Friday’s First Visit to Ludchurch
Friday began at dawn.
A walk in the first twilight towards Ludchurch, and I meet roe deer and a kestrel in the half light. I face The Matter of England from this first walk: the rising of the sun and the running of the deer. Elizabeth Poston was right to ask, in her introduction to her collection of carols, “who knows from what atavistic race-memory [they] spring?” For a moment here I am, a still point like a rock in the brook of time. Time is at one level full of transience: the sun is rising, the deer sense me and melt away, the kestrel stoops and is lost. Yet at another I am seeing an ancient scene, full of the holiness of the early morning, of ancient hunting practices and religions of hungry people. Which is to say: it was beautiful, the solitude and the light gave it a sense of numinous purpose; and part of that purpose was breakfast.
We cannot escape the pull of the Chapel. After a generous breakfast, and conscious of the need to see it again, we set out. It is less far than I had thought, and my remembered geography is corrected and shifts. A muddy lane, a soggy field, and the stile, and the bridge, and the brook, and I go into a golden land of beech and nearly-bare birch, and we climb and twist, and there are the Castle Rocks, and here is the entrance to Ludchurch. I am afraid it will be smaller, scruffier, too well known (my screensaver at work for months now). We explore the fissure to the right, and think of the ossuary purpose Garner gives to Ludcruck – but do not find a cave for his shamanic Stone. Then we descend, into the mud, and the dripping liverworts, and the slippery leaves.
For me it is again the re-enactment of a Mystery, the drama of descent into a path and a meeting. The Catholic writer Richard Rohr suggests contemplation allows for “ontological mooring;” breaking the hold of the merely material and facing reality. Mystery religion is (a bit) the same, except that, to some extent, it inducts into story, and the story helps make sense of the life we are to live: in this respect this descent is a mystery rather than a mooring, except that I do not know the story, or I don’t think I do (more on this as I think about Gawain in another post). But like Thoon yesterday, we have the meeting, the face in the rock (among other faces) that Mat found last year.
Again, a dab of honey, a splash of whiskey, both respectful and maybe idolatrous.
Ludchurch is wet after the rain, and one falls as we stay. We make our way though to the divide in the fissure, and emerge through the wider, right-hand path, noting the side passages, a puzzling, possible embedding point for a railing. A scramble and we’re out in a birch wood. A vole is unafraid, and continues to forage while Mat sets up his Google kit. I explore further, hear the unmistakable call of ravens, see the hills lit and warming in the sunshine, and try not to intrude on Mat’s patient photography – but I am really not needed here, and take the path back to the Mill. As I go down I realise that one of the things that is different is what is coming next: our colleagues will need to have some time to approach this place in their own way, and I wonder if I can step back enough to allow them the freedoms to do so.