Fairy Lane, January 2021
we live in treacherous times,
the very land we hold so dear to us
with the grounds of life as we know it is
being pulled from beneath our feet.
Orange mesh and ‘Do Not Enter’ signs
at the entrances to Fairy Lane do not deter me
slipping by fay-like to bear witness
to another cataclysmic event.
For a long while railings, gravestones,
have been falling away and no-one speaks
of gathering up the bones of the dead.
This has been a place of peace with its
holy well, monastery, church, and chapel,
but has also been a place of penitence.
Black Roger sent to the ends of the earth.
(I sometimes wonder if I am a penitent
and whether I have served my time).
The weather gods have been cruel
this year with their freeze-thaw-rain
dichotomy opening fresh wounds.
The steps leading down to the yew
where I first met Gwyn ap Nudd and to him
made my dedication defying the transcendent gaze
of the Christian God who has never set foot on this earth
(except perhaps in his son whose feet in ancient times
may have walked here in Blake’s poetry)
are now twisted like something out of Labyrinth.
He has thrown my world out of kilter again –
a consequence of being devoted to a wild god…
When I see trees upside-down I think how natural
it is for us to fall whereas trees are born upright
and to go root over crown is certain death.
Yet as we grow older falls hurt more
and we come to wonder which will be the last.
I wrote this poem after being called to bear witness to yet another cataclysmic event in my local area. It was three days until the January full moon, on which I made my life-long dedication to my patron god, Gwyn ap Nudd, beside the leaning yew tree on Fairy Lane two years ago. (I made my initial dedication to him at the White Spring beneath Glastonbury Tor on the January moon in 2013.)
It’s a place I visit often, so I was surprised, when I got there, to find orange mesh across the entrance from the A59 and to read a notice stating that the footpath was closed due to a landslip. I walked to the second entrance by the Ribble where, again, I found the orange mesh, but it didn’t extend into the woodland.
Following the intuition that the place was safe now and my gods wanted me to see what had happened I slipped past. Usually the council will fence things off at the tiniest reason. This was not small. It was catastrophic. A whole swathe of land had slipped away from the side of Church Avenue, which runs along Castle Hill – a pen ‘prominent headland’ – shaped a bit like Pendle. It had piled up on Fairy Lane with the debris of huge ivy-clad trees in their prime, fallen root over crown.
Furthermore the steps leading down to the leaning yew had been skewed and looked dangerous.
In some ways, that this had happened, was not a surprise. The whole bank, with its leaning trees, has always looked precarious. There have been landslips before, bearing away railings and graves. Due to falling gravestones the castle mound and parts of the graveyard have been closed off for several years.
There are several reasons for the instability of the land. When the river Ribble was moved five hundred yards south from her original course to run beside Castle Hill, the sandstone bedrock was shattered. The aquifer beneath the hill was broken, leading to the holy well at the hill’s foot drying up. The building of the adjacent by-pass and its vibrations are likely causing the damaged land to slip.
The final contributor to this is the recent weather with its dangerous patterns of freezing, thawing, and heavy rain. No doubt all these factors have come together to cause these landslip.
Yet as well as physical reasons there are spiritual reasons too. The conversion of the hill and well from a pre-Christian to Christian sacred site and the severing of the links between the people and the gods of the land have led to the mindset that makes moving a river, shattering an aquifer that feeds a holy well, and building a by-pass beside a sacred place acceptable. Within a culture that saw the river as a divinity and the hill as the body of a goddess and abode of the dead and their god these would have been seen as acts of desecration that would bring about the wrath of the gods. And so their anger is seen in the decline of this once (and still on occasion) beautiful and enchanting place.
My first thought, when I arrived at the scene, was that this was linked somehow to my Gwyn dedication. Had I done something wrong? Was I on the wrong track? Might it be linked to the series of workshops on Gwyn and his family I am planning with other Gwyn devotees for Land Sea Sky Travel?
I received the gnosis that the landslip had nothing to do with me or my actions and would have happened anyway. I was already in two minds about visiting the yew on my dedication day as I am at my conservation internship on that day and don’t really want to go at night without a friend to accompany me (due to lockdown).
What it means to have the place I met Gwyn and made my life-long dedication cut off I haven’t cogitated yet. It seems to fit with two bridges over the Ribble being declared dangerous and closed. The land, the gods, displaying their anger, the council attempting to protect us, connections being severed.
This event has also made me aware the yew, leaning precariously on an ash, won’t be there forever…