Wonderful walk yesterday. Prepping the Spirit Walk for 18 Feb, so I walked the way we’re going to go that day. The walk’s a bit over 4.5 miles and mostly downhill or flat after the initial surge up to the trig point.
I tapped my stang three times on the ground and asked permission of the spirits of place, and Elen most particularly, to begin my walk. After a moment I felt the release, the invitation; the walk began.
That beginning is stunning; you climb up through woods then come out onto the edge of moorland and look down on the Wye from 185m (about 600ft). You can see for miles all round, it’s gorgeous!
The track, an ancient ridgeway going back thousands of years, leads you gently down into the forest – oak, hazel, hawthorn, pine, chestnut – takes you up to a folly, a small ruin-building with another lovely view. Hazel grows in the walls, it’s a place of Elen of the Ways, to confirm this for me a fallow deer buck and a couple of does moved slowly out of the forest edge about 50 feet away and a buzzard called overhead. I carried on down the track; the bare trees stood up around me like huge antlers, reaching for the sky, calling down sky energy into the earth, sending earth energy into the sky, exchange. Elen’s track led me on.
Caark! Caark! I stopped, peered into the sky. Yes! There! Huge and black, wings spread to soar, there he was … Raven. He circled lazily, calling the while, then settled in the top of a pine tree a quarter mile off. Another called, he called back. With my spyglass I could see the pair talking, refurbishing their nest ready for this year’s eggs. I watched; then he called again and flew off down to the valley. I set off on my way again.
Next I came to Blodeuwedd’s tree, an ancient, twisted hawthorn still half-covered in berries. I know her, she’s lovely, there are comfy stones to perch on beside her. If the frosts continue she won’t have the remains of her berries for long, the birds will need them … but that’s part of the exchange; she makes the berries, the birds eat them and spread her seed.
Down, down, down; through the woods, past the yews and pines, through the chestnuts, squirrels chasing from tree to tree. Next year I must come in the autumn and collect some. Some, not all as the deer need them to put on winter fat. It gets steep near the bottom, exciting! And through the trees I see whiteness, the filed between the woods and the river is white with frost. I reach the stile and there it is. The Yat rock is so high the field gets no sun at this time of year.
Standing by the stile, looking, watching and asking permission of the spirits of place to leave the wood and enter the field, I hear her calling … the peregrine. She’s nested in the Coldwell rocks for years, and so did her ancestors before her; there’s been a peregrine there for time out of mind. I stood listening; then the barrier broke and I felt I could cross the stile.
The walk through the frosted field was stunning. It’s a different sort of light, not daylight as you normally know it, not evening or night either, between the worlds. I reached the river; oh! how fast she flows! The Wye is a strong, fast and deep river, not one to mess with, it’s several feet deep just below me at the edge, and the drop is a good ten feet. I go carefully, watching my step. Mallards, duck and drake, squawk and flutter up from just below me, walking on water across to the other side; the land with that wonderful waterski-skid, unruffled their feathers and continue to sit perfectly still in the middle of the fast flowing river. That always looks like magic, still duck while you can see the river going several miles an hour as it flows past them … those feet must be doing the four minute mile underneath the water!
I walk on and suddenly … whoooo!
I turn. The calls come again, this time ke-wick whooooo … what are a pair of tawny owls doing out now, it’s two o’clock in the afternoon! I wait but they don’t call again.
It’s quiet here, no human sounds at all. Up at the trig point you still have the distant traffic noise from the A49; as you come past the folly and enter the woods this goes, the wood-quiet enfolds you, peace, only nature surrounds you. Down here, by the river, under the peregrine rock, it is still; the river rushes softly gurgles sometimes; the birds call, tree-fulls of thrushes sing on the opposite bank; you can hear the sheep’s feet crunch the frosty grass.
Now, up to my right is an old barn; oh, how I would love to liver there!
The river winds me on, my feet are drawn and carried as I walk down stream alongside her; the land and water energies are the silver threads that feed my feet, walking is easy when you remember to ask the land to help. Elen of the Ways nods and laughs as she watches me remember this again. And, as an extra, there is a badger print, clear as anything, in a cow pat … walk with you feet, badger tells me, walk with your feet and not your head!
The field ends and I come to a gate. I tap my stang on the gatepost three times, asking permission to cross the threshold from one place to the next. Permission is granted, and I feel a thank you in my mind; the land and the goddess like to be acknowledged.
The way is a track now, the farmer uses it with his tractor so he has put hardcore down to save the land from becoming a mud-bath. It’s different walking, not so easy on the feet; I reach into the earth, asking for more energy, the land gives but it’s not so easy now man has put metalling between us. We achieve a balance.
Here is the stile. I stop for a few minutes, eat my apple and a piece of crystallised ginger, drop the apple core as a gift for the beasts and birds in the oakleaf litter of the path. Again, I tap the stang on the stile; again permission is granted to enter the wood.
This wood is different to on the top; we’re down near the river, near the bottom of the hill. The path rustles with dry oak leaves, their edges silvered with the frost; it climbs gently; there are old chestnut and sycamore leaves amongst the litter too. I come to a yew tree, like an arching bridge over the path; she is old, has lots many branches but is growing babies all the way down her trunk. There are no berries, all gone to the birds already. I tops beside her, sing to her and rest my head against her; she has many stories to tell.
The path goes on, gently upward, no strain at all and the land is able to feed me easily again. I can see through the bare tree trunks, up the hill to near the top where I walked earlier.
And here is a house again, a roadway, civilisation! The farm I passed earlier, by the stile, didn’t feel like civilisation, it seemed to be part of the land, accepted, working together. I think the peregrine had feasted there too. The farm has white doves, there were a dozen or so sat on the roof. As I walked up the first bit of the path there was a great mass of white on the wall further up; when I got there I saw it was dove feathers, picked clean; at first I wondered if it was a fox but, touching the feathers, it felt like the peregrine. I’m glad she was able to feed, build her strength for those eggs to come.
But here I was at the first cottage. I took the track and went on up, past the most wonderful crab apple tree, full of thrushes again, feasting. Now the way is quite civilised for a while but not long before I came to the Candle Shed. Friends make candles from the beeswax of the Coppet Hill bees; you can buy them there and get a cup of tea too … a lovely end to the walk.