This was a workshop and labyrinth to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of North Devon’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, a large area around the Taw-Torridge Estuary dedicated to living and working in harmony with nature.
Here’s a preliminary newspaper feature about what I was planning to do.
The Biosphere is centred on the sand dunes of Braunton Burrows, and extends out to the edges of Dartmoor and Exmoor to the east – and out past Lundy Island to the west. It covers an incredibly diverse range of marine and terrestrial habitats. There’s a map and more details on their website here.
The labyrinth seemed to be a good metaphor for describing the Biosphere . Both have the aim of wholeness, harmony and balance; both can function as focal points for identifying and grounding oneself in a place.
Making a preliminary visit back in May, I was shown around the venue, the mediaeval St Anne’s Chapel, now a thriving Community and Arts Centre. Measured the lawn outside. Apparently, a great many bones from mediaeval times are buried under the grass, raising its level considerably above the surrounding pathways. Got permission from the Priest of the adjacent St Peter’s Church to use the lawn, and did not forget to ask permission from those buried underneath it too – not for any spooky reason but out of respect.
I planned the labyrinth to be positioned under a group of shady green lime trees, and with its mouth lined up with the church. Careful placing and geometry are always important for me – I am not quite sure why! I do know that it has an effect. The day of the workshop was idyllic. After a morning indoors, learning about labyrinths and practising drawing the pattern – we emerged out on to a sunny lawn strewn with buttercups and daisies. Warm dappled sunlight filtered through the fresh leaves of the lime trees, and every so often a light breeze ruffled the leaves, sending down little clouds of papery stuff upon us, like confetti – I think this must have been the scales off the leaf buds.
We made the labyrinth with sticks and twigs from around the Torridge Estuary: broken branches battered and worn on a relentless journey down-river, until they had finally landed up on the beach. Now they were being laid out on the grass amongst the buttercups and daisies, making a subtle harmony of textures and soft colour. I watched shifting patterns of light on the ground as we worked… grass and flowers quivered in the breeze; confetti fluttered silently down from the green canopy. All was movement. Light, breeze, trees, grass and the land itself became one, as we later walked silently, slowly – connecting ourselves with the place and each other, the earth and all humanity.
Here’s a write-up and more pictures on the Biosphere website, about our event.
Underneath all the activity of the day, a faint sparkle of memory continually trickled through my mind… The poem “Pied Beauty” by the wonderful Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. I had to look it up when I arrived home: