and taken wood from the door surrounds to fuel the fire.  It struck me that the blistered and peeling paint represented a liminal space so I have included them in this post to illustrate my point.

peeling paintwork: state of suspension

cracked and peeling paintwork: state of suspension

burnt paintwork: state of suspension

burnt and blistered paintwork: state of suspension

crumbling paintwork: state of suspension

crumbling and brittle paintwork: state of suspension

The most difficult thing in any research project, is to find the right questions to ask (and this is before the addition of a horse entered the equation even though it makes no difference to the fundamental question).  Perhaps the question can only be fully formed when I am closer to the answer?  Even the title has gone through many variations – with many more to come, I’ll vouch.  But my thinking at the time was along these abridged lines:

To Be A Pilgrim? : the thin veil between Gravity and Grace.

In a post Descartian world, how might an aesthetic framework that relates to the duality of immanence and transcendence associated with the activity of walking be conceived?  For research based on a visual arts practice, how might advances in science and digital technology be used to visualize an art form that expresses an abstract metaphysical state of being which is understood intuitively? 

Outline of Proposed Research:  Initially, my aim is to examine some of the ways in which people seek transformation through the activity of walking, where the liminal space might simply be the distance between ‘A’ and ‘B’.  In particular how the embodied landscape experience might transcend connection with materiality and how that might be represented within my own practice that uses blogging, drawing, collage, light, video, photography and emerging digital technologies?  It will form the culmination of 10 years of research and experimentation in a personal area of interest.  Pilgrimage as ‘threshold’ to New Realities.  The desire for pilgrimage is a defining feature of humanity and sets the journeying nature of walking apart from man’s primal need to gather food or building materials for shelter.  The anticipation is that a transformation of some kind is expected to take place.  This will form the fulcrum of my research.   The state of suspension between one level of consciousness and another.  Noting the growing trend towards the tourist-pilgrim who is looking elsewhere for realities far removed from the mundane, everyday existence, ‘in search for a revitalising centre’ (pg. 298, Walkscapes: Walking as an Aesthetic Practice, (2001), by Francesco Careri).  And John Brincherhoff Jackson, an observer of landscape, ‘roads no longer merely lead to places, they are places.’ (ibid, pg.14).  For the purposes of this thesis, the act of pilgrimage will be used as a metaphor for a symbolic walk in the journey towards spiritual awakening: paths in a landscape as trains of thought.   Which poses the question, how might one image such an activity which at its core requires no outside assistance?    etc.etc.

If you would like to check out this particular pilgrim’s progress, follow my journal blog: pilgrim on horseback.

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Communal Walking as Art: a Human Bar Code

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Certain weather conditions create different atmospheric ‘hues’.   Sunday’s stormy weather was no exception.   For me, the drama began the previous night when I was woken, not by the thunder and lightning, but by the sound of a very frightened whippet frantically digging up the rug in search of a hiding place.  I consequently spent much of the night trying to sooth her frazzled nerves.  As the new day dawned I just wanted to pull the covers up and ease myself into it by reading the papers in bed with a bowl of porridge and a double espresso.

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However, this was no ordinary Sunday morning.  After all, how often do you get the opportunity to be part of a ‘Hamish Fulton communal walk’?   Sunday’s walk was to be the second walk organized by the ‘walking artist’, as part of The Cornwall Workshop.  There is an excellent account of the first walk on Saturday, here, posted by Ellen Mara De Wachter, one of the Cornwall Workshop participants whom I met over a welcome mug of home-made soup at the Exchange afterwards.

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This communal walk was to be an orchestrated walk on the beach at Mounts Bay.  Nearly 200 people answered the call-up for volunteers, some travelling from as far away as London and who knows where else?  Low level rumbles of thunder could be heard in the distance as we gathered at Penzance station.  Most of us were muffled up against the storm clouds that not only threatened but also delivered their load of showers at intervals.  We had been told that once we started the walk we must not leave the line and that a lightning strike (a very real possibility) was the only thing that would cause it to be abandoned.

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The ‘collective’ snaked their way from the station along the sea wall beside the railway line, down the steps spilling out onto the beach.

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The walk had been timed to coincide with the lowest point of the spring tide, and having forded the river that runs onto the beach we once more gathered on the flat expanse of sand to await instructions.

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The plan: Two lines of 100 people in each, an arm’s distance apart, walking at a VERY SLOW shuffle in opposite directions like two trains passing each other on the tracks until the first in line comes level with the last in line on the opposite side.  In complete silence.  The whole event timed to take exactly one hour, with monitors placed in the middle of the line, scheduled to pass each other at the half way point – which they did, apparently.  At noon, on the dot, Hamish Fulton, at the front of ‘my’ line began the slow shoe-shuffle action and Jesse Leroy Smith began the procession of the opposite line, inch by slow inch along the sand.

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As queues go, these two were extremely well behaved.  I wondered if this might be possible anywhere else in the world?  I even felt guilty turning around to take a look down the line but did manage to take a few photos.  I turned my face towards the welcome rays of sunshine to counteract the icy blast coming from the west realizing too late I was facing the wrong way and should have been in the other line-up!   But as a normally solo walker, this experience felt very inclusive, and I was aware that I was participating in something unique.

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It was surprisingly peaceful.  The rain had stopped and except for a few inquisitive dogs and their walkers and the professional photographers with their cameras and tripods circling around us like predatory animals, we had this whole stretch of beach to ourselves.  A truly sentient experience: feeling the direction and strength of the wind on my face; measuring the distance my foot travelled at every step; the gentle sway of my body as it slowly moved forward at an imperceptibly slow pace; noticing where I directed my gaze, recognizing a few faces in the crowd of strangers; enjoying the wide assortment of foot-ware (and marveling at a couple of pairs of bare feet); a yellow coat providing a welcome accent of colour against the dark jackets; shadow shapes on wet sand looking like glazed pottery; hearing the roar of the wind and sea when I closed my eyes; feeling my body getting colder and my legs getting heavier whilst at the same time gradually becoming more tuned into the moment.

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200 people moving as one, converging to become a double exposure as seen from the inside.   The light on the beach at that moment could not have been more beautiful or the setting more spectacular with the backdrop of St Michael’s Mount.   As an observer, from the shore line and viewed against the light, the dark vertical lines must have appeared like a human bar code.  The angle from that viewpoint would be the more familiar one in Hamish Fulton’s imagery.  As a participant in this artwork, this was the hue of me: an anonymous black line in a slow-moving, human bar code.

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On the dot of one o’clock and at the climax of the synchronized lines, the crocodile just fell apart and we all dispersed as if we were on a film set and someone had shouted ‘cut’ though not a word had been spoken.   Groups of people began to drift off to resume their normal Sunday afternoon activities.

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I am aware my pictures tell their own story.

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I wonder what Hamish Fulton will make of it all?

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(See more The Hue of You, this week’s photo challenge, here.)

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