Magnolia Leaves, Copeland China & Lily Pads

By tradition, this time of year is always very busy and this past month has been no exception.  Hence no posting.  Just thinking about what I have done in that time makes my head spin.  With delight.  And to spare you the dizziness of adding to your own busy times, I’ve just outlined a few things as an aid-memoir for me or for you to dip into if any of it takes your interest.

  • SOIL CULTURE FORUM

Making a Vessel to travel into the Other World (In memoriam 1)

Result of  the Slow Poem Workshop at Soil Culture Forum, Falmouth University.

My response to the Slow Poem, Composted Thoughts Workshop led by Mat Osmond & Tom Scott at the Soil Culture Forum, Falmouth University.  Layers of notes on one sheet of paper, torn up and placed in a dried magnolia leaf before being buried.

The Soil Culture Forum – using the arts to revitalise a resource we take for granted.  In brief, the presentations ranged from a captivating performance by Fraulein Brehms on the humble earth worm, Lumbricus Terrestris, to Yuli Somme, a felt maker from Devon who makes beautiful felt shrouds.  The creative workshops were absorbing and the whole Forum was thought-provoking, not least the key-note presentation about the state of our soils by Patrick Holden, of the Sustainable Food Trust.  (Note to self…must find out if I can get hold of a transcript of his presentation, it was so good).

making paint from mud

a workshop participant making painterly patterns from mud

my notes showing the mud and water mixtures using earth pigments from Peter Ward's workshop .

my notes showing the mud and water mixtures using earth pigments from Peter Ward‘s workshop .

Making shiny mud balls on a Hikaru Dorodango workshop led by Emma  Saffy Wilson

Making shiny mud balls on a Hikaru Dorodango  workshop (the link describes the art of Japanese perfection), a workshop led by Emma Saffy Wilson.

 

  • ALL MAKERS NOW? conference workshop

Trelissick Gardens (In memoriam 2)

Also at Falmouth University was The All Makers Now ? Conference A two-day conference exploring craft values in 21st century production.  I was fortunate enough to be offered one of the 12 available places open to craft makers, museum curators, technicians and artists, on the 2 day workshop held at Autanomatic, the 3D Digital Production research cluster at Falmouth, just prior to the conference.

Each group of 4 people worked on an idea for an artwork to be included in the exhibition at Trelissick House, timed to coincide with the conference.

With help from the skilled technicians, we had just two days in which to see our ideas go from the initial brain-storming session to  material realisation in a finished artwork before our very eyes.  We shaped and fashioned our way through the suite of cutting edge digital production technologies including Rapid Prototyping, Lazer Cutting, 3D Scanning and Computer-Numerically-Controlled Milling and Routing machines.

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The concept our group came up with was inspired by the famous Copeland China collection which was sold when the contents of Trelissick House were auctioned off.   As the exhibition was being held in the now empty library, we decided that a book would be a suitable matrix to contain the now lost textures of remembered objects.  A Bonhams lot ticket was the template on which areas of texture were either ‘imprinted’, embossed or ‘grown’, such as a section of a fire surround in the house, a small section of leaf pattern taken from a piece of china  or a section of the topography of the river and the land sweeping up to the house.  Even the wear marks on a piece of china, all telling some aspect of the story of Trelissick House and its famous garden.

The whole process was extraordinary and every aspect new to me.  The question we posed was: Can objects produced through the use of digital technologies (over the course of a two-day creative workshop), recapture the character of artefacts that have been displaced?

The Work for inclusion in The All Makers Now Conference Exhibition,

Trelissick House, Truro.  10th / 11th July, 2014

Title:  In Memoriam, 2014

materials: paper, acrylic, hardwood, plaster, ABS, canvas, card

processes: laser cutting, CNC milling, 3D printing, laser etching, (clay cast? if time)

Makers: Armando Chant, Barney Townsend, Rebecca Skeels, Caro Woods

 

  • CODING FOR WOMEN

A workshop delivered by Katrin and Shauna of MzTEK, a non-profit organisation with the aim of addressing the imbalance of women artists working in the fields of new media, computer arts and technology.  This workshop thanks to Creative Skills, Cornwall.

The idea was to build our own wearable synthesiser by programming a small ‘lilypad’ computer to output movement data as sound using the freely downloaded Arduino software.  Over the two days, some truly weird and wonderful inventions were created.

Finally, I managed to combine a few days of family time with the search for my horse.

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Rose has taken a liking to Tammie’s bed

Plus an unexpected and last-minute invitation to spend the weekend at Womad thanks to someone who had  dropped out of a party of friends because of ill-health.  Wasn’t I just the lucky one?  Three days immersed in a cauldron of melting heat, a rich array of costumes and heart thumping beats.  A mass of chilled-out humanity soaking up all the colourful sights and sounds.   I loved it.

I also had use of the 'posh' loos.  Luxury.

I also had use of the ‘posh’ loos. Luxury.

So that’s me up to date.  I’ve scarcely drawn breath and I’m off again tomorrow for the next 6 days with Richard Dealler (Mary / Michael Pilgrim Route) and crew walking over Bodmin Moor. The forecast is for rain but I’m a seasoned camper now.  (She says brazenly but without conviction).

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The good news is, when I return, I will be welcoming my new horse, Tommy, to Trezelah.  This is him being vetted on Monday.  (see my blog pilgrimonhorseback.wordpress.com for more details of that).  Exciting times.

 

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Filed under my sketchbook pages, Professional Development, The Artist as Pilgrim

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 Potpourri of Observations

This weeks photo challenge is ‘extra’.  Last week I posted off a package of work for a mixed show in Jersey, in the Channel Island, as a guest artist in Observations with Art in the Frame, at The Harbour Gallery, opening this weekend.  I hope the show goes well.

So I present a few ‘extras’ for you: a potpourri selection of details from some of the work I sent off as my contribution.  (click on images for a larger view).

Seven + One, concertina ‘book’

From the Ancient Landscape Series:

Divided Cells:

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From the Membrane Portals Series:

For other ‘extras’, see here.

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Filed under Art Works, Exhibitions, The Art Business, The Artist as Pilgrim, 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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Filed under Drawings, Paths of Enlightenment, Studio Practice, The Artist as Pilgrim, Walks

A Creative Retreat: Part One

Discovering a visual feast for mind, body and soul.

walking across the shallows to Tresco on the low Spring tide

walking across the shallows to Tresco on the low Spring tide

I have found a paradise here on earth!  Surprisingly, I have lived in Cornwall for 14 years but this is the first time I have had the opportunity to visit the Isles of Scilly.  It’s a first for the dogs too.  First time on a big boat for them, let alone the island hoppers.  The noise of the engine is a little alarming at first but they soon get used to that.

We are staying on the small island of Bryher, based in a cottage at Hillside Farm.  My hosts are delightful and they have farmed this land for several generations.  I, my bags and dogs are collected from the small jetty, all bundled into the back of an old red Landrover for the short, bumpy ride back to the farm.

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Aptly named, this small farm overlooks its own fields surrounded by high, pittosporum-hedged windbreaks.  In the past, the fields of Bryher supplied the mainland with early Spring flowers like daffodils and anemones before cheap imports from South Africa put them out of business.  Now, the produce from Hillside Farm supplies both islanders and visitors with fresh vegetables and eggs.

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Beyond these tiny fields lying in a low sandy neck of land, is Sampson Hill, from the top of which, the twin peaks of Sampson Island can be viewed on the other side.  From my South-facing balcony, I can see the sea on both sides of this spit of land – the Atlantic on the right in the west and the island of Tresco on the left in the east.  (scroll down to see 2nd ‘pano’ below)

Birds use this area as a corridor.  The whu whu coming from the pair of swans that live on the pool in front of Hell Bay Hotel just around the corner makes me look up from my sketch books as they fly backwards and forwards on their daily comings and goings.  A young blackbird comes to my breakfast table every morning, fluttering its wings and asking to be fed.  Thrushes.  I haven’t seen these songsters for years, and sparrows. The air is just bursting with a multi-toned symphony of sound which is all overlaid with a more raucous stave of tunes from a variety of seabirds: Oystercatchers, Herring Gulls and pretty little Kittiwakes.

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They are so close, I am forever peering into the shrubbery or tops of boulders to see who is making these wonderful avian sounds.   If you are not careful, it is all too easy to stumble on a nest half-hidden in rocks on the foreshore or know I am near one by the screeching alarm calls from anxious parents.

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On our first day, we were able to walk across the sand banks to Tresco and back again, thanks to the low Spring tide.  Being brought up on the beaches of Cornwall, the dogs are in their element too.  Wading, knee-deep in the channels, Tammi wild with excitement, darting across the sand banks and jumping into the water to splosh her way across, whilst Sadie sticks to me like a shadow.  I am pretty excited too.  It is a hot, crystal-clear, perfect day.  I thought life just couldn’t get any better than this.

If ever there was a time when I wished I had a camera with a zoom lens or the ability to make panoramas, then this is it.

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I tried to make some with the ‘pano’ App on my iPhone.   They make some strangely distorted images but I like these unusual angles.  (Click on them for a better look.)  All the photographs in this post are from my iPhone camera and I haven’t ‘doctored’ any of them.

 

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These islands are only a few square miles at most, so everything is on a human scale.  Scan the horizon and most of what you see is within a single viewpoint.  There is no need to adjust the settings on your camera to ‘toy-town’ scales.  It is a ready-made landscape in miniature.  It is Les Ecrehous, Les Minquiers and Jersey, with a dash of Barbadian beach idyll, all rolled into one.

I also tried the traditional 4-photograph panoramas.

Everywhere you looked, there is some treat in store.  (spot the goat)

Either feasting the eyes on distant views (spot the whippet)

 

Or things up close and more detailed, highlighting some of the amazing colours and textures.  (spot the Cornish colours)

 

I was surprised just how often I found myself alone on these desert island beaches feeling like a castaway.  I could fancifully imagine myself as a Mrs Robinson Crusoe.  Even found his abandoned camp, complete with fire pit.

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This is a place that is hard to leave.  Physically, I have returned with an old gig-racing oar that the farmer turfed out of his barn having deemed it of no use to anyone any more.  With little thought about how to get it home together with 2 cases (one for clothes, one for art materials), a rucksack and 2 dogs, it is £2.50 worth of island history that I just had to have as a souvenir.  Plus a handful of white sand to view under the microscope.

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Spiritually, this place has seeped into my being, through the pores of my skin and found its way into my heart.  The question is not if, but when can I come back again?

(See part two coming shortly: the creative journey.)

 

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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

Spriggans of Light: A Pilgrimage from Carn Lês Boel to Come to Good.

About half-way through a recent 6-day pilgrimage, (lead by Richard Dealler of Mary/Michael Pilgrims Way), I learnt a new word.  Spriggan.   It was used by our overnight camping host and transformational healer, Annie Turner, to describe the sparks of light coming from the fire in the pit, a warm and welcoming focal point for weary pilgrims to gather around after a full day of contemplative walking.

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A little research and I have discovered that a spriggan is a nature sprite or changeling in Cornish folklore.  Not a particularly savoury character by some accounts, to be found guarding hoards of ill-gotten gains.   Used to describe sparks from a fire, then I can easily embrace spriggans as nature spirits dancing in the flames.   It occurred to me that, as pilgrims, we were not unlike spriggans: little beings of light  breaking free to sparkle in the darkness before finally evaporating into the ether.

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West Cornwall Beltane Pilgrimage organised by Mary Michael Pilgrims Way guided by Richard Dealler.
The Node Stone
Be still, for this is sacred ground,
A place to stand and pause. Reflect
upon the pathway here –
The lessons learned, the gifts received.
Be still, and listen to the voice
That sings a song of unity,
Blessing the journey still to come
With love and deep humility.
Brenda Desborough.
This poem was read out by Richard to mark the start of our pilgrimage.  We are standing on the node point at Carn Lês Boel.  The point where the Michael and Mary Lines make landfall and come together after snaking their way across the waters from Ireland, (I dowsed it that way on this day, but initially dowsed by Hamish Miller).  The reading perfectly sets the tone for our next few days together.

12 pilgrims in all set off on that journey together: a dolly mixture assortment of backgrounds and eccentricities, such as artists and photographers and, not surprisingly the majority of people from various caring professions which includes a homeopath, a psychotherapist, an Alexander technique practitioner, a few musicians and healers, an ex-lawyer, a songstress and one couple.  And me.   Then there is Christoffer, the backup team: driver, cook and provisioner for the duration, a cauldron of bubbling energy.  He scolds us when we left tea bags lying around the camp, woos us with poetic observations or serenaded us with soulful sounds skilfully bowed from his violin strings.  He also fills our bellies with welcoming, tasty curries and vegetable stews flavoured with foraged herbs.  We could not have done without Christoffer.

This is not just a walk-and-camp holiday as a couple of participants had thought it might be.  The word ‘pilgrimage’ in the title is a bit of a give away.   Walking in silence and sharing this intense experience of internal and external journeying is part of what constitutes the difference between a ‘walk’ and a ‘pilgrimage’.   But due to the nature of silent walking, we rarely get to know our fellow pilgrims  over and above what they do for a living.  For instance, I can’t tell you about family matters or how many children other people might have had.  But that doesn’t seem to matter.  Just being with other people and experiencing their essence overriding words is enough, understanding a power in people being together, body and soul, in the natural environment.  When we do talk, other than the daily natterings, what is slowly revealed, skilfully guided by Richard and Christoffer, are mirrors of our own thoughts and feelings as most of us manage to summon up the words to share deeper aspects of ourselves to each other.

The week is not without its moments of tension that spontaneously erupts and ripples through the group from time to time.  Richard’s experience in working with offenders of domestic violence meant that these troublesome niggles were ‘aired’ and dealt with in the group circle sessions.  But it wasn’t all heavy and introspective either.  There are many, many  light-hearted moments too and a lot of joyful banter and much laughter.  Singing and bright conversation.  Poems recited and musical instruments played.  So that by the end of our time together we felt more like a family of friends, embracing our differences and sharing our truths, than a band of weary pilgrims.

 

Then there is the walking.  Lots of it.  About 60 miles following the Mary earth energy line across the hidden parts of the west Cornish countryside to visit quiet country churches, holy wells, hill-top markers, stone circles and standing stones that accent points along the Line.  What should have been familiar territory for me often felt like we were walking in a foreign land, tacking across it, this way and that, in Mary’s gentle, energetic field.  A couple of themes begin to emerge.   For one,  there is a definite heart vibe going on: everywhere you looked there are shapes resembling hearts, even heart-shaped puddles.  The other theme is a cross, like the cross of St.Piran (a black cross on a white background), the patron Saint of tin-miners (and of Cornwall).  They were on rocks on the beach, like the one I photographed at Nanjizel….too big to put in my pocket.  The turn stile on the path leading to St Piran’s Well, in the gardens of Bryher Cottage, Perranwell was in the shape of a St Piran’s Cross.  (Or were they kisses?)

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When we came to St Michael’s Mount, I was invited to try out my new Chakra Walk on the group.  Realising why I had been prompted to throw my coloured silks into my bag at the last minute, this seemed like a good way to elevate our visit above just a tourist experience as we tuned in with Mary once again on the Mount.  (you can find a report about it on the Mary Michael Pilgrim Way Facebook page)

Then there is Richard, our steady leader and pace setter.  I knew the moment I met him, we were all in safe hands.  A special red-coated leader, often a sweater skirt tied around the waist, ready to hand out the blister plasters or dispatch a casualty or two in a taxi to the next camp when the need arose.  As it did on a couple of occasions.  Once when a ‘gent’ got one of his new boots stuck between a couple of granite boulders whilst crossing a stile, falling backwards into a bed of stinging nettles and leaving his foot wedged at a precariously twisted angle.  The sort of thing you see on ‘you’ve been framed’ only it wasn’t very funny at the time.   After untying laces and a lot of wriggling and a bit of man-handling, the boot is finally freed from its stoney vice together with its occupant.  Luckily with no more harm done other than a pilgrim who was a little bruised and shaken by the event.

As we settle into the rhythm of the days, ‘about half an hour’ becomes a measure of distance to the next resting stop / the first lunch break / the second lunch break / the day’s destination.    Creases of anxiety are gradually ironed out as stresses in the ‘outside’ world get left behind and concerns such as time and distance become blurred, responsibility happily relinquished and the focus placed on simply following our leader.  His quiet, even step, leading the crocodile of pilgrims along the path.   Then just when I was beginning to feel like I could go on for another week at least, all too soon, we had reached our destination: Come to Good, an atmospheric little Quaker Meeting House near Playing Place on the Fal estuary.  Then as suddenly as it had all begun – in the rain – that moment had arrived to say goodbye – in the rain.  Goodbye to our fellow foot travellers and go our separate ways once more, splintering away from the community of pilgrims to scatter across the country and breaking the spell.

Summing up that experience?  For me, it has been quite cathartic.  At many points along the way I was very close to tears, and on some occasions not able to control them from flowing at all.  The experience: a richly woven tapestry of poetry, chanting,  early morning Qi Gong (a form of Tai Chi), a few tears spilt, a bit of gentle snoring and a little toning (or droning from me).  The sound of Skylarks and mesmerizing kinetic wind turbine sculptures:  moments that turn into memories.  I ached in my gluteus maximus and had a coffee withdrawal headache for the first day, but once I got into my stride, quite literally, I took off and flew!  Like a butterfly whose wings are a little tattered at the edges.  I think we have all fluttered our wings a little more and I, for one, wouldn’t have changed a thing.  I am a little wiser and more nourished by the pilgrimage community.  “Basic human contact – the meeting of eyes, the exchanging of words – is to the psyche what oxygen is to the brain. ……….” Martha Beck.   Thank you fellow pilgrims.

If you would like to experience one of these for yourself, Richard is in the process of organising the next pilgrimage.

Dartmoor Summer Solstice Pilgrimage, 4 days (tbc) from 19th June. Contact Richard, contact@marymichaelpilgrimway.org.

For a taster, here is a lovely film about last years’ Dartmoor section of the Mary Michael Way made by Rachel Cornish who was with us on the this years’ Cornish section.

But don’t take my word for it.  Here are some of Richard Dealler own words (which he has kindly let me reproduce here) in his poem, Cuckoo Calling.   He was reminded of it when we heard those distinctive cuck-oo, cuck-oo notes whilst walking in the middle of the Cornish countryside, a true harbinger of Spring and new beginnings. Thank you Richard.

Cuckoo Calling

Yesterday,

I walked in search of the cuckoo,

Around Bickleigh and Cadleigh,

Up the valley of the Dart.

I wandered into an old world of marshy meadows

Where cuckoo flowers abounded

But their namesake was absent.

Most unexpected was the heronry,

Where birds vulture-like perched and looked me in the eye,

As if spotting the silvery glint of a tasty morsel.

I got lost, missed an unmarked path,

And ended up knocking on the door

Of a cottage at Little Silver

Where a person 5 feet tall

Would have had to stoop to enter.

Back in Bickleigh, a fading poster

Pinned to the bus shelter, caught my eye.

It advertised Awakening Albion,

A walk from Cornwall to Norfolk

From shore to shore

Between Beltane and Summer Solstice.

It spoke of pilgrimage and community,

Two words close to my heart.

Today,

The incongruity of speaking to one of the pilgrims

As he neared St Austell.

In my mind he was garbed in medieval robes,

With staff, gourd, scallop shell – and mobile phone.

Part of me longed to up sticks and go

To break through to a different life.

Leave the washing up in the bowl, the lawn unmown,

My own message pinned to the door,

“Away on pilgrimage.”

To re-awaken in me that joy of days and weeks

When walking was my life,

The pace and rhythm so unrushed

That my senses like a fairy tale princess kissed, revived,

And where, a long, long way from home

I heard the cuckoo call.

Richard Dealler.

 

 

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