Journey of Re-Discovery – Part II
A Passage to Britain
Sometimes a trip is just a trip. Sometimes a trip is a visit into many past lifetimes. The latter case was my experience in my one and only, rather momentous trip to Britain in 1984. It would activate triggers within to remind me of “past” lives lived all over the British Isles.
When I accompanied seven other acquaintances on a trip to Great Britain, I didn’t realize that I was about to begin a new phase of my life and my spiritual journey. It was a month-long trip, visiting villages, ancient spiritual sites and countryside, from the south of England, through Wales and into the lower Highlands of Scotland.
After leaving Gatwick Airport, we drove through the towns and countryside to the southwest of London. I had no desire whatsoever to enter London; not sure why, just did.
We drove first to the New Forest, an ironic name as it is over a thousand years old. The forest was set aside by the Norman conquerors as one of their “hunting” grounds, thus setting out of bounds to all peasants and local people the grazing and hunting rights that their ancestors had enjoyed since time immemorial. It was death to be caught hunting or “poaching” in the king’s woods. Many aristocratic or landed families still treat their lands as inviolate private grounds, removed from their ancient uses.
Needless to say, it was a relief to walk under the ancient oaks of the great forest. Even the word “forest” didn’t seem to quite fit, as there were whole villages in the middle of the forest, left there by the king as they pre-dated the Norman invasion. And wild horses or ponies graze in the forest, although we didn’t see any that day.
We did see and climb a bit over the sprawling limbs of a huge oak tree that would have easily encompassed the square footage of a considerable house.
We stayed that first night in the old village of Avesbury, a village that was built right next to and partially within the ancient stone circle. To me, the circle was “dead”. There was no energy coming from the stones. It had been broken in many places due to the superstitions of Christians who believed that ancient pagans had set up the circle.
Our group stayed in the village over the Summer Solstice, communing with the stones, visiting other nearby ancient sites, including one of the White Horses.
We also visited Stonehenge. Again, I couldn’t “read” the stones, as a fence had been erected to “protect” the stones from all the visitors who came to celebrate the Solstice there. It was also a rather desolate site, set out on a grassy plain, with an odd car park and restroom detracting from the ancient feel of the place.
Next, we moved on to Devonshire. We stayed in Clovelly, a little village that was only accessible by foot. Our luggage was brought to our B & B via the back of a donkey. Very quaint. The next day, we walked on the trail that followed the shoreline, arriving at a small village, where our guide, David, introduced us to a friend. We had tea and then returned to the village, all of us somehow being stuffed into a tiny British car.
Devonshire was a combination of very wild places, isolated farms and villages, as well as busy towns. Many of the rural roads at that time were lined by thick hedgerows, a practice common to the area.
We next worked our way north by northeast to Glastonbury, staying in a bed and breakfast at the foot of Dodd Lane.
I had an odd reaction when we drove into Glastonbury, plunging into an almost immediate depression. I couldn’t bring myself to accompany my friends to dinner, but stayed at the B & B, washing my hair and relaxing.
When I walked down the main street of Glastonbury, I did the normal touristy things like looking at shops and continued on to the Abbey grounds.
Glastonbury Abbey was reduced to an empty shell during the Reformation under Henry Tudor VIII. He and his nobles systematically stripped the then Catholic churches and abbeys of all their wealth and put the monks and nuns out in the street. What had been thriving communities were now either deserted or converted into grand homes for the wealthy land owners.
Glastonbury Abbey was left in ruins. The main building is but a shell. There was another building, called the Abbot’s Kitchen, too. Other than that, the grounds are basically trees and lawn. Not much to see… but a lot to “feel” if you are sensitive like me.
When I entered the innocent looking building called the Abbot’s Kitchen, I was overpowered by a rush of grief. I had to literally sit down for a few minutes, feeling like I was being pressed into the floor. I sat there while other tourists wandered through the exhibit. Finally, our tour guide, David, entered the room. I was able to stand up, just, and tried to tearfully explain what was going on…
David became somewhat embarrassed, as I was in tears. No straight upper lip here… I’m an American. He made some excuse and said he had to meet someone…
I toddled out to the High Street and slowly made my way towards Dodd Lane. Then, after lunch, I headed out on what was called the Pilgrim’s Way… I had already “done” the Abbey; next came the Chalice Well.
In those days, the Well wasn’t very special, just a small narrow garden off a busy road. I understand that it’s been fixed up as it still is a draw for tourists and pilgrims. Still, there was a spring. A pool of red oxidized water was emerging from the hillside and trickling down the slope. I took a drink from the water, knowing that springs were held as sacred for untold ages and that it would be okay to drink.
After the short stop at the Well, I reached the foot of the Tor. Atop the steep hill stands what is the remainder of a chapel dedicated to St. Michael. The sight is dramatic, with the tall tower etched against the sometimes blue skies.
In those days, I was a very dedicated hiker. Climbing the Tor was nothing to me, so I climbed up the grassy slope, noticing as I went the subtle tiers in the hillside, indicating that perhaps this hill had been built in ancient times.
The view from the Tor was pretty… displaying the flat marshy lands to the south and then rolling hills to the north and east. The air was dense with moisture, not being too far from the sea. And it was late June, a time for many early summer storms in Britain.
I decided to continue on the Pilgrim’s Way, and walked down the backside of the Tor towards Chalice Hill. The Tor is considered the masculine power center of the area; Chalice Hill is considered the feminine energy center. I may be getting the names incorrect; this trip was 30 years ago.
I sat on a bench in a little swale between the hills and stared off into space, feeling blissful. I could see prana (sparkling light motes) in the air and was completely relaxed. From pain and sorrow, I had progressed to bliss and joy. That night I was able to join my companions at dinner.
The next day, we progressed northward towards the market town of Stratford on Avon. It was touristy, busy and full of vehicular traffic. The B & B where we were staying was a great sprawling inn. I spent as much time outside walking as I could. I visited exhibits on Tudor England, Queen Elizabeth… and walked along the Avon, sitting in the church and so on.
One of my friends was feeling a bit peaky, so I brought her juice and fruit to eat in the room and went out again to walk.
That night we attended a play at the Royal Shakespearean Theatre. It was a treat, until we got to the after the play dinner part. I refused to eat dinner. I’m not a European; I don’t eat meals in the middle of the night. I can be rather provincial at times…
Off we went again, the next day, heading to the Cotswolds, to stay in the old town of Stow-in-the-Wold. The names of towns and villages in Britain are something. It used to be a sheep-growing area. Now, it was another tiny market town, with a sprinkling of tourists marching through. We stayed at an old inn which served up delicious meals based on Elizabethan recipes or receipts as they called them then.
After browsing through the wonderful villages of the Cotswolds, we headed off towards Shrewsbury and Wales. We took a short walk on the old boundary line between Wales and England, an eerie place set in the woods. And stayed in a pleasant B & B near another old ruined Abbey on the River Wye.
The next day, we drove along the River Wye and then headed into the “high” country of Wales towards Snowdonia and Pen-y-pass, where we were going to stay in a Youth Hostel. The sunny day melted into fog coming in from the Irish Sea, shrouding the dark mountains.
I swear the moment I crossed the border into Wales, my voice started changing intonation. I began to sound like a Welsh person… No, I don’t know the language… but the lilting lift to the words sang to something inside.
Pen-y-Pass was not our original destination, but stayed there we did, making the best of the noisy, cramped setting. The next day we headed out on what was supposed to be a pleasant outing to the top of Snowdon. We started on the wrong trail, the one going to the lake, rather than the Miner’s Trail, which takes you to the top of the peak. Our guide attempted to lead us over the rough cross-country to get to the main trail, but by that time, I had had enough.
We met some British soldiers going down the trail, so my guide handed me over to them to see me safely down to the Hostel. As I was chatting with them, in a somewhat exhausted fashion, one of them asked me if I was Welsh. I said no, but they didn’t believe me until they saw me with my other American friends that evening at “dinner”.
I wasn’t feeling very well. Still, there was the journey to be made, so our party set out on our next destination, a B & B overlooking the Menai Straits, the narrow waters between mainland Wales and the Island of Anglesey. We looked at a lot of castles during that time… castles built by Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots… and of the Welsh.
When we reached a semi-finished castle on Anglesey, I couldn’t even get out of the van, but stayed there until everyone returned. Then we headed to the B & B. I was dropped off, put in the bedroom to rest and fell into a drowsy, feverish sleep. While in the room, I was able to look over the Menai and onto the island beyond.
I don’t remember much about that part of the trip; I was a bit out of it. I did wake up enough to tour a woolen mill in the north of Wales and to walk through a short bit of Chester, the old Roman town at the border of Wales and England.
We headed towards the lovely Lake District for a couple of days rest and rambling. I took part in the boat tour and some of the wanderings, but spent some time alone at the B & B, just resting and recuperating from Wales.
One day we stopped at an isolated stone circle located not too far from the market town of Keswick. The circle was a modest one, set in a pasture. To get to it, we passed some grazing sheep. The views from the circle were beautiful, taking in the head of two valleys stemming to the south. And the stones were alive. I felt it at once, as I sat on one resting in the pale sunshine of Northern England. Immediately, I felt a response in the stone, like it was a large animal arching its back beneath me. I smiled a secret smile… knowing enough now to keep my experience to myself. My guide, poet that he was, was not as open as I was to the ancient secrets of the earth. How I “knew” these things… well, they came from some other “part” of me, not from my present personality.
Next on the agenda was the Highlands of Scotland. We drove to Hadrian’s Wall and walked on a bit of the old structure, peering off into the “wilds” of lowland Scotland, rolling grassy hills. I tried to imagine painted tribesmen attacking the wall and driving off what remained of the once proud Roman legions who were stationed in that isolated region. It wasn’t too difficult.
Next, onto Scotland. We did not linger in the Lowlands, but drove past Stirling Castle, without stopping, and onto the official beginnings of the Highlands. We stayed at a small village on the River Tay, next to the western edge of Loch Tay, a vast lake running east and west across the base of the Highlands.
Again, I was struck by a cacophony of emotions. I refused to sit in a pub and drink the fine Scottish malt served there and went for a walk back to the B & B. I was experiencing an upwelling of emotions that weren’t making any sense and probably being a general pain to my companions.
We drove north, again, spending a night in Oban, a large town situated on the edge of the Irish Sea and the Inner Hebrides. We were going to spend some days on the tiny island of Iona, ancient site of another abbey… and far more ancient site of a Druidic school, although I didn’t know that at the time.
To get to Iona, you take a ferry to Skye and then a cab or bus to the crossing to Iona, via another tiny passenger-only ferry.
The one hotel on Iona was clean and quiet. The island itself was a blessing. I was able to rest and recuperate there while going on walks to every corner of the tiny island. I went to the Abbey and climbed the hills and tiny valleys, walked barefoot on the beaches and ate the great food. The hotel had its own kitchen gardens and fresh lamb, chicken and fish was provided daily for dinners. We had breakfast and dinner at the inn; the rest of the day food was up to us. I found provisions at the tiny local store and walked and walked, enjoying the semi-solitude and refreshing “summer” weather. We caught the island in a quiet period, filled with sunshine and sunny skies. The air was warm enough to even tempt us to swim in the cold waters of the Irish Sea.
Back to Oban for another night and then it was off to Glasgow and the last part of our tour of a portion of Great Britain. Little did I know that the trip would have life-long implications for me and was a turning point in my life.
Next: Part III – A Startling Change of Direction
All Rights Reserved, Elizabeth Ayres Escher, http://www.bluedragonjournal.com