In the fourth part of our Spring Equinox journey you find the intrepid adventurers heading for the Eskdale Valley – a ravine of insurmountable beauty that forms the vista for the Hard Knott Roman hillfort at its eastern end. In the basin of the valley is the village of Boot. Perhaps I should have said “At the foot of the valley…”? We parked at Dalegarth railway station and walked to the junction where the Brook House Inn marks the starting point for many of the walks in the area. We were heading southwards towards the River Esk in search of St.Catherine’s Well – a recently re-discovered and restored well that was somewhere on the hillside nearby.
St Catherine’s Well
Taking a right turn at Brook House Inn we walked along the track past some houses until we reached a small church, To my eyes it had the distinct look of a Templar church design – a flat design with protrusions at either end but which were staggered rather than directly opposite each other.
From the church the path then follows the River Esk, and soon we were walking upwards onto the slopes of the hills that border the river. We stuck to the left-hand side and when we came to a fork in the path we chose the left-hand path. This led us to a gap in a wall where we found a beautiful path of moss-covered stones leading up the hillside. We were sorely tempted to follow it, but the spot on the map indicated that the site might be further along so we continued for a short while, but then Kal twisted his knee in a moment of over-exuberance. We stopped and re-assessed. Was this a sign not to continue on this lower path? We turned and walked back to the mossy path and picked our way through the rocks up the hill until it opened out into a thrashed bracken heathland, spotted with old gorse bushes. Now we felt we were close to the well. Moments later we felt we had found it.
There were two possible sites. One was ringed by a stone construction but didn’t appear to have much water in it, and the other was more watery, but had fewer stones around it. As they were next to each other we got the dowsing rods out. Which one was the correct well? They both were! They were connected and the spirit of whatever we might determine “Catherine” to be was at both of them. We settled down in the afternoon sun to rest a while and breathe in the Cumbrian ambience. It was delightful – Spring was making itself felt and I for one was letting it!
On the nature of “Catherine”
Kal had work to do here, but I didn’t so I relaxed in the afternoon sun, in the beautiful setting, and with the sound of the river below to soothe me. I let me mind float off and think a little about who Catherine might be. Recently we had been to St.Catherine’s Hill – a notorious pagan site, now sadly nullified of any pagan-friendly energies – and so the figure of Catherine was still fresh in our minds. In this instance she was clearly associated with water, and given the surrounding hills, she was also likely to be associated with steep hills too. The well was on a hillside, and near a river. I wondered whether she was a pagan goddess figure who had been transformed into a saint that was acceptable to the new Christian religion. After all, if it wasn’t that then this lady had managed to get all over these islands in her lifetime, blessing hilltops and wells all over the place, and that was no mean feat in earlier days!
Saint Catherine, or Catherine of the Wheel, was Catherine of Alexandria according to my research. I suspect, however, that her association with The Wheel actually demonstrates how she may be linked to the turning of The Wheel of the Year, and how she may have pre-Christian associations with earlier female representations of times of the year:
“St. Catherine was one of the most influential saints in the religious culture of the late middle ages, and arguably considered the most important of the virgin-martyrs. Her power as an intercessor was renowned, and firmly established in most versions of her legend, in which she specifically entreats God at the moment of her death to answer the prayers of those who invoke her name. The development of her medieval cult was spurred by the reported rediscovery of her body around the year 800 at Mount Sinai, with hair still growing and a constant stream of healing oil emitting from her body.” (source: Wikipedia)
There are some other pertinent aspects of this account of St Catherine that relate to female pagan entities too. Firstly, Catherine was brought up a pagan and converted in her teens to a Christian. This may be a reflection of the idea of paganism being subsumed by Christianity. Then she is a virgin – a quality often attributed to the incarnations of the constellation of Virgo and often associated with the pagan concept of the Maiden. The Maiden is the first flowering of the triple-goddess form – Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Another idolised maid, Jean D’Arc supposedly called upon Catherine’s assistance in spirit many times during her short life. Then there is the idea that she was a “constant stream”. We can obviously see the connection here with streams and flowing water. Finally, she was buried on and is often still associated with hilltops – the places of pagan sanctification. Interesting to speculate about these correlations.
From our own dowsing work Kal and I worked out that St Catherine was an incarnation of a pagan goddess, the goddess of some aspect of nature, possibly related to the energies that were a combination of hills and water. Time precluded us being more specific than that.
Kal had been busying himself, or should I say stilling himself, with some meditation while I had been dowsing and relaxing. Now we were both coming back to waking consciousness again. I felt the pull of the river and asked if we could head over towards it. My goal was to head to one of the many waterfalls that were in this area, but minutes later, after speaking to a passing local man who informed us that the long dry spell would not provide a very spectacular sight, we concluded that we might have a better experience if we went back to the wonderful spot we had passed on the way – the bridge over the River Esk – which was a natural beauty spot and full of wonderful ionised energies that had attracted us on our initial pass through and now was drawing us back.
The encounter with a water spirit will be for the next post, and it would unexpectedly reveal my task for the next part of the year.