Saturday, 6 December 2014

Aphrodite's Path, Cyprus


The trail, Aphrodite's Path, is in the south east of Cyprus, near Cape Greco, a slender promontory. The path follows the coast, the water in the bay luminous turquoise patches among darker blue.


A dragonfly perches on the top of the spiny plant

Spiny bushes, some of which are named, inscribed on sugar barley coloured stones. There's Spiny Box, Cyprus Boseo, that is endemic, so the sign says, a Spiny Lotus, a Joint Pine, and an Exotic Pine as well as the familiar trailing leaves ofeucalyptus.


The scent of dried pine needles mixed perhaps with box and wild thyme and other vegetation, pervades the air.


Patches of red soil are damp and muddy from the morning's rain and nearer Konnos beach, the soil is clay, a greyish yellow and sticks to my sandals, so my heels get steadily higher, and my feet heavier. From time to time  I have to scrape the soil off, on large stones.

The trail tends to metamorphose, from Ariadne's Path, to the Konnos - Agioi Anargyri, coast trail, (which is also signposted as the E4), to the Sea Cave path.


On the map it is a loop but I take the same path back from Konnos beach, past the little church, Agioi Anargyri, and up towards the small road leading to the less small road where the bus comes along. Cross over the small road onto what is signposted as Ariadne's path – but here I seem to have gone wrong and should have followed the coast rather than gone uphill. The way I went, I arrived at a military base. A tiny church was part of the base, all enclosed in barbed wire, and with the buildings painted green, to blend in with all the shades of nature. A sign warned against taking photographs. I turned back, headed downhill again, and came out close to the sea,


Military base and church

 though it wasn't possible to actually touch it as the rocks are a few metres above it. Besides, I was concerned about the time or rather, the time before the sun went down. I knew from yesterday that the light blushes and darkens by 4 pm. Just before that, the shadows turn gymnast, they stretch athletic limbs, wrap the ground in their fierce pointed embrace, like sudden flags of spiny vegetation sprung from the rain or the lightning and heading fast as dark lizards, to the sea or to the land's horizon. And the sun, so recently poised high in the sky, begins its descent, sliding as if down a water course, picking up speed, in its fiery freefall until it turns the sky above the water crimson, splashing it with red light, its blaze of farewell. No lingering soft twilight here.


I turn back, close to the rocky cliffs with their roughly formed faces looking out to sea. But just beyond the striated rock, there is a bay with a feeling of enchantment, the grey spiny plants almost purple in the beginning change of light, almost blue, in this hollow

and one could imagine a goddess coming here, fresh from sea foam, coming to terms with honeycombs of rock, and the shadows of the cliffs hurling themselves across the flat spit of land below the army base. A strange combination here, of goddess and parade ground of the military, sharing the same peninsula as if the army was on the lookout for divine beings coming ashore with orders to intercept whoever might attempt a landing from the sea. But Aphrodite has learned the art of simulation and near invisibility. The grove with the plants so light grey they imitate sea foam above blue waves, has wrapped her in its presence and the army continues their manoeuvres and their lookout and their search, desultory in this warm afternoon, in front of the small church, its white walls reflecting sunlight as Helios pauses at his  zenith before beginning his descent.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Zhytomyr - Terra Poetica Festival 3

Zhytomyr - Day 4 

Stamp of old Zhytomyr

The season rolls over, turns cold the next day, in Zhytomyr. The air is damp and icy, we have become frost-framed, edged and draped with chill, the autumn eternity is left behind in Ostroh and winter pours into our opened palms. Mutely, we let it in and walk quickly to heated buildings. At the University we are greeted by the Rector, then give readings to the students, who are alert, welcoming, curious.....Do you think that poetry cannot come from a state of happiness? (i.e. do you have to be miserable to write poems?) What inspires you? What is your favourite poem? Do you have a regular routine in your day?  Is your style different now from what it was when you started out writing? If you weren't a writer, what would you be? Have you read Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master & Margarita?  (yes, I have)

Afterwards we walk to the restaurant on Mykhaylivska, the pedestrian area, the piano of freedom painted in blue and yellow.

Laughter in the Space Museum: photo credit Yaroslav Karpetz


 In the evening there is another reading, this time in the Cosmonaut Museum, the Aeronautical and Space Museum (I want to give it all the adjectives and more, because of its dim lighting, because the penumbra obscures the ceiling, which surely must be there). From this invisible ceiling hang enormous pieces of a spaceship engine, like a giant floating fish, and chairs too, are suspended, so you can lie back and swing and feel that you are weightless, near disembodied in the semi-darkness and the muted sounds and, in the dim regions beyond the stage and audience, the way that people move around like peaceful quiet shadows…. 

Writers & musicians after the performance in the Space Museum: photo credit Mariya Khimych

Your streets are wide and cold right now, in Zhytomyr, with the trees lining the streets, the trees losing their leaves, the bare patches, the splash of red among the yellow and the branches looking bare, looking bereft, in front of the gold dome of the cathedral. Façades in blue and green and rose, with your interiors of red embroidery, of red and white design and smell of coffee, warm warm people.....


And the reception afterwards, the plates piled high, short speeches, one toast followed by another, champagne, wine, cognac and clinking glasses.

The Chairman of the Writers' Union says: On the day the festival comes here to Zhytomyr, on the day that poetry sounds out, the guns fall silent. (no Ukrainian soldier was killed that day.) We raise our glasses.

Piled with presents, books, pens and notebooks, magnets of Zhytomyr, wall plaques with the symbol of Ukraine, and personal books from friends we've made, we climb into the bus, head back to Kyiv.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Rivne & Ostroh, Ukraine - Terra Poetica Festival 2

"Poetess and community activist, Les Mudrak,  founder and chairman of the organizing committee initiated and coordinated the International event "Terra Poetica" in Ukraine. Which of the "yihalysya participants of 12 countries. The festival was held under the patronage of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Humanitarian Projects Fund of Culture of Ukraine, Kyiv NSPU organization, Foundation "New Traditions" by Sergei Bondarchuk, publishers' Summit Book, "numerous media partners, and co-founder as chairman of the jury of the festival-contest, editor of "Universe", Ph.D. Dmitry Drozdovsky."
This article gives the facts! (with help perhaps from google translate)
Many thanks to the authors - 
Tanya Solovey, Lyudmila Korennay , Anna Grigorov, Anna Dehtyarova

Day 3 Kyiv to Rivne
I saw the sun come up from the window of my room on the 7th floor of the Hotel Salute, overlooking Kyiv and the river Dnieper. 

View overlooking Kyiv

Just time for a quick cup of coffee before we all piled into the bus with Reisen written in big letters on the outside. Yaroslav moved through the group of people, encouraging, counting.. One stop mid-way to Rivne, for a coffee. Bright sunshine.

The flat plain rolled past. Fields of dried stalks of harvested maize. In one field, two horses pull a plough. In another, a lone black horse stands, against a yellow background of maize stalks. And a solitary golden dome lies outside a dome making manufacturers. Part-wooden houses with roofs between square and dome-shaped. A few black and white cows graze, not a herd, just a few, in the unfenced fields. So many silver birches and dark dark earth. The clouds create this vast sky over the flat plain. Then mist appears over the tiny silhouettes of trees on the horizon. And turns to rain.

Arrival in Rivne, and settle in to the Hotel Mir.

Prospekt Mir, Rivne

I escape the press conference, go for a walk down Prospekt Mir, then turn left and find an open air market swarming with people, which leads onto a busy street. I turn left, then right, and lose my bearings. By some miracle I end up back at the hotel, just in time for the guided tour of Rivne, in a bus. A blue painted wooden church, charming older houses, cemeteries, memorials to those who died in the World Wars and the concentration camps, and a modern one to the defenders of the Maidan and those killed there.

Drama Theatre at Rivne

The huge Drama Theatre at Rivne has soaring columns with Corinthian capitals outside, and marble columns inside. We're taken through the stage door, file through the dressing rooms, across the stage, sounds of rehearsing, of an orchestra playing, someone singing, the sounds float across the darkened auditorium.

Before the show, the readings, the music and the singing, we visit an art exhibition on an upper storey of the theatre, of embroidery, ceramics, folk art and traditional patterns, dolls without faces, their purposes to draw away any bad energy, to protect with their presence. 

This protective magical energy throbs and hums throughout the performance.
From the ceiling of the Drama Theatre, light with changing colours falls on the twisting hanging mobiles, rectangles spin and turn, turn blue yellow deep red, arrangements of autumnal light, the breathing of a sky turned dense with stars.

It is true theatre, a creation designed to captivate, to wrap you in light and shade and swirling changing colours, to cast a spell of entrancement that you will not forget, never forget...

Day 4 From Rivne to Ostroh. 

International connections of Ostroh Academy in 16th-17th centuries

The University of Ostroh was the first in all of Eastern Europe, the Rector tells us. It was closed for a long time, but opened up again after the dissolution of the USSR.  The Rector's name means bee-keeper he tells us and gives us all a small carton of honey. Mel. This is special honey he says, it should be savoured slowly, let it melt on the tongue. … the sun came out you see, in Ostroh, when we came out of the refectory.  I remember the warmth of it, standing outside the building, beyond the university campus, with its gardens, trees (few leaves on them) benches underneath them, a statue of the first student, birds, peacefulness here, the restored church next to the restored university....

Medieval Ostroh Castle, with Academy on the right

The national tree of Ukraine was pointed out to me.  A slight and slender tree, with red berries. With some red leaves, some still green. Kalyna. Viburnum opulus. Sometimes called water elder. So sometimes then, I too will call it water elder, with its almost-maple leaves and its berries like cranberries, although they're not. This tree then, has an almost quality to it, a not-quite this or that, evading names and clear-cut definitions, it seeks shade, obscurity, not limelight, it likes archways and outbuildings, it tends towards the solitary, does not flourish in groups, it's drawn to edges and borders, it favours liminality, its red berries display its bright feelings, its deep, joyous emotions.

Kalyna & me

I feel a kinship with this tree, maroon leaves vivid against a blue sky stirred with glitter, sprinkled with light, the way you'd scatter salt or seeds, and us, sowers and receptive sky or earth, who can say what we are, though we are passing through rivers of history – where places of learning were erected, a printing house, a monastery, a church, icons were removed, defaced and used as target practice, lost, hidden, recovered, restored. 

Icon on wood in the restored Church

The academy too a ruin twenty years ago, no books or chairs, nothing at all, against all odds, has been restored. The cellars deep underneath the monastery where the remains of the Capuchin monks were kept, robbed and ruined by the Russians, have now been cleaned and renovated, and house an art gallery.

Monastery crypt

The honey, savoured and ringing like soft bells through the sunlight settling on the tree, kalyna, as if it meant to stay there forever. The path to the castle of Ostroh, 

View from castle

the home in the Middle Ages of the Prince Ostrovsky, who gave 'towers of money' to fund the University where subjects studied were medicine, theology, philosophy, Greek, Latin and the old Slavonic language – and to this whole city, where pottery, smithcraft, and printing flourished. The castle museum, 

Castle Museum

and the etching of the angel, forever sowing light on this land, eternity's light fingers touch us and we do not know it then, not really, just this sensation of a different light, that something has changed, has arrived in our hands, and we cannot pinpoint it precisely, just sense a wondering, that we haven't always lived in light like this, and a faith, always renewed, that now will never leave again, it will remain with us forever.

Angelic Sower

In late afternoon, colourful with leaves and berries, with the honey gatherers, the settling sweetness, we drive back to Rivne, riding over road stitches, patches and darns, and there's the bunched lace- work of mistletoe in trees and a scent of burning leaves that lingers...

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Ukraine Tour - Terra Poetica Festival 1

Day one actually began the night before, as I travelled overnight to Manchester and met M in the early hours of the morning to catch our first flight to Frankfurt. When I think back to that morning, when we were both tired from lack of sleep, and excited to begin our adventure, it feels not so much a long time ago but of another order of time altogether; not so much then (compared to now) as - belonging to some other story, an excerpt from a different tale involving people who resemble us, but who are not us,  in much the same way as a dream self is not the self we comfortably identify with though it may be a greater self a more expansive self, a self we recognize from some other time. 

But if I continue in this vein the narrative will not be told, will it? The places the people the what happened next-ness of it all, which is what people like to hear or read about, is not there. But it is not easy to describe the sequentiality of it as if it was an almond to be placed between the teeth and crunched to extract the savour and the juice of it. I can only write from a place that has come to live inside me, that has become myself for all I know, at any rate something has changed in me as a result of the speeded up time spent in Ukraine, of the intensity of places and activities, of the compression of events, the interactions - in words in various languages, in gestures made as you get to know other people - and  to try to talk about myself in the past becomes an unbridgeable paradox for how can the me of this moment talk about the me of the past as if it was the same which it clearly is not? 

So we will resolve this by adopting another name for this person-in-the-past who is clearly now somewhat of a creation, as all memory is, though based on my own experience; it is a construct a creative imaginative - alter self. That's why it is hard to talk about it with authenticity. Poems are authentic, they arise from this moment. But the dates, the street names, the buildings, the facades and the furnishings, the lighting and the decor, the subtle or the swift movements towards or away from others, the numbers of people in theatres, the numbers of metres high, (looking up at the huge theatre in Rivne with its doric supportive columns outside, its marble columns inside, looking down on the Dnieper river from the 7th floor of the Hotel Salute in Kyiv), the way the sun came up above the flat horizon, misted like a mirror you have leaned too close to, in your desire to see more clearly - ah, all such concrete facts I am unlikely to be able to write about, and so you will learn nothing of the journey, nothing tangible of the experiences, there will be no smooth flow of this then that. 

Unless I turn it into the story of an alter self, a 'character' bearing a different name, someone else's story. Yes I could do that, pick and choose from what's already there, select, create characters out of those glorious beautiful people who have drifted dream like through my life altering its sequences and its rhythms, the musicality the lightness, the mode of recognition, the reach of reception I can hear, of hands I can almost touch, of stars' reflections I can almost feel falling from the sky, almost feel the weight of them, and ....

...but if I let details become too specific, too close, I will have to hide behind this alter self, this character, and - for now, let's just say that...

M and I got to know Frankfurt airport rather well, because of our first flight delayed, and we missed the second one which involved a lot of waiting in queues and walking from one area to another, and trying to contact Anna who was to meet us, with the updated information.
But a feast of planes! Whatever the word is for an aggregate of planes...

And finally the arrival, met at the airport by Mila and driven to the reception at the Foundation of Culture in Kyiv, to drink and eat and meet the other participants, then back to our hotel.

The next morning, we were driven through Kyiv (so all photos were taken from the bus, with limited views!)

Street in Kyiv

Opposite the Maidan

to Taras Shevchenko University, glorious, soaring and colourful, to read there. 

Followed by lunch, a meeting with the press. Evening readings took place in the grandeur of Kyiv's National Theatre.


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Of Cairns, Sculptures, and Time

My first visit to Gretna Green was about twenty years ago.  But because I've been back there three times in the last two months, I was reminded of that first time, of something that had stuck in my mind. My recent visits were to see the cairn being built on the border between Scotland and England. A very tangible and lasting symbol of the 'auld acquaintance' the solidarity among the people of the United Kingdom - building a cairn was the idea of Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Border.

What I'd remembered seeing in Gretna all those years ago, or what I thought I'd seen, was a sculpture of Hephaistos, the god of metalwork, appropriate for a town where the blacksmith's anvil was the centrepiece for conducting marriage ceremonies. 

On a gloriously warm summer's day, I headed into the village from the bus stop, bought a coffee and asked about the sculpture. It will be up at the Blacksmith Centre, I was told, go back to the roundabout, turn left. I did. But the old Blacksmith's house was now surrounded by cafés restaurants and tourist shops, the courtyard and garden was crowded with people, all eating and drinking, a piper played, and there were a couple of large sculptures which had nothing to do with Hephaistos. As well as these smaller, delicate ones which blended in well with the garden foliage.  (I didn't note who the sculptor of this one was, and haven't been able to find out, sadly.)


So I walked back, past the Gretna outlet village (a shopping mall for tourists) and found a handmade sign for the cairn, pointing across a field.

At the age of 41 Rory Stewart has already done many different things in his life, (served in the army, worked for NGO in Afghanistan, diplomat, teacher, writer) and I feel an affinity with that capacity to change and transform, to elude being pinned into one defining role or identity. But what really caught my interest was his walk across Afghanistan and his ability to write so engagingly about it (in The Places in Between). Travelling and writing, how could it not? I'd also watched the documentaries he made, one about Afghanistan, and one about the border lands that cover territories in both Scotland and England, digging into the history of this part of our island. And now, in another metamorphosis of identity he has become an MP and had the idea of building a cairn on the Scottish/English border. As the border is not far from where I live, I set off to visit the cairn.

It was the end of July, just a few days after the project had started and the cairn then consisted of a low outer ring of terracotta stones, around an empty circular space that was gradually being filled with mainly grey or slate-coloured stones.  Rory was walking about, while people approached him, asking questions or wanting to take his photograph. There was a young man dressed in khaki with a long lens camera, then some people involved with the cairn building wanted his advice on the wording of a leaflet. Kitchener was mentioned, and there was laughter. Rory pulled out his phone and started putting in some text.

I had scribbled down a few questions I wanted to put to him, and when I saw a tiny chink in the flow of people, I stepped forward, introduced myself and asked if he could spare a few minutes. He was friendly and engaging and immediately pointed to a ridge of ground about 100 metres away, shaded by the spreading branches of a leafy plane tree and suggested that we go there.

We talked about Afghanistan, the land and the people. I pointed out that though he has had many different jobs and professions, it seems to me that the connecting thread between them all has been a desire to serve, to apply his abilities in a way that is useful.
I've always had the sense of looking for a purpose in my life, he said. Sometimes it has not been very clear, but I've tried to find that sense of purpose in different ways. I like the idea of people coming together, doing things together, away from the usual kind of politics.
But you are in politics now. You are an MP.
Yes, but I'm interested in a different kind of politics, one that is community led and driven. 

On the UK staying together, he said:
I see the UK as a symbol of diversity that is constructive. We have people from different backgrounds who live together peacefully. And this idea – the idea of people living together peaceably, it is really very modern.
Towards the end of your book (The Places in Between) I said, you seemed to have an epiphanic experience in Afghanistan.
Yes! But it's difficult to know how to regain this experience. I've chosen to work in the public eye, for the time being. But I've been tempted to go the other way and live a more private and reclusive life. But this – he gestures towards the cairn and the people – bringing people together in this way, this makes me deeply happy.

Rory Stewart at the cairn

It seems to make other people happy too. When I join the chain of people passing stones from the pile a few metres away to the inside of the cairn itself, there are people of all ages, and from both sides of the border, as well as a French couple who are on holiday, saw the sign, and stopped by to help.

My second visit to the cairn was about a month later. I stopped off at the information office in Gretna outlet village, and asked there about the elusive Hephaistos sculpture which I'd begun to think I'd possibly imagined or perhaps had seen somewhere else and mis-remembered the place as Gretna. Neither of the two young women in the office knew of any Hephaistos sculpture.

So I walked on to the cairn. It had progressed dramatically. The outer ring had been built up by experienced dry stone dykers and the inner pile of stones rose several feet high, many of them painted with images or words expressing solidarity. There was a gap in the outer ring, with a narrow entranceway and corridor leading into the inner circle, so it also combined some of the features of ancient barrows and labyrinths, with its narrow entrance and its circular heart. Flags of the countries of the United Kingdom had been raised at the roadside behind the cairn.

My third visit was shortly after the referendum. I hadn't intended to go to the tourist information office again, but the bus stopped very near it and I decided on the spur of the moment to look in on the off chance that someone more knowledgeable might be there. I don't know why the memory of this sculpture nagged at me so persistently but then one often doesn't know the reason for such things, one follows the feelings, hunches, intuitions and directions that can take you half way across the world or on just a short journey, in search of something.

The Greeks had two words for time, Chronos, or measured time, and Kairos, that sense of multi-layered time where things come together, a feeling of things fitting into place (finally), the feeling of 'appointed time'. The person behind the desk had not heard of the sculpture of Hephaistos or Vulcan, the god of smiths and metalwork,  but she was not busy, and her search on the computer came up with something. I've got it she said. There's a sculpture in the car park of the Gretna Smiths Hotel. And she pointed it out on the map. It was very close to the Old Blacksmith's House I'd visited the first time, surrounded by pubs and restaurants and the sculpture garden.

And so I walked there, and finally saw the sculpture, though it did not correspond to my mental image or memory of it. The intervening years had clearly made some alterations. It was not next to an old whitewashed building, it was not made of shiny metal (though it may have been, when I first saw it) and it was smaller too, than I remembered, but at least I had tracked it down. The photograph is not very clear, as the day was overcast and the light was dull.
This is part of what has been carved on the side of the plinth.

He marries metal to metal
Grace to fury -
In the white heat of the forge


Sculpture of Hephaistos by R & L Lauren

After this success, I walked to the cairn. The different flags had been replaced with one union jack. The structure is basically finished though I imagine that stones could still be added, should you wish. But this stone marker, symbol, celebration, which goes deeper than the political dimension only, is no temporary edifice, it is going to remain.


Created by many people, it has become as enduring as a sculpture. Whatever your definition of art is, one of its qualities is that it will embody a desire to express, drawing on existing skills, and combining feeling with thought, care and ability, to create something original. Art can transcend the Everyday focus or frame of our lives with its concerns, conflicts and decisions and can, through the materials used, show us the non-material, the hidden power and meaning of our lives. The result may be functional, such as a vase or a shield, it may even if you're lucky, be beautiful.  To me, the cairn is a moving statement, both in the way it brought people together in its creation, in the way it will endure, and in its visual appeal. 

According to myth, the god Hephaistos was lame, his body was imperfect (making me think of Chiron, the wounded healer) yet, working with metal, hard and intractable, subjecting it to fire, the heat of passion, he moulded it into shapes of great beauty. His work symbolizes the creative transmutation of energy.


The symbol and meaning of cairns is a very ancient one, waymarkers and links to those who have gone before and those who will come after us. The art and craft of wall or dyke building also has a long tradition. The circular formation, always a symbol of wholeness, links with even older stone circles, created to demonstrate humanity's eternal relationship with the skies, stars, the movements of earth and of the heavens and so reveal that changing energy we call time.  And the idea of a maze or labyrinth, with space at its heart, symbolizes our journey through life, not as a straight line but as a wandering that circles and spirals around the centre. A journey not just in physical space but also in the less tangible realms of effort and aspiration, of feeling and imagination, circling around and sometimes inhabiting, the nameless wonder and mystery at the heart of it. 

Late afternoon sunlight as I walk home

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Untitled - Still to be Decided

The flags of Albania and Kosovo were flying above the building of Summerhall in Edinburgh, a few days ago. Intrigued I went in and asked the person on reception why, but she did not know. 

The idea of building this cairn came from  Rory Stewart MP. (I wrote in an earlier post about his book The Places in Between, an account of his incredible walking journey across Afghanistan). Begun in July 2014, the cairn celebrates the 'auld acquaintance' of the countries that make up the United Kingdom. Thousands of people from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland have come to visit and to help build the cairn, a monument to the union of all the peoples of the UK. The project is called Hands Across the Border and the location is just outside Gretna Green, on the Scottish English border.

These are the flags of all the nations of the EU, flying outside the Council of Europe, in Strasbourg.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Saint Cuthbert's Way - Borders of Imagination


Woods near Fenwick, Northumberland

If we do not know about some administrative or political division of territory, will we feel the difference, apart from the landscape, the changes in topography, as we move from one region to another? A long time ago different areas were divided according to influence and allegiance to one king/prince/baron or another such as Bretagne,  Normandie, Anjou, Aquitaine, Ile de France, Languedoc etc in what is now France. These regions or kingdoms were not set in some harmonious unalterable pattern, but their borders shifted constantly as one area of dominion pushed and stretched its influence and control. Some areas joined together, others separated, split off. Territorial claims and the wars that accompanied them, continued through history and of course are still going on today.

Today, the peaceable border between Scotland and England is marked by simple signposts on roads. St Cuthbert, walking from Melrose to Lindisfarne, would hardly have been thinking about borders for in those days the kingdom of Northumberland stretched as far north as the Firth of Forth. After leaving the shelter of the magnificent natural cave now named after him, and climbing through the wood of Scots pines to the top of the hill, he would have looked out across the intervening land to the sea, and that tiny strip of a sandbar, Lindisfarne, that became his home. Though it was hardly a settled home for he was a wanderer an itinerant a missionary and performer of miracles, a visionary and ultimately a hermit on one of the Farne islands off the Northumbrian coast. An account of his life strongly resembles that of the 11th and 12th century Cathar parfaits of the Languedoc, known as Bonhommes who were also itinerant preachers, who lived simple austere lives, who travelled around the country ministering to the poor and the sick. St Cuthbert's cross interestingly enough is also equal armed, like that of the Cathars.  

Saint Cuthbert's cross and the Cathar cross on my keyring

I like to imagine that St Cuthbert first saw Lindisfarne from that rise of ground one sunny day when the sea was deep blue.  And that he saw the way the coastline seems  to shudder a little and spill over into the water, neither sea nor land, that amphibious quality which appealed to the saint who loved animals, birds at home in flight and on the surface of sea and land, and the wingless ones, seals and other sea creatures who inhabited edges and shorelines and felt no need to limit themselves to one element only.


That rise of ground is topped by several rocks some flattened, some curiously shaped.

If he were to look back, he would have seen the ground falling away scooped out in a hollow, with hills on the distant horizon.

After my first failed attempt to reach St Cuthbert's Cave, I studied the weather forecast and planned it for a day when it would not be raining. I took the bus from Berwick to Fenwick road end, not far from the turnoff to Holy Island, armed with an Ordnance Survey map. Clear signposts began in Fenwick village. Surely I could not get lost this time? And, astonishingly, I did not. There were a couple of times when I was faced with decisions about which route to take and started thinking of Dorothy and the yellow brick road. Why is it marked St Oswald's Way and not St Cuthbert's Way, when the last sign clearly said St Cuthbert's Way? Has St Cuthbert changed his mind? Did he wander off into the woods at this point? Should I take another trail marked public bridleway? Why does my map not seem to correspond with the landscape here? I try to banish these nagging doubts and continue, now on St Oswald's Way. And lo and behold, at the next signpost it has miraculously become St Cuthbert's Way again. And remains so.

I'm heading south west, away from Lindisfarne so that after the rocky – and windy – top of the knoll the path leads steeply downhill into a grove of pines. Their trunks are long, red-brown and almost bare of branches until the top, a flurry of waving dark green needles. That's when I see St Cuthbert's cave to the right,  with a big rock just in front of me.

I take a picture from the rock then walk in front of it, to find a line of people sitting by the cave entrance. They'd been screened from view by the rock so I was surprised to see them. One reads a paper, another a book, a third has earphones in and is gazing at a mobile phone. They seem to be quite oblivious to my presence as if we were in a park in the middle of a bustling city instead of in remote countryside far away from any road or human habitation. But when I walk past to take more photographs, I'm relieved that the woman reading a book looks up and says hallo.

The path continues downhill, through the pine-bordered passageway. The sun began to emerge from behind the thin covering of cloud as soon as I came out of the wood that shrouds the cave. 

I leave St Cuthbert's Way behind and take the path that curves left round the forest, heading south east.


My plan is to meet up with the path I took the other day, starting from Belford, and follow it in the opposite direction, to end up in Belford. At Swinhoe farm I find the path I should have taken, which passes the farm buildings and along the edge of the riding school. A piebald pony munches hay in its field. 

Following the signs from this direction I then discover where I got lost. I missed a turning through a small unmarked gate which I don't remember noticing the first time, with the result that I made a long detour in the wrong direction.
How different it all looks in sunshine!  



By the time I reach Belford, almost all the clouds have disappeared. Sunshine all the way back on the bus to Berwick.