Interlude ~ Sound principles?

We waited for a few minutes while our small group took pictures of the stones of Stonehenge. It is rare to be able to photograph the monument without hordes of people, but with the gates closed to the general public, calm descends. We were all waiting to be allowed within the circle of stones, but I wondered how many had realised that we had actually been within Stonehenge itself for quite some time.

The remains of the outer embanked ditch, situated outside the normal visitor path and often overlooked.

Over five thousand years ago, our ancestors created a circular ditch and embankment, some three hundred and sixty feet in diameter. It was dug out using antler picks, and yet, curiously, they buried animal bones, flint tools and antlers of a far greater age in the bottom of the ditch itself. These were not simply old things that they had cast away, they were placed there with care after being looked after for many years. Why such reverence? What did these animals represent for the diggers of the ditch? Were they perhaps invoking the guardianship of the clan’s Spirit Animals… or that of the Ancestors themselves? As the bones belonged to deer and oxen, perhaps they were attempting to ensure that the herds were kept safe and plentiful, and that their bounty would serve the clan’s needs.

It was not until the seventeenth century, that antiquarian John Aubrey discovered fifty-six pits, arranged around the inner edge of the ditch. These became known as the Aubrey Holes. In 1920, the early days of modern archaeology, William Hawley excavated over fifty thousand bone fragments, dumping them unceremoniously together into one of the Aubrey Holes, as being of no importance.

Scale model showing the embankment and ditch, within which the Aubrey Holes hold the bluestones. Image: Stuart France

The bones belonged to sixty three men, women and children, each of whom had been cremated and their remains interred with meticulous care. In 2013, Mike Parker Pearson and his team brought more rigorous modern methods to bear on the bones and the pits, finding that each pit may have held a bluestone, which they suggested may have been as a grave marker. I have to wonder at that…

The bluestones are not the huge trilithons, but substantial pillars of stone that now form the inner circle. They were famously quarried and carried to the spot from Wales, over a hundred and fifty miles away. This discovery meant that the first ‘stone circle’ at Stonehenge was possibly five hundred years earlier than had been thought. Not only that, but analysis of the bone fragments showed that most of those buried had lived most of their lives in Wales… not on the Plain around Stonehenge.

So, just who were these men, women and children whose calcined bones merited burial beneath a sacred stone, carried all the way across the country? Why would such stones be placed as simple ‘grave markers? Were the stones perhaps more intimately connected with the men and women who were buried beneath them?

We can only speculate and attempt to put ourselves in the minds and hearts of those who walked the land thousands of years ago. What if the dead had served the stones or the clan? Or both, considering how far they had travelled together. Was the burial a way of assigning a guardian to each stone and its properties… enshrining an Ancestor to act as intercedent and wisdom keeper, perhaps?

And why were the bluestones so special? What did they bring to the spirit of the place?

As we were finally allowed into the circle, I thought about the research that has been done on sound. The bluestones of Preseli have been tested, and ring like bells when struck. A scale model of the completed monument has been tested in an acoustic chamber, proving conclusively that sound made within the open-to-the-winds structure would have been amplified and acquired the resonance of an indoor amphitheatre. I have seen visual representations of soundwaves that look like the petroglyphs carved in ancient tombs… and I thought back to the experiments we have been drawn to do with sound and chant within the sacred places. Of ‘lighting up’ the stones of Bryn Celli Ddu after we had chanted and verbally renewed our dedication. Of potentially hitting the right note or vibration to ‘unlock’ the stones…

Long ago, the only enclosed spaces would have been the caves, which our earliest ancestors made their homes and sanctuaries. They would have learned to understand acoustics, simply by living there, listening to the echoes and distortions, perhaps even using such sounds to navigate the passageways.

Barrows across the wider Stonehenge landscape look like star systems… Image: Stuart France

The caverns would not merely have been a place of safety and refuge from the weather, they would also be the belly of the earth… a place in which you were held safe within the Mother. It was not until we began to build our homes and settlements that other such ‘inner spaces’ would be created. But you can imagine how magical the sound of inner space would be when you are out beneath the stars…

If sound were key to the bluestones, that would make sense… especially as they are not really blue; the dolerite stones look like the darkness of interstellar space scattered with swirling galaxies…

And yet, a short while later, as I stood between those bluestones once more… none of the ’mind stuff’, research or even logic mattered while Stuart chanted for me, quietly and unobtrusively, for healing. All I could feel were the waves of sound, wrapping around me and lighting my spine as we had once lit Bryn Celli Ddu…

Interlude ~ Before the Stones

The trouble with writing about somewhere like Stonehenge… somewhere that almost everyone recognises and feels they know something … is that most of us know nothing at all apart from the familiar form of the circle and trilithons.

We just accept that this is an ancient monument, built by people who were maybe not quite as savage as we generally think, for some strange ritual purpose… probably to do with the stars or planets. Or it was built by the Druids? And all the stones came from Wales… And that really is about all most of us know…and most of that is wrong or at least, woefully incomplete.

Stonehenge… the first part of the name is thought to come from the old word for ‘hanging stones’… or ‘stones suspended in air’. The ‘henge’ refers to an outer and circular earthen embankment with an internal ditch, such as the one around the great circle of Avebury, where we had been earlier that afternoon. At Stonehenge, however, the ditch is outside the embankment; just one of many of the anomalies of this site that make it quite unique. Time, feet and erosion have taken their toll on the henge, but the ditch and banks, overlooked by most, can still be seen on the outer edge of the monument field.

Then there are the misconceptions about its timeline… for the circle was built in phases on a site already held and made sacred by the many burials it contained. And then there is the sheer scale of the site… because you simply cannot ignore the number of other archaeological features that cluster around the circle, rippling out across the wider landscape to include many miles and the mindboggling possibility that the vast sites around both Stonehenge and Avebury were designed to work together. And, even when you stand within the circle, it looks something of a jumble to begin with until you begin teasing apart the layers of history. So where do you begin?

Showing just the major monuments immediately around Stonehenge. Image: © Martin J. F. Fowler

At Blick Mead, about a mile from the circle of Stonehenge, is a freshwater spring that neither fails nor freezes all year round. Not only would this water source have made the area useful for both people and animals… it was also a magical spot. And its magic remains to this day, suggesting a second reason why our ancestors chose to settle here. The water of the spring contains a rare algae, turning stones that have been in the water red within an hour or so of being exposed to air. Not surprising, then, that ten thousand years ago, towards the end of the Mesolithic period, when the hunter-gatherer culture of the Middle Stone Age was beginning to settle in one place instead of always following the herds, a settlement should have been built at Blick Mead.

We know from other sites across the country, such as Star Carr in North Yorkshire, that there was a sense of magic and ritual within the human community at that time. The ground conditions at Star Carr preserved unusual amounts of organic material, including a number of headdresses… antler frontlets, made from the horned skulls of red deer, artworks and ornaments. Some of these had been deliberately broken, which implies either gratitude or a sacrifice to some higher power. Which in turn suggests that reverence and spiritual beliefs were well-formed and ingrained.

Unsophisticated caveman?

We know too from sites such as Warren Field in Aberdeenshire, that these Mesolithic peoples were capable of constructing complex sites. Warren Field also dates back ten thousand years and its pits and a midwinter alignment within the landscape constitute an accurate lunar calendar.

The fact that these three sites alone, Stonehenge, Star Carr and Warren Field, are spread end to end across our country, tells us that there was more travel and interaction between areas and tribal groups than we might at first have thought… and thus a sharing of knowledge and techniques was possible that would rapidly disseminate ideas.

Studies run by the University of Buckingham conclude that the settlement at Blick Mead shaped Salisbury Plain to their needs over the course of several thousand years. Six thousand years ago, the trees were cleared across the Plain. A causewayed enclosure was built at Robin Hood’s Ball near Amesbury, just a few miles walk across the Plain. Long barrows began to appear too… and there are well over three hundred known barrows within just a two mile radius of the circle at Stonehenge… around eight hundred in all.

Timeline of major landscape features around Stonehenge.

Not every body warranted a barrow burial, but many of those who were so buried were interred with rich and beautiful things. This gives an idea if the importance of the area in spiritual or ancestral terms. As each of the ancestors were lain in earth, perhaps their spirits added to the cumulative wisdom of the land and its people. Perhaps the presence of the dead rendered the living fit for the priesthood. Perhaps, after millennia of association, it was from the community at Blick Mead that the idea sprang to raise a forest of stone beneath the stars…

Interlude: Looking Back…

The mere idea of “saving the ‘best’ till last” was feeling all too prophetic. Especially as ‘best’ is debatable anyway.’ Most iconic, perhaps, best known worldwide, most unusual… but just ‘best’ is  too subjective. From the magic of mountain-girt Castlerigg, to the intimacy of Barbrook, where ancestral voices still whisper, each circle has its own feel and character. Perhaps Stonehenge is the Westminster Abbey of stone circles… but it is in the quiet chapels of the tiny parish churches where the prayers of centuries are most often felt.

Where we ought to have been recently, on the Orkney Islands, we might have touched something similar, something older, for there are theories that the Megalithic culture spread from those isles… or perhaps they too were just another stepping stone back towards an even more ancient vision.

But we were here and now. It had been a long day. I had already driven for hours and would have hours more to drive before we were home. I was ill, struggling and, had we had any sense whatsoever, we would not have even considered such a trip under the circumstances.

But then, sense does not come into it when you are called… and there had been far too many synchronicities for us to think otherwise. Even the group who would finally be allowed within the circle was less than half its usual permitted number; it was a mere handful of strangers, therefore, spread across two buses, who would be free to wander within the stones of Stonehenge.

“I saw you at the stones wrapped in wings,” had said my healer-friend, so I had worn my favourite scarf, surprised it was warm enough to be without a decent shawl at this time of year and evening. I would have liked to walk to the great stones, each step carrying me one step closer to both past and future across the long-sacred earth. A pilgrimage, of sorts and a homage to memories of my own long-ago. But the ravens walked with me as I lagged behind, failing to keep up, even on the short path from the bus.

I was not at all in the frame of mind that I should have been. I think, most of all, I was afraid that the circle would have closed down… that it would no longer feel ‘right’ after so much attention by so many people…many of whom are simply gawping at something they will tick off their tour list as having ‘done’. Were my memories of the place, of the feel of it, anywhere near accurate… or any reflection of what was left, now the site was under corporate protection?

I desperately wanted Stuart to be able to feel some trace of what I had known when the stones stood free to the wind and to the worship. Not how they had felt from outside when last I had brought someone here, milling around the edges with thousands of others…

Our guide and guardian, a storyteller, took us to the edge of the grass, allowing us a few minutes to take people-less photographs of the circle before we went inside. And as soon as my feet touched the forbidden green beyond the barriers, seeing all the faces emerge from the stones, I knew my fears were groundless.

The circle opened its heart to welcome me back… and ‘welcoming’ was exactly the feeling Stuart reported later, with a good deal of surprise. It was not what he had expected from the place at all. It is hard to find words that describe it… as if each of the different types of stone… the sarsens, bluestones, gneiss and many others… all sing a different note, but no matter how beautifully they harmonise, their song needs to pass through the human heart in order to be heard, felt and lived. So it was with tears of gratitude streaming… and probably a very silly grin… that we finally entered the circle of stones.

 

Interlude ~ Saving the ‘best’?

So, while we should have been on a workshop and holiday, I was stuck in that limbo between the medics telling me it ‘looks like cancer’ and them doing something about it. I was determined that, before the doors closed on adventure, at least for a while, we would have at least one more. And it needed to be a good one.

We had revisited Rollright, paid our respects at Churchill’s grave, nodded to half a dozen White Horses and spent some time with the great stones of Avebury. There was really only one thing left that we could do… at least at this end of the country. And, even then, it would be pushing it for me to drive the distance.

We had to go to Stonehenge.

As a child and young woman, before the barriers and management rolled in, roping off the stones to protect them from further damage, I had spent a lot of time with them, getting to know the feel of them and wandering amongst their strange presence.  Since before the building of the henge and circles, before the barrows,  it would seem that humankind has held this place sacred, as not only settlements but burials have been found here dating back a full ten thousand years. We had passed the site several times now on our travels, each time considering that we ‘ought’ to visit the stones, as Stuart has seen them only from a distance… and each time deciding that we just could not do it.

The stones, seen from the road in high summer, seem like some magical creature with its wings clipped and caged in a zoo, visitors are funnelled around the outside of the circle at a safe and respectful distance. There are crowds. Noise… hubbub. On the one occasion I had taken friends there who are sensitive, it had ended in grief and tears… the atmosphere is wrong. No matter how carefully the authorities site their visitor centre, how lightly they appear to touch the landscape, the simple fact that around a million and a half people come to visit this one stone circle, every single year, cannot help but leave its psychic mark.

But this year, there had been the COVID lockdown. The site had been closed for month. There had been less travel, fewer visitors… time for the stones to take a deep breath and recuperate… There had to be something good to come from the social distancing measures.

And, given the circumstances, this might well be not only our best chance but also our last to visit the most iconic stone circle in the world. It had to be done.

But, we would still be kept at a distance from the stones… behind the barriers… walking around them in frustrated circles… and you really need to be within the circle. Having known it myself in earlier times, I wanted to be able to share that experience… because it changes everything.

I booked our timed tickets… and could not believe that I was lucky enough to be able to book, for that day, when it is usually fully booked months, sometimes years in advance, as part of a handful of people who would be allowed beyond the barriers, within the stones, after hours. A wholly unexpected birthday gift would, ‘coincidentally’ cover the cost. As compensation for missing both the Scottish weekend and our holiday, it was as much as we could do… and all fell into place so neatly…

And yet,  I still pulled up at the visitor centre filled with trepidation. It had been a long time since I had last visited Stonehenge, up close and personal… What impact has the new centre had on the landscape? It looked quite discrete to be fair, at least now when it was empty of visitors…

What protective measures would be in place and would we really be able to get a feel for the stones in the way I remembered? Our ever-present robin seemed to laugh at my fears as we waited for the bus that would take us across the monument fields. We could only wait and see…

Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 6 – Release ~ Helen Jones

Helen continues her journey through the sacred sites of Derbyshire…

I recently attended a workshop with The Silent Eye about Facing Our Fears, an extraordinary weekend spent among the hills and grey stone villages of the Peak District. It’s taken me a little while, as it usually does, to process everything that happened. Once again there was history and mystery, good company and tasty food, old friends greeted and new friends made. And, as always, revelations.This is part six of my account, parts one, two, three, four and five can be found here…

As you pass between the gateposts leading onto Stanton Moor, there is a feeling of entering another world. Perhaps it’s the Cork Stone, a great stone guardian whose sphinx-like profile has monitored the path for millennia, or the old quarry marks, now overgrown. Or perhaps it’s the many cairns hidden amongst the heather, silent indicators that this is a land of the dead.

Humans have been using this place for thousands of years, which is why Stanton Moor is a place of national importance and, as such, is protected. Prominent signage advises visitors to leave no rubbish, make no marks and, something that became important as we journeyed further into the landscape, keep their dogs on a lead at all times.

Continue reading at Helen Jones’ blog.

Rites of Passage: Brief encounter…

The Silent Eye weekends are not just about what is built into the schedule, they are also a chance to spend time with people we have come to know through the events and who have become friends. We are always glad when there is time to spare, as that allows us to take a more leisurely approach, whether that is a long talk over dinner or, if we are lucky, time to visit and share an extra site or two.

On Saturday afternoon, we found ourselves with a couple of hours to spare and a rather curious site not five minutes away from where we were. Rowtor Rocks is a favourite haunt, one we have visited many times, both on our own, with friends and as part of a previous workshop. It is a curious, natural landscape that has been altered by man, from the prehistoric rock carvings to its reshaping by a local clergyman.

Many of the rocks have faces, there are strange ‘blinds’ and false paths leading to sheer drops, caves and a staircase that seems to lead through a narrow cleft to rebirth. It could be a dangerous place for the unwary, with steep cliffs and misleading pathways, but with a little knowledge and care, it is a fascinating place to explore.

We have theories… a good many of them… but the most pertinent to the journey we had been taking that weekend was that, whether seen through the Christian symbolism of the Stations of the cross, or from a more esoteric perspective, the Rocks had been re-designed to provide a perfect initiatory landscape, where the need to face the deepest of human fears is part of the journey. We had looked into the history and possible functions of the site in some depth during our Riddles of the Night workshop and, although we would not have time to share it all with our companions, there would be time enough to give an overview. It was as I was pointing out a skull-like rock with a ‘font’ cut into its crown, that a vacant-eyes woman appeared and approached, wafting a stick ineffectually at the undergrowth. My impression was that she was wearing a floral tea dress, reminiscent of the forties, such as my grandmothers would have worn… and that whoever was supposed to be watching her needed to take far greater care with the steep drops from the rocks. She neither spoke nor acknowledged us, just wafted dolefully and retreated after a few moments.

On the next level up, a man with both the moustache and dress of Clark Gable in Mogambo was also watching us. He looked vaguely angry… and his expression never changed throughout the encounter. I did not hear him speak either and that was odd, as everyone else we passed exchanged smiles or greetings. There was just something odd about them… apart from their dress from half a century ago…

The two gave the impression of being together but did not communicate with each other, at least, not verbally. Taking one of the company into a cave, I missed most of what happened next and will have to leave it for one of the others to fill in the gaps. I came out of the cave in a hurry, having the distinct impression that our other companion was somehow under threat. It made no sense, but that was what I felt. There had been a brief encounter, but the situation had been diffused.

It is difficult to convey the sense of unease, as if something was ‘not quite right’ with the two oddly garbed figures. It was even odder when, after they had disappeared, we compared notes and found that while we could all describe the man, we all recalled the woman as being dressed differently, though the colours we remembered were the same. Even odder when we realised that they had left the area via the steps at the far end of the platform… steps I had warned our companions against climbing as they are slippery and broken… and lead to nowhere beyond what can be seen except a sheer and unclimbable drop…

For no reason we could put into words at that point, the whole encounter had been rather unnerving. Even so, we put it to one side as we showed our friends the series of caverns and played with the acoustics. One of the caves is incredibly dark. I had borrowed a torch to check the safety of the floor before inviting everyone in… it would not do to have broken glass underfoot in the pitch blackness. That too is unnerving…until you turn to look back at the light from whence you came and realise that it is not really dark at all. The shadows are all perception.

Above the caverns, we showed how easily a great boulder can be moved; so perfectly balanced is the rocking stone that it moves with the lightest touch. Further up, we looked at the isolated pillar that is impossible to reach… and the three ‘judgement seats’ carved into the stone, before looking down once more to a prehistoric symbol of light.

It was just a shame there was no more time. We saw only a part of what there is to see… but it was enough. Rowtor is a place of contrasts. Dark and light, man-made and natural, ancient and modern, Christian and pagan, winding paths and sheer drops. In many ways, it was the perfect precursor to what we had planned for the next day. But first, we had planned dinner in Castleton, and if we were lucky, there would be just enough light to show our companions the Shivering Mountain and a little of the spectacular limestone countryside…

Rites of Passage: Going deeper…

We had only a field to cross before we reached or final planned destination of the day. Doll Tor is a secluded little circle, now set within a wooded grove, a little off the beaten track. Following the unofficial addition of stones to the circle in the 90s, by well-meaning but misguided visitors, archaeologists carefully restored the site to its original layout, removing extraneous stones and it now looks much as it would have done when it was first built in the Bronze Age.

Thankfully, the site had been well documented. The circle is around twenty feet in diameter and consists of six standing stones which were once connected by drystone walling, traces of which still remain. The design reminded us of Barbrook II, though here the connecting walls take a back seat and may be missed by those concentrating on the standing stones. As we had seen at Nine Maidens, and on previous trips to Barbrook I, there is a cairn close to the circle, this time, though, instead of being at a small distance away, it is right beside it. Almost connected to it. Given the nature of the finds unearthed here, it could be seen perhaps as a mortuary temple… or perhaps its purpose was to forge a strong connection with the ancestors.

Bateman’s excavations in 1852 uncovered burial urns and cups within the circle. Eighty years later, Heathcote found five more cremations and a number of urns within the stones. In the cairn, he found a central stone cist containing the cremated remains of a woman. Around the edges, four more cremations had been buried, along with a faience bead. For such a small, withdrawn circle, set apart from the main settlement, sites and cairns of Stanton Moor, it was obviously a place of some importance to contain so many burials… almost as if it had been ‘supercharged’ with ancestral presences. It gives the impression of a place set apart for a reason.

Because of its seclusion, Doll Tor is a place still used by those for whom there is still magic in the land. It is one of those places where saying that the ‘veil is thin’ is more an accurate description of the atmosphere than a cliché. Our own experiences at the site had convinced us that the link between the land and its people was still functioning and we hoped our companions would join us in an experiment to reconnect with the ancestral presence.

We feel that this was once a place of seers. It has a distinctly feminine feel and even its form echoes that of a gravid goddess. The trees that shield the circle from view offer their own presence and the grove of wood and stone feels very much alive.

While two of us held the space, we would journey back, following the paths that open on the screen of imagination, and see what might come into the mind. Opening ourselves to the unknown is another threshold of fear, whether in everyday life or in any form of psychic or magical work. The pathways of the mind can lead us to some strange places, not all of them comfortable.

Motionless, with arms outstretched, we stood as our companions walked the inner paths that lead beyond time, space and realities. What they found there is not our story to share, but it is safe to say that for them, too, the circle was still alive and functional.

Such experiences may be dismissed by the sceptical as pure imagination…which is, after all, one of the most powerful forces in our world and the root of all innovation and creativity. For others, it is psychism or vision. When images surface from the deeper levels of the mind, such labels matter little. To those who experience such a moment, what matters is what is felt and learned. And none of us were left unmoved.

Before we left, we shared bread and wine, a symbolic communion of Earth and Spirit, that has its roots in a tradition far older than its current religious association. There is shared purpose at such moments, and a trust that knows no barriers. Then, having performed the closing visualisation, we made our way back towards the road.

A glance at the clock told us that the scheduled day had finished earlier than anticipated. With our table for dinner not booked till eight, we had time to spare…and a very intriguing site just five minutes down the road. The chance for a whistle-stop tour of the site seemed too good an opportunity to miss. It is a strange place, but one we know well. We knew our companions would find it interesting. But we were not expecting the weirdness that would find us there…

Rites of Passage: Worlds apart

Our next stop was not only a site extraordinarily rich in archaeological remains, but also a local beauty spot with plenty of parking nearby and well-defined paths… always a difficult combination. We would always wish to have these places to ourselves, but as they are freely accessible, the better known sites are seldom deserted on a sunny afternoon. It is a balancing act… while it is undoubtedly a good thing that people visit these sites, taking even a cursory interest in their history and thus helping to preserve them for future generations, not everyone treats them with respect. Much damage has been done over the years, and you never know what you are going to find.

One of the first things you see as you enter the area known as Stanton Moor is a pillar of wind-worn gritstone known as the Cork Stone. The face of a watcher guards the entrance to the moor, a place where, for over four thousand years, a continuous human story has shaped the land.

The past few hundred years have seen damage and changes wrought by quarrying, plantations and medieval field systems, but it is the Bronze Age that renders this area one of national importance and spiritual significance. By the time you reach the Cork Stone, one of four such guardian pillars on the edges of this small patch of moor, you have already passed between two of the seventy or more burial cairns veiled in heather and bracken.

Many of these cairns were excavated in the mid twentieth century. Interred cremations and skeletal remains were found, along with grave goods, food vessels and personal possessions, all of which show care and attention to the dead, both as individuals and collectively, rather than our more modern attitude of fear and hasty disposal.

The grave goods imply a belief in a life beyond this one and a place for the ancestors within the lives of the living. Why leave offerings unless the departed with know about or need them in the space beyond death? Why worry about their remains, save for love and respect, unless you expect them to still be around in one form or another?

The cairnfields cluster around four stone circles. Most are almost impossible to find except in winter when the vegetation is sparse, but the best know, Nine Ladies, draws many visitors. The legend, a common one for stone circles, says that the stones are nine maidens, turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath and the outlying stone was the fiddler who played for them.

There are, in fact, ten stones at Nine Ladies… in addition to the outlying King Stone, a flat stone was found to the east in 1976. The small stature of the stones is typical of Derbyshire circles and, although the circle is over thirty feet across, none of the stones are more than three feet high. To those used to the tall stones in other parts of the country, it would be easy to dismiss these small circles as somehow ‘lesser’ than their grander counterparts, but when you are lucky enough to stand alone in their presence, you are very aware that here, size really does not matter.

There is a possible embankment around the circle and there may once have been a cairn or burial at its centre. A solitary stone now stands in the path a few yards away. This is the King Stone; long thought to be an outlier, it has now been found to be the central pillar of a ring cairn, now lost. It has sadly lost much of its height thanks to a collision with a car… vandalism has long been a problem at this site.

Most, but sadly, not all of the time, the damage is not deliberately caused. The stone circles draw innumerable visitors and simple erosion by the passage of thousands of feet will eventually create problems. When we arrived at Nine Ladies, we were treated to the terror of a young lamb, separated from its mother, fleeing for its life from an uncontrolled dog… its owner nowhere to be seen. There were families, campers with hammocks strung from the trees and walkers… and, with the poor lamb having just run through, the atmosphere was not good.

It strikes me as sad that these old places, once sacred centres for their builders, should be given less respect than more familiar places of worship. Those sprawled across the stones or partying in their midst would not dream of repeating their behaviour in a church, even if they do not subscribe to its faith. We may not wholly understand the beliefs of those who built the stone circles, but we know they were seen as sacred places… and I believe that their beliefs deserve respect.

We stopped at the threshold formed by the King Stone, the central pillar of the now-invisible cairn, unwilling, for the moment, to go closer. The juxtaposition of cairn and circle is seen at many of the sites in Derbyshire. Barbrook, Doll Tor and even Arbor Low seem to make this deliberate connection between the rites of the living and the presence of the dead.

Quite how significant this may have been we have no way of proving, except by working with the sites and seeing what comes. What is known though, is that the cairns and circles on this stretch of moor and beyond were arranged in quite specific alignments.  Author John Barnatt, senior survey archaeologist for the Peak District, has used modern methods to confirm these alignments… though their purpose may elude us.

The archaeological evidence, however, does indicate that life and death were seen as intimately linked and suggests a belief that there was a line of communication between the two. Perhaps the ancestors were thought to care for the living, even from beyond the veil, perhaps they were believed to be able to influence or advise on events. It also suggests that while the innate, life-preserving fear of dying would have been at least as strong in our ancestors as it is in ourselves, the fear of the dead, and of death itself, was less prevalent than it is today.

In a society where the ethos of winners, losers and ‘every man for himself’ has become the desired and necessary approach for those seeking material success, we seem to have lost that sense of community and continuity that places the wellbeing of the many before the desire of the one. Ego is in the driving seat…and ego fears nothing as much as its own obliteration.

With a certain reluctance, we led the way into the circle, allowing our small company time to become acquainted with the stones. The circumstances were not ideal, but when we gathered to share the visualisation of the Web of Light, we might as well have been invisible.

We began the long walk back, passing through the huge but hollowed cairns, as well as those yet to be excavated, that line the pathway. Two by two, caught in our own part of the story, we headed back towards the Cork Stone. With more time and fewer people around, we could have spent a day exploring here. As it was, there was a quieter place that we wanted to share before the afternoon ended…

Hidden Avebury: Seeking the Unseen

Almost everyone knows of Avebury, the great stone circle within which a village was built. A World Heritage site and one of the most incredible sacred complexes of prehistory, it is justly famous for its beauty and mystery. The site attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year but while most simply walk in awe amongst the majestic standing stones of the Circle and Avenue, there is far more to discover for those who will walk the paths less travelled.

Join us in June, 2020, as we explore some of the hidden corners of this amazing landscape, ranging beyond the boundaries of the Circle to seek a deeper understanding of what our ancestors hoped to touch by building this earthly temple to the stars.

Based in the landscape around Avebury and beyond, this weekend will entail some relatively easy walking. There will be time during the weekend to explore Avebury and its stones.

The weekend runs from Friday afternoon to early Sunday afternoon, and costs £75 per person. Meals and accommodation are not included in the price and should be booked separately by all attendees. Meals are often taken together at a local pub or café. For those arriving by public  transport, we are able to offer a limited number of places in shared vehicles; please let us know if this would be required.

Hidden Avebury: Seeking the Unseen

Avebury, Wiltshire

12th – 14th June, 2020

Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

For further details or to reserve your place: rivingtide@gmail.com