Visiting the Columcille Megalith Park was like stepping into the world of Outlander for a wee bit o’time. Who knew this Celtic gem was hidden in the wilds of Pennsylvania?
My pilgrimage began when my friend, all-faith minister Reenie Panzini, suggested that we take a trip to Columcille Megalith Park for its spiritual energy and its all-around uniqueness. I had no idea what she was talking about, but all she had to say was “standing stones” and I was halfway out the door. We figured it was the closest we would get to Scotland that summer.
The Columcille Megalith Park bills itself as “an outdoor sanctuary open to the public as a sacred space for quiet meditation.” It is inspired by the Isle of Iona, which lies off the eastern coast of Scotland. Columcille was born in Ireland in 521 A.D. He was called to the priesthood and founded 27 Irish monasteries by the time he was 25. Columcille left Ireland in 563 A.D., during a war between Irish clans. He landed on what became known as the Isle of Iona, the heart of Celtic Christianity. Columcille and the Isle of Iona were the strongest influences in the conversion of the Picts, Scots and Northern English. The Columcille Megalith Park, however, welcomes everyone, regardless of religion.
Off we went, children in tow. The drive was long and winding. When we finally got to the Columcille Megalith Park, my middle-aged bladder was ready to explode. If you visit, be warned: There are no public restrooms! The only ones were inside the main center, which was closed because there were no classes in session. I won’t go into detail about how I solved my problem. Let’s just say, I was getting back to nature.
Once you pass through the heavy, metal gate, the Columcille Megalith Park is very enchanting! Except for the stones, the labyrinth and the paths, the grounds are left to run wild, so it feels as if you’re discovering a spiritual oasis in the forest.
A feeling of solitude is the other benefit of having so much of the park left to its natural state. We encountered several other people on the paths, but we never felt crowded or like we were forced to rub elbows with strangers. You could very easily find a secluded spot and become one with the elements without being disturbed.
There were neat things to discover down every path. Small bridges took us across streams and rock cairns were piled everywhere. We were awed every time we came upon a new structure.
The St. Columba (a.k.a. Columcille) chapel is a marvel. It offered a cool respite on a hot, muggy day. Once we were inside, it was comfortingly quiet. The solid door and thick walls gave you a real sense of sanctuary.
The kids ran through the labyrinth, but Reenie and I each walked it solemnly, allowing ourselves to become mesmerized by its swirly path. While we walked, my daughter found the tiniest toad (frog?) any of us had ever seen. She spotted another on a different path when we left. That girl has an eagle-eye!
I wish we could have spent more time there. The heat was just too much for us. After an hour or so, the kids had had enough. We ate lunch at a delightful local tourist stop, the Trolley Shops Restaurant. It, too, was unique, with artifacts from the local area hanging on the walls. The kitsch of the restaurant lent to the adventurous feeling of the whole trip.
If You Go
The Columcille Megalith Park has events and retreats year-round. They usually hold a men’s retreat and a women’s retreat. They also observe celestial events, like the Spring Equinox and the Winter Solstice.
I’d love to visit during the winter. Not only would the temperature be more appealing, but seeing the stone structures set against a stark, leafless landscape would also be calming and relaxing.
Columcille Megalith Park is located at 2155 Fox Gap Rd., Bangor, PA 18013.
Header image by Flickr user Ray Moore.