The bay is still in shadow as I wind a way down from the cliff edge, choosing my own combination of the various paths that have been trodden through the stunted pine and juniper and thorn bushes. In places the path is rocky but in others the underlying sandstone has broken down to produce areas of fine sand. The cool early morning air stings my skin and I feel fine and exhilarated to be abroad in nature on this fine day. A lone fishing boat glides softly in the bay way over to the east, and two cormorants scud away low on the water at my approach. At the bottom of the descent a wide table of flat rock extends to the edge of the sea. It is beautiful here, not the most beautiful bay around here, but surely the strangest. I regard the many little cairns that have been built, the New Age patterns laid out with piles of rocks, the carvings made in the soft stone depicting faces, or ancient Chinese or Sanskrit symbols.
I sit and reflect on man and nature and reality and symbolism and magic, as what must one reflect on sitting alone in a place like this. I am fascinated by man's fascination with magic, this being ever evident in the field of health and healing, my professional interest. I remember a conversation with an acquaintance, an enthusiastic advocate of homoeopathy. Homoeopathy is one of those things the belief in which more often than not is primarily a lifestyle choice rather than a reasoned choice. You believe it or you don't, and I am not a believer, at least so far as its classical formulation is concerned. I reflect instead that I am a believer in the workings of nature and in the power of the human mind. I have found no reason to believe that the sugar pill, homoeopathic or not, has any specific curative action in nature over and above that perpetrated by the power of the human mind. Or why indeed it should be more potent than the latter. But homoeopathy, I think, is not a science, it is magic.
Then again I reflect that while I find it unconvincing, the theory of homoeopathy reflects an attempt to describe an aspect of reality, such that reality may be manipulated to achieve practical ends. Magic too is such an attempt, and so is science. But though some such attempts are more sophisticated than others and more practically useful within their domains of application, ultimately all are fabrications of our minds. The further in one looks, the deeper or the wider one sees, our certainties about what constitutes reality crumble further, as the sandstone I am sitting on has crumbled into the sand I have left on my path. I have an insight that the people who carved these marks into the rock have found themselves in awe of this place, and, struggling to place the wonder and affinity they feel for it into some kind of understanding or scheme, they have embodied it in symbols. Their system of beliefs, here affirmed by the marks they have left, creates a kind of personal and communal reality. And these things, in the mind, are powerful catalysts. At this thought I feel a little ashamed for holding my advocacy of science superior to these more animistic approaches to our world.
The name of this strange place means “the quarry”, and at the western edge of this flat sandstone is a rectangular area almost like an open topped room, with high walls, straight corners, and extraordinary regular geometric patterns carved out of the rock. Here the patterns and the graffiti continue, some profound, others banal, some poetic. There is nearly worn-down dragon. A phallus. Poseidon's trident. People's names or initials with a date. Somebody has carved in the stone that he or she is the starlight the other's path. A beautiful sentiment.
I walk to the other, eastern side of the flat rock, where it drops five metres into wide inlet of the sea forming a bay between two promontories. Cormorants sit on the rocks below the cliffs, turning and craning their necks, and regarding me warily as I sit on the edge of the rock shelf regarding them. Voices come from back above. It is only 10 o'clock. Usually on my morning walks nobody else appears until at least 11. This place I think will become crowded in the summer. I am glad I came now to experience it alone. The people in this region are gregarious, but I am not. It's time to go.
I do not retrace my steps - I want to avoid other human beings right now. Looking up I see high above two rocky bluffs rising out of the cliff edge, and decide that I can climb up and, going between them, come out on the other side at the top of the cliff. After half way the going gets rough and tough: the gradient increases, the sandy soil and gravel will not afford grip to my my feet, and the dry, dead juniper branches trip me up repeatedly. My arms and hands become covered in scratches from my attempts to negotiate the juniper thickets. I like the scratches though. I am of the opinion that scratches are good for you (as long as you are not debilitated or a bleeder or the source of the scratch is not a likely source of infection): they prime and condition the immune system, and they tell the brain to start a healing response, in much the same fashion as I think acupuncture does.
Further up still it is rockier and in places very steep. Do you know that moment of sustained exertion when you feel there is not another cubic centimetre of air left in your lungs, or a mousepower of strength left in your muscles? But, you know, there always is. There's always one more step. So far at least. And the views over the bay and to west and east are stunning, worth all the effort of discovery a hundred times. At the top the rocky bluffs and cliff edge are weathered into stupendous formations and hollowed with many small caves. The way along the cliff just below its lip is at times precarious. An improbable natural bridge arches over a deep gully. Round another rocky outcrop, I come over the hill and the scent of warm pine off the warm earth takes me by surprise. Now the way is gentle, and meanders through the pine wood down to my starting point a little way below and to the west.
I walk up the large hill to the west of the bay and sit on the roof of the ancient watch-tower, where I imagine the watchman looking out over the sea, watching in trepidation the approach of a pirate fleet. I can see the fire burning to raise the alarm, and runners making headlong for the settlements and villages to warn the villagers. To arms men! Women and children to the hills! Offshore at this point a vast rock, as big and craggy as a whole mountain, rises out of the sea. The Greeks thought mermaids lived there. People I know think flying saucers come out of it from deep in the Earth. Myths to suit the times. I think again of all the symbolism inspired by this place. Somebody has left a cardboard Big Mac box on this roof. Another sign of the times.