Saturday, September 24, 2016

Smallholder loses battle with planners to create shrine to forest god

A man is at loggerheads with planning officials after they refused permission for a sacred shrine to a 14th century antler-headed forest god. Andrew Cleghorn has been told his extravagant tribute to Herne the Hunter might upset neighbours, including a nearby church. Mr Cleghorn, from Kirkburn in the Scottish Borders, wanted an altar, “sacred well” and statue plinth to be built on his eight acre smallholding. The statue was to be of Herne the Hunter, a horned forest spirit and protector of the land who, legend has it, saved the life of Richard II. Mr Cleghorn also wanted a cattle flotation pool for swimming therapy on his land. This too was rejected, with one councillor observing that cows are “not that keen” on swimming.

Scottish Borders Council (SBC) rejected the scheme because of its proximity to the protected landscape of Tweed Valley. On Monday, the 52 year-old took his application to a review meeting in a last-ditch attempt to gain permission. In a submission to the meeting, Mr Cleghorn told the panel he “is guided by the pagan earth gods and wishes to create a special place for private worship”. He added: “The low-impact sacred well and altar/statue stance will be sited at the source of a spring on the hill, with a view over the valley…where private meditation and worship can be carried out without impact to others.” Mr Cleghorn suggested he was being “persecuted to the point of not being allowed to follow his own religious leanings within his home and small-holding”. But planning officer Craig Miller warned that the proposed development could compromise the character of the local landscape.

He also said Mr Cleghorn had failed to give an economic justification for the development or show that it would not have an adverse effect on nearby roads or neighbours – one of which is a church. The LRB denied Mr Cleghorn’s appeal, also confirming the refusal of another application made by him for a cattle flotation pool “for the therapy and tonal improvement of the stock.” Councillor Iain Gillespie, a former vet, reportedly told the meeting: “In my experience, cows are not that keen on swimming.” Mr Cleghorn declined to comment after the meeting. Full plans of the shrine have been published by SBC. They show a roughly six metre wide raised stone semi-circle made from Caithness flagstone, flanked by two pillars. Within it there is a three metre wide semi-circular sacred well set behind a two metre wide stone statue plinth, captioned “for statue of Herne the Hunter – earth spirit.”

Is not clear how large the proposed statue of Herne the Hunter was – as it is not included in the plans – which say the statue is “to be designed by others”. The legend of Herne the Hunter dates back to the 14th century. It is said that Herne, a loyal huntsman to Richard II, saved the king’s life when a white hart deer attacked him during a hunt. The deer mortally wounded Herne, but legend has is that a wizard healed him by attaching the slain deer’s horns to his head, where they were fixed for the rest of his life. The story goes that Herne was eventually hanged for a crime he did not commit – and that his ghost still haunts the Windsor forest he worked in. Shakespeare immortalised the story in The Merry Wives of Windsor – describing a “keeper” in Windsor Forest “with great ragg’d horns.” Although the Herne legend dates back only as far as the 14th century, he is closely associated to Cernunnos, a horned god from Celtic polytheism dating back to the first century. Cernunnos was the god of fertility, animals and vegetation.

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