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…

ONE OF OUR MOUNDS IS MISSING!

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‘…Keep to the road, and beware the Full Moon…’
– An American Werewolf in London.

The plan was to base our inaugural public ‘solstice’ event at Avebury and thus it seemed natural to book a room at the Public House which is situated in the centre of the Stone Circle…
Only, The Red Lion no longer provides B&B so we ended up instead at a hotel some ten miles away in Ogbourne St George.
Now, Ogbourne St George is a curious name and one redolent of both mystery and intrigue and given our literary proclivities we thought it might be possible to find something of interest in the village to occupy our Companions for at least one of our allotted slots over the weekend.
We had stayed in Ogbourne… before and had a visual memory of a strange mound like structure in one of the fields lying adjacent to the hotel and had pinned to it an accompanying mental note which ran, ‘…must have a closer look at some point.’
A little research in the form of flick through the ley-line dowsers’ classic, The Sun and the Serpent by Hamish Miller and Paul Broadhurst, confirmed both the visual memory and our hunch that the structure would hold some interest for us.
It was not a prehistoric construction at all but a ‘folly’ built sometime during the Second World War by a local farmer but somewhat amazingly it had, according to our venerable authors, been constructed over a node which marked the crossing of the Michael and Mary currents.
This it seemed to us was very curious…
Of course the mound now looked like nothing so much as an overgrown hillock with its spiral causeway, rising twenty-feet in height, all but obliterated by trees, bushes and shrubs and there was a picture of it in the afore mentioned tome which approximated with the mental image which had been stored in my mind for future reference all those years ago.
It was in this respect reminiscent of another of the mounds we planned to visit over the weekend.
The now slightly more famous, but equally tree infested Merlin’s Mound stands in the middle of the private grounds of Marlborough College beset by houses of learning and no doubt deliberately dwarfed by both the sheer bulk and the lofty spires of the College Chapel.
This mound is a prehistoric structure and has recently been given a date of construction commensurate with Silbury.
As we had been unsuccessful in our request to the authorities concerned to climb the mound and as the third of our mounds the aforementioned and world famous Silbury Hill is now fenced off and no longer accessible to the public we were hoping that our unobtrusive poor relation in Ogbourne St George would afford our Companions the chance to scale its relatively modest sides and experience the dual currents of the Michael and Mary leys.
In this though we were destined to be disappointed…

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Ghosts of the past

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Friday dawned. Sort of. Instead of the brilliant sunshine of the previous day, the morning managed to do little more than open a rheumy eye before retreating back into a mist of tears. Still, we were not about to let that put a damper on the day. Duly fortified with bacon and eggs, we readied ourselves for our trip south-westwards for the Silent Eye’s Mountains of the Sun weekend. Failing to be my usual Virgoan self, I hadn’t even packed, but managed to cram at least half of the absolute essentials into the weekend bag. I may prefer to travel relatively light, but a spare pair of trousers and shoes would have been useful. The Mountains of the Sun were wet.

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The planned weekend would not officially begin until we all converged upon a village in Wiltshire, but everyone was ready so, not wanting to waste the day, we had left earlier than intended, choosing instead to visit Uffington… a first for two of our number. For Stuart and I, this was something of a special place on a personal, as well as a historical level… it was here that our adventures together had really begun; a journey that had given life to our books and which had deepened a long love affair with this land. That day we had arrived to mist, buzzards and skylarks.

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We had not returned together since that day, though we had passed and paid our respects as we glanced at the distant hills. I had been back once, with dear friends, on a day of blazing sun when a magnificent sunset marked our parting for another year. But it seemed as if the land itself was preparing to repeat our first experience. The fine rain was not as heavy as our morning mist, but overhead a buzzard soared, corvids and pipts were everywhere and it was as if all the skylarks in the world had joined together to greet the day with song. We had seen the small, white scar on the hillside from a distance, knowing what it was that our eyes sought as we drove through the narrow village lanes. The undulations of the landscape are unmistakeable once you have seen them and their shadows capture the eye and lead it to the strange marking on the hillside known as the White Horse.

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First, however, we walked up to the gateway that cuts through the embankment of Uffington Castle, a huge earthern enclosure of ditch and bank set high on the hilltop. It is a strange place. The air sparkles and time has no meaning there. The enclosure covers an area of some 35,000 square yards… and was built around the same time as the Horse was cut. Yet there is almost no evidence of occupation from that time. What few fragments have been found date most activity to the Roman period, when a shrine seems to have been built there and two burial mounds close by.

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You have to wonder what the occupants were doing there. To my mind it was, perhaps, not a permanent settlement… more a gathering place for whatever festival was celebrated around the Horse. Perhaps a small group resided there, serving the figure and the divinity it represented. Perhaps tending travellers who walked the Ridgeway… that ancient High Way that has run along the hills, passing beneath the shadow of the grassy banks of the Castle for at least five thousand years.

We turned and looked back, following this path with our eyes towards the trees where Wayland’s Smithy is hidden… wondering how many feet have passed this way over the millennia and wondering too if it is the echo of their passing that makes this old track so easy to walk as we too pass like ghosts into history.

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Circles of Stone / Circles of Time

Moonrise, Avebury - Sue Vincent
‘Moon and Stones’

Our first introduction to Avebury came in 1977 via Children’s Television.

At the time we probably scarcely realised that the fictional village of Milbury conveniently situated within a pre-historic Megalithic Stone Circle for the cunning plot of, ‘Children of the Stones’ was based largely upon fact.

In this superlative piece of Seventies Tee Vee an astrophysicist, Professor Brake, and his teenage son, Matthew, arrive in the spooky village of Milbury in order to undertake a three month long study of the stones.

Even before their arrival proper the high weirdness begins when they are seemingly about to crash into a Sarsen stone which then apparently ‘morphs’ into their housekeeper for the research stint, Mrs Crabtree!

Would you be happy about such a woman cooking and keeping for you?

Other strange events begin to take place as the pair of newcomers’ settle into their temporary home.

For one thing the village appears to be divided into ‘Happy Ones’ and ‘Others’.

The ‘Others’ it soon transpires are all relatively recent arrivals to the village whilst the longer term inhabitants all greet and depart from each other with the soon to be seen as rather sinister refrain ‘Happy Day!’

Then there is the Village Elder, Kendrick, erstwhile astronomer extraordinaire and discoverer of a super nova which now bears his name, who displays an uncanny knack of appearing at the drop of a hat and also shows an unhealthy interest in a painting which Matthew has acquired from a junk shop.

The painting depicts what appears to be the stone circle in former times and shows two figures fleeing the circle and the preternatural beam of light which apparently descends into its centre…

We shall say no more lest perchance one would care to check out the series oneself which is available these days on DVD.

Indeed, we mention this only by way of introduction to our planned ‘solstice’ event at Avebury and also, it is rather strange to say in order to relate our first visit to the site some thirty years later.

We were by then cognisant of the fact that Milbury was Avebury the name clearly taken from the nearby Mound of Silbury.

Having parked up in the car-park alongside the book shop we were heading up towards the circle of stones when a heavy and virulent deluge of rain descended.

Whilst attempting to keep as dry as possible during the downpour we darted under a tree, holding our jacket over our head, and bumped into what we assumed to be a local lad.

“Just waiting for us to get the tent up,” beamed the lad showing no concern about his unprotected and by now already sodden state.

“Just driving the last peg into the ground, I was,” the lad continued, “then whoosh…” he laughed and embraced the heavy rain with an open armed gesture of acceptance and another beaming smile.

Not wanting to sound totally ignorant of our whereabouts we laughed too and responded with, “It’ll be your fault then.”

The lad laughed enthusiastically some more and then delivered his parting shot, “Happy Day!”

…?

Avebury (6)

Click the link to learn how you can join us for a weekend exploring Avebury and the mysterious landscape of Wiltshire.

or

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See our Events page for other upcoming weekends and workshops.

Playing out- Mountains of the Sun

Go on… when was the last time you went out to play? I don’t mean with children, wonderful as that is… but just you… playing out… in the fields. Leaving the world and all its worries behind for a little while for a lighthearted romp, exploring the strange landscapes of the imagination?

When was the last time you thought it was okay to go looking for fairies, or ghosts from the past? How long since you tackled a proper mystery… and yet came home in time for tea ( or a pint at a village pub, as the case may be?)

When could you last take the time to look at the world with wonder and see time lose its place and the story of ages unfold?

Wouldn’t you like to be able to just play out again?

Well, we are going to. And you are welcome to join us!

Mountains of the Sun
Wiltshire, England
12-14 June 2015

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What are the mysterious mounds that cluster around Marlborough? Why are they marked by the dragon’s coils?

Join the folk of the Silent Eye for a Solstice tale of dragons in the living land of Albion as we explore Avebury and the Marlborough Downs.

Workshop costs £50.00 per person.

Accomodation/meals not included, though advice can be given.

Click below to

Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

For further details email : rivingtide@gmail.com

Avebury, Wiltshire

See our Events page for other upcoming weekends and workshops