A few months ago I had reason to visit an ancient landscape that holds deep memories of a pivotal time in our history.
On a finger of land that reaches out into Morecambe Bay it is said that a final vestige of England’s wildness was destroyed and as I took my first tentative steps onto the rabbit shorn peninsula the weight bore down on me.
Under the blue streaked sky of a late summer’s afternoon a pastoral landscape appeared to mould itself to the rocky strata, the green velvet turf not quite stretching to the end of the white limestone rocks that met with the muddy sands of the foreshore.
Was Humphrey Head Point about to give up it’s secrets I wondered.
The Wolf Story
There are various stories woven around the stunted hawthorns of this wind battered headland and I share here the one that wears my experience as a close fitting cloak.
As you journey with me into the past bear in mind that other tales may have equal voice in the telling of this sorrow.
The year is 1392 and the local king of Cark had sworn to kill the last of England’s wolves, the bitch who roamed the fells and forests of his domain.
So keen was he to claim this prize that he declared that the man who should complete the task would win the much desired hand of his niece in marriage along with half of his kingdom.
Sir John Harrington had had his eye on this fine lady for a long time and in fact had quite a crush on her, however being a bit of a cad he’d displeased the local king and was sent away to war in a distant foreign land. It was assumed he was felled on some far flung battlefield as nothing more was heard of him.
However this was not the case and word of this challenge soon reached the ears of Sir John. He schemed up a plan to seize his chance and, disguising himself with a new name he returned to the Forests of Cartmell to win his bride. Delisle was now his name, for a while at least.
With his men at arms he reached the forests and his hounds soon picked up the lonely scent of wolf. The chase was on. The wolf led them through the forests, right up to the River Duddon and back down around Lake Windermere before heading west through Cark once more.
The niece waited for news, no doubt wondering about the man who may yet win her hand and happened to be walking on Humphrey Head Point as the wolf flushed by, running for her life.
Shocked, she followed the horsemen to witness the events that conspired at the lapping of the Irish Sea as high tide reached the tingle of sea pinks on the foreshore.
Delisle drove his mount over a limestone gorge knowing it would fail to make the leap and as the horse fell to it’s death he grasped the branches of a sapling and hauled himself to safety.
Unsheathing his sword he advanced down the promontory onto which the wolf had run and, accompanied by his men, hunted her down. Eventually he cornered her against the risen tide and spilled her blood on the limestone.
The king, bowled over by his success forgave Sir John Harrington for his past misdeeds and willingly gave his niece over to him, along with half his kingdom.
It is said that the couple lived happily ever after, but we all know that a part of England’s wildness died that day.
A Night on Humphrey Head
As I explored the landscape I made a decision that I would sleep that night on that last bit of land, just above the high tide line. I was aware of the heaviness of the place and wanted to see if I could dream the wolf into my being.
As the sun smouldered on the west horizon I found my place, surrounded by those same sea pink blooms, cushioned by soft sea blown turf.
In the middle of the night she came to me. Her amber eyes piercing mine she told me her story in a split second that hung in the night sky like a black hole.
Without words the dark tale flowed into my being as a thick syrup that took weeks to untangle and weave into language.
Here is what I witnessed through the eyes of England’s Last Wolf:
The edge of life met the rising tide as wolf ran headlong along the headland.
Panting her last dark breath to the dancing butterflies she fled on aching limbs.
The tang of sea pricked her eyes as shout and horsebeat followed.
Under twisted thorn and gnarly ash she lopped her last strides on this wild shore.
Deep inside she knew the curse of the death of England’s last wolf.
Amber eyes wise and sad, she saw visions of her kin,
watching in silence from the other realm as she ran to join them.
Shoulders heaving she made the rocks and turned to face her foes.
Sea pinks and stranded shells stood as witness to the new age about to dawn.
The Irish tide stilled at it’s zenith, a hundred eyes lowered.
A cloud of shame rolled in to cover the sun as darkness rent the air.
She knew the curse her death would bring as did the land whose love she felt.
There they stood on the green, rabbit shorn turf, sunset blood glinting off cold steel blade.
Shod in silken hunting cape Sir Harrington held ground,
feet firm, face flushed, his work almost done.
His men at arms kept hounds at bay as his hot temper rose within.
Sword grasped firm he knew his time had come to rid the land of wild.
Somewhere deep roiled a serpent, a weakness took his knees.
He stared into the amber eyes that spoke ‘you know not what you do’.
He must keep face, a maiden watched, his mission would be done.
No bloody dog would take his grace, the death blow must be dealt.
Hind paws licked by sorry sea, she paused and caught her breath
Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, England what will you do!
The Irish Sea spoke softened words, as spirits mustered close
and in her own ocean of life 4 pups stilled and paused their play.
She faced him down, fire eyes, iron muscle, lope shank, queen.
The taste of blood stifled her final howl, that call to the underworld gods.
As blue steel cut into her heart rending the world in two.
Rich crimson stained the limestone rocks, smattering the pinks with a death hue.
Oh England what have you done, cried the sea goddess from her deeps
Silence fell over the realms as now the wolf was gone.
Wild blood sunk through the veins of rock to the fae realm
and there she waits. Her time will come. One day her wildness will run in you.
England’s shores were simply no longer fit to hold so sacred an animal. It became clear that this land with its boundaries, borders, hedges and laws had no room for her majesty.
She had to leave. Wolf had no place here any more. Yet I sensed that ‘her time will come’. That her wildness will return.
A Message of Hope
As I woke the following morning I was greeted with an exhilarating sunrise that engoldened the mudflats out into the bay and picked out the shapes of rabbits feeding on the sea-washed turf. There was without a doubt a message of hope held within the morning light.
We know how the return of wolf brings untold benefits to the landscape as biodiversity increases, this short video goes some way to explain the changes the wolf brings.
Not only did the wolf radically increase the number of animals and plants in Yellowstone National Park within a few years of their reintroduction, they also changed the course of the rivers.
If you’ve not already seen this story I urge you to click the link and treat yourself to 4 minutes of good news.
Bringing Home Our Wolf
So, what happens when we bring home our own wolf? One of our teachers, mythologist and story-carrier Dr Martin Shaw, speaks often about our wild twin. That version of us that is thrown out at birth, the you and I that wants to be truly wild and authentic. The missing part of us that we can spend our lives trying to find again.
Our wild twin is our wolf self, the part of us that needs to be heard and welcomed back as we begin to awaken and press against the confines of our invisible walls and cage bars.
Of course being wild doesn’t mean being abandoned, hedonistic and chaotically destructive.
To know this we need only return our gaze to the wolf community once more and watch how they care for their elders and their young, how they value community, play and are so fully connected to the life around them, bringing bounty and abundance for all.
Being wolf, being wild means being characterful, being true, walking our talk, owning our own power and having control of our own destiny. It also means not neglecting that which nurtures us and having a healthy degree of self love.
Perhaps by welcoming home our inner wolf we can begin to tune our lives with what it means to be truly human again, to find that part of us that was thrown out of the window when we were born and to live a full, stylish and honourable life.
We can take great comfort in the fact that over 30 million people have watched the return of the wolves video, it resonates so much with our deeper needs.
Preparing The Ground
Remember though that much preparation is needed before wolves are reintroduced to a land they’ve been missing from for many decades.
No doubt in Yellowstone years of meetings with farmers and other concerned groups would have smoothed the way. Surveys would have been taken, research would have been carried out and the landscape assessed for it’s readiness to welcome back such wildness. Otherwise it could have been a very bumpy ride for all concerned.
So what can we take from this. Surely we too need to prepare the inner landscape of our heart before we let the lead slip on our inner wolf.
We need to ensure our own environment is ready to welcome the rich landscape that is our own future possibility and tend the ground in preparation for the walk of those sacred wild paws.
How can we do this? As we explored this topic in our drumming circles five words came forth from our groups. Creativity. Community. Connection. Celebration. Ceremony. Perhaps by stepping more fully into each of these five areas we can begin to prepare a room in our heart that will welcome our own inner wild. As the future unravels we’ll be bringing these elements to the fore as we build our clan.
The time for your wildness has come.