May 2017

Nine into Four = 0.4 to Infinity

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As many in the Tamar Dowsers will already know, local landscape historian and good friend of the TDs, Terry Faull, has the great insight not only of finding fascinating places, but of finding the fascination in those places which are right under our noses. Here Terry introduced us to some hugely significant and very local sites that have been in full view for millennia, yet for most of us they were (until now) merely unusual names on passing signposts.

The Small Pilgrim Places Network operates to gently promote – if that’s not too stark a contradiction in terms – some of the semi-secret shrines, which provide the quiet questor with places to reflect, and to absorb the unseen. It was fitting, therefore, that Terry started us off at the unspoilt SPPN church of St Winwalloe at Tremaine, near Egloskerry in East Cornwall. With no electrical connection and no running water, this is a remarkably remote building, just a short distance away from what passes as modern civilisation. This palpably energetic sacred site, dating back to the bronze age, is traversed by a couple of leys and numerous energy lines, and hosts spirals of water and earth energy in its simple nave which, remarkably, managed to avoid the ravages of Victorian improvement. 

Here, the atmosphere is light, and the sense of being uplifted is almost physical. The heavily buttressed walls and tower waver disconcertingly from the upright, but a little divining soon indicted the underlying cause. A substantial flow of rising ground-water has produced a large patch of sphagnum moss in the graveyard, and the ancient font, still virtually in its original position, is underpinned by strong subterranean aquatic flows. With wild orchids in the churchyard and a sense of having stepped subtly into another dimension, we were off to a cracking start.

Our next site was a very different kettle of fish, but just as poignant in its own way.   Nearby, the closed church of Treneglos (no, I’d never heard of it either) is suffering from a dangerously dodgy roof condition. As a vast grey edifice in a tiny village with, one assumes, an equally tiny potential congregation, there is insufficient funding to make good the structural decay of time. How such a large building ever came to exist, and then to be sequentially enlarged, in such an out-of-the-way hamlet is difficult to imagine.  

However, the real interest for the dowser at Treneglos lies outside the church itself. Firstly, it has what must be one of the most intact and perfect circular/ovoid llan boundaries around the site anywhere in Cornwall. These trademark churchyard embankments are the clearest possible indicator of Celtic Christian, and indeed pre-Christian, origins. Just outside the entrance to the churchyard is a truly enigmatic feature.   Looking for all the world like a strangely misplaced heap of construction waste, we dowsed that a few feet from the edge of the consecrated area is a former, and very old, burial site – now topped with tall trees and protected from collapse by carefully crafted stone walling. This could well have been the original nodal point of the site and could have commanded a concentrated day of dowsing on its own! We detected at least four burials in the incongruous mound and plenty of energetic features to signify its importance.

It was time for the Tamar Nine to digest both physically and academically. 

With the much-heralded rain still in abeyance, our third venue was the church at Lesnewth (Cornish:New Court). Despite being inundated during the same flooding incident that swept away much of Boscastle, this St Michael church retains plenty of atmosphere. Tucked away in the Valley of the Valency, the churchyard hosts an ancient cross-head, which dated by dowsing to be from around the 10th Century, placed on a later shaft.   

Although this site doesn’t have the more obvious accoutrements of Celtic Cornwall, it still dowses to having a very early foundation, and the energies in the building were strong and clear. The slight mustiness of the interior was understandable, given the presence of so much water underground, but we were encouraged to consider how the presence of water energy around the current altar site had come to be there. While this is not a discussion unique to Lesnewth, it seemed a very appropriate place to reconsider whether this water energy was an in situ stream, whether it was energy deflected by human intent, perhaps for protective purposes – or whether there was no physical water at all, and that whoever had originally set up the energy configuration had effectively brought it into existence at that point.

Our last destination was the better-known Minster church near Boscastle. At a place dedicated to the Celtic St Merteriana – an anglicised form of a latin translation of the name – Terry encouraged us to consider whether the physical remains of the holy lady were still there.   We came to the conclusion that at least some of them most certainly were (which is, of course, vey unusual).   Minster churchyard is awash with the beauty of nature throughout the year, and our visit coincided with the marvellous profusion of white wild garlic and native bluebells. We paid a visit to the last resting place of local ‘white witch’ and 18th Century healer, Joan Wytte, whose bones have been reinterred at the very edge of the consecrated area. Joan may have been rather amused by our dowsing deliberations, but it was difficult not to see some significance in the attention of an excessively tame robin, who came to see what we were doing.

We finished at St Merteriana’s holy well, fittingly resplendent in its woodland setting. The water was clear, if still, and dowsed as being appropriately renowned for its healing properties.

None of the places on our field trip is intrinsically difficult to find yet, despite having lived in the area for decades, it is surprising how such sites can come to life in the presence of a guide who sees them in a rather more nuanced way.

Many thanks, as ever, to Terry for taking the time and effort to show us around – and to inspire us to approach the world about us with quiet, but inquisitive, benevolence.

Nigel Twinn, Tamar Dowsers, May 2017

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