I paused on the footpath
and glanced back at my holiday cottage in Elton,
a tranquil village in Derbyshires Peak
Turning again, I approached
the rocky outcrop of Robin Hoods Stride and
then followed a track eastwards to a formation
known as Hermits Cave.
On reaching this exposure
of Derbyshire sandstone, I noted a man in ragged
clothes kneeling to tend a small herb garden. I
wondered if this might be the Master of Ancient
Wisdom - a hermit about whom I had heard in the
Duke of York on the previous evening.
officinalis combines well with onion and
breadcrumbs to form stuffing for poultry,
volunteered the stranger without looking up.
I reflected that this was,
indeed, sage advice. You grow many herbs,
The man rose and looked at
me. Its one of the ways that I
sustain this lifestyle, he said. The
landowner allows me to live here in exchange for
some of my Thymus vulgaris.
I glanced at the entrance
to the cave. Ah, a thyme share property,
I noted. Are you a hermit?
corrected, pointing to the north-west. A.
Hermits my brother. He lives in a cave near
Over Haddon. I havent seen Arthur for a
while hes a bit of a loner. Im
E. Hermit. You can call me Elton.
Named after the
village? I surmised, shaking his hand.
Actually, mother was
a fan of Bernie Taupins songs, Elton
replied. He suddenly paused as if listening to a
message carried on the wind. Sooth, sooth,
sooth, sooth, he said.
a soothsayer, I ventured. Are you
also an exponent of arcane practices in Wicca?
Elton observed. He beckoned me to follow him into
his cave where he revealed many examples of
furniture and baskets woven from rattan and
bamboo. Ah, cane practices in wicker are my
other source of livelihood.
My attention was drawn to a
pole, intricately carved with symbols. Is
this mystic? I enquired.
responded. Your stick is over there.
He pointed to where I had propped my walking pole.
This ones mine. Have you come to
learn of the Ancient Wisdom?
I have, Oh Wise One.
Then you may ask
three further questions, he replied,
but then you must go.
I thought hard and chose my
questions carefully. Firstly, I would like
to know the secret of peace and tranquillity,
Just tell people to
bugger off, Elton advised.
I was astonished by the
brilliant simplicity of his teaching.
continued, what is the meaning of life?
Elton appeared thoughtful.
It is the condition that distinguishes
organisms from inorganic objects and dead
organisms, he explained. It is
manifested by growth through metabolism,
reproduction, and the power of adaptation to
environment through changes originating
internally. Thats from Collins, but you can
consult any dictionary.
I never thought of
that, I confessed.
And your third
question? Elton enquired.
How do you get on the
list of an NHS dentist?
To be frank, he
responded, Ive never been able to
work that one out, myself.
Elton returned to his herb
garden, picked some Anethum graveolens
and placed it in my hand.
Dill we meet again,
I said and went on my way.