A Feeling of Wellbeing – Tales from Hereford

7-8 June 2015
I am in the fair people sized city of Hereford, largely unchanged, in the centre, my host tells me, from the tenth century. I am staying with my friend Perry Walker and his lovely partner Marie Claire in a mediaeval merchant’s house nestling by the side of the old bridge into the city.
I read this morning the exquisite ‘Stitch in Time’ herbal I have brought from Brockhampton. It is a veritable wonder and mine of information saved from 1902 when its handwritten collection of notes on 60 wild flowers medicinal and other practical uses were given to the church with the embroidered altar cloths and prayer book covers.
I learn of making cloth from nettle and am reminded of the conversation over dinner last night and an old French folk tale of a maiden who rescued her 7 brothers from enchantment from having been turned into swans by making them garments of nettle cloth. I have a vague memory of such a tale too, perhaps from Grimm when one brother’s arm remains a wing for the cloth was not quite enough. We have talked of Roman soldiers rubbing the leaves into their skin to improve circulation and keep them warm and now I read they brought the seeds over with them, so valued a plant it was for so many purposes.
With the theme of inner transition strong on this journey I am thrilled at the end of the book to find the following stanzas from a prayer;
…in your kingdom of heaven
We know little children are there
And Jesus said thieves and harlots
Would be found in that land so fair

For the kingdom of heaven’s within you
Here on this beautiful earth
If only our souls would awaken
To present celestial birth

The anonymous writer goes on to add that she’s known it in the mystery of a flower. A wise woman indeed, and perhaps remaining anonymous for having imparted knowledge and wisdom that once over would have had cast in the role of witch.
She tells me too, this long dead guide of mine, that borage, an old favourite herb of mine, that I planted in a mother in laws garden where it proceeded to take over other less useful, more ornamental flowers, brings courage, and that the Greeks and Romans took it in wine to increase the flow of adrenalin and produce fearlessness; an apt flower to take as symbol for the warriors way.
All along the way though it is the beautiful bugle with its flowers of violet and blue bells that has accompanied me and this I am told by this precious herbal is known to cure the diseases of Saturn being closely allied with Venus. Culpeper understood well the correspondences between planetary action and life upon earth. Saturn is the great grey bearded teacher of the planets and Venus the beguiling maiden of love; here beautifully side by side then the Merlin and the Nimue of legend. Bugle embodying the truth that love softens every harsh heart, that slow steady learning of truths brings one finally to that great and only truth, that we are all interconnected by the energy we call love.
Culpeper tells us it must be taken inwardly (in a drink )and outwardly (as an ointment) if we are wise enough to recognise its virtues and love it.
Here in the fair city of Hereford it is easy to feel love. The perfect symmetry of the architecture is pleasing to the heart and the magnificence of it’s central cathedral must have touched every pilgrim’s heart that once passed before it.
Together with my hosts we walk to the castle green centre by the river where once stood one of the proudest castles in the land. The townsfolk took its stone away for building and now its might is spread throughout the city, a good metaphor for perhaps exactly how a people claim back their power from a structure that seems invincible and once held them in thrall. Take it to pieces one block at a time and put each to use amongst other things you find to make it serve you better.
We here tell tales of the future, of the past and present too, with my friend of old in these parts, Anita Sancha, our good company of four being all who choose to be indoors this fine hot June evening. We sit in the window overlooking the river and Anita animates the space with bird song and fun. On the window ledge sit pigeons cone to join our gathering.
Small though it is the feeling of well being and company well met fill us with pleasure and the tales come on and on as diverse as tales of the gallantry showmen who would travel the country and the Victorian magic lantern shows. Anita once travelled the land on a canal narrow boat putting on shows our great great grandparents would have seen. She spent seven years travelling slowly one place to the next.
We hear too of the Amandola housing co op, an eco development in nearby Kingston’s actively seeking members. Watch this space for a link to their website.
Spring greens is a local eco festival that gas been going for a few years now, one of the delights to come from the rebirth of the original transition Hereford into HITA: the Hereford in Transition Alliance, a wonderful organic collective of all the different eco groups and projects to come out of transition as well as all the other kindred organisations working towards the same ends.

I tell my tales back from 2010 as well as back from 2050 and the others add their visions. One is of the continuing spread of the virtual reality that some teenagers are so engrossed in and another expects groups to be more and more defined with their own in- language but then as these two viewpoints are considered the role of the internet in helping diverse groups to find out and understand about each other is brought in. I wish I had brought my game The Quest to 2030 with me as I find the structure and story held nature of this to release the imagination beyond what can be seen from considering only the present. Still the beginnings have been created, perhaps groups that are allowed their own identity and retain healthy curiousity in the others is a good way to honour diversity. Perhaps the virtual worlds can allow people to experiment with possible futures and learn from them. I wonder how far we can imagine having this degree of technology in a power down society.
Over a late supper talk turns to the politics of our day and it is fascinating to hear a French perspective on what is happening in Britain now. Seen through the eyes of another nationality with its particular experiences to shed light on the situation is useful and enlightening. I wonder what it would take to change a political system without revolution and of course come back to the theme of this walk. The way forward is not to look upon the block as an impediment but rather flow around it like a river smooths off rocks as it goes and consider that the solutions come from within the block itself. In the individuals within it having a change of heart, an opening of heart, and it the compassionate way that accomplishes this.
Perry shows me his news from 2027. There are 4 spoof newspapers, exceptionally well produced. They contain a mixture of positive and not so positive articles. It will be interesting to read them again in 2027.
I am fed the most delicious suppers during my two night stay in this lovely place, Perry’s delicious moussaka inspired chickpea dish and then at Anita’s place in Breinton joined by Susana as we were the last time I walked this way we eat Indonesian style steamed veg with coconut sauce.we have such a long way since the days when British cooking was the insipid boiled mush that seemed to develop in the post war years. I eat with relish, my walk to Hereford over the lanes from Much Dewchurch was accomplished on chocolate wafer bars as I was eager to make time to walk to the hill fort of Dinedor rather than look for lunch.
I was supremely rewarded by this effort. It is easily the most accessible of all the ones my journey has taken me through. It is also flat on top and full of ancient trees as the others, and flooded with warm sunshine. I share it with a group of guides out on a walk and a colony of wasps that live in the roots of an uprooted tree I sit in. The queen wasp is larger than her workers and typical yellow and black banded. The workers are exquisite. They gave fluorescent turquoise heads, fluorescent green tails and dark earth red splotches on their slim bodies. I remember that the wasp is one of the symbols for warrior archetype of the feminine.
I am struck on this walk by the nature if my direction. I live between seeking out long straight roads and lanes and circuitous routes that take me to places that draw me. In conversation with Susana she points out the similarity to masculine and feminine energies. The focused goal orientated and the slower explorative inclusive dance blending together across the landscape as I weave the warriors way like knots along a rope, like beads on a necklace, like chakras along a spine. I have not planned these hill forts but yet they turn up at regular intervals, just as if Merlin were settlement hopping just as I am.
I have more confirmation that the warriors way is real though I am inventing it step by step when I visit the cathedral after a most wondrous pizza at the Rocket with my kindred spirits here in this city of well being.
I go to see the Mappa Mundi, an ancient mediaeval map of the world . I don’t go directly into the exhibition rooms though because I am caught by the splendour of the cathedral and need to sit in reverence. I can feel deep living peace both inside and out.
When I go through to meet the map I am thrilled by its guide who clearly loves her work and after pointing out various features, the Wye is on it, clearly It was made locally, the red sea the Nile, and Jerusalem painted at the centre. It was a teaching map, it taught that spirituality is at the centre of everything. It also taught the extent of the known at that time. Europe is the biggest quadrant of the four depicted in the circular illuminated map on calf skin that is more than 700 years old. My own love of maps for their precise marking out of what is actually there is challenged somewhat by this pictorial representation of the once known world yet it is also magnificent with its drawings and careful annotations of the creatures that dwelled in the various parts, no distinction made between mythological and real, calling into question things we assume are true. What is true anyway, and what merely perception?
The map was apparently one of the treasures shown to pilgrims and here the beginnings of something I had not known begin to coalesce in my mind. It would seem that more than Merlin has walked this way. Perry has told me of the frescoes painted on the walls of the Black Lion pub, sadly not in the public areas, painted by monk pilgrims as they slept there, next door to where I have slept in Perry and Marie Claire’s mediaeval merchant house. The frescoes apparently depict very earthly scenes far removed from the sanctity of images like the tree tapestries in the cathedral created by John Piper in 1903.
Hereford was once a place of pilgrimage. They came to receive healing from St Thomas whose tomb lies in the northern corner of the cathedral. Thomas was bishop of the cathedral in medieval times and excommunicated. The pictures displayed there seem to suggest he was preaching out of doors . He travelled to Italy to be pardoned by the pope . he died in Italy but at his shrine in Hereford miracles began to happen.
The tomb of St Thomas is surrounded by 14 warriors. I am told this is unusual for a bishop to need to be thus guarded and that maybe he had some association with the knights templar though this is not the orthodox view.
The present dean has had the tomb brought back to a semblance if it’s original splendour, though the stonework itself is worn and the warriors faceless now and his Stone effigy much worn and crumbled but brand new red and blue kneeling cushions woven with golden thread are around it and above it a canopy of blue and red with golden stars.
Beside the tomb one can write a prayer and light a candle and I realise as I write mine, for the honouring of diversity, that I have become a pilgrim in the true sense of the world. All else fails away. I am given into the hands of a force greater than I and the way I tread has been trod before. I feel my place in the world like never before. I notice I don’t feel apologetic for existing anymore. Confidence grows as does my love of the open road .
I dally in the cathedral soaking in the sense of peace and reverence for what has gone before. Then I do my shortest walk so far, just two miles to breinton, home of anita, where I stayed on my !ast storywalk and was so taken with the garage turned greenhouse. Now it is a beautiful wood clad conservatory sporting three fruiting peach trees.
We chop veg for supper and then Susana arrives. I feel like I am with old friends though we have only done this once before. Susana tells me about gender reconciliation an organisation working with universities to address gender related imbalances in society. There is a related book; Divine Duality. Thoroughly with its feet in the real world addressing real life issues; rape, violence, abuse, the book is also fed by a strong understanding if our essential nature and the alchemy that occurs when masculine and femininine are balanced, on the inside of each of us so that we no longer project our shadow onto others.
Susana has also brought along the first chapters of the book she is writing for children which as well as being an exciting magical adventure is also teaching awareness of the issues we face today. Anita asks if I will read it aloud and curls up on the sofa whilst Susana sits beside me. I read the tale, it is immediately a story that grips and soon we are in world if twins Esme and Reuben and the pony that tunrs into Pegasus and teaches them how to make their imagination bring things into reality.
We sit , as people of old would have sat, entertaining one another. The story is so readable that the characters come to life through my voice and I feel in the story. Tifa the terrier barks to be let in, she spends most of her time ratting in the big garden, and leaps onto my lap to give me a big kiss. She then snuggles up with Anita and joins our cosy soiree.
Later Anita shows me old BBC documentaries made about her when she was part of the travelling magic lantern canal boat show. She brought up her children aboard the narrow boat which stopped in a different town each day.
I am thrilled by seeing how Anitas skill in operating victorian magic lantern cameras and slides developed into her skill as an animator which first attracted my attention.
I have enjoyed witnessing skill in the arts in this fair city. Marie Claire has pointed out the animals which are carved into the walls of the museum. They are almost animate with their features so well carved, and as for the cathedrals majestic walls, filled with relics from the past, show just how skilled our ancestors were.
My stay in Hereford has been one of integration. My arrival in the city via the old brdge reminded me with a jolt that it was here I consummated a relationship with a now lost lover and too where I walked on my first story walk. This city begins my short overlap with the 2010 transition tales walk.
Time worked its magic and gazing across at Left Bank, which Perry explains went into a period of dereliction, and is now risen phoenix like rather like the new incarnation of transition Hereford, I know that my heart has healed and I am eager to begin a new chapter. This fine old city where my half Welsh grandfather loved to be has become a place of significance for me too. In the chained library where the ancient tomes kept by the cathedral have been kept for several hundred years I have a deep longing for the life of contemplation and study and wonder if this is a memory of a past life or of one to come. Certainly in this life I am eager to start to include it more, perhaps in the place of still quiet I would like to found there can be a library such as the one I saw in the convent at tyr mawr, which can point the way to a new way of spiritual life where celibacy is not required. Susana has said that it didn’t always used to be the way we feel we have always known it. I gaze at the cathedral floor where effigys of couples are laid out in bronze above their long dead bones and wonder if there ever was a period in our western history where the tantric knowledge of the power of union of opposites was accepted.
In the library exhibition I see the the volume where King John decreed Forest Law which removed the rights of all but he and his henchmen from using its resources. I wonder at this act of treason against the people and at how it is perpetuated to this day. It is a good reminder that just because someone holds a position of power doesn’t mean they are right or should be followed.
In the end the only way of doing good in the world is to do as the hippies always said; follow your bliss. I feel that my time spent in Hereford has been doing exactly that.