“There’s nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats” – Ratty, The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.
There’s a reason for my silence of late, and it’s a good one.
I took a self-imposed social media retreat: no blogging, no Tweeting, even no sharing photos of my beloved gerbils on Instagram (#HerbGerbs!), and instead went out into nature.
Specifically, my partner and I hired a small boat for a week and went off motoring gently around the North Norfolk Broads. Me being me, I eschewed the fibreglass gin palaces for a 1950s vintage wooden cruiser full of quirky charm and authenticity. Which of course meant that the steering was clunky as heck and it was freezing at night. But it was pretty though!
Setting off from Martham, we spent our first night at White Slea, a tiny mooring right in the middle of a nature reserve. With only one other boat further down the river, it was just us and the swans, geese, reed warblers and water voles. We even heard a cuckoo, a rare sound these days, and one so evocative of the halcyon days of Springs gone by.
The second day was a windy voyage up the River Ant to Sutton, pausing for a break to see the impressive ruins of St Benet’s Abbey, which someone in the 1700s stuck a ruddy great windmill in the middle of.
The day was marked, as before, by wildlife. As well as the regular swans and geese, both with fluffy cute chicks, there were herons, kingfishers and even Marsh Harriers all backed by the hammering soundtrack of grasshopper warblers in the reedbeds. Having fuzzy ducklings playing with the wake of the boat and zooming along to chase us was a memory to cherish.
The third day was long haul, Wroxham bound and back again, through the surreal tourist toytown of Horning which was an assault on the senses full of houses, marinas, pubs and lots of boats. Thankful to return to the quieter waters come evening, although by that time a wind was getting up and it was time to find a safe haven. Alas, there was no room at the inn in Ranworth, and so eventually we found ourselves back at St Benet’s, weary pilgrims resting in the shadows of the ancient Abbey, seeking sanctuary of a sort.
The final day was back through to the natural unspoilt waters we began in, and across Horsey Mere which looked suitably gothic in the overcast weather, but which hid a marvellous secret: a tiny staithe by a windmill owned by the National Trust, which was a mere half hour walk from the beach! The walk wended by an excellent pub and a medieval church, one of the few thatched churches in the country. And then the sea! Sand and rocks and white waves crashing…and seals. Safely hidden behind the rocks, we watched a female grey seal haul out onto the beach, sniffing the air and looking around before taking to the water again without a sound – a truly magical moment.
What this trip taught me was, above all, the healing power of nature. As modern humans we live so much of our lives disconnected, in our buildings and offices, lives spent behind screens. Getting out into nature and putting all that aside, moving at a slow pace (average 4 miles per hour in fact), and just observing wild life, being part of that moment, that place, where the land and the water meet the sky, is profound and necessary.
I did no Druid rituals, no meditations, no chant or Awen sung. But I didn’t need to because all of it, from struggling with mooring ropes to cooking dinner on the small stove while watching a swan sail past the window, to just sitting on the bank and breathing in the immensity of nature’s beauty, was a ritual, a pilgrimage, a connection with that which is greater than ourselves.
And it reminded me of how important nature was, and how we need to work, to fight, to protect it.
And this is Paganism to me. Paganus, of the land.
No religion, no gods, no books and words required.
Just get outside.