In December 2012 I took this series of photographs of the stone-laid labyrinth at Gaunt’s House in Dorset.
The Labyrinth at Gaunt’s House is a classic seven-circuit labyrinth in turf and brick, laid out in the private grounds of a Dorset Retreat Centre. It has been used for meditational and spiritual purposes by visitors to the house since it’s construction around the turn of the millennium.
In December 2012 I was staying at Gaunt’s House for a fortnight volunteering. We were painting and decorating a cottage on the grounds, in exchange for bed and board. The food was good and wholesome, the company, my workmates and fellow volunteers, were generally cheerful and uncomplicated. My accommodation was a sparse but comfortable single room in a converted stable block, it was called a “Meditation Cell”. I was at a difficult time in my life and I was struggling at home to regain my composure and maintain my solitude – I had been tempted to take a Vipassna Retreat. Obviously the Meditation Cell felt like a miraculous gift.
Meals were served four times daily in the dining hall of the main house, and the walk from my cell to the dining hall could be prolonged and enchanted by taking a long route through a pond-ridden wooded area to the back of the labyrinth at the far end of the lawn. As I was still waking in sweaty panic early in the dark in those days, I would get straight up, put jumper, trousers, waterproofs and wellies over my pajamas and walk, ramble, explore, what you will until I had to go in to breakfast. Along hedgerowed field-side paths glimpsing a wren, across sloping green meadows to a cluster of Ashes, through thick untrammelled unhunted woodland alone, over swollen winter streams following Fallow Deer, in a circuit around the artificial lake. I tramped in the morning half light, in frost, fog and ice. It was a gloriously empowering start to the day, giving me a gentle daily dose of solitude and contemplation.
I always ended my walks by stopping off at my cell, changing into workclothes and detouring through the woods to the labyrinth. Outlined permanently in bricks it remains imprinted on the earth even if no-one walks it. I walked it daily for a fortnight in December 2012, kicking through frozen woodland leaf-litter, marking out the spiral path, moving inwards to the centre, inwards and then outwards. Then breakfast, refreshed.
One afternoon towards the end of the fortnight, I had a block of freetime and decided to spend that time working with the labyrinth. I spent the dull-lighted December afternoon throwing, sweeping, raking, kicking leaf litter off the paths, to the sides where they marked out the ‘walls’ covering the bricks with moist fecund leaf mould. The path was revealed as a swathe of soft green grass. I was finishing the centre as the sun set and I walked the newly cleared labyrinth at twilight. Managing to make it across the lawn to the main house in perfect time for tea.
View the photographs HERE