God is at home; it's we who have gone out for a walk. MEISTER ECKHART
If you do not pause upon the bridge and look over the parapet, you will not see the row of cairns bisecting the river Irthing. Who built this progression of tiny ziggurats, this ley-line of stone stupas? Down the adjacent green lane you wander, seeking an answer, following Ariadne's thread. Then stop, amazed, at an airy threshold. On your right, a heap of stones coalesces into faces, cats' eyes, flowers. A sign says Nearly Heaven. You hesitate, then softly step from the sunken hawthorn track into the sanctuary.
On your left, even more artfully arranged stones suggest a dog, a buddha, a Spanish nobleman - whatever you may imagine. A child's swing, knifed from a rubber tyre, dangles. A comfy chair and sofa are draped in blue plastic against the rain. Semi-circular voodoo heads, roughly hewn from wood, with knapweed seed for hair, swing from a central tree. Behind the tree a dead mouse floats in a rain-filled bucket. A streaked and autographed mural dominates this stage set. It's like a painting by Joan Miró. On it passers-by have scrawled names, dates, messages.
Who lives here, who has lived here, who's passed through? What is this place, this surreal haven just a stone's throw from Hadrian's Wall's rational alignments? A hippie lair or artists' colony? A New Age traveller or gypsy camp? A children's den? A pilgrim resting place? The peat-brown stream rushes round the curve on its stony bed, giving little away. Across the water lies the stub of a ramshackle, do-it-yourself bridge made of wooden packing cases. And beyond this there's a shelter, a big tarp strung below the boughs of thick-set trees. It seems uninhabited.
Signs and markers. Signs and markers. You construct a simple cairn right at the end of the line, at the spot where the row of cairns hits the stony shore. You choose differently sized stones - large ones at the bottom, smaller ones on top - varying the colours, contrasting this smooth red sandstone with that olive-green rock, this black and white striated pebble with that speckled conglomerate.
What does it all mean? Does it have to mean anything? You sigh, happy to bathe in the mystery. Then walk back from this liminal space into the shadowed lane. Perhaps you'll now tease out a myriad meanings for evermore? That's fine. For within the mystery lies the meaning; and within the meaning lies the mystery.