One agnostic went on a journey that tested his beliefs. Or the lack of them. Recently, Gawan Mac Greigair has bought an Ordnance Survey (national mapping agency in the United Kingdom) hiking map, and found a place of worship symbol in the “middle of bloody nowhere.” “It’s 4cm to 1 mile, so it’s the right scale to be able to include symbols for intriguing things in the landscape, including historic monuments, ancient earthworks, places of worship and so on,” Gawan told Bored Panda. Wondering what that particular one actually was, he decided to see for himself.


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“I happened to have a free afternoon on that day, and there was heavy fog blanketing the top of the North Downs all day,” he said. “I couldn’t resist the chance of an otherworldly walk in mist.”

“The North Downs is a range of chalk hills in Kent (which give the White Cliffs of Dover their whiteness) – it’s classed as ‘Ancient Countryside’, and it is full of secretive nooks and crannies, and has a long history. I had seen this symbol on the map before and it had intrigued me because it seemed unusual that a place of worship would be located quite far from any village and that it would be right on the edge of a woodland.”

Gawan doesn’t consider himself a believer in heaven. The man, however, still appreciates places where other forms of reality become tangible, where past and present interlace. “This place is certainly one, helped by the apparent merging of this ancient human structure with the woodland crowding close.”

“The most memorable part was the moment when – after thinking I had lost my way in the wood – I was approaching where the symbol on the map seemed to suggest the place of worship ought to be. I was straining to find it through the mist, which was difficult given that I didn’t know whether to look for a ruin, a pile of stones or an actual church. I think I gasped at the moment when I realized I was looking straight at it.” Scroll down to join Gawan on his unforgettable journey and follow in his footsteps!

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Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

“I’m always moved by old woodbanks, knowing that they’ve acted as boundaries for centuries, and this wood was bounded by one, topped with spaghetti beeches and hornbeams”

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

“The first section of wood was dominated by hazel coppice, which I feel I don’t encounter very often. I always imagine hazel as a friendly tree, which is just as well in this very Poe fog”

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

“I came to my first turn, I had to turn right, at a right angle, on reaching this flooded track”

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

“But the experience of the woodland in this dense fog was a joy – the everyday took on an entirely different presence”

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

“I came across a sudden steep hollow. It seemed unmarked by any horsehoe of close contour lines on the OS map, so this is when I first started to suspect that I’d lost my way”

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

“By the hollow, this old tree was simultaneously living and dead – a termite metropolis nevertheless sprouting fresh young limbs”

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

“I checked my map again. Three sides of a squarish rectangle was my route. Two right angled turns to the right. Just past the hollow a muddy but confident track went fogward at 90 degrees. This must be my second turn. I must be pretty close”

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

“Two pairs of beeches waltzed with each other alongside the track, as two birches stood by, waiting for their chance to cut in”

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

“Last year’s beech leaves were still clinging on to saplings in the understory, where the winter winds weren’t able to dislodge them. A strange bright confetti in the murk”

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

“But this side of my square route was getting absurdly long, it didn’t make sense any more. This imperious beech appeared to give me directions, but I couldn’t interpret its gestures and I don’t speak beech”

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

“Primroses cheered me on though, urging me not to panic. Thanks guys, you’re the best”

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

“I decided to take the next obvious right and hope for the best. It took me through a recent coppice, where the felling had exposed another monumental beech (a very unusual standard tree in a coppice, where oak is much more usual”

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

“I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for – a recognisable structure, a hollow overgrown by hornbeam? But suddenly the hairs on my neck stood up and I realized I was already looking at it”

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

“Just the suggestion of a gable, an echo of a spire, materialising surely with each step forward”

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

“It wasn’t the heap of stones I’d half expected, but a tiny, living church that seemed to transpirate from the wood that it was nested in”

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

“I found it was open”

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

“I find it hard to state this without hugging myself and clapping my hands in childish glee, but this church has no electricity and is still lit by working gas lamps”

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

“The fog seemed to press its nose to the windows”

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

“But it was held at bay by the colours inside”

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

“I’m not a believer in heaven, but I appreciate the notion of places where other forms of reality become tangible, where past and present interlace”

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

Image credits: Gawan Mac Greigair

To read the whole story, visit Gawan on Twitter!