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It was looking at a set of postcards that set me off on this particular train of thought. I wondered why I’d come to collect specific sub-sets of postcards of certain sites and not others. I tend to collect postcards of The Matlocks in Derbyshire – but not any postcard – only certain sites; the Wishing Stone in Lumsdale, the riverside promenade around Pic Tor, the chapel of  St Johns, the rock outcrop of High Tor. What, I wondered, privileges one particular site over another and what was prompting my choices. Aesthetics perhaps? Some of the sites are certainly photogenic, but not all. It seemed something else was at work then… something thin.

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There are places that resonate with us, where we feel a kinship or connectedness; where we immediately feel at home, calmer, less lost. These are our thin places

It’s not a term I’ve coined. It comes from pre-Christian culture, Celtic Ireland perhaps, and originally referred to a spiritual place where the veil between this world and the other world is thin. A thin site cannot necessarily be touched, heard, smelt or tasted. It’s a site that transcends the physical limitations of our five senses.

Non-religious people, like me, are perhaps tempted to seek a less mystical more agnostic explanation for what’s going on, perhaps the feelings at a thin place are related to emotional residue, a vibe, or maybe it’s an attraction to the ineffable, to what we can’t express or explain away because it’s beyond the power of language to do so?

Perhaps a thin place is special because the words fail?

There’s a moment of revelation, saturated with meaning we can’t put into words.

It’s an attractive idea.

To me a thin place is a site where there’s a strong sense of the past being still present. A  place where connections are made. A place that takes me beyond myself and closer to wonderment. Or silence.

A thin place need not be a tranquil, beautiful or sacred place, it may not be universally acknowledge as outwardly significant at all (after all a shadow of it can be gifted in an old postcard) yet in my own mind they are qualitatively different from other places.

My thin places speak to me, they relax me, they unmask me, and I become more comfortable in my own skin.

And it’s not just places, why not thin objects too?

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2 thoughts on “Thin Places

  1. I know exactly how you feel about such locations. My family have long associations with the Matlock area, with my paternal grandfather being an early enthusiast for the Victorian “sterio pairs” (which I still possess), many of which have Matlock as subject matter and which were produced on his home grown sterio camera, made, I was told, from a cigar box and fitted with the objective lenses from binoculars . I am drawn back to certain specific spots time and time again and despite modern ‘accoutrements’ within view (Tarmac, satellite dishes,&c) these still exude a curious aura, for want of better word. The Wishing Stone now has lost the drystone wall and squeezer stile adjacent to it, shown on a faded sepia which also features my father as a little lad of perhaps five years of age – with my grandmother sporting a very large hat containing fruit and feathers, typical of the early 1900s -leaning against the stone. A recent visit showed the place as having a plethora of trees and shrubs which now make this old view impossible to replicate. But there is still that curious “thin” feeling in evidence to me. St John’s church is the same, along with the footpath to Cromford further up the road, and which has always been alluded to (in the family) as Muddy Walk, although now no longer as muddy as it perhaps appeared almost a century ago.

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  2. Hi Richard,

    thanks for sharing your memories. Living as I now do in London I find these Derbyshire ‘thin’ places first explored as a child, often with my grandparents, haunt my imagination. They’re a wonderful counter-balance to the manic rush of city life.

    Best wishes
    Nick

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