It was Irish John (www.johngallaghermusic.com) who introduced me to the Tapeley Didge Gathering. He used to perform there regularly and one year needed a lift. That was the beginning of some great parties. Not the full-on messy munter type, but really quite groovy and chilled; stoners mainly, with a drop of decent local ale and cider, plus great organic jamming sessions.
They were cosy affairs. You knew everyone there or would do by the end of the weekend. It was nothing unusual for me to leave something laying around forgotten, then find it the next day exactly where it was left, untouched. I remember one time when some-one new to the Tapeley parties mislaid their mobile ‘phone and became distressed. I calmed the worried fellow down and explained, “This is Tapeley. It will turn up”. Of course, it wasn’t long before the device turned up. It had been found laying around somewhere outside and put on the bar for safekeeping. The bloke was amazed and soon chilled out.
One year, John, a lad called Harry and I were wandering around the grounds basking in the glorious sun. There was then a rushing sound of heavy rain tearing through the trees some distance off. We quickly found shelter under some nearby trees. However, as the rain approached, it became obvious that the shelter would not be much of a shelter. So we made a run for it and managed to dive into a tiny alcove that had a small bench within just in the nick of time. We sat huddled in the little alcove and watched as hail the size of marbles carpeted the ground. During the storm we could hear the chorus of didgeridoos in the distance. It was beautiful. The shower lasted only a few minutes, then the Sun reappeared and bathed the land in glorious sunshine again.
We then walked back to the field where all the music was coming from. The field in question overlooks Bideford Bay. Across the bay we watched the storm cloud that had just visited us as it circled the bay and made it’s way back to us. It was an amazing sight. The storm continued to circle around all afternoon and all afternoon the didges continued their song.
Later, we met a woman who told us a little about didgeridoos. She explained that a didgeridoo is not just a musical instrument. The resonance of the soundwaves are such that it can cloudburst. The Aboriginals carried them so that if a cloud appeared they would sit and play the didge to attract the cloud in the hope that they could cause the cloud to burst, bringing forth much needed rain. The whole episode inspired John to write a beautiful song called ‘Make it Rain’.
It was at my first Didge Gathering where I was wandering around the gardens chatting to people, etc., when I came across a bloke who had a few staffs on display. I got chatting. After a fair amount of time I became aware that I had a staff in my hand, caressing it and leaning on it. It felt good and natural. I don’t actually remember picking it up and I have no idea how long I had it in my hand. Once I had become conscious of having it, I went to return it, saying, “Sorry, I appear to have one of your staffs in my hand.”
“No.” he said, “You have your staff in your hand.”
I said, “Perhaps I have. I must give you something for it.”
We struck a bargain and the staff came into my life.
My staff is a powerful, well-balanced, magical staff. It is Hazel and has Old Man’s Beard wrapped around. The staff has become a part of who I am. I go everywhere with it; on walks, etc. It has seen plenty of action, too, and has collected many gifts over the years.
Among the many interesting and colourful characters that I met at Tapeley who have since become dear friends is Chief, a Devon man who has lived with Native Americans in North America. His name is Johnny Running Dear. A lovely peaceful man. He gifted the first thing to adorn my staff.
One of those wizardly moments happened at one party. There was a big man I had never seen before leaning on the bar. At some point, I found myself stood next to the big man at the bar. The big man said, “So, you’re a Wizard, are you? Do a trick.” I explained that I’m not a Magician.
Then he said, “Tell me something.”
“What do you want to know?“ I asked.
“Well, who am I, then?”
“You?” I said, then proceeded to tell him his name and where he hails from. (I can’t remember those details now. I remember he was Welsh.) I also said, “You are also a dab hand at a bit of prose.”
He was astounded and exclaimed, “How do you know all that?
I smiled and said, “I’m a Wizard.” Then picked up my drink and moved on.
What I didn’t tell him was that some-one had already told me who he was.
One year a couple of blokes were eagerly awaiting my arrival. As soon as they spotted me, they beckoned me over to their camp. They told me that their friend had met me the previous year. I had left such an impression on him that he wished to give me a gift. However, he was unable to present the gift himself, so tasked his mates to do so in his stead. They showed me three staffs. Two were clearly not exactly ideal. One in particular was very top-heavy and cumbersome. The third was obviously the one I was being directed to. A lovely staff of Beech. The head is where the limb had broken away from the trunk which has the shape of a dragon’s head. Two things had been added. An eagle’s talon representing a tooth and a small disc with the image of Yin-Yang fashioned into it to represent an eye.
Tapeley Park is a large estate with a lot of woodland. Some of the trees are very old. One of which is the Tapeley Oak. It is roughly 1,500 years old. It produces a number of different leaves and it’s girth is of a size that I would guess that maybe ten people could surround it, holding hands and pressed up against it. There is a point at the base of the tree that is the entrance to inside the tree. Once you crawl through the undergrowth, you find yourself within the heart of the tree. The internal dimensions are astounding. Six people could stand inside fairly comfortably and the height is such that a person would need to stand on another to be able to reach the ceiling.
One year, the Gathering happened on the Beltane Full Moon. There was a powerful energy that weekend. I had the urge to go off and meditate in the Oak. Before I headed to the Oak, Chief gifted me the tail of a buzzard and offered to accompany me to the tree to perform a dance and chant. I readily agreed.
I settled myself comfortably inside the tree and could hear Chief chanting outside. He was drumming as he danced around the tree. He did this a few times, then stopped.... and... boom! He thumped the drum. He had stopped directly behind me. The vibration of the beat echoed through my body. He then danced on until he reached the same spot. Boom! He did it again. He did this several times. Each time directly behind me. Each time the vibration echoed through my body. It was the most incredible experience. He clearly sensed where I was within the tree. After a while, he stopped. I heard him speak a prayer, then silence.
I have no idea how long I was inside that tree, a good while for sure. When the time came for my departure, I spoke some final words of gratitude, then made my way back to the outside world. Just as I was crawling out from the undergrowth, who should appear but John and some friends who had travelled up from Cornwall.
There was a small community living within the grounds of the estate. They would do things around the place; some maintenance, but mostly gardening. They grew the most amazing organic produce. There is an orchard, a vegetable patch, a permaculture plot and greenhouses.
There were also pigs and Highland cattle. All fed on natural organic produce.
One of the strangest things I witnessed there happened one evening when a small group of friends who lived in or were visiting the little community took an evening stroll. It was a lovely clear night. We had reached an old monument. I happened to notice something in the night sky. A bright light appeared and grew. Then there was a flash and the light became three. Each light then moved at the same speed at the same time, moving equidistantly forming the the shape of a triangle. Then another flash and they were gone. I turned to the other’s and asked if anyone had just seen what I had just seen. All concurred. I wasn’t just tripping. Something very strange had happened. I cannot explain what I saw. All I know is that the half dozen in our little company had seen the same thing. The movements of the lights were too precise to be anything organic/natural. They appeared to be controlled.