Monday 9 December 2019

A Walk Along the Downs

I used to live just outside Eastbourne on the Sussex coast and often walked along the downs between the town and Beachy Head, the notorious cliff favoured by would-be suicides because of the large sheer drop to the rocky beach below. But it is very beautiful and I chose it for the cover of my Meeting the Masters book. That stretch of coast with its white cliffs and soft downs with the open sea to one side is very evocative of Albion for me. There's something almost prehistoric about it.

I had cause to go to Eastbourne last week and, my business complete, thought I'd walk across the downs to Beachy Head as I used regularly to do 20 years before. I set off down the path that started where the parade along the beach front stopped. The weather was a little chilly and the sky cloudy but with a bit of sun peeping through now and then. Good walking weather. 

The path to the coast

After a few hundred yards I noticed I was being followed by several of what I like to think were ravens but which were probably crows. They were quite big though. The initial group were joined by more and more until there were over twenty. Some of them followed behind but others flew ahead and landed on the path just in front of me. Others kept to one side so I was almost surrounded by them. But they weren't menacing in any way. Nothing Hitchcockian about them. In fact, they actually seemed friendly and almost treating me as a guest on their territory. I had a sandwich with me and gave them a few crumbs of that which, of course, encouraged them.

The birds ahead of me

The birds behind me. They were nearer than it seems in the photos.

It was a strange and I have to say rather nice experience. The birds were almost like a little troop of friendly puppies, cawing away now and then but not excessively. I chatted to them, thanking them for their attention and asking them about their lives. They seemed to listen and I got some caws back.  I walked along and they kept pace with me by walking a bit themselves then flying a little and they kept this up all along the downs until we got to the hill which leads up to the top of Beachy Head. Then most of them peeled off and headed away on other business but 3 remained for a while and one stayed with me all the way to the top and even when I turned around to go back to the town which I did along the upper edge of the downs rather than by the coastal path which was the way I'd come.

Beachy Head lighthouse. A fuzzy photo because the wind on the exposed hill made my hands shake

I have to confess that I played a little game with myself during this walk with the ravens (oh all right, crows). Inspired by the Albion-like landscape of the downs and the sea which must have been just as it was thousands of years ago, I imagined myself as an ancient druid with his flock of familiars in the form of birds. Ridiculous, I know, but the fact is this little experience did summon up some primeval feelings of being in tune with the natural world before the material dimension started to close in on us and we commenced our journey to full separation of the outer world and inner consciousness. 

But deep down I know it was probably all to do with the sandwich in my pocket.


Bruce Charlton said...

Very evocative post. I love the downs in the South of England, tho' I don't know them very well. The family had a wonderful day on the downs near the White Horse and Wayland's Smithy a few years ago; and I have a couple of books featuring the Ridge Way which I pore over.

I don't think I have ever seen a raven, and I understand there are only a few thousand in the whole of Britain. From your picture, those aren't ravens - which are bigger and heavier, and have a 'roman nose' beak.

But like you, I often pretend that crows are ravens (and that The Raven King, from Strange and Norrel, is about to return!). Indeed I suspect that probably many of the 'ravens' quoted in folklore were actually crows.

I also have a soft spot for other 'corvids' - jackdaws, jays and even magpies - which I sometimes feed in the garden by hiding individual peanuts and watching them search and discover (they are very intelligent and resourceful, also they operate in 'married' pairs!). Not forgetting rooks, which are very romatically English, seen and heard in the distance circling their twiggy nests in the trees... except those were usually elms, of which few remain

William Wildblood said...

I'm sure they were crows in the mundane world but I'd crossed over to the imaginal realm and they were ravens there! I share your enthusiasm for the corvids. I love all birds actually and was a bit of a birdwatcher in my younger days before my eyes decided not to cooperate. But I still look for unusual birds when I go somewhere new.

Francis Berger said...

I agree with Bruce - this is an evocative post - and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Being an avid walker, I have a soft spot for blog posts about walks (I tend to write a few myself), especially walks as obviously spiritually charged as this one was. I'm simply refuse to accept that the sandwich in your pocket caused the parade of crows. And I'm sticking to that!

David said...

I enjoyed this also. I think you are not alone in playing such games whilst on walks. When I get the opportunity, which is seldom nowadays with the constant but *mostly* heart-warming demands of young children (Imagine heart-warming, alternating with the feeling that one is being interrogated by a SAS instructor, trying to 'break you' by spilling food on the living room floor and demanding to be dressed as a princess, when you are trying to get yourself ready to go to work - and them to nursery - and demanding that you wear a pirate hat, etc. But then I understand you have children, so you will already know first hand about all of this kind of stuff...).

Anyway, I digress... what I wanted to share was that peaceful, emersive experience of being in nature, walking and contemplating...when the autumn leaves crunch under foot and the slight crisp chill in the air fills the lungs with an invigorating draught of coolness... On a familiar local walk, there is an old gnarled tree just of the main path and at an elevated position, to enjoy a good view of the woods. I found myself attractive to the other-worldness of the elaborately kinked root structure. It looks old and wise and I suspect, is the kind of tree faeries would favour to make as their home. Over a period of time, initially starting with a tacit acknowledged of each others presence... we have become *friends* of sorts and I would often, when no one was around, sit with it and feel a kind of earthy wisdom emanating from it that was conducive to peaceful meditation. Sometimes, after a few minutes of sitting alongside it, I felt that I could appreciate the more expansive and slower time frame of life in the midst of the wood. The human mind is always in such a hurry, but the tree, well, decades and centuries are the measure of its slower pace. Humans fuss and live out their dramas in picnic scenes in the wood, courting couples, bickering siblings, children play within sight of the tree. and grow into old crooked, arthritic forms...some glowing with a souls wisdom, others heart-hearted and sour faced, having learned from their three score year and ten...and the trees see it all...I quite like sharing his point of view sometimes. And then I run my caressing hand along his rough bark as a kind of goodbye and clamber back to the footpath. A feeling of time well spent in the woods.

So there you go, you are not the only lunatic on the loose in the country side William, talking to plants and Animals, haha!

I have not commented for a while here but I am still enjoying reading this blog from time to time. Or if not enjoying (given the nature of some of the posts) then attempting to gleam any spiritual wisdom I may from contemplating the material you discuss so eloquently.

Best wishes, David

William Wildblood said...

Thanks Frank and David. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I enjoyed writing it - made a nice change from some of the others subjects I've treated here recently!

Kirstie said...

This is a lovely post, and one I have re-visited because I don't think anyone could deny the spiritual reality of this world when you intentionally seek it. My cynicism is that most of said people turn it into some 'fest' of ego or some sort. It is so easy to turn truth into the opposite. And I know that is my stepping block, not that I felt it, but that I don't even trust myself to do right by the knowledge I was given.

I hope this makes sense.

William Wildblood said...

It does make sense, thanks Kirstie. I would say the fact that you know you have a stumbling (sorry to correct you!) block shows you are well in the way to overcoming it. Trust your instincts!

Kirstie said...

Yes, but my instincts are trying to 'prove' to others that it exists. Rather than just uncomfortably accepting it. This is why your communications with the Masters are illuminating. Thank you.

Kirstie said...

Hi William, I've again re-visited this post and when I said 'stepping block' rather than stumbling block, I genuinely was trying to describe what I have felt causes that block. I was imagining more of a wooden turnstile which you get in woods and parks whereby you can follow the known way which allows everyone to follow the rule of passage or you could actually step over the gate to follow the path directly. But even knowing you could step over the block still fills you with a hesitance and lack of confidence because you know it will take you somewhere far beyond but knowing you could never leave behind whence you came from. And so you most definitely feel an obligation to try and explain why you eventually took that leap of faith. This is the point I am at. I suppose it will become clear once I step over the threshold but for now, I feel some sort of responsibility to capture the doubts that held me back.

Kirstie said...

And I have no doubt that God exists, my personal struggle is accepting why He had to send Jesus Christ. I hope this comes across sincerely and respectfully.

William Wildblood said...

Yes, of course, it does (come over sincerely and respectfully), Kirstie. I believe the idea is that God had to send Christ because human beings had sunk so far into sin and egotism that we could not extricate ourselves on our own. Only by surrendering our self to the divine reality of Christ could that self become divinised.