Sacred Sites in Cornwall: St. Nectan’s Glen

I’ll start this post with the disclaimer that I have travelled a number of times to Cornwall, but am very far from having a comprehensive knowledge of the region’s sacred sites.  There are so many things to see.  Here are some of my favorites.

North Cornwall
St. Nectan’s Glen
is located in the village of Trethevy, north of Tintagel, and south of Boscastle.  There is a small parking lot on the west side of the road where you may leave a car. I passed the glen on an earlier trip in 2005, but in the summer of 2016, while staying in Devon, we made a special day trip.

The path along the gushing stream to St. Nectan's Glen.

You’ll cross the street and walk down a path adjacent to a tiny stone church, and from there, into the woods.  This is pilgrimage at its best on a small scale.  The approach to the glen takes some time, and involves liminal crossings of a gushing stream, and walking on soft duff, muddy lowland paths, and a bit of climbing into the hills.  I savored the walk, and used it as a meditation in preparation for some spiritual work I needed to do.  Upon arriving at the building perched atop the stone cliffs, we paid our admission fee, and were offered some musty wellies from a nearby shed.  (Bring your own if you’re sensitive to mildew!) We slowly descended the stairways, stopping on the viewing platforms to gaze down at the loud, rushing falls.  It is a faery glen, with mosses, ferns, and life sprouting everywhere.  At the bottom, the glen opens out, and the waters are shallow.

My partner examines a log filled with coins.

Let your instincts guide where you walk, and what you do next.  People have filled the glen with an abundance of clouties and other offerings.  I took a long time just standing in front of the spectacular round opening in the stone at the base of the falls, my glasses fogging from the spray.  Something in me cracked wide open, and I enjoyed a mystical unbinding of some energies that had been very stuck before.  This moment set the tone for the next three weeks of our

Stand in front of the falls and take your time.

pilgrimage. When we were ready, we made our way back to the entrance, returned our musty boots, and walked back along the stream, down through the woods.  On the return visit I felt so light and full of joy.  It was indescribable. 

I live in Oregon, and there are dozens of spectacular waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge.  This was a different experience entirely, with the spirits of the place speaking very strongly and benevolently.

I’ll add a great deal more to the Cornwall page over the coming weeks.  This is just the beginning.  Next up:  The Rocky Valley, the labyrinths, and that wild saddle of rock, Tintagel.


Winter Solstice & the Dagda

Today I celebrated Winter Solstice in ritual with a close friend and long-time priestess.  We worked with the Dagda, Brigid, and a number of the land spirits at Bru na Boinne, where the most exquisite thing happens at every winter solstice.  A shaft of winter sunrise sunlight makes its way down the narrow stone passageway to Newgrange and floods the chamber with light.  It happens only for a few days on either side of Winter Solstice each year, making it a rare and special event.

Charging the ogham staves

And so we traveled there to work magic for personal and political ends.  It is the house of the Dagda, so we sought his permission for our visit, as well as consulting the land spirits.  It was a potent ritual for both of us, and has left us with a number of ideas, visions, and further ritual work to explore.

If you’d like to learn more about the Winter Solstice alignment at Bru na Boinne, this video provides further information.

Light is returning.  Sleep well.





How to visit a sacred site

I’m just back from 3 1/2 weeks in England and Ireland.  As is our tradition, we’ve built our trip around visits to long barrows, passage tombs, dolmens, cists, stone rows, and caves.  Which brings me to my topic:  How to Visit a Sacred Site.

(some of the books we used to plan this trip)

Doesn’t everybody know how it’s done?  The sad truth is that I’ve seen some shocking behavior to avoid.  But if you, like me, are a seasoned veteran at visiting important pagan places, there is always more to learn–especially about yourself–when preparing for a visit.  Here is a brief summary of what I have found helpful.

  • Plan, plan, plan before you go!
    Some sites simply allow you to walk up to the location and visit (respectfully, of course).  Many of the bigger sites are now tourist attractions, and that means a trip to a ticket booth and a visitor center.  It’s also fairly challenging to attempt to do ritual work while on a, say, 15 minute “in and out” tour of Brú na Bóinne.  You might amaze the little kids with your invocations, but will likely rattle the adults around you.  A wise soul will know, however, that there are plenty of quiet and important places within a short meander from the front door of the Newgrange burial chamber where you could engage in some full-on ritual without being distracted or causing a disruption.I recommend a short walk or trip down the road to the third of the three sites, Dowth.  While access to Knowth and Newgrange is all managed by tour buses and visitor center access, you can walk or drive right up to Dowth, and while you cannot climb into the tombs, you can walk the mound’s perimeter, boldly priestess from the top of it (as I did just last week), and have a full ritual experience.
(my partner opens the creaky front door at FourKnocks)

Read widely and esoterically, so you know about the less touristed sites.  Did you know that with some planning, you can (and I did) visit FourKnocks tomb by knowing where to go, and by phoning ahead to the elderly gentleman, Finton White, who holds the key at his home?  We called Mr. White, had a visit, left our 20 euro key deposit, and walked away with the key to the great iron door of the richly decorated burial chamber.  We had this glorious place all to ourselves, and enjoyed the zigzag patterns on the stones both outside and inside.  Information like this tends not to be found in Lonely Planet or Rick Steve’s travel books.  Do your homework, and you will yield rich rewards.

FourknocksInside(inside FourKnocks tomb, where we were the only living guests)

  • Bring a flashlight / torch
    It’s good to carry a small torch/flashlight with rechargeable batteries when you make these visits.  Even in broad daylight, it can be helpful to shine a light down a passageway to see what’s what.
  • Bring an Ordnance Survey map
    It’s a huge help to carry (and know how to navigate with) an OS map.  For Ireland and the UK, we like both the LandRanger maps, which have a 1:50,000 scale, and the more detailed Explorer maps with the 1:25,000 scale.  These can be massively valuable in helping you to locate hard to find sites in the countryside.  They also carry markers for tiny, locals-only stone circles, tumuli, hut circles, Ogam stones, and other beautiful surprises you’d never know to watch out for.  Here’s a snippet from a map of Dartmoor in S. Devon, England.  Bet you didn’t know there was a ‘Crock of Gold,’ did you?  Which leads me to my next bit of advice…
  • Please don’t make a mess
    I wish I didn’t have to write this.  While visiting Loughcrew’s famous Cairn T this summer, a woman brushed past us in the tomb, pulled out art supplies, and began to do a stone rubbing of one of the beautiful, fragile, and highly decorated stones!  I alerted the OPW staff, but should have called her on it directly.  I’ve seen this sort of behavior before;  about 20 years ago we visited West Kennet Long Barrow and witnessed the remnants of a bonfire inside the tomb. By all means, make offerings, but please ensure that they are small, biodegradable, and respectful of the site’s energies, and of its future visitors.  I like to pour out some cider, sing or chant, trance or go into a deep grounding and listening place, or leave a tiny local flower from the field.  Resist the urge to shove a piece of pink quartz from your altar into a crevice.  It might feel meaningful to you, but you’re messing with the energies.  For a little bit of information on offerings, check out Dver’s recent post on the subject.  Make your offering intangible.
  • Photography and ritual are a bad match
    When you arrive, why not put the camera away and take a moment to ground, focus, and tune in to the energies of the site?  I have learned not to photograph a site until I have done the work that needs to be done, and then I consult how I’m feeling, and decide whether, when and how to take any pictures.  Photography can be a distraction and a barrier between you and the direct experience of a place and its powers.  See what you think when you tuck the camera / phone / device away, and let yourself be led by the power of a place.

That’s it.  Enjoy your sacred site visiting.