Ross Nichols – Travel Journals

Ross loved travelling, and when he travelled he combined all his interests to produce fascinating travel journals. On each visit he would make extensive historical enquiries, photograph and sketch archaeological remains and ancient monuments, and often paint and write poetry too. Once Ross had taken up teaching full-time, by the 1930s (if not earlier), he had ample opportunity to travel in the vacations, so that although he spent the rest of his life as a Londoner, he was able to travel abroad often: over the years visiting Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Greece, France, Belgium, Italy, Morocco, and Malta, as well as Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

These are the travel journals that are held in the Ross Nichols Archive of The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids:
Scotland: Sassenach Stray, Italy: Initiation at Pompeii, Wales: Dark Lights on Aberystwyth, Egypt: To the South with Splendour, Bulgaria: The Orphic Height and Other Blue Sights. Selections have been reproduced in his biography Journeys of the Soul. Here are a few brief excerpts:

Excerpts from his journals

The big sun, Beltane, reappears, replacing winter’s wizened little sun on Mayday, when ceremonial fires of sympathetic magic were lit. one Halloween the little sun substituted for the big sun; the underworld began to dominate the upper world and you could see into the future. At these changeovers supernatural beings became unstuck and flew about.

Other beliefs seem much as elsewhere – sleeping giants in caves, green fairies in round green knolls, vaguely identified with fallen angels, and our old friend the eldritch lubber fiend who nightly threshes corn. And the sea monster has a respectable ancestry of dragons…

In towns eyes follow my large mailed boots. Heavy climbing ones are on the feet the lightest. They spring up from the heel, pad grippingly over muir and stane alike, slip only on the pavimentum of Rome-bred streetcraft. Picts harrying the wall of Hadrian probably wore such leather…

For the liver and stomach you may mix camomile flowers, dandelion root, quassia chips, and gentian root. To cure piles, look you, take witch-hazel, pilewort, mugwort and yarrow. For cancer, red clover is sovereign; for the heart, lily of the valley; for consumption, polypody root; and for the wasting disease, raw palmetto.

But for the varieties of chest trouble there are many various remedies. Colds and humours need the Holy Thistle; hyssop or horehound are also valid. If the lungs are ill-disposed, cherrybark; if there be pneumonia, Irish moss.

For the rheum, goutwort, ashleaves, sassafras bark and pokeroot admixt are curative. For fevers, balm; or willow-bark for rheumatic fevers. The kidneys disordered need uvaursi, queen-of-the meadow root, juniper berries, and pellitory-of-the-wall; or, separately and alone, parsley piert…

The same general situation amongst them as before: optimism and pessimism still prevalent over the Russian pact, the “Thetis” still unraised, the virgin Hitler still requiring Danzig and still being told he shan’t have it.

Selections from Sassenach Stray

At Pompeii too graves and darkness dominated. one wanders for hours; everywhere there is the scent of thyme in the quiet air, the ancient shops, the runnel-like streets with stepping-stones, the school and gymnastic ground, the forum, the town’s temples, administrative offices and public lavatories, all stand in a silence of sunlight.

And amid this sunlight the darkest thing was the most impressive, that dim Villa of the Mysteries of Isis or Orpheus. Large painted rooms of initiation and instruction; the mother Isis, Silenus and his masks, Bacchus, the little cupid, the bride prepared for the mystic marriage, the child being instructed in the scripture of the legend. These realistic-imaginative paintings, with their background of heavy red, make a concrete impact on the mind as the reconstructed shops, the statues and the wall inscriptions, somehow do not. Some great emotional discharge had occurred here, an untold story wished to be heard from the pictures. What was it that these walls wanted to say? Some message of discovery of a truth, some deep conviction of the oneness of spirit with flesh, of old Silenus ridiculed with masks, of Venus as a young woman whispering her secrets into the ears of the young bride-to-be with a curved veil… and the young lad being taught from the book, what is he learning? That the mysticism of the flesh is the way of life? I cannot accept that this may be merely a normal villa with eccentric décor, merely because it is not built in temple fashion; nobody really knows, but I feel that this was a place of enlightenment. This ‘villa’ was most probably a temple for initiations into the women’s part of an Orphic cult, exempt from interference, run by an emperor’s sister.

Selections from Initiation At Pompeii