Stagshaw Garden

The view of Lake Windermere from part way up the fellside

Stagshaw Garden is a sloping woodland garden of approximately eight acres. It is located on a steep slope named Skelghyll Fell on the north-eastern shores of Windermere, England’s largest lake. The area around Windermere is considered the centre of the Lake District. The word ‘Lakeland’ has become a normal way of referring, locally, to the Lake District.

Most of the Lake District is protected by the National Trust – a preservation organisation which was founded in 1897 and empowered by an Act of Parliament in the early years of the twentieth century. Beatrice Potter, the children’s author, was one of the founders of the National Trust. She lived in Lakeland and bequeathed her substantial local landholdings to the Trust at its formation.

Stagshaw Garden was created for the National Trust by Cubby Acland. The project was begun in 1959 and continued to his death in 1979.

Cubby Acland’s book ‘The Lake District’, one of his popular series in the 1950s

Acland was a local travel author and a Land Agent for the National Trust. He lived in one of the country houses on the edge of what became Stagshaw Garden and was intimately familiar with the layout of Skelghyll Fell – within which the present garden was created and landscaped. The entire Wansfell Estate passed into the hands of the National Trust in 1957.

We are lucky to live in Kendal; a half-hour’s drive from the shores of Lake Windermere. Many of our relatives like to visit… Easter is popular, as the ‘coming alive’ of the local landscape is very tangible at that time.

For this Easter weekend, we had my mother and Bernie’s sister staying with us. My mother is eighty-nine and has vascular dementia. Although she has a full life – and is still independent – her attention span is short, so we try to construct days out which compensate for this and give her the happiest family memories for as long as she can retain them…

We have learned from experience that getting out early in the day is the key to a successful trip; as is filling it with a number of relatively short activities. This gives her time to relax in the afternoons, back at our house, and not get too tired by the day.

Stagshaw Garden is an easy walk (following an initial short climb) and so was an ideal choice for our morning, which called for a first visit of about an hour. Having decided this, we wrestled everyone out early and arrived just after nine-thirty, enjoying the unusually light traffic for such a popular weekend…

The garden is steep, but accessible. It follows the ravine created over millennia by the descending stream.  It is famous for its shrubs, especially rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias.

From the rustic wooden gate, the path winds up to the right and begins to follow the stream valley that climbs the hill. This forms the core of the garden.

It was still before ten in the morning and the light had that special spring-like quality to it. Everything seemed extra bright, and the colours – particularly the greens – were vivid and sumptuous.

When Bernie and I retired from our former life in IT, she went back to college to qualify in horticulture – something she had always wanted to do – and now volunteers with Cumbria in Bloom, part of the RHS’ work of promoting gardens.

Neither of us had ever visited Stagshaw Garden, but it was on our list, largely because Bernie is fascinated by the kind of landscape design that moulds itself into a difficult landscape – such as a long gulley on the side of a Lakeland fell…

The trick, she explained, was to make it look completely natural; to take the visitor on a journey that looked as though its path has always been there, winding and climbing through the changing forest.

We were delighted to find a section of bluebells at the highest point of our climb. A deer also made an appearance but ran off too quickly to photograph. We had reached the limit of what Mum could cope with – but we had promised her bluebells… Their sudden appearance at this high-point made her morning.

From our partial ‘summit’, two paths led back down through the garden. The first was the way we had come. The second offered us an alternative descent which gave us an unexpected view of Cubby Acland’s former home.

Ahead lay a visit to Waterhead, a coffee and an unexpected scone with local jam and cream; followed by the ruin of a Roman Fort and a dog chasing a frisbee… but that’s probably enough for one post! A very happy but tired mother returned home by the early afternoon for her nap…

Lake Windermere and coffee… perhaps a scone with jam and cream!

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

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An Alchemical Moment ~ Jordis Fasheh

From Jordis, a dear Companion…

The Silent Eye

Jordis Fasheh, a friend and Companion of the School, tells how she found the Silent Eye at a pivotal point in her personal journey. At the moment when the Silent Eye officially came into being, Jordis was the first to step forward and join us…

Jordis as Nephthys, Land of the Exiles, 2014

How it came to be that I joined The Silent Eye, A Modern Mystery School.

It all started when I was ten years old. A child in search of something greater than herself. If I had read an Autobiography of a Yogi at that time things may have turned out differently. But I ran away from home one day, snuck on the subway and rode to the end of the line. Not knowing what it was I was searching for, when I disembarked from the train, the first thing I asked was, “where is the nearest Church.”

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The Ship

This morning, I will drive to the family home town of Bolton, in Lancashire to collect my mother who is coming to spend Easter with us here in Cumbria.

The journey is straightforward: fifteen minutes will take me from the outskirts of Kendal to the M6 motorway, southbound. After that, at least conceptually, it’s a straight line to the intersection with the M61, which will take me south-east to within a few miles of my destination.

Yesterday, I was musing about a conversation I had with a friend where we related our lives to the voyage of a ship. For mankind, there has always been something romantic – potentially grand – about the notion of a sea voyage. My car journey this morning will be very tame compared with what the ‘ancient mariners’ faced. My car may be wobbled by high winds, but is unlikely to be blown off course. The road completely maps to the journey; I will not find myself having to navigate across strange hills and fields as I struggle to hold a course.

My ship – the vessel of the car – is designed to protect me in the event of a crash; in a way that few such vessels of the past did. And yet, at any time, the several tons of hurtling steel, glass and explosive liquid could do untold damage to others on the road. I may be safer, but the exposure to my own errors or lack of concentration is significant.

Can we compare the journey of our lives to the voyage of a ship? Is life in modern society making us more of a car than a free-sailing ship? Does that mean that where we go is completely pre-ordained by the equivalent of ‘roads’?

It’s a good question… And, often it helps to think in these stark terms…

The first question we might ask is: do we have a ship at all? Are we not simply a point of consciousness moving from a past, through a present, to a future? That is certainly how physics would describe it.

Do we really have any free will in that journey? Or does having to fit in with our world, our society, make us as conditioned as my car will be on its fixed road? Subject only to the weather, the fuel in the car, the attention I must place on the road and the behaviour of others on its length…

From a mystical perspective, we may say that we need to learn to have a ship in the first place. We have body, but that may not wholly equate to a ship. The captain of a sailing ship truly had the skills to take that vessel anywhere on the seas. He may have been under orders to adopt a certain route, but his freedom of choice was absolute.

Beneath the captain and the wood of his vessel was the ocean, a constantly changing surface beneath which he did not wish to go… Staying afloat meant playing by some hidden but very special rules learned over many centuries, if not millennia. Can we compare this to our lives?

The road of ordinary life is there to protect us. It serves us well. But we may choose a seemingly riskier path, one that leaves the road in a seemingly tiny vessel called the Self; one that has no fear of the sea and its ever-changing faces…

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The wounded heart of Paris

Paris and Notre Dame – a very special place for Sue Vincent…

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

Notre Dame de Paris.
The three images of the Cathedral are photographs of postcards in my Parisian diaries.

The white dome of the Sacré-Cœur, floating like some fairy tale castle against the blackness was my very first glimpse of Paris. It was a school trip, we were no more than children… and I fell in love with the city there and then. My eyes filled with tears, my heart with memories and emotions that should not have been mine, I felt that I had come home.

We stayed at the Lycée Henri-IV, just behind the Pantheon. Sneaking out, illicitly, before breakfast, very early next morning, I found myself wandering down the Rue Mouffetard. A tramp was curled around his wine bottle in a doorway. Market stalls were being set up. Everything smelled of coffee and new bread… and I determined that one day, when I was old enough, I would…

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Pen of the oyster-catcher

Portmahomack, a fishing village on the north shore of one of the fingers of land that jut out into the North Sea, thirty or so miles north of Inverness.

There is something perfect about it.

Somewhere close, our collie dog, Tess, is barking, playing with the waves. I follow the waterline, ensuring that only the thick soles of my boots get wet. It is March and that green-grey sea is icy, here on the Sutherland coast. We’re an hour’s drive from John o’ Groats, the most northerly point on the British mainland. Had it been May, I might have paddled…

I am here to write, not play on the beach; though the early mornings and evenings will be devoted to making sure that the collie has lots of exercise and that I don’t become dull by sitting too long at that old wooden desk in the hotel room; the one that smells deliciously of ancient wood and generations of preserving polish. It even has a hole where the inkwell used to be.

The Oyster Catcher will do nicely for the evening meal. A latté, by itself, for breakfast – the mild hunger helps me think – and, at this time of year there’s nothing better for lunch than a steaming bowl of fish chowder with a chunk of locally-baked bread. I’ll see if I can persuade the hotel to do it; perhaps swap them a glowing review on Trip Advisor… It’s worth a try.

But food is for later. For now, I just want to drink in where I am, a writing castaway in this quiet and relatively unvisited place – at least I judge it so, as we are, as far as I can see, practically alone in Portmahomack.

We each have our own writing triggers. For me it’s a combination of sky, landscape, beaches.. and some inspirational music. Sometimes, I find a place that combines them all… This is one such. I’m looking forward to meeting a few of its residents, but not too many. Maybe a couple of beers, or a glass or two of wine after the evening meal, then an early night with one of my current books – I’m studying how William Boyd writes such apparently simple novels, yet hooks you into the plot early in the first chapter. Try ‘Any Human Heart‘ if you want to sample his best.

It helps to fall to asleep reflecting on how great writers do it… and wake refreshed and determined to have a go…

I’ll set the alarm so that I wake about six. I will open the curtains and look out at that vista, listen to the sea and drink in the the sheer wonder of being here. The start of the day will see me making a rubbish cup of tea from the contents of the wooden tray in the wardrobe, before taking Tess onto the beach across the road. Then I’ll sit down to begin the writing, knowing, at the end of the first couple of hours’ creativity, that a delicious coffee awaits at the tiny cafe along the quay. Later on, someone might be making chowder with home-made bread in the Oyster Catcher.

Sky, landscape and beaches… You can see from the photos how lovely this part of Scotland is, but none of them convey the sheer size of the Scottish sky. We’re less than an hour north of Inverness on the east coast of Scotland, yet we could be in a different world and in a different time. Most of our previous trips have been to the western highlands, which are glorious; but this part of the highlands has been a revelation. We are told that there are far fewer midges here in the north-east of the country. Depending on the time of year, this can be a life-saver.

Across the waters lie the mountains of South Sutherland – which don’t appear to have a generic name – but that may just be my lack of knowledge. We are well north of the famous skiing region of the Cairngorms and the landscape is very different. Golden beaches seem to be everywhere; most of them empty. Good to walk on and Collie heaven…

It’s not so much a question of writing a book as finishing one. Several years ago, we ran a Silent Eye weekend workshop called ‘River of the Sun‘, a modern mystery play, told in five acts, and set against the backdrop of the 19th Dynasty in ancient Egypt. The man who would become Pharaoh Ramases II is sailing back up the Nile to be at the bedside of his dying father – the, arguably, greater Seti I.

Ramases knows his father has little time left, yet he seems in no hurry to return to the royal palace. Instead, he mounts a night-raid on one his father’s favourite temples on an island in the Nile, run by a high-priestess the son suspects of heresy… The audacity and spiritual violence has far-reaching consequences…

The workshop was a success. Several people commented that the plot would make a good novel. As a test I serialised the first part of the book as a series of blogs (see list at the end of this post), but time has passed and I have yet – and inexcusably – to complete it. Hence being here…

We have reached the quayside. It’s quite windy and the farther out along its length we go the more we get blown. We do not linger… but return to the shelter of the village streets. Other days will dawn and the wind will have abated.

From along the beach, my wife, Bernie, calls… Tess barks for our reunion. My wandering reverie is broken. With a sigh I turn the corner of the quay and begin my walk back to where she and the Collie are waiting by the car for us all to depart. In a second, my fantasy of a creative break in this newly-discovered haven vanishes. It is not that it is impossible, just that it will have to be another time, as we are staying in a cottage forty minutes south of Portmahomack, not here.

I take one last look at this idyllic fishing village and get into the car. Tess licks my face and Bernie smiles at my wistful expression.

“A writers’ paradise?” she asks.

How well she knows me… But I will be back, though some other writing room may witness the creative conclusion of The River of the Sun.

For now, there are other places to visit on this lovely winter tour of north-east Scotland. Who knows what other writer’s dens I may encounter in this magical land.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Index to opening chapters of River of the Sun:

Chapter One – Gifts From the River

Chapter Two – An Agony of Sunset

Chapter Three – The Dark Waters

Chapter Four – Touching the Sky

Chapter Five – The Fire Within

Growing up with a book…

From Sue on that most precious of subjects: favourite books

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

Jessica Bakkers, after reading Mae Clair’s post at Story Empire, posted about five books that had, as she put it, made her, ‘her’. There is no way on this earth that I could pick just five books… not unless it was five per decade…  Or five for every facet of life…

There were always books. Hundreds of them…everywhere. I was free to read any of them as soon as I could master the words… even if understanding the concepts would only come much later. That childhood access to books creates something special on the pages of imagination, and I would find it impossible to choose just a few to span a lifetime. Impossible too to select just a few that defined and shaped the person I know as ‘me’. But there are a few that stand out, way above the rest, as hugely influential… and of those, I…

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The light between the railway carriages

The light between the railway carriages…

It was one of the best analogies I ever had given to me; yet it took me years to grasp its fullness. Like any true seed of ‘spiritual’ insight, it was strong enough to lie on the rock till a little pocket of earth developed beneath – a receptive place into which it could extend its roots.

We all grow up thinking, without question, that ‘thought’ is continuous, and the basis for our ‘in-here’ existence. It may take a lifetime to see that the thought-machine that fronts our world is our own creation and coloured with our thinking and emotional history. This colouration paints ‘the’ world, making it our world, familiar in its likes and dislikes, fears and moments of courage – many of them unobserved, except by that mysterious watcher within us.

The world we inhabit is therefore the sum total of our reactions to everything that has happened to us. Many of these reactions protect us – like knowing not to put our hands onto something burningly hot; others fill us with prejudice against threats that are not present in our moment.

The ocean in which this history exists is the internal ‘field’ of our thoughts.

‘Look, there’s a cherry-blossom tree!’ We cry, imposing the history-carrying words over the raw and beautiful experience of the reality. Names are useful, but they also pre-program our seeing. Knowing this, we can work backwards if we choose, and repeatedly use the word so that it temporarily loses its meaning. We may then find ourselves on the edge of a kind of fear. Have we damaged our brain’s memory of what a cherry-blossom tree is?

Of course not… but staying within that uncertainty may teach us something.

Just seeing how the mind takes that defensive stance is instructive. If, instead of allowing that fear, we carry on with the exercise and spend a ‘mute’ few minutes next to the ever-changing perfection of the tree, we may experience the gap – the light – between the railway carriages of the train of consciousness thundering by on its eternal and dominating journey.

In those precious moments, we may see that there is a landscape beyond the noisy and flashing train, one that comes slowly into focus and reveals itself as a very different place, yet one to which we are, most certainly, closely related – since we and it are now still… gazing upon each other in a new way.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.