Archive for the Landscape Category

The Valley of Saint-Clair, Morbihan

Posted in Brittany, Church, History, Landscape, Legend, Superstition with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2013 by mysearchformagic

The Chapel of Saint-Clair nestles in a quiet valley just outside the Breton village of Limerzel. This is a tranquil part of the world, one that the rapid developments of the late 20th Century have largely passed by. As a result, a visit to this valley, with its collection of fascinating ancient monuments, is rather like stepping back in time.

The path into the Valley of Saint Clair

The path into the Valley of Saint Clair

The path towards the chapel begins in a stretch of shady trees. There is a picnic table here for any passing tourists, although this is not the kind of place that attracts lots of visitors, just the odd dog walker from the village or maybe a passing farmer on his tractor. Walk a bit further down and you will find the first curiosity on this short journey, namely the Fountain of Saint-Clair.

The fountain of St Clair

The fountain of St Clair

Large scale holy fountains like this were once common in Brittany, and a number of them survive to this day, but few are as decorative as this beautiful example. Saint Clair himself can be seen carved in polychrome relief below the elaborate canopy. The first bishop of nearby Nantes, Saint Clair was responsible for bringing Christianity to the region in the late 3rd Century. In the past, his fountain has been attributed with healing powers, particularly for those suffering from maladies of the eyes, although the mossy, leaf-filled pool which lies at the heart of the fountain doesn’t inspire much hope for modern miracle seekers.

Follow the path a bit further and you will emerge out of the trees; take a sharp right turn and you will discover the next point of interest – the Cross of Saint-Clair. Like many of the crosses which dot the landscape in this area, the carving on this monument is provincial and naive, while centuries of erosion has erased much of the fine detail. The base is dated 1818, although the obvious age of the cross itself suggests that this date relates to a later restoration rather than its original construction.

The cross of Saint Clair

The cross of Saint Clair

By now the chapel itself can be seen nearby. It is just a short walk across a babbling stream to the final destination of this magical pilgramage, a simple building which dates from the 15th/16th Century and was sympathetically restored during the 1800s. Nowadays the chapel is almost always locked, but a small grille in the door allows visitors a view into the sombre interior, its religious statues and austere furniture bathed in the golden light from the small stained glass windows.

The chapel of St Clair

The chapel of St Clair

Every year on the 15th September the locals celebrate the Pardon of Saint Clair, during which a procession makes its way from the fountain, which is temporarily festooned with colourful flowers, to the chapel. After the procession everyone indulges in a communal meal to commemorate the Saint’s day. But for the other 364 days of the year the chapel remains peaceful and largely forgotten in this secluded valley, a place which still remains a magical haven far from the noise and bustle of modern life.

The gloomy interior of the chapel of St Clair

The gloomy interior of the chapel of St Clair

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Curious, West Norwood Cemetery

Posted in Art, Cemetery, Crypt, Landscape, London, Photography with tags , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2013 by mysearchformagic

With its meandering paths, overgrown graves and delapidated but still imposing mausoleums, West Norwood Cemetery definitely has an air of magic about it. But in recent weeks the historic graveyard has been even more magical than usual, thanks to a large scale art exhibition/installation appropriately named Curious. Featuring a long list of contemporary artists, the works of art on display are site specific, interacting with the cemetery and often taking their inspiration from their unusual location.

A details from A Question of Archival Authority, Jane Wildgoose

A detail from A Question of Archival Authority, Jane Wildgoose

Jane Wildgoose’s installation A Question of Archival Authority was the first piece that I discovered on my visit last weekend. Situated inside the grand Maddick Mausoleum, Wildgoose’s use of antique mourning jewellery and flickering candles created a wonderfully gothic atmoshere, effectively evoking many questions about the practise and process of mourning and remembrance.

Jane Ward's contribution to Curious at West Norwood Cemetery

Jane Ward’s contribution to Curious at West Norwood Cemetery

Many of the works which appeared as part of Curious were paintings or collages placed within the doorwarys of the Victorian sepulchres. Some were bold and bright, others more calm and mysterious.

A work by Ian McCaughrean in the Greek Section of West Norwood Cemetery

A work by Ian McCaughrean in the Greek Section of West Norwood Cemetery

Despite my best efforts, and the help of a specially commissioned map created for the exhibition, I didn’t manage to locate all of the works on show. However, the thrill of trudging through the undergrowth, discovering incredible monuments and gravestones along the way, was all part of this unique experience.

Andrea Thoma's installation Steps/washed over in West Norwood Cemetery

Andrea Thoma’s installation Steps/washed over in West Norwood Cemetery

I fell in love with West Norwood Cemetery. Apparently a set of huge catacombs can still be found beneath the hill at the top of the graveyard, but these are rarely open to the public. I was also impressed with the range of artworks included in Curious, many of which encouraged new ways of looking at the cemetery, its monuments and its ‘residents’.

I Miss U by Lucy Spanyol

I Miss U by Lucy Spanyol

Some of the most effective artworks were those which dealt directly with concepts of death and bereavement. Lucy Spanyol’s I Miss U, which placed an eye-catching banner of artificial flowers in front of a coppice filled with ruinous grave monuments, was definitely a favourite of mine. Its use of informal ‘text speak’ and colourful floral garlands to relay a message filled with the despair of loss was moving and quite beautiful.

Unfortunately I discovered Curious on its final day, so the works of art are now long gone, existing just as photographs or in the memories of the visitors who managed to catch this wonderful, magical event.

http://www.westnorwoodcemetery.com/curious_trail

The Tea Maze, Crystal Palace Park

Posted in Landscape, London on July 2, 2013 by mysearchformagic

I am becoming a bit of a fan of Crystal Palace Park. It is a place with a fascinating history, and is still dotted with many evocative remains of this history, not least the ruins of the original Crystal Palace and the amazing dinosaurs. I’ve visited it many times, but only recently became aware that it is also home to a maze. Visiting the maze has been on my list of magical things to do ever since. This weekend I finally made it, and it was well worth the wait.

The entrance to the Tea  Maze, Crystal Palace Park

The entrance to the Tea Maze, Crystal Palace Park

There is definitely something magical about mazes. Whether they feature in ancient myths such as the Greek tale of the Minotaur and its underground lair, decorate the floor of medieval cathedrals like Chartres, or even appear in modern movies such as Labyrinth or The Shining, these elaborate puzzles have fascinated us for millennia. Nowadays full size mazes are rare, so finding one almost on my doorstep was a real thrill. The maze in Crystal Palace Park is apparently the largest in London, and although originally created in 1870, its current incarnation is thanks to extensive replanting in 1987 and more recent restoration in 2008. It is now known as the ‘Tea Maze’ thanks to the genteel Victorian fashion for visiting the labyrinth after taking tea in the park.

Entering the labyrinth, Crystal Palace Park

Entering the labyrinth, Crystal Palace Park

The maze in Crystal Palace Park is not that easy to find, so it is perhaps not surprising that it has evaded my notice for so long. It is nestled in a circle of tall trees, largely hidden from view. The hedges of the maze itself are low, meaning that the centre is always just visible in the distance – so temptingly close and yet so annoyingly far away.

The view towards the centre of the Tea Maze, Crystal Palace Park

The view towards the centre of the Tea Maze, Crystal Palace Park

Small carved ‘monoliths’ are placed at points around the route, perhaps to help confused visitors remember where they have or have not been. It certainly didn’t help me much, and I will admit to being slightly frustrated and more than a little bit dizzy by the time I stumbled upon the heart of the circular maze. There I found a pretty, peaceful space lined with stone benches, the floor decorated with a motto in carved stone;

pause here for a while

listen for the echoes

past, present, future

follow in their footsteps

The poem at the centre of the Tea Maze, Crystal  Palace Park

The poem at the centre of the Tea Maze, Crystal Palace Park

 

Roslin Glen, Midlothian

Posted in Castle, Caves, Edinburgh, History, Landscape with tags , , , , , , on May 20, 2013 by mysearchformagic

You will probably have heard of Rosslyn Chapel, an ancient and sacred place near Edinburgh. It has been well-known for years, centuries even, but ever since its appearance in the mega-blockbuster book and film The Da Vinci Code, visitor numbers have gone stratospheric. The sad result is that, with a modern visitor centre tacked on to the side and coach loads of visitors turning up every day, the Chapel has now all but lost its unique magic.

Roslin Glen, which lies just a short walk from the Chapel, is a different story altogether. For while the wild and dramatic scenery of this rocky gorge has long attracted attention from lovers of Romantic landscapes, including Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, the Glen still retains a magical atmosphere like nowhere else I have ever visited.

Beginning the journey into Roslin Glen

Beginning the journey into Roslin Glen

The best place to begin a journey down Roslin Glen is at the foot of the craggy ruins of Roslin Castle, which rise imperiously above the wooded valley floor. The air here is thick with the heady stink of wild garlic and the incessant rush of the nearby River Esk. The going is easy, although sometimes rather muddy, but the sinuous sandstone cliffs which line the edges of the river give hints of the drama that is to come.

The imposing walls of Roslin Castle

The imposing walls of Roslin Castle

Further along the Glen the path becomes steeper and more treacherous. There are rocks to be climbed over, and fallen trees to squeeze under. At one point a huge landslide has recently taken place, taking many of the tall trees with it, the slippery remnants of the path still passable, but only just. Further on again the path all but disappears, replaced by a thin stone ledge along the water’s edge. 

The dramatic cliffs which line Roslin Glen

The dramatic cliffs which line Roslin Glen

As you venture deeper into the valley, it’s easy to forget that you are only a few miles from Scotland’s capital city. There aren’t many, if any, people around. The cliffs and crags become more misshapen and bizarre, formed from millennia of water erosion into the strangest of shapes, the gnarled and knotted tree trunks which sprout from them twisting into picturesque forms. I even came across a small naively-carved face in the rockface of an outcrop known locally as Lovers’ Leap; curious and most definitely magical!

A mysterious carved face in Roslin Glen

A mysterious carved face in Roslin Glen

I had hoped to visit Wallace’s Cave, a large rock cavern with a neatly chiseled doorway, reputedly used by William Wallace at the time of the Battle of Rosslyn, which took place nearby in 1303. Unfortunately I found myself on the wrong side of the gushing torrent, with no access to the other side, so had to make do with a distant view of its temptingly shadowy entrance. The steep path down to it suggests that any future visit will require stout shoes and a lot of courage.

A dark doorway into Wallace's Cave, Roslin Glen

A dark doorway into Wallace’s Cave, Roslin Glen

At the far end of the Glen you will find another castle. Hawthornden sits atop a rock riddled with caves, most of them apparently man made, but as the fine house is now a private writers’ retreat, these are not currently accessible to the public. The origins of the caves are unknown, although they possibly date back to the Bronze Age and have been linked to Robert the Bruce. Like Wallace’s Cave, Hawnthornden will have to remain a distant, tantalisingly magical mystery, for now at least.

The distant rooftops of Hawthornden Castle

The distant rooftops of Hawthornden Castle