Sacred Spaces in the English Landscape and Places of Inspiration: Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral

Stonehenge 17 Aug 2013 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)
Stonehenge 17 Aug 2013 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Throughout the English landscape there’s evidence that our ancestors shaped the land, to conform to their own mythological landscape.

I’ve written before about sacred spaces. In that article, I looked at some renowned locations in England where people have felt they’re in touch with something bigger than themselves – a sense of the numinous.

All of these places work symbolically or metaphorically to express a place where we may be or a situation we may encounter in this life, that we recognise from our own experience.

And one such renowned location is Stonehenge – which I visited a few days ago with family members.

To walk slowly and attentively around Stonehenge, using the audio guide provided by English Heritage, is to experience something numinous, much bigger than ourselves.

The stones arrived here some time just before 2500 BC, to begin transforming the previously existing simple enclosure to something much different. And as we considered the huge effort that our ancestors put into moving the stones 19 miles from the Marlborough Downs in north Wiltshire, and 150 miles from the Preseli Hills in Wales, to this location, in order to  construct this massive circle, we were drawn in to the wonder and the mystery.

Salisbury Cathedral. Its spire is the tallest cathedral spire in England  (photo credit Jamie Robinson)
Salisbury Cathedral. Its spire is the tallest cathedral spire in England (photo credit Jamie Robinson)
Those who accept the theory of ley lines know that Stonehenge stands on the Old Sarum Ley which is aligned with Salisbury Cathedral, among other sacred places.
As the English Heritage guidebook points out, Stonehenge can perhaps be seen as the prehistoric equivalent of a great cathedral like that at nearby Salisbury, built for worship and as a place  where believers could come to find healing and hope and where important people can be buried.

Salisbury Cathedral, described as Britain’s finest 13th Century Cathedral, is another inspirational place.

From its glorious chancel roof                                                                                                               The chancel roof of Salisbury Cathedral (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

The chancel roof of Salisbury Cathedral (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

to the stunningly beautiful lapis lazuli of the Prisoners of Conscience windows,

this is a place to move and uplift and fill you with awe.

Prisoners of Conscience window in Salisbury Cathedral (designed by Gabriel Loire; dedicated to prisoners of conscience throughout the world. (photo credit Jamie Robinson)
Prisoners of Conscience window in Salisbury Cathedral (designed by Gabriel Loire; dedicated to prisoners of conscience throughout the world. (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Here, the hearts and  minds of all those who enter, for worship or just to visit, may be lifted up to a bigger and clearer understanding of  God.

Or, perhaps, they may receive fresh glimpses of eternity, in much the same way, perhaps, as the hearts and minds of those who built and used Stonehenge over the course of 1,400 years.

Another view of the spire of Salisbury Cathedral (photo credit: Jamie Robinson)
Another view of the spire of Salisbury Cathedral (photo credit: Jamie Robinson)

Flowers for John Clare, Poet of Rural England: ‘The Peasant Poet’

This weekend my daughter and I visited family members in Northborough and attended the John Clare Festival in Helpston, Northamptonshire.

The children of John Clare School bring their flower cushions to lay on the poet's grave at Helpston Church (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)
The children of John Clare School bring their flower cushions to lay on the poet’s grave at Helpston Church (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

We thoroughly enjoyed sharing in the community celebrations of John Clare (1793-1864), their local poet.

JOHN CLARE was born in Helpston in 1793 and deeply loved the natural world. During his life he wrote both poetry and autobiographical prose celebrating rural life and scenery, yet he suffered a series of severe breakdowns in later life, and spent his last 20 years in an asylum in Northampton.

He is now  recognized to be as great as his contemporaries Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Keats, Shelley and Blake.

Yet in his time, despite an early ‘false dawn’ when he enjoyed a brief fame and his  first volume of poems outsold Wordsworth and Keats, Clare was marketed as ‘the peasant poet’ meaning ‘ill-educated and poor’, hinting that it was remarkable he could write poetry at all, let alone great poetry.

Now in his own community, The John Clare Society ensures he is celebrated, and I highly recommend John Clare Cottage in Helpston. A visit here to learn about the poet, his work and his life  is fascinating.

As you enter the Dovehouse in the beautiful cottage garden, you listen to recordings of some Clare poems, recited by adults and by children. Many must be deeply touched by these words of Clare’s:

I am – yet what I am, none cares or knows,

Local schoolchildren bring flowers to John Clare's grave in Helpston Churchyard (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)
Local schoolchildren bring flowers to John Clare’s grave in Helpston Churchyard (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

My friends forsake me like a memory lost;

I am the self-consumer of my woes

They rise and vanish in oblivion’s host…

How comforted and reassured John Clare may have been if he could have looked into the future and seen not only his greatness as a poet fully recognized, but also his memory honoured in such a beautiful way today in his own community.

We listened as a choir of children from John Clare School sang to us, and watched as prizes were awarded to the winners of a poetry competition for a poem about the natural world,  in the tradition of John Clare.

This event, together with others held during the John Clare Festival  in Helpston,  made an inspirational weekend; local bards and poets laureate competed in a poetry slapdown with poems that were not only very funny but also thought-provoking.

The children's flower cushions on John Clare's grave (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)
The children’s flower cushions on John Clare’s grave (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

And I reflected, that in this life, sometimes people who live by their imagination, in order to inspire others, suffer  as John Clare did, with lack of recognition, with social and class prejudice, with mental ill health; often the creative life can bring suffering. Yet creative people ultimately are  driven forward by a deep love of their subject; so it was in the case of John Clare.

I for one cannot read his exquisite poetry about flowers,woodlands, open fields, birds, animals and insect, and then  observe the very things he wrote about, without feeling this.

Book Trailer Fun for Mystical Circles

I’ve been out and about in Warwick and the Cotswold hills with my film-maker daughter Abigail, having great fun as Abigail puts together a book trailer for my romantic suspense  novel Mystical Circles.

Mystical Circles cover image
Mystical Circles cover image

As I’ve watched our actors follow Abigail’s directions and play my characters, my story has come alive in a new way. I’ve been reminded of the reason why I wrote the novel in the first place; the events in my own life  that provided  inspiration.

We’ve been filming in a setting that could be Craig’s sixteenth century farmhouse in that Cotswolds valley – HQ of the New Age spiritual group Wheel of Love.  So much so, that when you see it, you’ll believe you are there.

As I watch our actress, I feel what it’s like to be 22-year-old Zoe, who’s not long out of university, and believes she’s found paradise. What more could she want in this life than a vocation, a loving partner, a spiritual philosophy,  and on top of that, a beautiful place to live in?

Zoe determines to stay there for ever; and sends an excited email to her sensible older sister Juliet. No sooner has freelance journalist Juliet received the email than she drops everything, jumps into her car in London, and drives up to Gloucestershire to investigate, thus setting the whole story in motion.

This is the perfect time of year to be shooting the book trailer. The story takes place in the month of June.

Cotswolds landscape 6 June 2013 (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)
Cotswolds landscape 6 June 2013 (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

We’ve just filmed Craig and Zoe together, and we still need to film Juliet and Zoe arguing with each other.

The actors are having fun with this, and so are we!

And I’m delighted with the positive response from so many people involved in our project, some have made locations available to us, others have volunteered their acting skills, and one has even provided a high resolution video camera. It is their good will which is making this book trailer possible.

Here are a couple of shots  to whet your appetite for the book trailer.

I hope it will appears on my You Tube channel in the next couple of weeks.

actors playing Zoe & Craig  (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)
actors playing Zoe & Craig (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

Watch out for  the link to it on this blog!

In Search of Authenticity: Our True Selves and Our Essential Need for Community

How can we be true to ourselves?

And how can we live in ways  that are true to what  we believe?

And how can we mix up our inner and outer worlds, so we are not compartmentalised like a waffle, but rather, more like a bowl of spaghetti?

These were just three of the questions posed to us at a weekend conference I’ve just attended, as one of 80 from my church, St Mark’s in Leamington Spa, at the Hayes Conference  Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire.

our group from St Mark's in the main conference hall at Hayes Conference Centre Swanwick 29 June 2013 (photo credit: PaulMileham www.st-marks.net)
our group from St Mark’s in the main conference hall at Hayes Conference Centre Swanwick 29 June 2013 (photo credit: Paul Mileham http://www.st-marks.net)

And in between enjoying the beautiful gardens in the sunshine, drinking in the bar, wandering by the lakes, going kayaking, cycling or walking, we listened to an excellent speaker, Annie Naish from the Lee Abbey Community.

The theme was Authenticity.

Annie invited us to consider how as members of a Christian community we can be “real” with each other,  our authentic selves, sharing our sorrows and troubles, recognizing we are all wounded people, and that we all need each other.

To illustrate our need for community, she played a video clip from the BBC TV documentary narrated by David Tennant, showing the solitary Emperor Penguin in the icy wilderness of Antarctica, who became separated from his community, but struggled on alone until he reached them again – and the life-saving comfort of their body warmth.

Annie Naish (photo credit Paul Mileham www.st-mark.net)
Annie Naish (photo credit Paul Mileham http://www.st-mark.net)

And just so, said Annie, should we live this out, through our relationships with each other in our community: by showing sincere and practical love; looking for the good in people; putting others first; being willing to be vulnerable; listening; and showing humility and practising forgiveness.

Anybody who ever seeks to understand this life and our place in it, will have to engage with this search for our true authentic selves.

This is the work of a lifetime, and it runs through many religions and faiths, through psychology and philosophy, through psychotherapy, psychoanalysis and counselling.

Annie herself lives as part of the Lee Abbey Community, and every member has to work through their relationship with each other within the community. Churches, said Annie, should be full of wounded people, places where people can weep, and share the tough times they’re going through. The authentic Christian life is  “systematically unsafe”. It’s a risky business, and sometimes it’s like a bungee jump over white water rapids. And she showed us a breathtaking video clip to demonstrate this.

Annie suggested we should be intentional. An authentic Christian faith is a long obedience in the same direction.

And if we are to be authentic in relationships, we have to bring what is hidden into the light. It’s costly, because  we’re vulnerable.

The young people having fun at Swanwick (photo credit: Jamie Robinson)
The young people having fun at Swanwick (photo credit: Jamie Robinson)

Annie gave us practical guidance. We have to listen and reflect before leaping to self-defence. This applies in many situations in life.

Annie called for us to think of everything we do as a task done through relationship.

And the goal for each of us, as Elrond said to Aragorn in “The Lord of the Rings” , is to “Become all that you were born to be.”

the lake at Hayes Conference Centre 29 June 2013 (photo credit: Paul Mileham www.st-marks.net)
the lake at Hayes Conference Centre 29 June 2013 (photo credit: Paul Mileham http://www.st-marks.net)

Gazing Out to Sea: The Beauty of the English Coastline

I recently visited Beachy Head, East Sussex, with a friend and  my two teenage children.

Shining cliff (photo  credit: Abigail Robinson)
Shining cliff (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

As we walked along the cliftop, we all agreed: Where in the world could we go that’s more beautiful than this?

Beachy Head, together with the Seven Sisters Country Park and Birling Gap are all protected by The National Trust and they are  a short drive  out of Eastbourne on the south coast.

on Birling Gap Beach (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)
on Birling Gap Beach (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

 

Bright path (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)
Bright path (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

I was born and brought up in Kent, and it was only thirty five minutes drive from where we lived to the south coast. Camber Sands was a particular favourite, and we regularly visited and ran over the open dunes, usually going on afterwards to the lovely old fishing town Rye, with its evocative fifteenth century Mermaid Inn.

On every trip, I felt the excitement of that first view of the sea.

And now, I say to my own children, just as my father said to us: “who’ll be the first to catch a glimpse of the sea?”

Everything depends upon our own inner state, as we contemplate such landscapes, which can then become sacred spaces.

gazing out to sea (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)
gazing out to sea (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

For me, standing on a cliff gazing out to sea is a thing of beauty, a joy for ever. 

Sheila & Abigail on Birling  Gap Beach (photo credit; Jamie Robinson)
Sheila & Abigail on Birling Gap Beach (photo credit; Jamie Robinson)

A Golden Field, a Short Life That Touched Many Hearts, and a Poignant Moment in a Country Churchyard

Milverton Hill  Fri 7 June 2013 (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)
Milverton Hill Fri 7 June 2013 (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

This photo was taken on Milverton Hill, Leamington Spa  between St James’s Church Old Milverton and the Saxon Mill, Warwick.

At about 4.30pm on Friday 7 June I walked with my two teenage  children through the churchyard to  reach this field.

A late summer afternoon in the English countryside is such a quiet, luminous, poignant time.

And it’s one of the loveliest times to be on Milverton Hill. You breathe in a green woody scent, a fragrance of light and sunshine. 

Old Milverton Church 7 June 2013 (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)
Old Milverton Church 7 June 2013 (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

As we walked through the churchyard to reach the field, we found a plaque in the grass:

Ruby Lee Johnson 

8th June 1995-23rd April 2009

aged 13 years

sweet, rare, exquisite

Ruby’s mother Sarah was tending the flowers, and Ruby’s father Richard was mowing the grass.

Ruby was in my daughter Abigail’s year at school, and Abigail knew Ruby and her story,  as many others in our area do, whose hearts were touched by Ruby’s three year struggle with cancer, and her death in 2009.

Sarah, cheerful and pleasant, said to Abigail, “You’re the age Ruby would have been. Tomorrow is her 18th birthday.”

Ruby Johnson 18th birthday memorial (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)
Ruby Johnson 18th birthday memorial (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

Ruby’s dog Gracie was with them too. Propped against the flower containers by the plaque is a photo which shows this family pet with Ruby 5 years ago.

rapeseed & shepherd's-purse flowers(photo credit: Abigail Robinson)
rapeseed & shepherd’s-purse flowers(photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

As we walked out through the gate onto Milverton Hill, beyond the church, I couldn’t help comparing the shortness of Ruby’s life to the transience of golden fields in the English countryside.

In this lovely field, popular with walkers, the cobweb tracery of Shepherd’s-Purse flowers, too, appear between the golden rapeseed flowers.  Each petal is silk to the touch, and you feel the cool breeze as you face towards the church. Turning back again to face down towards the Guy’s Cliffe House ruin and the Saxon Mill, the trees seem sculpted against a radiant horizon of intense clarity, each golden flower backlit.

Golden fields don’t last long. But they do reappear each summer. And so will this little memorial to Ruby touch many hearts through future generations.