St Nectans Glen - a cacophony of sounds and spirits, a journey of change and acceptance.
Places speak; they speak in shape, in light, they speak through the characters that they offer a home to, through the plants that spread their roots in their soil. They speak in stone, in leaf, in water. What makes a place ‘Sacred’ ‘Mystical’ or ‘Special’ can be as simple or as layered as an individuals personality. Some places are visited often by modern people and their thoughts, feelings, reflections and projections remain there. Some places stand mostly in a bleak silence and when visited they murmur their truths only softly from a larynx gravelled by solitude. Some sites hold their history tight within their circle of mountains, their ring of stones or their softly flowing water; and others hold respectfully whatever is brought to them no matter what it is. Other places move so fast and are so wild that nothing can remain save the essence that is them, their essence is movement and change. Their message comes through the eternal crashing of water through rock. St Nectans Glen is such a place.
The day I and my travelling companion visited the glen it truly was a day of water. It rained that kind of rain that soaks everything in an instant. The forecast had been for fine weather during our over night stay in Dragonfly Cabin in Trevethy just above the fall. But when we woke in the morning, having been slightly disturbed by the rain all night, we realised we were in for a wet one.
The walk to the fall is like a tales fore-shadowing of a momentous event. Running all along the side of the path is a wide brook that, on this day especially, rushed over rock and stone speaking so loudly i could not decipher one voice. Its was like many voices layered on top of one another each calling to be heard. This was not only the river, it trickled down from the slopes on either side of the path and, in the places where the brook was quieter, it could be heard running through rock and tree root - the run off of the rain racing to join the tumbling waters that eventually would join the sea. Water was dripping in such mighty blobs from high tree branches that with my head turned upward to look in wonder one caught me in the eye and temporarily blinded me!
There was, in the rain running down the slopes, falling from tree branches, flowing in tiny streams at the side of the path, running in sheets over the flat rocks and of course the mighty flow of the kieve itself, an immense feeling of purposeful, driven movement coupled with the strong sense of a desire to join with the whole. Each tiny drops mission was to meet with the strong currents of the kieve and run with it out and down to the sea.
Whilst walking along the path, wondering at the movement of water all about me, i noticed a log with, what i thought was, some very strange kind of bracket fungus all along it, but it looked too regular, too ordered. When i moved closer i saw that the log was studded with coins pressed into the bark. I know nothing of this tradition and have never seen it anywhere else. If you are reading this and you know something about it please do enlighten me as my research has brought up nothing about it. However, i was moved by the beauty of it. The log looked like some kind of hedgehog, perhaps each spine a wish for prosperity or health, the return of love or the birth of a child? To reach the gateway to the buildings above the fall you must do a climb of sorts, the way is made with a mixture of rock and root and man made steps. During our ascent the sun began to shine, the colours changed from a subdued grey and glistening green to all things glinting with a golden light. When we reached the top, where the cafe, the gift shop and St Nectan's Cell are, the rain was softening like a quiet blessing from the Saint himself. I have visited St Nectan's Glen many years ago and remembered it well for the enclosed feeling it had. You had to travel down a steep path to reach it, and it was nestled behind a turn in a very high rock face, backed by another high rock face, there was only one way in and out and once you were in you felt enclosed in a way that i enjoyed. However i was surprised to see how this had been changed. I’m not usually one to complain about changes made to a place by new owners, and i fully understand why the changes were made as they were, but i wouldn’t be being honest if i did not say that the changes unsettled me. This feeling though was part of my journey to this place, on this day, and as many of you know, no doubt, often we don’t fully understand what is occurring whilst it is happening, only on reflection, some time later, can we fully grasp what our experience was about. I know that the place needed time to settle into the new shape it had been carved into by human hands, that moss needed to grow on the new gateposts and all the creatures needed to reclaim their homes that had been disturbed by the moving of earth it must have taken to change the pathways. However the feeling of this stayed with me through out my visit.
When you enter the Glen now it is from above the place where the water comes through the rock. The new bridge allows you to view where the water comes from through the mighty hole that has been gorged over years by the rushing water. After crossing the bridge you are greeted by an enormous buddha. This buddhas silent and peaceful presence is like an echoing of St Nectan himself, the contemplative monk who had come to reside there many years before and who’s name this place now immortalised.
After passing the buddha you go under a tree tied with many coloured ribbons, in the way they are in many sacred sites around Britain, each one is tied as a glowing wish or to honour the memory of a loved one. On the the way down the sound of crashing water becomes louder and louder with every step. One bend then another and you find yourself at a turning gate that leads down to the water that flows from the fall, which, as i have said, is tucked behind a severe bend in high rocks, meaning the dramatic hole with water gushing through it is hidden from view until you are virtually right upon it. This was the part that sat most uncomfortably for me at the time. The gate and the fact that the way people walked cut across the water. The space no longer felt held in the way i remembered. The energy of the fall is fast, like quick fire or lightening, it’s pace lets nothing remain, so for the space around to hold this so well made it have a certain feel.
This new path makes a new flow. The flow of people now moves around the top and back of the water fall, through its flow and back up and round again. Its circle intersects with the flow of the water, it cuts across it, yet also makes people walk into it, which is wonderful. I saw one couple trying so carefully to cross without getting their feet wet. The man was guiding the woman carefully helping her to find stones to step on. It made me smile when she gave up and just walked straight through it. The water bade her enter, so she did.
The most noticeable thing about this space, besides the fast movement of the water, is the sound, it’s so loud that you must raise your voice a little to be heard over it. It’s a sound that, if you let it, will quieten your soul, it is nature in a wild and untameable form, its power and presence undeniable. My travelling companion was a great aid to me on that visit, his purity in interacting with the fall (as he had not been there before) was my vicarious journey into it.
Another tree hung with ribbons bowed over the flowing water on the side I was on. I touched the ribbons, photographed them and, glad of my waterproof boots, stepped in to the water. This water is like the calm after the storm, it is where it that has tumbled and twisted wildly through the rocks, flows gently on through to its next transition. Here where more logs with their strange speckling of coins. On the other side of the this stretch of water another tree is tied with colourful ribbons and piles of stones, and many offerings are left on the rocks around the flowing waters.
When i reached the bench my companion and i sat quietly for a moment. Then he removed his shoes to enter the water. He took with him the drinking horn i had decorated for him as a gift, it’s purpose to serve as a ritual horn from which to drink mead that can open the drinkers heart and mind to the truth of the wild complexity of the wyrd. I watched him enter the fall and capture some water in the horn, he came out of it like a mighty bear but also like a man, small in the presence of such magnificent nature. To reach the fall you must step carefully on stones and there is one perfectly placed for you to stand viewing the it from. I stood for sometime looking, the loud crashing in my ears. This place is so beautiful, bold and powerful, the spirits here are no shrinking violets! And there are many of them, so many voices that i could not decipher who was speaking and what they were saying.
I stood for a while absorbing the sound, after a while not trying to hear one voice in particular. It is clear to me now that this place is full to bursting with beings, flitting about, some dwelling in the rocks some swimming in the waters, some sleeping in the moss or beneath the ferns. Some visit to charge themselves and then move away because the power of that place is so strong it is not for them to stay. And others remain because it is their way to stay deep in the pounding and throbbing energy of a place such as this.
My companion brought for me some water from the fall and when i touched it to my lips i felt some of the unsettledness i was feeling ebb away. These are healing waters without a doubt, yet i felt that more time would be needed for me, as an individual, to deeply connect to any of the spirits of this place. Never the less after this sup of the water and feeling it in my body i was ready to commune with the rocks and take my moulds.
No matter where i go, rocks are my fascination, they don’t have to be pretty in a traditional sense, they don’t have to be dramatic, the just have to be, as rocks are. The textures of rocks express so much to me, of the life of the land, of ancient times of our earth, grand things such as this, but also that they are the homes of tiny things, like bugs and slow growing moss and lichen. They are the watchers, those that have seen all that passes, and they remember with out judgement or scrutiny.
They hold where the wind has blown, where the water has splashed, where hands have held themselves steady. These rocks have heard many a chant sung out by people stood in circle with their feet in the waters, they have heard children squeal with joy and delight whilst splashing about, they have been there in the darkness when only St Nectan sat beside the fall in his quiet contemplation. We spent a good while there by the fall listening and watching, my heart went quiet, almost numb for a while, i did not write in my note book as i usually do on such visits, i felt an emptiness that i attributed to the disappointment i felt about the changes. The sun was shining still as we left and all glowed like honey. At the top my companion went to the cafe for a coffee and i sat absorbing the sun into my body. I began to contemplate why a man seeking quiet, such as St Nectan, would come to such a noisy place. My heart knew why. When it had become silent as i sat on the bench after experiencing the fall. It was not disappointment that stilled it, it was the fall itself.
St Nectans Glen is a place of opposites in a way, it is loud and chaotic from the mere presence of the water, it is full to bursting with so many spirits i found it hard to place my focus on any particular one. Yet within all of this it stilled my heart. My experience that day was affected by my awareness of the plants and creatures feeling of disturbance from the work that had so recently been done, yet i know that the moulds i took from the wise and still rocks hold all things, even the knowledge that nature will crowd back round what has been placed there by man, it will reclaim. Insects will creep into the wood of the new fence posts, plants will grow around the freshly placed buddha and they will bring those new things into their community.