My first trip into the Cheviots. There were stunning views as it was a lovely clear day, and the expansiveness and openness was breathtaking - as a town and city dweller, it's not something I'm used to seeing. In this kind of environment, the experience of being in place is one that I don't know how I'd try to portray. My photographs don't do it justice - most of them I deleted - and unlike on the previous two walks, where seeds of ideas for working in place were beginning to sow themselves, I felt no particular inspiration for creative work here. Maybe this is because it's so new to me. Maybe it's because the long stretches of relatively featureless landscape don't afford much to work with. Whilst it is a fantastic experience to be here, it feels to me like being up one hill in the Cheviots must be a very similar experience to being up another. What is missing for me is the specificity of place which has caught my imagination elsewhere.
My leaning towards the specificity of place is evident in the photos I chose to keep from this walk - the majority are close up shots of things that interested me - lichen, plants, animals (mostly sheep and horses) and trees. This wasn't representative of the photos I took, many of which tried (unsuccessfully in my view) to capture the wide expanses of open space. Something about these photographs just didn't work for me. They were too poor a representation of the experience of being in that place.
A beautiful walk through the Northumbrian countryside, starting and ending just outside the village of Holystone. We didn't manage to exactly follow the route we had planned, and so missed seeing Dove Crags, which I'd like to go back to. The most exciting and memorable part of the walk for me was the Lady's Well, the site of an ancient spring - said to discharge 560gallons of water per minute - which is now managed by the National Trust.
The stone above, an example of an Iona Cross, now lies in the centre of the pool. However, the cross hasn't always been positioned here - a statue, intended to represent St. Paulinus, used to lie in the centre of the pool. This statue is now located at one end of the pool
It is said that the Bishop Paulinus knelt at this spring, on a stone known as the 'Holy Stone' located at the east end of the pool, on Easter Day, 627 AD. ,whilst baptising the 'Heathen English'. Although modern consensus questions this legend, the site has nonetheless been an important pilgrimage site for Roman Catholics, and has been thought of as 'part of an imagined religious landscape', 'a portal between the tangible world and the underworld of deities and ancestral spirits'. Today, Eucharist is celebrated at the alter there twice per year.
(Quotations from http://www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk/understanding/historyarchaeology/historicvillageatlas/holystoneintroduction/holystonehistory/holystoneladyswell)
In researching this place, I have come across some particularly compelling writing about the area from a book published in 1904: James Christie's 'Northumberland: its history, its features and its people'. He writes:
'But dearest to the memory of a Northumbrian, is the Lady Well at Holystone, in the vale of the Coquet. There, in a secluded spot, is the holy well. It is neatly railed round, and a thin belt of trees surrounds it. The background of purple mountains heightens the effect produced, while the clear waters of the mountain-fed river as they flow over their pebbly bed with a soft and musical rhythm, woo the reflective mood.
Hither, in the year 627, Paulinus came, preached the Gospel to the rude Northumbrians, and baptized. It was the centre of a wide district. They must have come from the slopes of the Cheviot on the north, and the water-shed of the Tyne and the Rede on the south; from Alnwick and Rothbury, Elsdon and Otterburn, from Harbottle, rude hamlets all of them, yet containing men who felt a divine impulse working within them. As when there was of old the sound of a-going on the tops of the mulberry trees, God in Christ was revealed by the tongue of Paulinus as the friend and the Saviour of every man. While the traveller sits on the wooden bench within the inclosure, and gazes into the clear waters of the large, oval-shaped well where the perch chase one another, days speak, generations speak, centuries speak, and, as reflexions flow, he ceases to wonder at the meaning of the great words of the holy Apostle, for he is here face to face with their interpretation: "While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal".
A large and graceful Runic cross has been erected in the centre of the well bearing this inscription on the plinth: "In this place Paulinus the Bishop baptised 3000 Northumbrians, Easter DCXXVII" while on the pediment there is this other: "In this fountain, called the Lady's Well, on the introduction of Christianity in the Saxon reign of Edwin, and early in the seventh century, Paulinus, an English Bishop, baptized above 3000 people."'
Christie's style of writing, and the language and imagery used, really resonate with my memory and sense of that place. I have returned to the writing numerous times since I first came across it, reading it and copying it out, and have also purchased an original copy of the book from 1904. There is something about the smell and feel of the paper that is more than 100 years old, and the fragility of the book, that seems to fit with that place. Christie has captured something of the ethereal spirit of the place.
I've also come across a tune named after the Lady's Well, written by Archie Dagg. It is a slow and evocative tune; simple yet beautiful. I would very much like to go back to this site and experimenting with sounding the place, both through spoken word (and particularly through the reading of Christie's text) and through music, taking Dagg's tune as a starting point.
Walk starting and ending at Bolam Lake, taking in Shaftoe Crags and the Piper's Chair. We were aware from the outset that the route seemed busier than usual - a surprising number of cars & people - and soon found out why. Within the first mile we found ourselves in the middle of a hunt. We heard it before we saw it, particularly the distinctive sound of the hunting horn. Before we knew it we were surrounded by sprinting dogs and the thundering of horses hooves.
A memorable experience for me, having never seen a hunt before, which I'm sure will continue to colour my memory of that place for a long time to come.
The walk took in Shaftoe Crags, which Robin explained to me had connections with the local Shafto family (there is possibly a connection here to the song Bobby Shaftoe).
Archeological explorations around Shaftoe Crags show signs of occupation from Mesolithic times, with tools found dating from both the Bronze and Iron ages. There are a number of rock shelters which show evidence of historical use, and it is thought that prior to quarrying in the late 18th century there would have been a substantial amount of rock art. An interesting description of the place was given by John Marius Wilson in his Imperial Gazeteer of England and Wales (1870-72): S. Crags are a wildly picturesque range of rocks; are supposed, by some writers, to have been a haunt of Druids; and are now a favourite resort of picnic parties. An ancient chapel stood on a spot to the S of the crags; and a curious incised tombstone was found there in 1831.
Past Shaftoe Crags, there's a fantastic view of the rock known as the Piper's Chair. The rock itself is made of a hard quartzy stone, with evidence of veins of Quartz pebbles running through it, and sits atop a bed of softer sandstone rock, which has eroded away to leave this protusion. The people sitting on the top of the rock give an idea of the size. The rock is clearly visible from the nearest main road, the A696, and so is a well-known landmark. On this walk we didn't get particularly close to the rock, as instead we went to view the nearby Trig Point, a navigational post placed on a hill-top that can be seen from miles around (on a clear day!!). Having researched more about both Shaftoe Crags and the Piper's Chair, I plan to go back to the site a couple of times, with my fiddle and some recording equipment, to investigate this place further.