If Friday had been mostly dry, Saturday started damp and drizzly then proceeded to get serious about raining. We congregated for second breakfast in the Barn at Rivington, with its great beams decked in Christmas lights and made severe inroads into the local supply of bacon, tea and mushrooms. The planned walk wasn’t far, but we would be out a good while and it had been hours since the pre-dawn coffee and croissants; we could at least pretend we would walk off the duality of breakfast.
The theme of the weekend was to be the Prisoner in the Tower. Suffice it to say here that looked at from the spiritual and psychological perspectives, the ruined gardens through which we would be walking provided the perfect symbolic landscape, with the bridges, the lakes and towers and summerhouses that looked un-invitingly like prisons since the council added bars to their windows and doors.
These informal weekends generally follow a very simple format of exploring the land on foot whilst exploring an idea through discussion and readings to which everyone can add their contribution. Looking rather like a gathering of Bibendum’s family in our padded coats, we began with a reading which referenced the coming solstice as the point of rebirth of the sun. As I listened I watched small birds feeding close by and a raven… a creature closely associated with the sun… flew over, calling as if in blessing.
We set off through the wooded slopes of the hillside, crossing swollen streams and walking between the rain-blackened trunks of winter trees. At each stop the wildlife watched. More ravens, a deer, curious squirrels and even a kestrel perched, unconcerned with mere mortals, in the bare branches above the path. It is always the same on these walks, as if the creatures and birds know we are no threat.
We paused beside a lake that had once been adorned with the red curves of Japanese bridges, watching the water tumble into its surface and watched by a raven in one of the trees. We watched too as the calm mirror of the lake began to dance with the circular ripples of falling rain and as we moved on to our next stopping place by the bridge, the rain began to fall steadily.
Responding both to the spirit of the place and … just possibly… to a moment of playfulness, two impromptu guardians appeared to bar the way across the bridge. The ritual question answered, the company passed on. We paused once again at the foot of a flight of stairs and two of our companions shared readings that perfectly matched both the location and the inner meaning of the day. One was a passage from Pilgrim’s Progress and could have been written for that moment… as indeed it was, as the truth it encapsulated is timeless.
‘Further up and further in’ we walked, towards the Tower at the centre of the story that had been woven for the day. My own readings remained unread, rendered unnecessary as others shared what they had chosen to bring into the moment.
By mid-afternoon we had reached the top of the gardens and a perfect natural temple space found by Barbara, one of the two who had planned this weekend. Within the living circle, we paused once more to meditate and simply be with the silence of the place and the land.
Leaving the relative sheltered of the wooded slopes, we began to walk the last mile and a half to the pub that was expecting us for a late lunch, the heavens opened in good earnest, the bitter wind whipped up a gale and the paths ran like rivers. We had left a car part of the way along the track in case of such eventualities and while most of us walked, one went ahead to retrieve the vehicle and ferry us at least some of the way to the warmth of the pub.
In spite of waterproofs, we were all drenched. Somehow or other my wrist splint had funnelled water up my arm too and my jumper was soggy. Mulled wine and hot food soon put that right, but with little daylight left on such a darkened day and with the weather worsening by the minute, it was decided that the plans for the remainder of the afternoon would have to be abandoned in favour of shelter. We headed off to our hotels and hot showers with arrangements made to meet for dinner. It may have rained, but it had been an excellent day.