not surprisingly i got distracted from my 'people' focus last night and got swept away by westminster abbey. so tonight i'll just let my little brain meander where it will. it's summer solstice eve, after all. i can't be expected to be coherent.
if there were a moon out, or clear starlight, it would be a lost cause. but since it's beclouded i shall spend some time musing before i go out and do Important Witchy Things.
i love that every english hamlet and village has its own version of westminter abbey, not as gilded of course, but in almost all cases ancient, beautiful, carefully-crafted, and most importantly, used. in one of the most secular nations around, in a country cash-strapped enough that the first-estaters all let tourists into at least part of their palatial homes and many of these churches rent space as tourist info centers or bazaars, they ARE still working churches with clergy and congregations. in some weird indefinable way, it's so much more satisfying than our loud, often angry, american brand of religion where we have churches on every corner but they are rarely long-established, dignified or beautiful. even the wealthy ones like the gold-plated mormon tabernacles or osteen's mega-church are modern and self-conscious, almost offensive when held up against the magnificence of english ecclesiastical architecture, even though both are incredibly ostentatious.
(and what would the simple shepherd who taught in marketplaces and open fields have thought of any of them?)
it's not that i think one or the other is better. clearly Ellas knew how to create houses of worship that were designed to strike awe and humility into worshippers. in many ways it's easier to hear the quiet, thrilling voice of the divine under the stars or in a grove. but there's something to be said for the energy created by standing in a place conceived, crafted and created by inspired, dedicated, brilliant master builders, all for the glory of their various gods. a pre-fab doesn't quite cut it, not in the same way.
one of my favorite books from my childhood is an obscure little volume called 'the little white horse' by elizabeth goudge. my copy, bought for me by my mother when i was 7, has gold-painted page edges and incredible illustrations. one of them is titled 'scrubbing sir wrolf' and shows a lad busy with a bucket and scrub brush on the tomb of a knight in full armor, whose head is resting on a carved unicorn, feet on a lion. it's graved indelibly in my mind, and i felt as if i ran into it over and over on this vacation. so much love and dedication focused on the memorials of the beloved dead. very appealing in a way (at least to an adherent of a religion where ancestor and hero-worship is a fact) and yet also a bit dismaying to one who thinks that too much thought goes into an afterlife that is putative at best and too little into living the best NOW that one possibly can.
but it's kicked off a cool train of thought that's been absorbing me ever since. apparently i have things to work through in this area.
the castles are another matter. the only one i visited that is currently lived in was alnwick, the harry potter castle. it was gorgeous, of course, even if the lived-in part is slightly silly, being done up entirely in florid italian renaissance inside its stately and staunchly english exterior. the duke of northumberland (who apparently owns the entire North and then some) isn't suffering from the upkeep of his huge estate, as the gardens alone bring in millions per year. we didn't see the harry potter part of it all, but i'm betting it's a shrewd proposition.
but my favorite castles were the ruined ones, especially framlingham. i don't honestly know if it's the romance of ruins, or the fact that my imagination could run wild rebuilding them in my mind, or that there's no envy involved since real people don't inhabit them, or that it's so fun to imagine being able to perform an LBRP or samhain circle inside their ivied walls in the moonlight. but the monastery at bury st. edmonds, framlingham and orford entranced me.
in addition to being beautiful, alnwick held a great gift for me in that i met my old family friend ross (aka rolph) there, a dear man whom i had not laid eyes on in decades. he's one of my brother richard's oldest friends, and one of my first crushes (probably because he was one of the only of richard's friends who was ever nice to me when i was a kid.) he's a wonderful writer, and after years of enjoying his blog, i finally got to see his adopted hometown of amble and see all the places i've been reading about for years, but i got to meet his beautiful little doxie cailean. and david and i got treated to an awesome dinner.
love you, bolphie! the poem you wrote for me when i was doing the Master Cleanse is still displayed above my desk!
getting to see places you've read about for years is always a treat. i loved getting to do it when i went to visit hewet_ka_ptah
several years ago, and even though i'd seen pictures of wendy's place, being there was totally different. not only did i love wendy's backyard to distraction, i spent my time there ecstatically rediscovering 'the water babies' which i hadn't read since i was tiny and had totally forgotten. tom's adventures will always now have the feel of being in that beautiful wild little garden, with its lavender roses, frog-haunted pond and the incessant cooing of pigeons.
i love that every village has its village green, just as i've read about for years. it's a totally different feel from 'parks.' village greens are USED. not just with mulch-padded swingsets and taut toned young mothers, but by everyone. people walking their dogs, riding their ponies, running, playing team sports, kids hanging out.
and the public footpaths. oh, how i wish we had such things here. the farmers get some sort of break, i gather, in return for allowing access to their fields and pastures, and they maintain them and put up stiles so you can get over fences and are expected to behave and not trash the property. and people do. so you can meander all over this beautiful island, countless miles of breathtaking walks (and bridle trails and bike paths) all of which make living in smaller homes, more densely-packed communities and busier marketplaces so much more attractive. we have all this land here, but it's all fenced, barb wired, 'no trespassing!!!' signed. it's not that i'm not for private landowners' rights, but there is something to be said for the mindset that our land belongs to all of us and should be both worked and enjoyed by more than those who can afford to own it.
oh, the walks we took. such wonderful walks. even the two times i got lost at wendy's (both trying to figure out the same footpath!)
bear in mind when you visit and are lured down the siren-song paths, they don't all connect or make logical sense. you may see a sign on the side of a narrow hedgerow-edged road beckoning to you, find a precarious parking place and follow it, only to find it starts and ends inexplicably in a couple of fields, with other paths tantalizingly visible another field or two over. but you can't get there from here.
and that's okay.
we galloped eagerly onto one in the lake district, overlooking the irish sea, with a glorious waterfall plunging down steep mist-shrouded mountains. it wound us around a lovely old mill, through sheep-nibbled turf, into farmyards and chicken runs, past neatly tended kitchen gardens, and mountain homes with views to stagger the imagination, but try as we might we could not make it to that dang waterfall. i call it the Hike of the White Hart, as it was an elusive quarry who tempted us on, the journey greater than the desired destination.
okay, time to end this one. it's solstice eve! i've got communing to do!