In fiction and folklore, a doppelgänger (German, literally a “double goer”) is a paranormal double of a living person. Although in its original usage it is associated with all sorts of spooky things, in common usage it refers to someone who is the ‘spitting image’ of you or is identical in some other way.
Earlier this year I met my doppelgänger! He didn’t look a bit like me, but how is this for coincidence: a writer with one of those clumsy double-barrelled names (Nick Mayhew-Smith) contacted me and asked if I would take part in a TV series about sacred sites in Britain. Like me he is a naturist and fascinated by spirituality, and he too has written a book about sacred sites and another about nakedness.
When we meet up to do some filming at a fantastic site I had never seen before (Knowlton in Dorset, pictured above) we chat about our lives. When he told me that he too has lived in New Zealand we decided to pack it in – it was getting too much!
Nick’s book is fantastic. It’s just the sort of book you want to keep in the car so that wherever you are you can find a sacred site nearby. Read about it here: www.holybritain.co.uk
The BBC’s website about the six part series is here
Nick, who travelled with the presenter Ifor and the film crew as an advisor and associate producer throughout the series, recalls witnessing a ‘miracle’ during the filming – and how he and the team came close to disrobing for the cameras in the first programme:
“The ‘miracle’ occurred during filming on the Isle of Arran. We were walking along a remote stretch of coast when Ifor spotted a brand new £20 note floating on the water, undamaged by the sea. It reminded me of the Lindisfarne Gospels which were supposedly lost at sea for three days before being washed up, miraculously undamaged by the tide. Our own miraculous piece of beachcombing felt rather more worldly and materialistic, more so when it paid for a round of drinks in the pub the next evening!
“We wanted to recreate an authentic Roman era baptism for the sacred water episode, so visited an ancient holy pool, a very rare survivor from the early church, hidden away amid fields in Northumberland. The original baptism ceremony insisted on full nudity in public for all baptismal candidates. Ifor was game for the experience and I have long been ready to take the plunge, having written a book on skinny dipping 10 years ago, until we spotted a National Trust sign warning that the pool should not be disturbed because it was piped directly to domestic water supplies – so twenty-first century health and safety rules prevented our planned re-enactment of ancient ritual. Such is our loss of innocence!”
The first episode is aired in 2 days’ time on 7th March on BBC 4 at 20.30. Rather nicely the episode I’m in is on the equinox – March 21st. ‘Pagans & Pilgrims’ is a bit of a misnomer for the series, though. Most of the sites are Christian and Nick wanted the series to be called ‘Britain’s Holiest Places’. Even so, the sites most often will have roots in the pre-Christian past and much of the filming is apparently stunning. As Nick says:
“Notwithstanding the sacred nature of the sites revisited for the television series, the locations are amongst the most evocative and tranquil parts of Britain, many lovingly cared for today by English Heritage and the National Trust.These are places where natural beauty and lingering traces of ancient devotions combine. It is a world that is so much more appealing than the sterile debates about religion in the media today. Britain’s religious history is mostly Christian, but it is far more diverse and provocative than you would expect. We also visit sites touched by even older pagan rituals and design and visit a Celtic hermit’s remote island that is now a thriving Buddhist retreat.So much is written across our beautiful landscape, so many stories and beliefs that embrace creation and the chaos of human existence in all their glory. No-one climbs a mountain or rows to an island to pray today, but we show some extraordinary places where our ancestors did just that. With a bit of imagination and a love of natural wonder you can still use all these amazing holy sites for an unforgettable spiritual experience.”