re-visiting our local sacred spaces…

Apple Blossom & Beloved Bees

Our Maytide pilgrimage began under the linden tree in St. Mary’s churchyard, Dartington, as we paused to ponder the meaning of ‘church’. Every Wild Church gathering is made up of a unique group of people; we have folks who regularly return but there’s also always been someone new and so we are endlessly emerging as community. Each gathering includes people of different faiths and of no particular faith, for each of whom the word ‘church’ will have different connotations, from the delightful to the utterly dreadful!

So on this particular Sunday, Sam mused a little on ekklesia, a Greek word at the root of ‘church’ (as in’ ecclesiastical’ – meaning things related to church & clergy). An online dictionary search will reveal that ekklesia is about being called out of the privacy of home and into public gathering and was originally used in Ancient Greece, where its roots lay in the Homeric agora, the meeting of the people. Not that the word in its historical context is without challenge, for it was only male citizens who were allowed to join these assemblies.  So it can be a radical act to imagine and embody ekklesia or church as a way of being called out of our safe, familiar and small arenas and into a wider web of relationship with all life. It seems that from the earliest times, Jews and Christians used the word to speak of being called into the love of God and into the loving fellowship that Jesus awakened in those around him. So on this Sunday Sam offered an invitation for each person present to awaken to the mystic Christ – to what is loving, abundant and life giving within each one of us, in our unique ways and whatever our own language for this may be.


That said, we let go of language altogether and settled into silence, taking time first in still meditation, to open our outer and our inner senses to each other and to the natural world we are part of… and so begin our walk into the Dartington Estate. The land was full of beauties, from late bluebells to early orchids and of course, the lingering apple blossom. The first stage of our walk ended in School Farm Orchard, another hidden treasure. Here we sat in the dappled shade of the flowering trees to listen to Sam’s telling of the Ossian’s journey to the Isle of Apples, the land of Tir Na N’og. The story acted as a reminder or invitation that we too can pass through a threshold of awareness, can be called out of our everyday selves and into a magical way of relating to life, that is alive to a deeper sense of connectedness and meaning.

Passing round a bowl of local apple juice acted as an opening threshold moment, before each of us took time to simply be with the orchard in our own way and open to apple wisdom, before returning to close the circle with a cider communion and time to share reflections.



We then walked onto in to Dartington Gardens and after a delicious shared lunch under the old Crab Apple trees we wandered through the mossy garden paths to The Meadow​ – Dartington Wild Pollinator Sanctuary. With lemon balm, flowers, prayers and song we blessed two newly made log hives. Allowing the bees to choose their new home without interfering in their natural swarm cycle and luring them into an empty hive is an ancient beekeeping practice.

We learned about swarming and why this is an important and special time for the health of the bees. Cami also shared a little about the traditions of Tree Beekeeping and the conservation hives they are working with at The Meadow. We completed our afternoon by smelling sweet comb, tasting honey and offering our gratitude back to our pollinating allies!





Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

-Antonio Machado



The Meadow is a wild pollinator and honeybee sanctuary on the Dartington Estate. Our aim is to establish a thriving wild flower meadow which will increase bio-diversity and strengthen local ecology. A haven for wildlife, we’re creating natural habitats for bees, butterflies, bugs and bats.

As bee guardians, we are dedicated to the well-being of our pollinating allies, trusting in the resilience of the colony and their inherent wisdom. We consider honey a rare gift and only harvest from a thriving hive with a surplus of food.

Words & photo by Sam & Cami except for those marked *** which were taken by Bex Clelland of INto the Woods Photography

Beech Cathedrals and Woodland Elders

Beech Cathedrals & Woodland Elders
By wild&curious

Last Sunday I had the privilege of leading a Beech tree pilgrimage in Dartington, part of the Wild Church year of tree pilgrimages. As we began our journey we held both the lightness and warmth of the sunshine alongside the darkness of loss close to some of our hearts.

Our journey began with a meeting of pilgrims and a youthful little Beech trying hard to escape her woodland edge confines. Still a few weeks off bud bursting meant the shapely elegance of the Beech buds was apparent and a striking contrast to the Hazel, Sycamore and Ash already unfurling new leaves. Very young Beech leaves are not only edible but have a wonderful soft lemony sorrel flavour as they escape their vibrant little pink jackets.

Noticing the fine details of the tree is an immediately grounding way to draw our attentiveness to the fore. The beginning of making acquainting, developing a relationship with these trees…

Beech are the woodland elders, native insofar also they crept North across the land-bridge just before the Chanel opened some 5000 years ago, and made a home particularly in the South of this country. They have likely always been an intimate part of our culture, often pollarded and coppiced for firewood used historically for firing glass making furnaces and turned for bowls, spoons, weapons and more.

We journeyed from young to a venerable old, tall and stoic Beech that hides in the midst of the woodland, and is encircled by Holly sentinel saplings. Peering up towards its branches one can imagine how it has been witness to an ever shifting landscape from its cloud dusting height, and why Beech woodlands are said to have been the original inspiration for cathedral design.

Walking the edge of farmland I heard the changing bird calls as we moved through microclimates from open farmland through the gardens to the Lady of the estate, a much loved Beech overlooking fields, woodland, railway and river. Since first meeting I have been captivated by her and spent many a happy hour under her canopy, peering up at the old tree carvings of yesteryear now high up in her branches.

She invites presence and welcomes new and familiar souls to share the earth. Its a bewildering truth that Beech have some of the shallowest root systems, some one to two metres deep, yet they have incredibly complex relationships with mycorrhizal fungi networks underground, the roots offering starches in exchange for moisture and minerals from the mycorrhizae. And whilst the thick Beech canopy tends not to favour other trees and shrubs under its canopy, its Ramson heaven in spring and it’s fungi and lichen later in the year.
The very edible Beechmast (nuts) fall in autumn, but only crop heavily once in every several years meaning that if you find a heavy windfall of nuts inside their three cornered shells, gather an armful or three and enjoy your wild fortune.We gathered together under the Lady Beech on a carpet of wild garlic to receive communion of Beech flower essence and rose hip tincture, and shared our felt sense at our journeys conclusion, drawing vitality and connectedness through both attending to and being receptive to our own experience in relation with these powerful trees.

Next time you happen across a venerable Beech, take the time to sit and make yourself comfortable under her branches. Just sit and attend to your senses for half an hour. Listen to the bird calls, the squirrels defending their territory and the occasional twig snap, and you’ll find that after not too long you’ll even be able to hear the beetles, the woodlice pattering along the carpet of brown leaves under the timeless embrace of Beech.


Words and photos by Myrtle Cooper

This journal was first published in Myrtle’s journal at:

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