stepping stones of truth

A journey along the path of life - the stones can be rough, smooth or even wobbly!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Infallibility of popes

And I thought they were ordinary mortals, not infallible at all. But I'm glad to see he agreed with us girls anyway! There ought to be an online diagnostic test to see which sort you have got, before the aging process begins.

"Men are like wine - some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age.
" Pope John XXIII

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Another prize!

Dear Val said the letter, written on cream paper from The Horticultural Correspondence College You have achieved a high standard, and in addition to completing your course at a Distinction standard, congratulations on winning a Senior Tutor’s Prize for the very good quality of your coursework.

I’ve been at it for two years now – that was my planned time to finish the Japanese Garden Design course. I couldn’t find anywhere to study, by any method, part or full time, so distance learning it was.

It was a challenge, reading all those lovely books on the subject that I couldn’t resist buying, and re-discovering how to write essays again. Only short ones, but great fun.

And going to Kyoto to see it all first hand with Worldspirit was wonderful So wonderful I have been twice – once in the autumn and the stunning colour, and once to understand the Japanese fascination with cherry blossom. I used the photos I took there to illustrate my essays. The visits were not arranged by the college, that was totally independent from the course. But they were just the best experiences – being in a Japanese temple garden in Japan just doesn’t compare with anything else.

I thought that the head honcho of the college was evaluating my tutor or moderating his marking when he asked for a sample of my work. I didn’t realize there were prizes! And what’s more the letter went on Our major prize winners are to be selected in the mid-summer of 2006 from amongst those who have achieved a prize at this stage. Fancy that, and I was pleased with a Distinction.

Next I got my prize through the post, a book “The Garden Book” published by Phaidon, compact enough to get through our letter box.

I decided that there was one topic that hadn’t been covered in any depth in the subjects I was asked to research, so I think I may just carry on and do a bit more – just because I want to know more.

And where to put some of my notes, photos and research – use the link on the right to The Dewy Path, that will be their destination eventually. But right now it’s only got one post there, which you will be familiar with. But its aspirational – like a blank canvas to an artist!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

After the quest - the prize!

In the previous post of the finding of the well, I hinted that we had taken a certain detour on the way - to Aosdana (meaning “gifted people). This is a local concern, following a tradition of silversmithing on the island. Two lovely young craftswomen make wonderful jewellery in a small cottage.

I had bought a small silver pendant in the shape of St Columba’s coracle on a previous stay, and wanted a chain to match. I also wanted to find a new silver ring, as my original wedding ring (of pinkish Moroccan gold) was now thirty eight years old and far too small to wear.
My eye fell on a ring with a zoomorphic pattern of intertwined serpents. This is thought to represent renewal of life and rebirth, and a card said the interlacement it forms symbolised eternity as it is without beginning or end. It also has a boss with an equal-armed cross in a circle. A favourite symbol of mine. Just the thing!
I went across the tiny cottage room to be measured. I held my hand out, and was greeted with an outstretched ring sample that fitted exactly! The young girl sheepishly grinned at my astonishment – “it’s a knack”, she confessed. “I can tell someone’s ring size just by looking! It’s come with practice” What a good chat up line that could be, not that she needed it with her lovely Celtic looks and graceful calm manner.

Then we continued out and along the track to the base of Dun I on our quest, and upward to find the well.

A week or so later, and a lifetime away back in Dorset, a neatly wrapped parcel arrived – just as the email had it would. (The islanders were early champions of the internet.) The elegant black box with Aosdana in silver on the lid held my lovely ring.

And I smiled when I discovered that the well’s name - Tobar na h-Aoise - can also be translated as “the well of the people” aois-dana (the specially gifted people) It's the same name as the silversmiths!

I look at the ring on my finger and remember the serenity of Iona - the springy turf, the white strands stretching far to craggy rocks as old as time, and the seas of turquoise and purple.

Monday, October 17, 2005


I've been to Iona again. We had some wonderful sunny days, interspersed with some real Weather (note the capital w ). The seas were so rough when we arrived, that even the sturdy ferry was cancelled for a few hours, and we had to wait patiently while the white horses subsided, and went back to their stable. Then we could set foot on the magical island.

And I finally made it - at the fourth
attempt. On each of my previous visits I had failed. But this time I did it.

I found the Well of Eternal Youth.

I don't know when I first heard of the existence of a wondrous spring, high up on the craggy top of Dun I (pronounced Dun Eee) but it caught my imagination. Not that I really thought it would bring eternal youth...well..that it is...errr...but I got a bit symbolical about it I guess!

I'd found the other mythical object on Iona - a Mermaid's Tear (more of that in a future post!) Now all that eluded me was this spring called Tobar na h-Aoise (if
you know how to pronounce it, can you tell me please?!) Locals were surprisingly adept at avoiding questions on its exact location, and guidebooks weren't much help. Maggie and I had hunted the northerly slopes on a brilliant summer day; Gill, Rebecca and I had scrambled over the top on a windswept September afternoon - we did find a lonely Ordnance Survey trig point though! Small solace for me.

So with Francesca as my companion on my Quest, we chose our time carefully to avoid the intermitment horizontal hail and set off - with only a small detour to the local silversmith to feed a retail therapy habit on the way.

Dun I is just 332 foot high, and the only hill on the nort
h of the island. But it makes an interesting scramble up over incredibly ancient stones - Lewisian gneiss to be precise, some of the earth's oldest rocks at 2,800 million years old - interspersed with verdant green squelchy valleys.

At the top the wind flattened us against the cairn. We had followed custom and each carried a pebble up with us to add to it. It was no mean feat to place it. On the south side the wind flattened you to the cairn which is about seven foot high, and steadfastly refused to let you move. On the east or west you had to cling on, and hang on to anything loose about your person or it took off horizontally for Skye, far over the horizon. The only safe place was on the north. As luck would have it, this was our intended direction.

I had seen, somewhere in a long forgotten manuscript (or on the internet more likely) a reference to the Well being "due north of the cairn". I have no
GPS, but had remembered the trusty compass. Holding it like a talisman, I pointed - and nearly got blown off the top as I had stepped out of the lee of the cairn!

Francesca set off over what looked like the edge of a precipice. But no, it led to a narrow col and a slightly lower outcrop of rock. Yes! A narrow sh
eep path led across to ...yes... water!

It was larger than I had expected, and a wonderful peaty colour. It looked dark brown, but if you hold some up to the light it is the palest green - t
he colour of Mermaid's Tears actually. Oh, right - that story comes later, I forgot!

A totally magical, remote and unexpected pl
ace, The rock outcrop protected it, and the lush grass around it made a comfortable place to sit and gaze at the view over the edge. The ancient croft's small fields spread far below, and beyond them was the white sand beach where I seen the seal. Then nothing but turquoise and purple sea. We sat protected from the roar of the wind - in a place that seemed beyond space and time. Bliss!

"May they all climb the Steep Path of Knowledge to the top of the hill, and drink from the Well of Antiquity" from Iona by Simon Andrew Stirling