We had, quite unfairly, asked the company to dowse for the next stone we were to visit, giving them the simplest of descriptions. Following the person who was on the right track, we set off through the sodden grass in the direction of a curious bank of bracken. When the green fronds do not bury the bank its true nature is revealed and its scale is staggering. It is a Neolithic enclosure of dry stone walls that still stand up to five feet high in places, although many of the stones have been removed to build more modern walls. The enclosure they contain has seven entrances and runs for around two thousand feet in length over a width of up to thirty feet. No trace of settlement has been found during the archaeological explorations there and the conclusion is that it was a ritual gathering place. The other structures found there seem to confirm this idea, for although there are the remains of nearly thirty round houses and several other enigmatic structures quite close by, none of them seem to indicate a permanent settlement and the largest was used to perform funerary rites over a period of time.
If we seem to spend a lot of our time walking the realms of the ancient dead, there are several reasons for that. First and foremost is that it is in these very places, the ritual and mortuary sites, where the realm of spirit walks hand in hand with the living lands, that our forefathers seem to have lavished the most care and invested the most effort to create permanent structures of such strength that they still survive today after many thousands of years. While the domestic sites may have fallen to plough and bulldozer over time, the legends and folklore may have kept many of the standing stones and cairns safe from intrusion. Even today, many of these places are woven about with strange tales, and sightings of eldritch creatures and spectral lights are not uncommon.
There is another reason too, less ‘logical’ perhaps, but no less real for all that. We spend a lot of time on the moors and while we feel welcome in the realm of the rites of the ancestors, there is an uneasy feeling about walking through their settlements, as if, being outside their time, we should not be there. There is another part to that theory that has to do with time and perception that we shared with our companions as we walked through the wet grass within the enclosure.
The boulders within the enclosure are strange. Many would not look out of place in Fred Flintstone’s back yard and, although we have no knowledge of their individual significance, it is obvious that here again we are looking at stone that was left for a purpose in an area that could have been cleared. The stones themselves would have provided perfect material with which to build the enclosure walls, yet their strange shapes were left untouched and the walls built around them.
One huge boulder is covered in white lichen and stands out from the rest. It was to this we were drawn and everyone was intrigued by its hollowed bowl. One of our companions wondered if it was the particular energetic properties of the stone that made it a target for this particular variety of lichen…. none of the others seemed to wear it. Another suggested that it looked like a ‘font’ in which infants might be cleansed and purified… tying the two extremes of life together at a place where only the rites of death have left any trace. Whatever the truth and the purpose of the stone, it brought the enclosure to life for us as we looked back upon the lives of the people to whom this place had meaning.
Having left the main path, we walked back to one of the seven entrances that pierce the enclosure wall. There is a path here to the stone that was our final destination on this stretch… but the bracken is taller than most people here and the fronds, heavy with mist and rain, were bowed across it. We forged through, knowing it was worth the wetting and brought the company to the little clearing of the carved stone…