Autumn Equinox-Walking with the Listening To The Land Pilgrimage

In Autumn Equinox week, the Listening to The Land Pilgrimage passed through the North West of England on its way along the The Belinus Spine of Albion to Glasgow before the COP26 Summit in early November. Members of the NW Gatekeeper Group walked with the pilgrimage over 2 days as our service over the Equinox period.

On Wednesday 22 September (Equinox day) Linda, Jane and I joined the pilgrimage at their overnight camp on the summit edge of Mow Cop near Congleton in Cheshire. This was the 19th day of their journey- after days of warm weather Equinox had brought colder overnight temperatures but we set out in small groups in a warming Autumnal sun on our way to Bosley Cloud. We walked through fields, woods and past hedgerows full of Autumn abundance-damsons at perfect ripeness, crab apples less so, blackberries for snacking along the way, hawthorn for birds, and mushrooms and toadstools available for those who knew the rules! The conversations ranged far and wide-why are you on pilgrimage? what brought you to this point? what impact do you hope to make? what happens after the end of the pilgrimage in November? what is Gatekeeper and why have you joined us for these two days?

We drew breath before the ascent up Bosley Cloud which we undertook in relative quiet. We walked past the tree sentinels before the last steep uphill section, through ancient oak and younger silver birch trees, before emerging near the summit to near perfect 360 views. The Pilgrims were drawn to the North where lay their ultimate destination in 6 weeks time.

We walked on in the afternoon, steeply descending down Bosley Cloud to the River Dane, making our way along the valley and associated canal bank before again walking through fields and along farm tracks before approaching Gawsworth, their stop for the night. On the threshold of the village, we passed a grove of trees and saplings fluttering silver and green in the gentle evening breeze. What were the trees they asked. We identified them as White Poplar. Jane later found this is the tree associated with the energy of the Autumn Equinox which at that point was just a couple of hours away. The fluttering of the leaves symbolises the help it offers in letting go of our fears and concerns, and the noise made reflects the whispers of Spirit speaking to our soul in the still small voice of calm. Thank you Jane.

One of those serendipitous moments of pilgrimage, and what a perfect end to our Equinox day.

The following day Jane and I joined the pilgrims at the start in Gawsworth and again we set off in small groups heading for Alderley Edge, meeting at The Wizard tea rooms (!) before a Wisdom Keepers Ceremony on Castle Rock. The route for the day involved quite a lot of road walking but we were able to use some local knowledge and make use of footpaths and farm tracks to minimise tarmac.

Autumn abundance all around us again, helpful farmers letting us use farm tracks to shorten our journey (thank you Elizabeth and your husband at Broomfield Farm who saved us half an hour or so of walking and were so eloquent and so obviously passionate about your sustainable farming practices), past redeveloped farm buildings replaced with modern architectural glass boxes before arriving at The Wizard.

Linda, Richard and Vivienne joined us there and we walked in a full group with our local guide through Alderley Edge woods. We honoured the Golden Stone which marks the Belinus spine alignment before moving on, past caves, wells and viewpoints before arriving at Castle Rock. This site of an ancient story about Merlin, Arthur and 300 white knights on white horses coming forth from rock to save our land was the centre of the Ceremony. It is where, according to Gary Biltcliffe and Caroline Hoare, the Belinus and Ellen serpent lines cross before continuing to wind their ways northwards along the Belinus spine alignment.

The Ceremony allowed the Pilgrims to express their wishes for the outcome of their Pilgrimage through ceremony and drama, as part preparation for the presentation of a theatrical work in Glasgow before the world leaders at the COP 26 Summit. It was an emotive ceremony, invoking much anger at the despoiling of the land and its peoples, the exploitation of natural resources, and the delay in action until, some would say, it is too late. We fired symbolic arrows to the North carrying our hopes and aspirations for the Summit Conference. However, at the end, thoughts crystallised into the need for love to be spread through the land and to be shown to the leaders. Anger would not be enough.

We quietly moved away from Castle Rock to look at the Wizard's Well, though by this time thoughts were perhaps more focused on the final stage of the day to the overnight stay in Prestbury. Jane and I continued with a small group of Pilgrims in what at times felt like a final sprint to the finish. However, the Pilgrims made it in time for their evening meal. We said our farewells and wished them all good health and safe passage for the remainder of the Pilgrimage.

Some reflections: Immense respect for their passion, enthusiasm and determination. It was a great privilege and a great (though at times painful) pleasure to be able to walk alongside such an amazing group of people. Wonderful for us as GKT NW to be able to celebrate the Autumn Equinox in such a heart-centred activity supporting such a group of people. The stories we were told about the support and enthusiasm they had encountered on their way so far were so encouraging-shopkeepers handing over armfuls of chocolate bars, drinks in pubs along the way, stories from local people about local efforts to help the environment, and many more. The thought that each and every step taken by such a group of people will bring light and love to a vast area of this land. They embody all of Gatekeeper but may not know that they do!

Mike Newton
28 September 2021

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