For a second year running, we found ourselves briefly north of the Tyne, but not quite north of the border. It might be 500 miles closer to the Arctic Circle than our Dartmoor home, but this weekend was a rare interlude of endless summer.
There can’t be many more magical places than the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.
But our first pause there was to investigate some cutting-edge excavations of a building, recently picked up by geophysics, which might have been the original site of St Aiden’s chapel on the island. The earth energies of Lindisfarne are such that holyish sites can be found in abundance. This excavation was certainly of a very early building, and probably part of the original Christian settlement – but as a potentially critical chapel site it dowsed as being of marginal significance.
However, St Cuthbert’s Isle (well, it’s an isle at high tide), the islet beyond the island, was once again a major focus of our attention. On this visit, a friend pointed out to me a lemniscate (infinity symbol) described ethereally in the middle of the tiny chapel there. This rang an immediate personal psychic signal, as we had only ever discovered these perfect pictograms in barrows and tombs. In fact there turned out to be a pair of them, rotating inside one another like bipolar propellers – and adding yet more dimensions to the network of energies and geological lines we had discovered the previous year. It led me to ask whether Cuthbert’s miniscule sanctuary had previously been something else. I received a straight ‘yes’ to ‘tumulus’ and that made so much more sense of its dowsed alignments, lines of consciousness and earth energy features. Every visit, one more precious piece of the picture – and usually just one more digestible piece of information, drip fed to the dedicated diviner on their journey.
Lindisfarne Castle was cocooned in scaffolding, which made a strangely sinister siren sound in the warm westerly wind. Despite being the picture postcard icon of the island, the castle itself does have a disquieting presence – and the real energetic omphalus of that end of the island is a natural node fifty metres or so to the south. It epitomises the energetic essence of timeless Northumbria – but is far too small on which to perch a celebrity palace!
For such is a small enclave, Holy Island has a surprising wide range of community activities and concentrated inactivities. Those in our group who chose to stay there for a few days, either to experience it quietly or to engage in a full-blown retreat – will have had more opportunity to sense the spirit of the place, especially once all the other visitors had returned to their heres and nows.
This year we added a collective visit to the massive and magnificent Bamburgh Castle. Given the nature of the place, and its chequered history, I had expected it to be somewhat sinister and decidedly dark. And – as usual – I was completely wrong! Another nudge to never judge a book by its cover, or indeed a castle by its crenulations. Bamburgh may be sited on ‘real’ castle foundations, but in its present incarnation it is essentially a vast Victorian confection of what a castle might once have been – updated for its time, and with quite a few mod cons.
However, St Aiden founded a chapel here, under the aegis of the local royalty, long before he migrated to the sea-tossed solitude of Inner Farne. It had been mooted that the original site of his chapel might have been under the current keep, the foundations of which (allegedly) drop down into a secret cave and – in true conspiracy theory style – are now closed to tourists. However, I wasn’t the only dowser to find the original chapel in full view, and even marked ‘chapel’ on the information board. It had the typical signature of energies that you might expect and, despite now being little more than roofless remnants, it had a sacred presence felt nowhere else amongst the mass of much reused masonry.
The killer clue, and clearly one of this weekend’s themes, was the discovery in the chapel of two inter-rotating lemniscate propellers – fascinating in themselves, but here with an added twist. Having felt a bit strange when standing on one end of the infinity symbol, I asked another member of the group, who I knew to be considerably more psychic than myself, for a second opinion. She explained that my unease was due to the fact that this virtual image was spiralling out of the ground with some force (if that’s a sensible term for the quality of the sensation in this dimension). Towards the other end of the building, she pointed out a similar location, where the lemniscate was re-entering the ground in a similarly vigorous manner. So, not only did we have two infinity symbols rotating in opposite directions around a point in the centre of a scared site, but now we had the whole thing whirling in at least three dimensions. No wonder Aiden chose this as his place to start.
In the intense heat, we ambled past white-flannelled cricketers and crisply turned out croqueteers to investigate St Aiden’s later church – erected further inland, and after the need had passed to protect the emergent Christianity with humungous walls and a tsunami of armour.
While the building had a pleasant enough feel, and all the usual lines were evident, it was noticeable that some of the architecture was inexplicably ever so slightly off a true alignment. Only one feature of note was built in a deadly accurate manner, and that was a purely 19th Century insertion – the tomb in the graveyard of local heroine Grace Darling. The lighthouse-keeper’s daughter is renowned for saving the lives of several shipwrecked sailors by bravely rowing her vulnerable little boat into the teeth of a vicious North Sea storm. Her mini mausoleum is inch-perfect on the Hartmann grid, which usually only comes into its own with the really ancient sites. What is going on there?
We extended our visit by a day to take in a bit more of the local archaeology around Berwick – and our first sortie was to find some of the cup-and-ring marked stones that are scattered around the area. After a few false starts, and thanks to a tip off from Gary Biltcliffe, we eventually chanced upon a very good example, close to Routin Lynn. Here we found several inscribed indentations, some with one, and others with two, concentric circles carefully etched out from the millstone grit. They dated to being around 6,000 years old, and were clearly man made – the difference between these marks and the impact of natural erosion was quite clear, even before dowsing commenced.
As with many similar phenomena, pinning down one reason for their existence wasn’t easy. Most of the usually suspected instigations gave responses close to zero. However, Ros felt that the more elaborate icons seemed to be like representations of the sun, and I subsequently received a firm ‘yes’ for an astronomical purpose to the rock ‘art’. Dowsing this sensed hypothesis, it appeared that the sun may well be represented by the two-circled images, the planets depicted as single-circled pits and the plain cups dowsed as stars – but where was the lunar aspect of this scenario? Based on a sample of one, the site indicated that its ancient sculptors were primarily reverent of their solar deity.
While a significant ley crosses the rock platform, and may well have indicated that it might be a good place to start carving, it didn’t seem to inform the pattern cut into the rock, as such. Earth energy lines of various types squiggled about, as they do, but without any clear focus for the dowser. In fact, the only earth energy features to be relevant were Hartmann lines, one of which ran straight through two of the largest ‘solar’ discs, again inch-perfect. The layout of the Curry grid was no closer than random, in relation to the overall tableau. Ros has a theory that the Hartmann grid relates somehow to ‘solar’ and the Curry grid to ‘lunar’, but we will need to give this more thought when another opportunity arises.
Given the hardness of the rock, and the presumably modest tools at the disposal of the creators, a huge amount of effort must have been spent creating these enigmatic stone diagrams. They must have been of great significance to the perpetrators, and they were clearly meant to last.
Based on this initial site visit, our tentative direction of thought is that the cup-and-ring engravings were intended to be maps of the heavens, and perhaps this concept is supported by the observation that many of the features are carved into flattish rocks (as above, so below, to reiterate a cliché). Without seeking to stretch a metaphor too far, they may not have been too unlike the pictorial representations found at modern day viewpoints. Fascinating stuff.
Our last site, and thanks to another of Gary Biltcliffe’s tip offs, was the stone circle just outside the wonderfully named village of Duddo. On the map, it looked to be not too far away from the nearest path, albeit with the site itself somewhere in the middle of nowhere. However, on our arrival, we found that an altercation between the landowner and those seeking access had resulted in a new, but well marked, permissive path across a couple of massive fields of oilseed rape. Thankfully, the oilseed flowers had long gone over, and we were just faced with an all-embracing dryforest of dangling pods.