Circle Retreat and Pilgrimage,
UK and Ireland, Spring 2006

YorkminsterThere was a need for me simply to disappear from my usual surroundings in 2006 and I chose to go to the UK and Ireland where I have many tender ties. Pilgrimage has sustained me during times of challenge and has given me an opportunity to grow, so I included some new places as well as familiar ones, in my intention to address change in my life and to deepen my practices.

with a friend in the York countrysideClose friends from my visit to Findhorn in 1989 gave me a chance to orient myself in York and in Carlisle area. I created a routine of walking, meditation and just being. I had an unplanned chance to visit St. Mungo Museum of Religion and Art in Glasgow.

Time in the UK was a great bridge for me to retreat in a traditional cottage outside Oughterard, about half an hour from Galway. Christine, who is a competent and hospitable steward of her farm and home, met me at the bus and took me to the cottage I would call mine for two weeks. That was my last drive for quite awhile. Having got used to my structure I could continue hiking, spirit journeying, doing personal ritual and meditation, while finding time for contemplative drawing and making good food. Any attempt to go much further afield was discouraged by the faeries and so I got to know individual trees, streams and rocks in about a five mile radius.

Bridgit's GardenOne day I was drawn to walk to Brigit’s Garden. I was told at the local tourist bureau that I could have tea there. It was raining a bit but I was used to weather changes so started out to enjoy my day. A few miles out, it started pouring but I was not discouraged and I went the few miles to the grounds. Bridgit's GardenNo tea shop was open and no living person was there but that did not mean that I was unaccompanied. In this way I experienced the amazing tranquility of the gardens created by an inspired landscape designer, Jenny Beale. Bridgit's GardenShe has created a non-profit with a board of directors who want people to remember the spirit of Brigit and the seasonal celebrations of the Celtic year.Spirits in Brigit's Garden Each area of the garden reflects one of the calendar’s festivals, such as Beltane or Imbolc, and since they are all familiar to me I danced in the rain and followed the faery spirits which you can see in the photos. Two loyal dogs guarded me down the road on the way back and a farmer picked up a sodden traveller that others probably took for a homeless person. Brigit's GardenLucky I was at home in my soul and fortunate that the farmer recognized that I needed a lift. Bridgit's GardenThat whole area lifted my spirits and restored me through the many acts of kindness I received from strangers.

Before I left Oughterard I took a day out to Conemara and enjoyed the spirit of that area, by then having restored myself enough to think of some service to “all my relations.”

Spiral at Cwrt y ClychauI was due in Southwest Wales after Beltane and went to the Lampeter area at Cwrt y Clychau, translated as Court of Circles. It is a very old farm/community/healing centre, stewarded by Gina Heathersprite. Gina brings her dedication to the gardens and shares the healing energies of her gathering place by having guests and visitors.

Welsh farmBelieve it or not, Wales was having a drought when I arrived. By the end of the weekend that we did an “Elements” workshop (poster) there were buckets of rain coming down. That was a good thing, for we had started to have to haul buckets of water to sustain the workshop group, not to mention the task of watering the greenhouse daily. The crew from the workshop all did dirt time in the gardens and kitchen as part of grounding “elemental” spiritual practices over the weekend.

Beach in WalesI was grateful for more time to wander the hills and to have time with new friends and old at Cwrt. It was my pleasure to visit a budding Druidic grove on land that has been cared for during the last twenty years by folks who are familiar with ritual such as those created at the Edinburgh Fire Festival each year. They have raised a family and taught university in the area, always contributing so much to their community, as did the many people I met at Cwrt itself. Permaculture practitioners give a grass roots feel to this part of magic Wales.

Cornwall drew me next because my husband and I have friends there whom we met in Africa (1986). The couple we know are involved in the Eden Project, with Ian as plant curator and Theresa’s smiling face behind the lunch counter. Not only did I get to see all the family but also the plant family and the programs at Eden.

Staying in Devon at Axmouth gave me a chance to experience the Seaton Labyrinth and to discover the great flints and fossils in the area. Exploring sea cliffs and sky, finding evidence of ancient human settlement and enjoying the works of local artists gave me inspiration for the next “Elements” workshop at the Spiral Sanctuary. The steward of the land at the Sanctuary, Christina, is a determined member of a group that is bringing celebration of spirit and appreciation for nature. The Sanctuary draws a community of interested people of all ages to programs and gatherings. It is sponsored by the same nonprofit group that created the Seaton labyrinth. I was particularly struck by the dedication and success of such hand- on groups in the areas I visited and want to thank Gina and Christina, Jennifer, and Eleanor Bigden for their support of my work in their home country.

York City wallI continue to be inspired by the way that Britons and the Irish still interact with their environment, whatever the size of the enterprise. The arts, including sculpture and earthwork sculpture, appropriate technology, music, permaculture values, reconsecration of grounds, gardens and plant awareness gave me, as a pilgrim, assurance that the fire of creativity/spirit that built Stonehenge, New Grange, and the Tor at Glastonbury, places to dance and to die and to rise again, has not gone out. If you notice by now the number of circles, spirals, labryinths, and mandalas in this journey, it is because they are all there implicit in namesake or logos or explicit in the spiral orchards of the sites I went to in Wales and Devon and the modern architecture at Ede in Cornwall. This journey underlined that life/death/life is an unbroken, timeless circle and that we are joined by expressions of Light in form.

I stayed in Ipswich to see where my father’s people, the Sherwoods, sailed out of the harbour in 1634, headed for what is now New England. I spent a couple of different days in Norwich, inspired by the legacy of Julian and the labyrinth at the town’s main cathedral (see Norwich labyrinth.) By now you may have guessed, when I visit a labyrinth, I dance it. The day I went to Norwich I was wearing yellow and red, the flowers in the deep grass were bright gold, and the sun was shining so that the beams of light were filling my sight like the center of a star. At the center of the labyrinth was sitting a spiral snail shell, thanks be to earth and sky.
Joanne and Adam from the Harmony Centre in Suffolk had invited me to do an evening presentation when I visited there. I gladly came to share because I felt the invitation also coming from the spirit of David Gillet, a healer of the environment who founded Harmony Centre. David had visited us and our medicine wheel at EarthSea in the nineties. David’s spirit also connected me to Cwrt and to John Overton here in Nova Scotia -- so there was no arguing with all that synchronicity.

Woodbridge, a town near Sutton Hoo, offered me space to continue walking by water, to sniff around Anglo Saxon grounds, and to let me continue to acknowledge that “all will be well,” with the little exchanges of ordinary life at shops, bakeries, and booksellers. When it was time to go, I found a flight immediately and a friend in London to help me get on my way. The sky highway back opened up and I came home to a possibility for a new home and shifting the old and familiar toward the future.

*Acknowledgement: This pilgrimage was aligned with large changes in my life and I remain grateful for all the help I received in getting to go, for all the blessings while there, and for the support from my loved ones who greeted me back, whoever I had become during my time away.