The universe was created by a huge explosion of fire and heat beyond anything we can imagine today. And then planets were created, out of fire and ice, heating and cooling, shrinking and expanding. Today our planet is still shaped by fire and ice, and the basic elements of water, earth, air and wind.
The Goddess Vesta was created at the same time as our planet. She was created with wonderful powers, able to harness the power of fire and use it to help develop planet Earth.
If a fire became too hot, she had the power to cool it. If a fire got out of control, she could freeze the flames. Can you imagine that? A raging fire suddenly becoming a ring of frozen flames! Instead of allowing fire to destroy, Vesta could redirect its power to help develop our beautiful planet, as a force for good. Fire guided and directed by the Goddess Vesta.
Vesta worked long and hard until the planet cooled; water settled into clouds, rivers and oceans, and life began to appear: first plants, then life in the vast oceans, then life on land. Finally, humans like us appeared, to discover an amazing, beautiful place to live. With the arrival of humans, Vesta realized two very important things. Firstly, she had become exhausted by all her work over millions of years; every time she froze flames, she used up enormous amounts of energy. She was tired, and needed to rest for a long, long time. With sadness, she realized that now she would need to rest almost every time she used her powers. Her days of unending energy were over. But the need for her work was not over. Fire would always be present on the planet. It would always be a source of power, but also a source of destruction.
Vesta also realised that she could no longer work alone. Could humans help? She knew that humans could never have powers like hers. But they could be trained to make sure that fire was always used for good and that its destructive side never got out of control.
And so, Vesta went on an enormous journey. She travelled the whole planet. She travelled on foot, she travelled by horse and donkey and she even travelled by camel. She travelled on rafts, canoes, rowing boats and sail boats. She visited every land she could in our beautiful planet. And everywhere she visited, she found humans who understood the world as she understood it. Humans who cared for the world, and for all the living things in the world. Humans who wanted to build a good life for their children, not destroy things forever.
She met men and women who worked with natural things and worked hard. She met farmers, fishermen and women, bakers and cooks, housebuilders, even storytellers! She told them that she was organising a big meeting. At the meeting she would explain everything she had learned about fire, its power to help life, and its power to destroy life. Vesta invited all the humans who listened to her and understood her message. The meeting would happen in a place that Vesta had often visited. A place that she thought particularly beautiful. A place that, because of all the trees that grew there, could be damaged by fire. That place was The Surrey Hills.
And so, people from all over the planet who cared about preserving the beauty of our home journeyed to the Surrey Hills. A great meeting place was set up in a clearing on the top of a hill, now known as St Martha’s. All the people sat on fallen tree trunks, or bales of hay specially prepared by local farmers. As you can imagine, with so many people in a beautiful place, there was much chatter, conversation and general hub-bub.
Vesta knew she had to get everyone’s attention quickly, or the whole meeting could descend into a huge chaotic party. She had prepared something which she now put into action. In front of her, and right in the middle of the clearing, Vesta had built a big pile of dried wood. Using her magical powers, she set fire to the pile. KAPOW! KAPOW! The flames took hold immediately. The wood crackled and burnt fiercely, and the flames began to reach into, and burn the branches of the trees above the fire. The raging flames and heat got the attention of everyone in the crowd. An air of panic crept in. What if the fire got out of control, and people got burnt? The people at the back of the gathering began to leave. “If we don’t run, we will all be burnt!” a voice cried out. In instant response, Vesta shouted out. “There is no need to panic!!” And KAPOW! KAPOW! – using her magical power, Vesta froze all the flames. In that second, Vesta had everyone’s attention. The crowd looked at her in awe, and in silence.
“This fire is now under my control,” said Vesta in a commanding voice. “But there are many, many fires on the planet that I cannot control” she said. “That is why I called you all here today. I have a job to offer you all. It is a very big job which I will explain to you. It may be that the job is too difficult for many of you. It is up to each of you to decide. Only accept if you are prepared to put all of your effort, all of your strength, all of your courage into the task. We will see, during this gathering, which of you has the power and strength to do the job.
I need to explain. This planet was born in fire. Without fire and heat, there would be no planet, so no mankind. Fire is a great gift to mankind. It is a source of many good things. Without fire, mankind could not warm their homes. Without fire, mankind could not heat and bend metal to make horseshoes and tools to dig the soil. But fire is also very dangerous to mankind, and to all living things on the planet. When fire is out of control, it can destroy whole forests, whole villages. It can destroy the people living in the villages. It can destroy all living things in the forest. I am the Goddess Vesta. I was created at the same time as the planet.
My job was to use the power and energy of fire to create a beautiful planet. It was also to make sure that fire did not destroy the beauty of nature. I had to ensure fire was always used for good. I was given special powers, as you have seen. I have had to use those powers many times, over thousands of years, to ensure a beautiful planet. But today I am tired and weary. I still have the power to create and to freeze flames. But now, when I use the power, I cannot use it again until I have rested for a long time. So, I need to find others, humans who I can work with, and then they can be my team all around the world and help make sure fire is used wisely. So, this is what we will do…”
Vesta’s words were interrupted before she could finish. A young boy ran into the clearing and shouted at the top of his voice. “Fire! Fire! In Ripley! Huge Fire in Ripley!! Help!! Everything and everyone will be destroyed. Help! Help!!”
The meeting fell into chaos. “Ripley village is only 5 miles from here,” a voice cried. “Let’s run before we are caught in the fire.”
“He’s right,” called out another. “It’s woodland all the way between here and Ripley. It will catch like tinder. Let’s get out of here.”
Then Vesta’s voice again, clear and commanding above the chaos “Stop. The first rule of fire is DO NOT PANIC. The second is ALWAYS SEEK TO HELP YOUR FELLOW HUMANS.”
Sadly, Vesta’s words fell on many deaf ears. Almost half the people left, running this way and that, in total fear of a huge fire.
Once they had left, Vesta set about organising everyone who remained into teams. One group was given the job of finding buckets in all the local farms and bringing them to Ripley as quickly as possible. Another group looked for tools to knock down buildings and trees, and so create a gap over which the fire could not jump. A third group was sent to find the nearest source of water in the area of Ripley, so that water to control the flames could be fetched. Vesta found a horse and raced to Ripley, the young man who had raised the alert, riding behind her.
Vesta and her team spent a long, hot, exhausting afternoon in Ripley, fighting the fire. They knocked down buildings and chopped down trees to stop the fire spreading. They formed a human chain to get buckets of water from the river to help put out the flames. They helped people who had lost their homes to find shelter for the night. Vesta found out the fire had been caused by someone lighting a fire to cook some meat much too close to an old dried out building. She called all the townsfolk together to tell them they must be much more careful with fire in the future.
When the work was done, Vesta and her team of fire fighters went back to St Martha’s to rest and eat. She talked to them again. “We have done good work today. We have saved Ripley from burning down completely and we have saved many lives, many trees and wild animals. And we have all learned many things. You all have learned how to respect and control fire. I have learned that you people who helped me fight the fire are worthy to form my team of helpers. Not those who ran away and panicked. So, I name you all “SuperHeroes of the Surrey Hills.” Using my magical powers, I will talk with all of you in the future, wherever you live. You must help people who live around you, to use fire sensibly. You must help them when an unwanted fire breaks out. You must call me if you have a big problem. And trust me, I will call you when I need help from you all. We are going to be busy!”
SuperHeroes of the Surrey Hills
Steve Markwell and Cathy Coleman.
St Martha’s Hill and Church make a marvellous trip out. You can climb the steep hill and reach St Martha’s church. The view from the top of the Hill is stunning.
Ripley is a charming village in the Surrey Hills that has existed since Norman times.
The village has some marvellous old coaching inns. Now often great cafes, pubs and restaurants. Ripley is close to the River Wey, and to the Royal Horticultural Gardens at Wisley, both great places to walk and explore.
Every month, there is an excellent Farmers Market on the green.
In 1969, a great fire destroyed several properties in Ripley, and further damage was only prevented by the good work of Surrey Fire services.