Terracotta Angel, c.1896
Watts Chapel, England

 Photo : Jeff Saward/Labyrinthos

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A Walk to the Winchester Mizmaze - by Adam Warren

Labyrinth graffiti,
Chaldon Quarry, Surrey, England

 Photo : Jeff Saward/Labyrinthos

Just follow me now, as we walk from the river to the hilltop in no particular hurry to get anywhere…

Leaving the quiet, tree-shaded banks of the Itchen, the path leads through a Victorian brick tunnel beneath a disused railway line.

Passing through the tunnel, it starts its ascent of Saint Catherine’s Hill as a broad gravel path across a wide field. This is new land; until recently it was a congested and dangerous main road. Now that traffic roars along the motorway that ripped through Twyford Down, and peace has returned to this part of the valley.

For a while the path climbs gently around the hill, running beside an old hedge that divides the farmland from the hill, then turns to climb the hill with a great flight of steps.

At the top the path meets a cattle drover’s way, used by farmers since Celtic times. This ancient road follows the ditch that once defended the hilltop, leading between wooded banks to the Iron Age fort’s entrance.

If you follow the track further you'll reach the Dongas, its dips and hollows worn into of the land by countless cattle. This was once a drover’s stop on the long tracks across the downs, but now it exists only in memories and the stories told by the displaced tribe of eco-warriors who tried to stop the motorway.  

In the middle of the hillfort lies the wood that crowns St. Catherine's Hill, a cathedral of soaring beech trees rising from oak and blackthorn scrub.  

At the centre of the wood is a clearing, where people still meet by firelight and make merry or observe the turning of the year. A stone chapel dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria, patron saint of wheelwrights, philosophers and spinners once stood here, but now only her name remains.  

 Before the wood stands the Mizmaze, inviting you to follow its twists and turns to the centre. As you approach its entrance you can see that many paths meet here. Your feet lead you on to where the Mizmaze starts to cut its way through the turf.

You’ll need to tread carefully to avoid stumbling since the path is narrow. Perhaps it ran straight once, but now generations of feet have bent it into graceful curves like meanders in a river. Without attention the maze would fade back into the turf as if it had never been, like so many that have vanished.

One step at a time I wind through the coils of the Mizmaze, deeper into the labyrinth. This is sacred space, a moving meditation.

As I walk I connect with all those other times that I have followed this sinuous path.

Sometimes I think of all that has happened, and all that has not, and all that might be. I think of who I was, and who I am, and where I am going.

Sometimes I just walk.

I know this maze, yet the final turn to the centre still suprises me. This is the quiet place - the ancients knew this as the Omphalos, the sacred center poised between North and South, East and West, Earth and Sky. Here there is room to think, to dance, practice Tai Chi or share a drink and a laugh with friends.

On the way out I may decide to run as fast as I can, just because it seems right. There is a wild exhilaration in racing along the curves and twisting around the hairpins.

As I leave the Mizmaze, the path still unfolds before me and every step leads me further into the labyrinth of my life.


Adam Warren, 2000

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What is it about labyrinths that fascinates me so?
That's a hard question to answer, so stroll with me along
this winding path while I tell you its story. Some of it is old, some is very new, but the tale is worth the telling...