Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The REAL Barrow Hill - Following the Dark Path - Part 2 - St.Nectan's Kieve



Following the water course back to its source, through thick woods and waterside paths, you find St.Nectan's Kieve, an enchanted wood if ever we saw one.



Saint Nectan's Kieve (Cornish: Cuva Nathan, meaning Nathan's tub)

A saintly bath awaits…

The kieve was buzzing with life, watered constantly by the river, which erupts from the earth via a 60foot waterfall, a powerful force that has carved the valley over millions of years. Legend has it, that St.Nectan lived on the rocky island-like outcrop, in a cave to the side of the waterfall, around 600AD. There's also rumour that a Celtic Chapel once existed at the top of the falls, later becoming known as the Hermitage. It's easy to imagine why a chapel or important religious centre would be placed here. Yes, it's mightily treacherous during storms (St.Nectans if a few miles from Boscastle, see news video for the floods of 2004 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxweiRNlHboBoscastle Floods ) but those early chapel builders liked a challenge and the impossible nature of the builds is often what made them so popular as a pilgrimage, very much like Looe Island, Glastonbury Tor, St.Michael's Mount or Rame Head. Those early pilgrims liked a bit of precarious jaunting, to test their faith, but there was also security and defence to consider, the Vikings and Saxons were a threat, even in the wilds of Cornwall.


The waterfall is spectacular, pouring from the cave-like crack in the earth, leaving a series of 'bell bowl' basins in it's wake, or 'tubs', hence 'Nathan's Tub'. These are naturally round pools, formed by the crashing water. Eventually, the water erodes enough to continue on, free of the pool, pouring over the side to form another 'bell bowl', and another, all the way down the hill, to Rocky Valley, and the old mill. The same flow of water once powered Trewethet Mill, via an ingenious series of stones tunnels and canals, built into the natural shapes of the valley. It's an ancient spot, the abundance of clear, beautifully fresh water would have been like electricity is today; we can't do much without it, neither can our machines. 

Water is god here, it is the force that made the valley, and provides essential moisture to everything that lives here.

It has created a microcosm, a green place teeming with life… and pagans. The rituals and signs of wiccan worship are obvious, with stone cairns, offerings and ribbons everywhere to see. Some are prayers, good will wishes, sad memorials and reminders to others, of their visit. A bit like a pagan pilgrimage. 

Everywhere you look, there are stones piles (very obvious), hidden in cracks and crevices, or perched precariously in the stream, or on high rock ledges. In such a wild place, these little signs of mans presence reminded us all of the tribal 'trackers' of old, highly skilled hunters who orientated the wild world by observing signs and markers. Piles of cairns, like the ones observed, could have been a boundary warning, or maybe a place of worship? The fact that the stones get tumbled by water or weather, also reminds me of the ethnic sand drawings, where much effort  is made in the construction, a cathartic and calming process, only to then 'destroy' the creation to finish the meditation. 

Coppers and coins in an old tree trunk, St.Nectans Glen

There's also an old tree trunk, embedded with coins (copper and tin, often taken from the Cornish landscape in times gone by), creating what can only be described as Dragon Skin, a scaly metallic surface. We added our own coins, obviously! How does something like this start? After knocking in our pennies, we came to the conclusion that it would take a couple of coins to encourage more, and more, till the whole thing is neatly and evenly covered in metal. We are a funny species!

Next up, we made one last stop: My favourite, Golitha Falls