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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?)
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.
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.
We feed our bodies with nature’s bounty, and Christoffer’s delicious suppers,
and the porridge bowls are always polished clean.
We replenish our souls with holy water from sacred wells,
finding solace, peace and a cool retreat as well as reliving poignant memories inside churches we visit,
captivated by human stories of war-time heroes,
or by the patterns and symbols, in the tracery of window panes
and in the crosses we find outside in the churchyards, like this one at Lostwithiel.
Or along the way, where the old and the new jostle for our attention alongside each other to signpost our way.
We walked across many fields of sun-burned grasses,
and barefoot up scraggy hills to relieve blistered feet.
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.
But no sign of the Beast. Only muddy tractor tyre tracks to be found.
and rusting pieces of old farm machinery seemingly abandoned by the wayside.
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.
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