In seemingly the best dowsing weather imaginable, over 30 of us assembled in groups on the quayside at East Looe in East Cornwall in eager anticipation of a first ever off-shore trip by the Tamar Dowsers - to St George’s Island. But sadly, it was not to be. A wicked east wind was whipping up and Tim the boatman deemed it too risky to sail. It would be fine to go out, but landing on the shingle beach would be iffy and coming back over the notorious Looe Bar downright dangerous.
You could almost touch the disappointment of being left on the RNLI slipway in the beautiful autumn sunshine. Some had come a long way to be with us and others had given up valuable opportunities to be somewhere else.
However, having resolved to try again another year, we picked up our peckers and made the best of a day by the seaside.
While some took a trip in a boat that was sailing around the island and others decamped to a nearby coffee shop, a group of us followed local resident and TD member, Henry Owen, to investigate the remains of the chapel of St Michael, Lammana, at nearby Hannafore.
One of the triggers for visiting Looe Island at this point was that the Time Team, of TV fame, had been undertaking one of their blitzkrieg archaeological digs there earlier in the year - and it would have been fun to see if we could find what they had, without knowing their answers first. However, the Time Team had also been in action at Hannafore, so it was not a totally wasted trip.
Beyond the end of the West Looe coast road cul-de-sac, the footpath peters out into a field where there was reputed to be a pilgrims’ lodge. Today there is half a mile of deep and treacherous sea between Hannafore and Looe Island, but locals told us that there was a time, within the living memory of some, when people could walk (well, wade) across the narrow straight at very low tide - an event which often coincided with Good Friday (being a lunar-determined festival day).
We found the site of what might have been a pilgrims’ lodge - and Henry reassured us that he had seen the TV historians unearth a short section of this building during their excavation. Good start. There were a number of buildings around the lodge, dating from a much earlier period. These were agricultural structures and included animal pens as well as houses with animal shelters beneath them. We also found two wells, one of which seemed to co-locate with the burial of an elderly man, who died from natural causes. Rather strange.
Above the field containing the lodge, stands (or rather lies) the remains of the tiny 12th century chapel of St Michael, Lammana - although our dowsing found a wooden Christian structure there as early as the 8th Century.
It became apparent to us all that this building was linked energetically to the chapel site on the tantalisingly close St George’s Island. An energy ley crosses the sea channel from one site to the other, skirting the west wall of the mainland chapel. Those who sat and ate their lunch on this line deemed it to be most pleasant and positive.
There had once been at least three skeletons buried here, but either these had all but disintegrated into the acidic soil, or someone had removed one or more of them - perhaps someone quite recently.
All those who dowsed for the site of the former altar found it at the east end of the chapel, but some of us located it further to the south than the position shown on the interpretation board. This was a bit surprising, given that the mound was still clearly visible of what must, at one time have been the alter stone. Again, a bit strange. Gordon found that the altar had once been quite an elevated structure approached by steps (bet the Time Team didn’t get that).
The chapel had a very warm and reassuring feel to it, although as ancient religious buildings go, it was quite quiet energetically. There was one clear energy spiral within the chapel and two or three just outside. One energy line wandered in through the former main south entrance to join the spiral in the main body of the chapel. Two water lines ran through the site, crossing at the former site of the font, but not describing the trademark circumambulation around the altar. More intrigue.
Like so many of its contemporaries, this spot has been used as a sacred site by successive cultures for at least 3,500 years.
We enjoyed our visit to the chapel at Hannafore, and some of us also enjoyed afternoon tea at the Island View Café - and it made up, to some extent, for the disappointment of not making it to the island itself. Still, better to be a disappointed dowser than a marine casualty statistic.
Caroline later emailed me to say that she felt these things are probably meant to happen, for some reason unknown to each of us - and she is probably right.
Many thanks to Henry for having a Plan B - and to boatman Tim Corkhill for standing with me, to explain in person to everyone why we were not sailing on such an apparently perfect day.