If you could zoom through space in the speed of light, what place would you go to right now?
Twist: organize your post around the description of a setting.
You walk out into the field – quite a normal, every day pasture with short grass and grasshoppers that cloud into the air as you move your feet – and ahead you can see that the earth just drops away, you can see trees and the other side of a small valley.
Turning to the left, you come to the edge of this cliff and see that once there must have been a path or a stream leading down the side of the ridge and your eye follows the long depression in the ground before it gets lost in the heat-browned vegetation. Sat on top of this part of the ridge is a square stone structure – for you could no longer call it a dwelling. The brambles and scrub have claimed what must have once been a shepherd’s croft. Walls have tumbled and any woodworking has long since rotted away. The lintel stone still stands over the doorway, but even this portal is choked with bramble.
You can slide down the ridge at this point; the sheep and cattle have made a sloping pathway. There are large boulders, like icebergs you are sure, peeking out of the side of the cliff as you descend the short distance. It soon becomes obvious that this is not a site that was visited only by shepherds. In front of you, several concrete pillars mark the site of what can only have been some kind of ancient temple. Roman perhaps. Gallo-roman would be an educated guess, as a very few kilometres to the northeast there lies a site which includes a Gallo-roman bathhouse and villas.
There are no notices to tell you what these pillars make, but the lines and rows spell temple. The temple site itself is set in a kind of natural amphitheatre. The cliff edge and old path or streambed delineate one side, and at the other side of the temple the bank curves around the rest of the semi-circle. At the open end of the depression lies some kind of rocky stream – the sound of falling water seeps out between the oak trees that line the bank.
You walk towards it, wondering if this amphitheatre was once the beach of part of this stream when the climate was wetter and the river ran higher. That must have been a pre-Roman beach, as the temple site was built on the beach itself, albeit high up at the back, so flooding was a problem?
You reach the tree-lined stream, and you are glad that you chose this spot for viewing. Looking up and down the banks, all you can see are trees and shrubs crowded tight against the margins.
Near to your feet lies an old root system, blackened and gnarled with age, slippery and moss-encrusted by the damp conditions. Your eyes take in the other roots that twist into the water from the ancient oaks. But those are not what arrest the eye.
The riverbed itself is the commanding view here, not any bankside vegetation. The mid-summer drop in flow accentuates the fact that the rock here is hard. To say the streambed is strewn with rocks would be wrong. For all intents and purposes, the boulders are the streambed. Giant boulders, some flattened, some characteristically tear-dropped by the water, all huge. The water cascades through them, under them, around them. Slightly to your right there is a pool. You are in no doubt that the dark colour is not caused merely by the lack of direct sunlight. Something tells the primitive part of you that that pool is deep. Perhaps primordially deep, perhaps only hip-deep. But there are depths there that maybe ought not be plumbed.
The higher boulders that escape all but the worst ravages of the winter floods are covered in green moss, growing like baize across the stone. On the lower ones, the moss has turned into black slime, now dry and crinkly in the August heat.
Across the bank, you can see what looks far too regular to be a natural outcropping of stone. You take a second look, perhaps hopping onto a stone or two to garner a closer look. Under the moss and branches of trees – for across the river the woods are still holding strong – there are walls. A hole that can only be a window. Another shepherd’s croft? Unlikely situated so close to the riverbank and in woods. A hunting lodge? Perhaps. Something to do with the ancient castle that once stood at the nearby lake, of which only a tower and part of the moat remain? More than likely. It is said that Le Coeur de Lion stayed at that castle, and held property close by. Is it possible that the famed Lionheart himself spent time here, when this ruin was in its hey-day? It is pleasing to your mind to muse on these possibilities.
You cross the river, using the giant boulders as stepping-stones. You cannot help but feel that, as you near the other shore and the wild and moss-dripping trees, in some way you are leaving behind a world of security and all that is homely and all that you have come to know as ‘real’. Here, on the other shore, perhaps an alternative reality exists alongside, yet separate from, your own.
You scan the surrounding countryside quickly. What is behind that tree? Is there anything behind the walls, waiting to stare out of the window? You are but a visitor in this other realm, the realm of fairies and elves, where fairy tales are not fables but truths, where changelings and goblins cavort freely.
You jump back across the boulders and reach the open shore with ease. You turn back and stare at the walls and at the woods. You feel slightly foolish for turning tail like you did. You know that those creatures don’t exist. You know that. Don’t you?
You turn away and step out from underneath the cover of the trees and back into the sunshine. The temple is in front of you. The path back up to the top of the ridge and the croft to the left of that. You turn sharp left, the path that takes you immediately below the ridge. You can see from here that you chose the right path in coming down. If you had tried to go down the front of the cliff, it would have been near impossible.
You continue along the path. You wonder where it leads. Perhaps another beach? Another dead building? To your right and left tall ferns grow wild, shading out all other weeds and grass. The ferns grow up the side of the ridge and over the top, encroaching onto the pasture.
Ahead of you, the path narrows, the ferns now caressing your bare arms and legs. You thank the deity of your choice that they are not sporing at the moment, as the slightest touch would have sent clouds of carcinogenic microbes into the air. As it is the air is hot and dry, but at least it is not dusty.
The trees that have followed the stream along its course cut sharply in a few hundred feet in front of you. You spy a path through the fern to your right that will lead you back up to the top of the ridge. You decide to take it. Again you are struck by how primeval the landscape looks – boulders, ferns, sharp drops, streams and rivers. As you plough through the fern and up the steep incline, your eyes constantly scan the ground in front of you for snakes. Now is not the time to get bitten by an adder or an asp. DOA are not your three favourite letters when placed together.
Puffing and slightly out of breath you reach the clifftop. You know that, as you heave yourself up the last metre, you have left another world behind you. A world that you entered as soon as you walked around the shepherd’s croft, a world that invited you as you touched the concrete temple marker, a world that welcomed you as you stood at the stream side, a world that scared you as you closed in on the dead building, a world apart from your own.
You make your way back across the high pasture land and back out of the gateway onto the trackway that you came in on. Still, as you glimpse around, that world is not as distinct and separate as you once would have believed. That world is everywhere, existing within, around and through our own.
You were scared, but not rejected. You know that that world would welcome you any time that you entered it again. Some part of your brain asks you if you would ever leave it.