Albion, Photography, sacred sites, spirituality, Stuart France and Sue Vincent, travel

A Thousand Miles of History XXVI: Rite of Way

Our next stop was right on the coast. On a day when you could see where your next step would take you, and had we been blessed with more time, we might have parked at Land’s End and walked the cliff path… which would, undoubtedly, have been the simplest route and, as it turned out, possibly the quickest too. But then, we would have missed a truly magical journey.

Instead, we chose to take a ‘short cut’. We would drive to the closest point we could get to our destination then walk a short way… or so we thought… between the fields and out onto the cliffs. We thanked whatever Providence had made us buy a detailed local map and set off down a series of increasingly isolated farm tracks until we found a gap in the hedgerows that looked like it might once have been a track… but it was certainly not the lane the map had suggested it would be.

We parked the car and entered the green tunnel between high hedgerows. It didn’t look like a long walk. At the first corner, though, the rutted track gave way to a narrow path festooned in greenery and wildflowers, climbing the embanked walls typical of this part of Cornwall.

These walls are curious affairs in themselves, seeming to consist of twin walls, often made of gigantic stones that would look more at home in a stone circle, infilled with earth. Grasses, flowers and shrubs colonise these walls, making them into natural gardens. The profusion of life in these sheltered ecosystems is as astonishing as it is beautiful, but when the mists close around you, and the green walls tower above you, the outer world slips into oblivion.

There was nothing ahead except the green pathway. Nothing behind. No way to see over the high banks…and no way of knowing which way you were walking through the swirling mists. Each corner revealed a new stretch of green… it felt exactly like being in a maze.

Distance was impossible to judge. Time seemed to stand still. There was no way to judge how far we had come nor how far we yet had to go…or if we were moving at all. The only relief was the occasional glimpse through an ancient field entrance, overgrown and half-obliterated by Nature… and these gaps in the green walls were flanked with great, guardian stones that seemed to watch our progress and call in the mists to veil our view of the ‘real’ world beyond the path.

Yet, there was something more real about this journey of one foot in front of the other, than any other path I have walked. The grasses whispered memories as we passed. Webs captured the mist in jewelled nets, butterflies guided faltering steps, brown fairies flitting in and disappearing against the damp, stony earth. Small birds, and even our familiar robin, led us onwards until, after what seemed like an eternity of utter tranquillity, we emerged into a farmyard.

From there, the track widened a little, opening out to let us glimpse the mammoth stones of which the wall was built. Not for long, though, as we were once more plunged back into the green shadows of the lane.

At last there was a gate and, beyond it, the heathlands of the cliffs. After the narrow confines of the green cocoon, passing through the gate felt like a rebirth. Yet, now the mists descended in earnest. We could see no more than a few yards ahead until we finally reached the cliff path.

Visibility was little better there. Like the sea pounding the shore far below us, the mists rolled in as waves, sometimes giving us glimpses of silhouetted headlands, sometimes shrouding them completely from view.

Faces peered out from the rocks; strange shapes and figures danced with the shifting, amorphous blanket that appeared to encase the wildflowers in soft ice. Gulls skimmed the currents, crying unseen above us, while below the cormorants opened their wings as if casting spells.

There is power in a journey, especially when it is undertaken as a quest or a pilgrimage… a sacrifice of effort and energy pays the toll for such a rite of passage. Trust in the call of the path leads you onwards and you are content to follow where the heart and the land may lead.

We turned our footsteps towards Land’s End… aware in some strange fashion that had little to do with the logic of the thought, that the land… our land… ended here and that what lay beyond was another realm, one into which we might be invited, but which we could never enter without that call.

The mist came down, veiling the marriage of land and sea from view. We walked on, uncertain that we would be able to find the place we had come to see… but we need not have worried. Our guide was waiting, perched on the guardian stone…

5 thoughts on “A Thousand Miles of History XXVI: Rite of Way”

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