The beckoning of the earth

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As the year turns, the earth calls me, summoning me towards the land.  I feel a need to seek out ancient stones and imprints in the landscape.  The ancestors cajole me.  Outwards, to the wild places.  To the land of bracken-choked moors and wind-scoured hills, to witness their leavings on the earth.  Halloween is their day, when we remember our forebears and welcome them to our hearths.  The pivot point, when the year shimmers between old and new.

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We journey to Lady’s Well, a sacred spring hidden at the edge of a small Northumbrian village.  From a distance, you see only a huddle of trees.  But then, at the end of the rutted path, a small wooden gate marks the threshold to another world.  A large, shallow stone basin, shaped like an arched window.  Clear water in a dark pool glazed with russet leaves.  It ripples from the spring that gushes at its end.  In the centre is a stone cross, its base lichened with splodges of autumn.

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The spring is watched over by a statue of St Paulinus, who was wrongly thought to have performed baptisms here and it is also associated with the 4th Century St Ninian.  But it is likely that the well was originally a pagan, rural shrine and a Roman road was later built alongside it.  Its visible guardians are the trees: huge beeches resplendent in their autumn colours and yews sprinkled with berries.  Lady’s Well is silence, simplicity, seclusion.  But it has a deep, fizzing energy that invites you to linger.

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From Lady’s Well, we climb higher into the enchanted Simonside Hills, until the land opens out before us.  We’ve come to Lordenshaws, a weather-beaten hill, layered with history.  Here, you can see the hollows in the land of an Iron Age hill fort, Bronze Age burial cairns and the remains of a Romano-British settlement.  But we have come to see something yet more mysterious: the designs carved into the rocks up to 5,000 years ago.

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We climb paths rimmed with bronzed bracken and Calluna heather.  To a large rock, etched with cups and spirals.  It’s not clear who made these marks, or exactly when, or why.  But the motifs of circular grooves and cup-like depressions, pecked and carved with stone tools, are similar across Europe.  The urge to create is strong.  Before written language, before recorded history, our ancestors were inspired to forge patterns in rock.  Stone on stone.  Marks that had meaning to them but are an enigma to us.

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Lordenshaws is the sound of roaring wind and the chuckle of red grouse in the bracken.  It is the thunder-like boom of artillery from the nearby Otterburn military training ranges.  Where Lady’s Well is introspection, Lordenshaws is bold, barren and expansive.  A lone black faced sheep has taken up residence at the peak of the fort, peering down at us over the brow of the hill.  Its companions, ivory-coated sentinels, watch us as we draw near.  Satisfied that we mean no harm, they leave us to wander the hollows of the fort and pay our respects at the burial cairns unaccompanied.

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Our final rituals take place within sight of our own hearth.  We burn the seeds we ‘planted’ in spring, to release the dreams of the old year.  We light a candle on the altar of our ancestors and lay a place for them at the table.  We choose Tarot cards to divine our possibilities for the year to come.  Then the feast, assembled from the harvests of the season: stuffed pumpkin and pomegranate fool.  And I end the year with good news, a message from Aesthetica magazine, to say that the story I entered in their competition will be published in the resulting anthology, with the overall winner to be announced in December.

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Like any pilgrimage, this one had its challenges.  Road closures, diversions, wrong turns and unmarked trails made us believe at times that we would never reach our destinations.  But at last we met the ancestors in their spirit places.  We witnessed the visions they manifested in the earth.  At last, just for a while, they called us home.

80 thoughts on “The beckoning of the earth

  1. I enjoyed taking this journey with you Andrea through the moors and over the hills and to Lady’s Well and beyond to those mysterious circles. As you know I am always deeply intrigued by markers and markings and anything that could possibly import meaning or signify importance. Congrats on the acceptance of your story 🙂 ps. your stuffed pumpkin looks yummy! (never even thought of doing that!!) maybe next year…

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  2. Wonderful, wonderful writing, Andrea – I loved the bracken choked moors. And hidden deep in all this marvellous prose is just the little fact that your story is to be published in an anthology. Well done indeed, and not before time.

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    • Thanks Jenny, yes that was a lovely unexpected surprise at the end of our day 🙂 P.S. Are you catching that Grayson Perry programme on C4, I’m recording it so haven’t watched it yet, but thought of you when I saw it was on!

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      • Yes I am, Andrea, thanks – lovely of you to think of me! Be sure to watch it – it’s really good – and last week (half term) I went to see the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery which is a result of all the interviews Grayson did.

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  3. You are always at your best, Andrea, when you tie your creative journey to nature and here to original rituals and ancient places. Your writing is as always gorgeous and pulls us with you onto these old and meaningful trails. Is the story you are mentioning the one you told us about in a previous post or an additional one? In any case it has been a great year for you. And for me, an exceptional pleasure to read your unique blog posts. Best to you, Andrea, in this fall season that I also enjoy and respect very much.

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  4. This is beautiful. Your ability to connect so well with land and nature impresses me as does your ability to describe them so clearly in words. I imagine the setting descriptions in your fiction are lovely. Congrats on getting your story in an anthology.

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  5. Samhain wouldn’t be the same without your input Andrea. It sure is a mysterious place that Northumbria. I read elsewhere today that one or two of those inscribed rocks are being ‘listed’ as protected structures.

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    • Northumberland is full of prehistory Roy, which is great for me as it’s my favourite period – probably because it’s so mysterious! The ‘main rock’ at Lordenshaws, which is the one I posted the photos of, is a protected ancient monument.

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  6. I loved reading this Andrea and thank you for sharing this Samhain journey and your beautiful ritual!! I felt that pull to the earth and the ancient ones when I was on Machrie Moor in September. I just wish I could eat the feast!! Congratz on your publication!!! Do you live in Northumbria?

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    • Thanks Cybele. I don’t live in Northumberland but in Tyne and Wear, which is the next county down – until the 1970s, it was classed as Northumberland as it was north of the Tyne river (south of the river was classed as Durham), but then Tyne and Wear was created. But the border with Northumberland is only about 8 miles from where I live.

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  7. These pictures are phenomenal! From the comfort of my jammies, you whisked me away to another land with your beautiful words. We spent some time with our favorite waterfalls outside of the city last weekend. It was so great to get away, to enjoy the seasonal changes in nature from the last time we visited the waterfalls in the summer.

    And, congrats on your piece making it into the anthology…how awesome!

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  8. What beautiful, regal-looking sheep. I take it that the red marks are put on their wool to identify their owner or the particular herd they’re part of. I can almost feel the chill air when I look at these photos — more great work!

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    • Those sheep are particularly attractive Chris, they have beautiful faces and coats – the one on the top of the hill fort certainly thought he was the king of the castle. Yes, the dye is used to identify which farmer owns them.

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  9. Congratulations on your story being selected for the anthology!
    Another 5000 years and the elements will erase these carvings… There were much less people living on Earth 5000 years ago than there are now, but still, it is shocking how little has left from their civilization – just a few carvings and a handful of artifacts in museums. It makes me think that we are on Earth with a purpose to rather leave a spiritual heritage than material.

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  10. A marvelous read Andrea!! Thank you for this enchanting tour into the hidden moorlands of Northumbria. I’m intrigued with mysterious markings and ritual landscapes. It evokes awe, reverence and meaning by bonding us with our ancestral lineage. I so much enjoyed this.
    And congratulations on your story being selected in the anthology! Is this the one you were talking about in your previous post or is it an additional one?
    Anyway, this has been a bountiful year for you Andrea. So happy for you 🙂

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  11. Now I know that your stuffed pumpkin is indeed savoury, I was so glad that Luanne asked the question here so I could read your answer. It looks and and sounds delicious as does the pomegranate fool 🙂 Oh Andrea, I just love the way you write and evoke such powerful and beautiful seasonal imagery, all illustrated by your gorgeous photographs. I love the history to be found in our land and what a thrill to be able to visit places such as these. I felt the gentle solitude and comfort that this autumn season brings through your words. And many, many congratulations on your amazing publication news! Wow Andrea, this has been a fantastic year for you. I’m so happy for you 😀

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    • Thank you Sherri, they were delicious, glad I made the effort. The pomegranate fool was just like a deconstructed cheesecake, so you’ll be able to imagine how that tasted! It is great to have these places on my doorstep and there are still many more left to visit. I wasn’t expecting any more good writing news for this (seasonal) year, so to have that one just sneak in on Halloween was wonderful!

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  12. Andrea I congratulate you, your writing deserves a good home and good luck with the final results. I love this journey you took us on. Old and new, your photo’s are beautiful. I am always fascinated with ancient markings on stone or in caves. It looks like the perfect place to celebrate Halloween. Kath.

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  13. What a totally wondrous post. You just transported me to a different place and time.
    And hearty congratulations, Andrea, on being selected as one of the finalists in the Aesthetica Competition. I missed the entry date this year (by mistake) but did have a story published in the Aesthetica Creative Works Annual 2011, after being a finalist in 2010. I was so excited.
    Fingers crossed that you will actually win the big prize for 2014. Your writing is certainly good enough.

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  14. Beautiful words to evoke the beauty of such a mysterious place, Andrea. Your photos bring back wonderful memories of my September trip and hiking with my husband through Northumbria along Hadrian’s wall.

    And congratulations on the story acceptance! I’m thinking the new year will be bringing more good news your way on the writing front.

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  15. Beautiful language and descriptions. I always look forward to reading your writing because your imagery is evocative and inspiring. I love writing about nature and the earth and the mysticism surrounding it all, but I don’t do it nearly as well as you.

    Congrats on the anthology!

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  16. This is brilliant, there is something about being out there in nature shaped by man, it really makes everything feel so close to the ancestors. It is great to feel all romantic and then be able to go home to all the mod cons.

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  17. Pingback: The shoe tree | Harvesting Hecate

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