My Visit to St Nectans Glen, Cornwall

Places  speak; they speak in shape, in light, they speak through the characters  that they offer a home to, through the plants that spread their roots in  their soil. They speak in stone, in leaf, in water. What makes a place  ‘Sacred’ ‘Mystical’ or ‘Special’ can be as simple or as layered as an  individuals personality. Some places are visited often by modern people  and their thoughts, feelings, reflections and projections remain there.  Some places stand mostly in a bleak silence and when visited they murmur  their truths only softly from a larynx gravelled by solitude. Some  sites hold their history tight within their circle of mountains, their  ring of stones or their softly flowing water; and others hold  respectfully whatever is brought to them no matter what it is. Other  places move so fast and are so wild that nothing can remain save the  essence that is them, their essence is movement and change. Their  message comes through the eternal crashing of water through rock. St  Nectans Glen is such a place.

The day I  and my travelling companion visited the glen it truly was a day of  water. It rained that kind of rain that soaks everything in an instant.  The forecast had been for fine weather during our over night stay in  Dragonfly Cabin in Trevethy just above the fall. But when we woke in the  morning, having been slightly disturbed by the rain all night, we  realised we were in for a wet one.

The  walk to the fall is like a tales fore-shadowing of a momentous event.  Running all along the side of the path is a wide brook that, on this day  especially, rushed over rock and stone speaking so loudly i could not  decipher it’s one voice. Its was like many voices layered on top of one  another each calling to be heard. This was not only river though, it  trickled down from the slopes on either side of the path and, in the  places where the brook was quieter, it could be heard running through  rock and tree root - the run off of the rain racing to join the rumbling  waters that eventually would join the sea. Water was dripping in such  mighty blobs from high tree branches that with my head turned upward to  look in wonder one caught me in the eye and temporarily blinded me!

There  was in the rain running down the slopes, falling from tree branches,  flowing in tiny streams at the side of the path, running in sheets over  the flat rocks and of course the mighty flow of the kieve itself, an  immense feeling of purposeful, driven movement coupled with the strong  sense of a desire to join with the whole. Each tiny drops mission was to  meet with the strong currents of the kieve and run with it out and down  to the sea.

Whilst  walking along the path, wondering at the movement of water all about  me, i noticed a log with, what i thought was, some very strange kind of  bracket fungus all along it, but it looked too regular, too ordered.  When i moved closer i saw that the log was studded with coins pressed  into the bark. I know nothing of this tradition and have never seen it  anywhere else. If you are reading this and you know something about it  please do enlighten me as my research has brought up nothing about it.  However, i was moved by the beauty of it. The log looked like some kind  of hedgehog, perhaps each spine a wish for prosperity or health, the  return of love or the birth of a child?

To  reach the gateway to the buildings above the fall you must do a climb  of sorts, the way is made with a mixture of rock and root and man made  steps. During our ascent the sun began to shine, the colours changed  from a subdued grey and glistening green to all things glinting with a  golden light that almost blinded us. When we reached the top, where the  cafe, the gift shop and St Nectans Cell are, the rain was softening like  a quiet blessing from the Saint himself.


 I  have visited St Nectans Geln before many years ago and remembered it  well for the enclosed feeling it had. You had to almost climb down a  steep path to reach it, and it is nestled behind a turn in a very high  rock face and was backed by another high rock face, there was only one  way in and out and once you were in you felt enclosed in a way that i  enjoyed. However i was surprised to see how this had been changed. I’m  not usually one to complain about changes made to a place by new owners,  and i fully understand why the changes were made as they were, but i  wouldn’t be being honest if i did not say that the changes unsettled me.

This  feeling though was part of my journey to this place, on this day, and as  many of you know, no doubt, often we don’t fully understand what is  occurring whilst it is happening, only on reflection, some time later,  can we fully grasp what our experience was about. I know that the place  needed time to settle into the new shape it had been carved into by  human hands, that moss needed to grow on the new gateposts and all the  creatures of that place to reclaim their homes that had been disturbed  by the  moving of earth it must have taken to change the pathways. The  feeling of this stayed wiht me through out my visit.

When  you enter the Glen now it is from above the place where the water comes  through the rock. The new bridge allows you to view where the water  comes from through the mighty hole that has been gorged over years by  the rushing water.  After crossing the bridge you are greeted by an  enormous buddha. This buddhas silent and peaceful presence is like an  echoing of St Nectan himself, the contemplative monk who had come to  reside there many years before and who’s name this place now  immortalised.

After  passing the buddha you go under a tree tied with many coloured ribbons,  in the way they are in many sacred sites around Britain, each one is  tied as a glowing wish or to honour the memory of a loved one. On the  the way down the sound of crashing water becomes louder and louder with  every step. One bend then another and you find yourself at a turning  gate that leads down to the water that flows from the fall, which, as i  have said, is tucked behind a severe bend in high rocks, meaning the  dramatic hole with water gushing through it is hidden from view until  you are virtually right upon it.


This  was the part that sat most uncomfortably for me at the time. The gate  and the fact that the way people walked cut across the water. The space  no longer felt held in the way i remembered. The energy of the fall is  fast, like quick fire or lightening, it’s pace lets nothing remain, so  for the space around to hold this so well made it have a certain feel.

This new  path makes a new flow. The flow of people now moves around the top and  back of the water fall, through it’s flow and back up and round again.  It’s circle intersects with the flow of the water, it cuts across it,  yet also makes people walk into it, which is wonderful. I saw one couple  trying so carefully to cross without getting their feet wet. The man  was guiding the woman carefully helping her to find stones to step on.  It made me smile when she gave up and just walked straight through it.  The water bade her enter, so she did. 


 The  most noticeable thing about this space, besides the fast movement of  the water, is the sound, it’s so loud that you must raise your voice i  little to be heard over it. It’s a sound that, if you let it, will  quieten your soul, it is nature in a wild and untameable form, it’s  power and presence undeniable. My travelling companion was a great aid  to me on that visit, his purity in interacting with the fall (as he had  not been there before) was my vicarious journey into it. He sat waiting  for me to join him on a bench near the water that flows wide and slow  after the crashing of the fall. 


Another  tree hung with ribbons bowed over the flowing water on the  side I was on. I touched the ribbons, photographed them and, glad of my  waterproof boots, stepped in to the water. This water is like the calm  after the storm, it is where the water that has tumbled and twisted  wildly through the rocks, flows gently on through to it's next  transition. Here were more logs with their strange speckling of coins.  On the other side of the this stretch of water another tree is tied with  colourful  ribbons and piles of stones, and many offerings are left on the rocks  around the flowing  waters. 

When  i reached the bench we sat quietly for a moment. Then he removed his  shoes to enter the water. He took with him the drinking horn i had  decorated for him as a gift, it’s purpose to serve as a ritual horn from  which to drink licquor that can open the drinkers heart and mind to the  truth of the wild complexity of the wyrd. I watched him enter the fall  and capture some water in the horn, he came out of it like a mighty bear  but also like a man, small in the presence of such magnificent nature. 


To  reach the fall you must step carefully on stones and there is one  perfectly placed for you to stand viewing the it from. I stood for  sometime looking, the loud crashing in my ears. 

This place is so beautiful, bold and powerful, the spirits here are no shrinking violets!

And there are many of them, so many voices that i could not decipher who was speaking and what they were saying.  

I stood  for a while absorbing the sound, after a while not trying to hear one  voice in particular. It is clear to me now that this place is full to  bursting with beings, flitting about, some dwelling in the rocks some  swimming in the waters, some sleeping in the moss or beneath the ferns.  Some visit to charge themselves and then move away becasue the energy of  that place is so strong it is not for them to stay. And others remain  because it is their way to stay deep in the pounding and throbbing  energy of a place such as this.

My  companion brought for me some water from the fall and when i touched it  to my lips  i felt some of the unsettledness i was feeling ebb away. These are  healing waters with out a doubt, yet i felt that more time would be  needed for me, as an individual, to deeply connect to any of the spirits  of this place. Never the less after this sup of the water and feeling  it in my body i was ready to commune with the rocks and take my moulds. 

No  matter where i  go, rocks are my fascination, they don’t have to be pretty in a  traditional sense, they don’t have to be dramatic, the just have to be,  as rocks are. The textures of rocks express so much to me, of the life  of the land, of ancient times of our earth, grand things such as this,  but also  that they are the homes of tiny things, like bugs and slow growing moss  and lichen. They are the watchers, those that have seen all that  passes, and they remember with out judgement or scrutiny.

 They  hold where the wind has blown, where the water has splashed, where  hands have held themselves steady. These rocks have heard many a chant  sung out by people stood in circle wihth their feet in the waters, they  have heard children squeal with joy and delight whilst splashing about,  they have been there in the darkness when only St Nectan sat beside the  fall in his quiet contemplation.

 We  spent a good while there by the fall listening and watching, my heart  went quiet, almost numb for a while, i did not write in my note book as i  usually do on such visits, i felt an emptiness that i attributed to the  disappointment i felt about the changes. 

The  sun was shining still as we left and all glowed with a honey. At the  top my companion went to the cafe for a coffee and i sat absorbing the  sun into my body.  I began to contemplate why a man seeking quiet, such  as St Nectan, would come to such a noisy place. My heart knew why. When  it had become silent as i sat on  the bench after experiencing the fall. It was not disappointment that  stilled it, it was the fall itself.

St  Nectans Glen is a place of opposites in a way, it is loud and chaotic from the mere presence of the water, it is full to bursting with so many  spirits i found it hard to place my focus on any particular one. Yet within all of this it stilled my heart. My experinece that day was  affected by my awareness of the plants and creatures feeling of  disturbance from the work that had so recently been done, yet i know  that the moulds i took from the wise and still rocks hold all things,  even the knowledge that nature will crowd back round what has been  placed there by man, it will reclaim. Insects will creep into the wood  of the new fence posts, plants will grow around the freshly placed  buddha and they will bring those new things into their community. 

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