Song of the Ox- photo journal 2019/20
Song of the Ox
25 December 2019 to 2 February 2020
Song of the Ox was a long distance walking route that I followed in a westerly direction though The Netherlands, England, Wales and Ireland. It was a physical, spiritual and environmental journey, one aimed to address a deep calling I felt to engage with current issues of concern including climate change, in particular the bush fires in Australia, the political climate, where communities and countries are leaning further to insularity, xenophobia and nationalism, heightened by the decision for Britain to leave Europe, and my personal journey in search of a spiritual path connected more directly to the land, my heritage and an evolving awareness of one’s impact upon the environment. It was an exercise on how to develop my being through my actions and thoughts, to be in tune with the elements, realigning my ethical and moral formation to be at one with the earth/ universal soul, which is timeless, limitless and more beautiful than anything that can be named.
My journey was a meditation, a learning track, and a physical challenge, all of which I met with enthusiasm. I followed tow-paths along rivers and canals, Roman roads and drover paths. At significant places, sacred sites, medieval churches, natural features, ancient trees, holy wells and rivers, I played the violin, improvising note upon note, similar to the way footstep by footstep, I went on a musical journey into my inner world. For the duration of my trip I felt an ecstatic sense of liberation, elation and joy. I truely loved the road and everything it had to offer.
On this journey, I acknowledge the great influence the poem Song of the Open Road by Walt Whitman had on me, which perhaps set the wheel in motion for this journey, when I first read this poem for the preparation of my song cycle The Open Road in 2008. Also the connections I made and research I undertook in preparing for my major works Sacred Environment and Lux Aeterna | VIVID, two pieces that explore the concept of sacred place, nature and the elements.
I also wish to acknowledge with thanks those who I met along my journey and have shared my journey by supporting me and following me, especially Ludwig collective who created an interactive map to follow and document my journey, my friends in Den Bosch, especially at the former Clarissenklooster on Clarastraat, San Damiano Stadsklooster Den Bosch, Megen Clarissenklooster and San Damiano in Assisi. My journey has a strong affinity with Saint Francis of Assisi. As the saint was the patron of animals and the environment, he was also a long distance walker, and his meditations and ecstatic revelations upon his journeys resonate with my experience.
Part 1: The Netherlands
Tilburg, Oisterwijk, Den Bosch, Oss, Megen, Lith, Oss, Den Bosch
Ik heb een Ossenkop in de platteland getekend
The first part of my journey was a round-trip starting in Den Bosch, walking to Oss, then Macharen, Megen, Lithooijen, Lith and back to Oss, drawing an ox head in the landscape to mark the beginning of my route. I received a pilgrims blessing at San Damiano in Den Bosch from Sister Beatrijs Corveleyn and I then walked to Megen to visit the sisters at the Clarissenklooster. They warmly greeted me and offered me a pilgrims meal.
Lithooijen lies between Megen and Lith. I walked far on these days and found myself in a lot of pain. I stayed in a farmhouse on this night, to awake to the rising of a giant sun over a frosty field. In the early stages of my walk I did not take so many photos, as I was walking far and fast, I did not take pictures of Oisterwijk, Den Bosch, Oss, Macharen or Megen, all of which were beautiful, historical places where treasure was to be found.
From Elshout I followed an abandoned train track through Waspik to Gertruidenberg. The weather was perfect and the intense colours on this day remain imprinted in my memory.
I was fascinated with this town. From the outset I knew there was something there for me to find. It was not until I had circumnavigated the waterways of the city that I found Het Klooster, a former Capucijnen monastery, similar to San Damiano in Den Bosch. It is now a herberg. I explored the entire city, went home back to Amsterdam for one night and then came back again for one more day, where I stayed in the herberg and then revisited the Grotekerk, to discover the giant St Christopher recovered from the whitewash that had been painted over during the beeldstorm. This would be the first of a series of St Christophers that I found during my journey. St Gertrude was depicted with a mouse, and a 14th century collection of intricate woodcarvings on the benches of the choir, depicting the bestiary of strange animals and wayward people.
Dordrecht, Spijkenisse, Koedood
From Dordrecht, where I found the Heilige hout van Dordt next to the train station on the feast of the Three Kings, I walked past Spijkenisse where lies a cycle path under the river, to Koedood which is south of Rotterdam. Here is found a fascinating land sculpture upon the top of a hill. Walking up a path that spiralled around the hill, I reached the top at the perfect moment to find a giant mirror reflecting the sunset whilst from the same angle I could also see the moon rising. i do not know who the artist was/ is, although it is in the style of Anish Kapoor. I could not find any sign posts or information about the sculpture.
Den Brielle is a historical fortified town on the Old Maas. it has a rich history and was an important trading post throughout the ages. the city walls remain intact, but the city itself has seen many a seige and was bombarded during World War II. Many of the old buildings remain, but also many have been replaced with modern estates. Here I found the locations of both a Clarissenklooster and a Brigidine klooster. I was interested to know why there had been a Brigidine klooster there, and if there was a link with Wales and Ireland. It is said that Brielle is a Celtic name and it would not surprise me to find that it was related to the ancient Celtic trade routes.
De Martelaren van Gorkum | Pelgrimsplek
The martys of Gorkum were Catholic clerics who were brutally murdered in Brielle during the reformation, many of whom were Franciscans.
Hoek van Holland | De Pont | Vollemaan met maanverduistering
On this journey I found a pendant of a horse at Schiedam metro station, I met the fashion shoe maker Mascolori, it was a lunar eclipse and a full moon and I caught the ferry to Harwich.
Part 2: England
Flatford Mill | River Stour | St Edmund’s Way
This is the home of John Constable and his family.
The city, formerly known at Camulodinum, is an ancient site pre-dating the roman era. In the castle, which is now a museum I found many interesting artefacts, including a tau cross next to the hammer of Thor and many pre-roman coins belonging to the tribes including the Iceni and the Trinovantes. Their signature represented by a horse on the face. This horse is said to be the Celtic Goddess Epona.
Stanestreet from Colchester to Braintree
Although now a modern highway, Stanestreet was a dead straight Roman road, linking the towns all the way to Bishop Stortford. There were many depictions of oxen and bulls along this street and I believe it to have been a major trade route for livestock. On Saint Claire Road I found the Lexden Tumulus, a grave site of a pre-roman king, and a tree temple. Here I buried the pendant of the horse I found at Schiedam station to pay my tribute to this holy place.
Braintree to Bishops Stortford
On this route I encountered Storm Brendan and quickly took refuge by catching a local bus rather than walk. I walked to Rayne from Braintree where I met the keeper of the church.
St Albans Cathedral featured another depiction of St Christopher. Although severely damaged, an interpretation of the what the icon may have looked like is projected over the original. Here I visited the shrine of St Alban. There is also a famous anaphoric clock to be found designed by the abbot Richard of Wallingford, depicting the movement of celestial bodies, eclipses and other astral events.
Hemel Hempstead to Berkhamsted
I followed tow-paths along the mirror-like Bulbourne river through the valley of the Chilterns. It was perfect weather and picturesque views of thatched roofs, locks and barges.
Berkhamsted to Cowroast
I stopped at Berkhamsted because it was a fascinating town. Here I visited the castle, which was connected to Wallingford castle, the church of St Peters in which contained stained glass images of St Christopher and St Francis next to each other in the Lady Chapel. There was also a holy well, that was a hospital for lepers during the Crusades. It is now hidden by the modern roads and buildings that have been built over it. Cow Roast, originally called Cow Rest, was an eerie ghost town. It was a strange contrast to the gentrified towns and villages that surrounded it in the picturesque valley of the Chilterns.
Ridgeway Path | Wendover to Princes Risborough
The Ridgeway intersects with the Bulbourne river and the Icknield way at Tring. From here the path ascends the chalk escarpment, that stretches as far as Avebury and further to Cornwall. It is an impressive geological feature that has the appearance of a dragons back, green and undulating, towering over the flat lands of the river valley. This ancient path, exposed to the winds is safe from the floods, and during periods when the Thames and Thame valleys are flooded, such as this time, the Ridgeway path is a vital link between the east and west of the lands and link to the Cotswalds and Wales. I joined the path at Wendover and walked to Princes Risborough where I met dearly loved old friends from my early childhood in Oxfordshire.
Dorchester Abbey and Whittenum Clumps
At Dorchester Abbey I found another severely damaged but recovered depiction of St Christopher, indicating that this abbey too was an important place of pilgrimage. Dorchester is where there is a confluence of the two rivers, the Thame and Thames/ Isis. A short walk from Dorchester leads to the mysterious hill-forts at Whittenum Clumps upon which stands a beech copse that has been described as the oldest plantation of beeches in Britain.
White Horse and Uffington Castle
Revisiting a place I visited as a young child, that featured prominently in my memory and childhood fantasy world, was Dragon Hill, The White Horse of Uffington, Wayland Smithy and the Blowing Stone. I feel a deep affinity with this place, being very close to where I spent the first seven years of my life. It is mysterious and beautiful and has an eerie magnetic charisma, that draws you to it’s unusual hills and valleys. The white horse and Dragon hill were featured the Kate Bush’s song Cloudbusting about Wilhelm Riech.
Thames floodwater at Wallingford and Dorchester
The Thames path crosses the Ridgeway at Wallingford, which is the town where I lived as a young child and started school. I had planned to follow the Thames path to Oxford and up to its source at Kemble, but at this time it was not possible because the valley was flooded. I visited Wallingford Castle that had been a strategic fortress sitting at the shallowest point of the Thames, making it a vital river crossing. Revisiting Dorchester at sunset, I managed to capture the spectacular colours of the sky and sun reflected in the floodwaters of the Thame. I was not the only one, I was joined by someone who had a similar idea to me and we stood watching the spectacular sight, as he told me that he too was originally from Wallingford and had attended St Johns school, which was the school I too had attended. He mentioned that when he was there, it was still for boys only.
Abingdon and Oxford
Abingdon is where St Edmund was born. The abbey, which was a cathedral as big as wells was completely dismantled and nothing but earth works remain of this majestic site. In Oxford I attended evensong at Christchurch Cathedral. It was very beautiful.
White Horse, Dragon Hill and Wayland Smithy
I revisited the Horse, this time in deep set fog, the opposite of the first visit which was in perfect sunshine. It was a completely different experience. I had the feeling I was alone there and was surprised when others emerged from the fog next to me. I hung prayer beads on the lone thorn tree and assessed the absence of the chalk circle on dragon hill, which I guess since my childhood has gradually been declining. I remember a gleaming white chalk circle upon that hill. It is no longer there.
Saint Christopher | Cirencester
Cirencester (Corinium) is a golden sandstone walled roman city, next to the river Churn, close to where the Thames rises. It was linked to Colchester and St Albans, as an important Roman city famed for its wool trade. Upon the walls of St John the Baptist church, another fresco of St Christopher can be found in the St Catherine chapel.
Source of the Thames near Kemble
Following a crystal clear stream across a field and a majestic line of trees, the source of the Thames/ Isis rises from the ground in a deep pool next to a giant oak tree and a row of hawthorns. Here I washed my pendant of St Christopher that I had found in Cirencester, and dipped my pilgrim’s staff. This is the birth of the river that I feel closest. I was born by the Thames/ Isis and it was an honour to visit the place where it was born. I noticed that it is called the Isis more than the Thames in this region.
The Golden Valley Way
This route over the summit of the Cotswalds and down the valley on the other side of the hills via Sapperton to Stroud was a picturesque way through an abandoned canal system, an underground tunnel that had been used for barges, natural spring waters and limestone structures. It was a place for fairies. The waters were so perfectly clear, they were like glass.
Saint Christopher and vaulted ceiling |Gloucester Cathedral
From Bridgend in England, at the foot of the Golden Valley Way, I caught the train to Gloucester where I arrived at the Cathedral at exactly 15.00 and was surprised to find that Evensong was about to take place. I attended and was transfixed by its beauty. The Cathedral too was evidently an important place, where some of the medieval British royalty are buried. The vaulted ceiling was a particularly fascinating intricate feature and I couldn’t help myself but look at it for a long period of time. I found Saint Christopher depicted in the stain-glass windows. I visited the ruined abbeys in the church yards and the Franciscan abbey in the city, next to a pub that had a well inside the pub. It is not the first well inside a pub that i have seen on my journey. I couldn’t help but think of Doctor Foster who went to Glouster and I wondered if it was actually Doctor Faustus who went to Gloucester.
Part 3: Wales
Illantwit Major – Wales
This town, I came across by chance because I missed my bus stop in the rain. I had planned to visit Saint Brides Major. When I alighted the bus, I decided to follow the road to see where it would take me. I arrived in this town and found my way straight to the church. I was astounded to find a museum displaying ancient Celtic crosses from around 400AD. The only other place I have seen similar relics were Iona in the Hebrides. I knew immediately that this was a special place. Upon the wall on the left side I found yet another Saint Christopher. This one was interesting because he had a snake entwined around his feet and I wonder if St Christopher and the pagan deity Weles might be entwined, and whether Weles is related somehow to the name Wales. Weles was depicted sometimes as a dragon! I learned from the attendant that St Illun was the founder of Christianity in Wales and here lay the oldest place of learning Wales, where it is said that St Patrick and St David had been students. It was a powerful and majestic place. I could sense that this was a place of pilgrimage.
My excursion to Cowbridge occurred because the name of the town related to my title Song of the Ox. To my delight I explored The Vale of Glamorgan, and Cowbridge is situated in the centre of this valley. It is a beautiful hamlet surrounded by glorious valleys and hills. I stayed in Pam’s B&B and met Pam who was perhaps the kindest person I have ever met. I would go back to Cowbridge just to stay with Pam.
Saint Brides Super-Ely
At Saint Brides, a medieval hamlet near the river Ely and close to St Fagans, where there is a famous cultural museum, I found an ancient Yew Tree in the church yard. It had a majestic presence and I sat beneath the tree with my violin playing to the accompaniment of the nearby stream.
I arrived in Saint Davids at 12.00 on Friday, and was greeted to the bells of the Cathedral. As I entered a service had begun to the formation of the bells in groups of 184.108.40.206. I entered at the right time for the service but did not know it was on until I heard the plainchant. I sat next to the entrance for the service and it was only afterwards that I learned that it was especially for pilgrims. I was given a private blessing by a priest who overheard my story as I told the attendant. I walked with two women through the fields and along the coastal path of St Brides Bay to the holy well of Saint Non, the mother of Saint David. There was a strong wind storm. Later that evening I went to Evensong and was happy to see Carole there too whom I met earlier that day. Later we caught the same bus in the direction of Fishguard. Evensong was the last mass at the most westerly cathedral in Britain. It was symbolic to be there on this day as Britain left Europe.
Fishguard to Rosslare by ferry in a storm
I had planned to catch the ferry to Ireland at midnight on 31 January, in acknowledging Britain stepping out of Europe on that day. However, there was a storm that cancelled the ferries. I stayed at a hostel and caught the next possible ferry on 1 February. It was still windy and the sea was very rough. I lay on my back without moving for the entire trip. Due to the storm, the ferry arrived two hours later than scheduled and as a result I could not get to Dublin that evening as I had planned.
Part 4: Ireland
Saint Brides festival in the Curragh
Travelling from Wexford to Dublin and then Kildare very early in the morning, I arrived in The Curragh in time to attend a service celebrating their patron Saint and Candlemass celebrating the Presentation at the temple, 40 days after Christmas. Here I learned how to make Brigid crosses from the locals who grabbed long grass from the garden and together we learned how to make them.
Kildare is the home of the sanctuary of Saint Brigid, whose feat day coincides with the pre-christian earth goddess Brigid on the first day of spring, Imbolc, 1 and 2 February. In Kildare I visited her holy well, the place of pilgrimage, where you can find her stone rosary leading to a second holy well, the sites of the white, grey and black abbeys and the modern Brigidine hermitage Sholas Bhride. Here I met three of the sisters and arrived on Sunday 2 February in time for the beginning of the festival. I stayed with friends in the Curragh, which as tradition upholds, was coined Brigid’s cloak.
Cork lies on the mouth of the river Lee, an easterly flowing river that is a corridor to the west. It is a harbour city and reminded me of Sydney. I visited friends here and was in the city for less than 24 hours before leaving. I know there is more here to be found. The city speaks to me and I will return.
British museum of Natural history London
My last port of call before returning to Amsterdam was Londinium, another roman city. Here I visited Hyde Park, playing the violin in the park before setting off to visit the British museum of natural history, to pay tribute to the skeletons of a previous mass extinction period. In this museum I found a library, shop and gallery of the geological makeup of the British Isles, observing the minerals found in each region, on display for comparison. Bedrock informs a lot about how a landscape is formed, the natural resources that occur there and the resultant human activity that takes place.