We had been here before. There was both a sense of continuity and unreality as we stood looking out over the valley. No, I am not describing some mystical experience. We’d been here the day before… and on a couple of other occasions… and still we hadn’t even come close to seeing the sites we were looking for. This time we were trying yet another way into the valley, following the steep descent of a woodland path whose unprotected edge drops through the trees and down to the river. We wanted to reach the limestone outcrop that looks so much like a castle from a distance and to which both legend and archaeology had drawn our attention.We wrote of giants in Heart of Albion and saw how the myths of so many systems use them as a metaphor and how the memory of a race can compound history and belief into legendary tales. We had even visited another similarly named site not far away, high on the moor above Chatsworth on another thwarted adventure to find a lost standing stone. That day we had met an old fairy woman selling ice cream and seen the black wings of a shadow fly through her van. On Sunday the wings were real as flocks of crows rose from the rocks that were our goal.
We followed a path barely worthy of the name, up through the trees, knowing that finally we were on the right track. We scrambled over piles of stone and through brambled copses, always heading upwards.“There’s a fence.” Bugger. Topped with barbed wire. We were on the wrong side of it too. We sat on chunk of fallen limestone and surveyed our now forbidden goal. Fossilised corals scattered the grassy bank, wildflowers clung to the hillside and berries bent the branches of the trees like drops of bright blood. The fractured limestone of the outcrop looked as if it were full of carved faces; like some Aztec temple transported half a world away. We really wanted to get in there, but at least we were close enough to look.We could, of course, simply accept that we were not meant to get any closer. Sometimes you can get just close enough and no further and it seemed that, for now at least, that was how it was going to be. There are times that apparent failure simply happens no matter what you do. Of course, you can give up at that point, or you can keep on trying until there are no more options; after all, it is always the last thing you try that succeeds. We are not entirely without possibilities yet. If this was a quest from the tales of old our path would certainly be strewn with ogres and dragons, all of which would bar the way and need to be defeated or outfoxed before we could continue. The old tales hold a lot of truth, couched in symbol and analogy, and if we are going to draw upon them for the books we should expect their inner principles to be reflected in our own adventures.For now, however, a strategic retreat to regroup was called for and we made our precarious way back down the steep hillside to the river and, following its course once more, towards the long climb up towards the car.As we sat in the garden of the café that looks down over the valley, drinking ginger beer in my case and thinking of Enid Blyton, the murder of crows that live in the ‘castle’ put on a spectacular display for us and a butterfly fluttered, its fragile wings a sharp contrast with the black birds that soared so effortlessly overhead. The day had not been lost. You could say the weekend had been an unmitigated failure as far as our stated aim was concerned… or you could look at what we had been given by the days and choose to see their gift of beauty. We had come close enough to almost touch our goal and had walked the landscape of our intent. We had seen fish leaping from the water and spent the hours immersed in nature while the birds sang and the river whispered and roared. We had left the beaten path and in doing so had found our own and with it a silent peace. We may not have attained what we sought, but what we had found was perhaps all we needed. That, I feel, is gift enough.