The Heart Knows the Wisdom of Flow

For whatever you lose like a you or me, it’s always yourself you find by the sea –  E.E. Cummings

 

Luccombe Chine - beneath the wooden steps the ruins of cottages.

Luccombe Chine - beneath the wooden steps the ruins of cottages.

 

 

As you take the coastal road from Shanklin westward, you find yourself winding steeply through the undulating hills of Luccombe. Behind you, the protective white chalk of Culver holds the broad sweep of Sandown Bay in place on the eastern horizon. As the road climbs, below, the curves of the land draw the eye down towards the tree- hidden Chine; above, the imposing height of Luccombe Down makes its presence felt. In spring the woodland floors are white with ramsons, their pungency dominates your ascent; in summer the purple heather seeps over the ridge of the downs. Buzzards coast the deep valley and often the clouds cling to the heights, mists sliding down its steepness. At the road’s summit, at the base of Nansen Hill, you pass the Parish boundary sign of Bonchurch, Ventnor and St Lawrence. It displays an image of the Greek Goddess Hygeia. This lesser known daughter of the God of healing and medicine, Asclepius – herself a Goddess of health and well-being – has become the Patron of this beautiful area of the Island.

 

In my efforts to build a relationship with the Divine at the local level, I am coming to understand just how important this reasonably obscure Greek goddess is, with regard to making sense of just what it is I feel the Island’s qualities are. I feel sure that when the Victorians chose her as an emblem for the emerging health resort of Ventnor, they were picking up on exactly the same aspects perceived in the landscape that I too have felt so drawn to explore. Hygeia may well have travelled far from her original home but I think that she speaks of something that is already here, rooted in the nature of the Wight; she communicates something of the essence of this island.

 

Hygeia is traditionally portrayed with a serpent wrapped around her body or arm. She holds a Patera, a sacred offering dish, from which the snake drinks. Whatever the original symbolism meant for ancient Greek culture, as a modern Pagan, the dish and the snake hold deep significance for me. The Patera suggests the Chalice, the over-flowing and inexhaustible source of divine feminine inspiration and healing, sought deep within us; in our relationship with nature and in the mystery that underpins these. The serpent powerfully speaks of the chthonic energies of earth and of the life force that flows through all things; its ability to slough puts us in touch with the regenerating forces within and around us, and this process seems vital in our ability to find well-being. When we psychologically or physically shed that which no longer serves us, we clear a channel for life to move through us; when we hold on long beyond usefulness, we risk painful stagnation that can often lead to the crisis of illness or enforced change in our lives. The serpent spirals the Goddess’s body, she is its forces of release and regeneration. When we drink of her deep well of wisdom, when we open to these powerful currents within and around us, we are given an opportunity to deeply reconnect, to feel intensely our place within this extraordinary existence, to ride the movement of it with less resistance and, in doing so, find a greater well-being.

 

The Isle of Wight sheds constantly; its coastline notoriously unstable and shifting, releasing itself to the perpetually heaving ocean, as if the sedimentary earth yearns for its old home the sea. The Wight knows deep in it chalk bones the wisdom of Hygeia, and the south coast embodies it in its most dramatic form.

 

Saturday afternoon, Laurie and I walked down through the Landslip into Luccombe Bay. Starting at the base of Nansen Hill – next to the sign of Hygeia – we descended the Devil’s Chimney, a deep, narrow cutting in the rock face, right-angled at its base, and at that point, wide enough only to squeeze through. The undulating woodland of the Landslip is negotiated via steep wooden steps and rocky paths. This place has magical beauty: its fern rich lushness in summer hides the turbulence of the soil here; in winter the leafless trees betray the constantly shifting terrain, trunks precariously frozen at odd angles, slices of earth cut free, collapsing into uneven terraces.

 

The climb down into Luccombe Bay comes via Luccombe Chine, a steep, wooded, ravine, carved by the constant tumble of a stream in its irresistible dance with gravity. The wooden steps and boardwalks follow the route of the water down, at times perched above it, at moments merging with it. Eventually the meander of water and wood leads down to the beach. Saturday afternoon the tide was fully in and so we settled down on the sloping steps above the boulders, the sandy stretch beneath the cliffs invisible.

 

Laurie at Luccombe

Laurie at Luccombe

 

We sat in silence listening to the sea breaking just beneath us. There was the most peculiar light: the setting sun finding only a hazy slit in the rain-heavy mass of cloud moving down from the high ground. This strange golden light, darkening the grey of sky and sea, ignited the yellows in the vast sandstone cliffs, more blackened on bright days, now warm and alive in the setting sun. A Peregrine briefly skimmed the ledge of the cliff. I spotted a Robin hopping amongst the crumbled masonry on the beach below my suspended feet. These large chunks are the worn remains of houses lost in the big landslip of 1912. Before then, families lived here on the sunken ledge that runs along the cliff base, their cottages and chapel long gone but their names resonating still within my continued fascination for this place: Kingswells, Casses, Buttons, Kemps and Tom Hardy too. In the White Lion pub at Arreton, I discovered an old photo of ‘Poundhammer’ Kingswell and wife, their faces worn by sea, wind and poverty.

 

These people who once lived upon the bay’s precarious line of crumbling land and relentless sea – between mean survival and destitution – still seem to be resident here in some way. Luccombe bay has tremendous presence, both inherent in the landscape itself and in the residue of lives that once managed its unpredictable currents. I feel such awe and admiration for these folks and wonder if, amidst the hard struggles of their daily living, they too paused to sit here – like Laurie and I – absolutely entranced by the magic and strange peace of this place. Life can be relentless in its demands for us to keep growing, moving, releasing… and yet when we ride this current with trust there is a strange peace also. In examining the recent losses in my life – in learning to embrace the shedding – Luccombe touches me deeply.

 

After the violent storms at the beginning of 2008, the bay became littered with vast boulders, tightly packed, the southerly gales helping to obscure the open sands almost completely – it was a changed landscape. Amongst the rocks I found a large stone, the perfect shape of a heart. I thought of my friend Nick’s triple by-pass, the blockage of his arteries potentially deadly. The heart demands the constant flow of life renewing blood; the heart knows the wisdom of flow. There is wellbeing in movement although we often fight it. It is not the change that breaks us – it is the holding back.

 

Maria in a Luccombe reverie

Maria in a Luccombe reverie

 

 

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