From the moors we wended our way in leisurely fashion towards lunch and there can be few better places for that than the Queen Anne. The old country inn has been there since 1621 and the building wears its age with gentle and homely elegance. They know how to feed people too and for the price of a sandwich in many establishments we settled down to two courses of real, traditional fare. Just to make it perfect, they serve Stowford’s.
We feel at home in the little pub. We have shared many a meal there with friends and raised the odd glass or three beneath its low beams scented with the faint tang of wood smoke from the fire. Great Hucklow is a tiny hamlet with a population of about a hundred who are, by now, quite used to opening their curtains early one weekend in April to see strange robed figures walking through the village street towards the hillside. That, of course, would be us, for it is in this place that the Silent Eye holds its annual Spring Workshop and in this pub that the laughter of those evenings begins.
The village was dressed with bunting and there were more people on the streets than we have ever seen there before… maybe even a dozen of them. Saturday was to be the well dressing and the village was gearing up for the event. Scarecrows sat beside garden gates, quirky signs peeked out of odd corners and there was even a very special place prepared, it seemed, just for me… with a sign which my companion gleefully pointed out…’The Hobbit’…
The Derbyshire well dressings draw visitors from near and far. It is an old custom; some believe it dates back to the Black Death when thanks were given for the purity of water. Some feel it goes back much further to pagan times and the ancient practice of Wilweorthunga or well worship. Then, perhaps, it was the simplicity of flowers as an offering or some small votive gift to the spirit of the well. These days elaborate pictures are made from seeds and petals pressed into the clay of a wooden frame.
It is the season for well dressings and we were to see a few more over the weekend, but today we were of the few visitors to see the displays the village was still preparing. Each village choses a theme for the year and although there was a display to commemorate the fallen of the Great War in this centenary year, Great Hucklow had chosen to celebrate the Bard as their theme… Shakespeare… with depictions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and their ‘fond pageants’ and ours seem to transcend time and reason in a way he would perhaps have understood.
As we walked round the village small scenes of creativity and imagination unfolded on every corner, seeming to reflect the laughter of the sunlight. Outside the chapel the children’s well dressing had been erected and down the lane Bottom sat surveying the scene.
We, however, had also come to investigate the practicality of using the half constructed roundhouse that had been begun a couple of years ago and in which Alienora Taylor had gleefully left her socks embedded in the mud and of which she writes about here in her account of the School’s first solo flight into ritual drama. If ever we needed a testimonial for the workshops that has to be it and her final phrase gets me every time.
The old ways die hard in these places, far from the rat race of the city, but there are deep roots here. There is an iron age hillfort above the village, mines close by that date back as far as the Romans and beyond and the village itself is named for an ancient burial mound, Hucca’s Low. We left the Nightingale Centre where our events are held and walked up to the hillside where the School came into being with a perfect dawn and where, a few months ago, a triad of Egyptian figures had stood in the morning mist with their Companions. It takes just a few minutes to leave the village and enter the timelessness of the hills and a silence broken only by the trees. It is a perfect place to weave a Mystery and as we look toward next April, as always the land itself seems to welcome us, unfolding its possibilities to dance with imagination to the song of the soul.