In the autumn of 2011, we had one of the most successful and rewarding weekends in the history of the TD’s. At Cotehele House, a National Trust property near Calstock in the Tamar Valley, we had given introductory training in dowsing to scores of fascinated and enthusiastic visitors to the site’s Apple festival.
I am always a bit reluctant to try to relive something that has turned out really well, but sometimes . . . By 11.00 on day 1 things weren’t looking good. There was next to no-one on site - and those that had sneaked in were giving us a wide berth. I made mugs of tea for the TD volunteers, and I was just contemplating a quiet weekend dowsing round the wonderful orchards, when the force that has no name pulled his or her finger out of the etheric dam - and all hell (or should that be heaven) was let loose.
Our first challenge was to train a coachfull from Austria, who had come to see apples being turned into cider and learn about Olde Englande. Finding real British eccentricity, with welcoming locals waving bits of wire over a Cornish meadow was clearly an unexpected pleasure - and it presented an opportunity to learn a mysterious new craft, which was completely unknown to many of them. (In fact Austria has a venerable dowsing history of its own, but you only discover such things when you are ‘abroad’.) My schoolboy German (ironically, the only subject I actually failed!) was dusted off, and just about everyone from the Autobus located the underground stream first time. If ever dowsing becomes an Olympic sport, my money will be on our friends from the banks of the Danube.
Hot on their heels was a similar contingent from Germany. A little less animated than their eastern cousins, this group set about the task in similar numbers and with commendable concentration. Awareness of dowsing was greater with this group and the success rate was, again, astonishingly high. It seemed a moot point as to whether our tuition was particularly good, or whether the rest of Europe had a better grasp of its intuition. We even met some Germans who regularly come to East Cornwall, and seemed to know rather more about Cotehele and its history than myself!
Next up was a group of Koreans, which was a more interesting challenge. Their English was a million miles better than my Korean, but explaining concepts with which even native speakers struggle was not so easy. However, even here, with much improvised sign language and copious smiling, the group all seemed to achieve very impressive results in the short time available.
During the rest of Saturday and all day Sunday we met visitors from across the globe - Australians, South Africans, Canadians . . . in fact, the Irish, Scots and Welsh accents seemed almost domestic. Again and again, people were picking up our arcane art quickly and with little concern that they were being asked to do something that many of us used to find really difficult. We did find a few local families too, and even the occasional melancholic Plymouth Argyle fan to pass the time of day with. From children taking their first wobbly steps to those in the sunset of their walking life, everyone was up for it - and the remarkable pass rate would have had Mr Gove screaming for a downgrading.
For a few exciting hours, it really did feel that the world was opening up to a brighter, more open-minded worldview. Certainly, many also wanted to know ‘how it worked’. But in a time-pressured situation, I could only ask them playfully ‘how many hours did they have to discuss it?’ and point them to Billy Gawn’s biography.
Two of the particularly pleasing aspects of this year’s Apple Weekend were the presence of so many generous TD volunteers, and our repeated success in achieving sound results with so many absolute beginners. I was acutely aware that, with both Alan and David otherwise engaged, we didn’t have a trained dowsing tutor between us. However, what we did have was a group of mature people with a wide variety of life skills and life experiences, who were willing to convey something of themselves, and of that experience, to scores of unknown strangers. It worked wonderfully.
It was interesting to sense that there seems to be a much greater awareness of dowsing in both mainland Europe and in other parts of the English-speaking world, than maybe we have appreciated to date. Quite a few of the visitors ‘from away’, as we say down here, had heard of the concept - and many had friends or relatives who used it regularly, especially those living in more rural areas. The big surprise to many of them was that we used dowsing to locate targets other than water. Of course, the classic British toilet-humour joke about using the rods to find the nearest loo always elicits a smile - but it’s also a valuable piece of communication, in any language.
It was apparent, too, that people were generally suprised that we still make such a play of the diviner’s skill in locating sources of water, when any self-respecting urban dweller just turns on a tap. It’s only when they understand that using structured intuition is an outlook on life, rather than just a niche technique comparable perhaps to operating a chainsaw, that the real benefit of becoming a dowser comes into focus.
Throughout the weekend we doled out TD information and joining forms to any locals with a spare hand or an open bag - and BSD literature to anyone with a computer. We were left with the feeling that we had genuinely connected with many potential new practitioners.
Many thanks to all the TDs who gave up so much of their time to make this a most enjoyable weekend - and especially to Gordon, who was there throughout. Thanks, too, for the superb support we received from Dave Bouch and his friendly colleagues at the National Trust, which meant we could just turn up and concentrate on the job in hand.