From such simple devices the ancients sought to traverse the stars…
After much to-ing and fro-ing of furniture…
We had finally embarked upon our pre-tour of Wales and were approaching the border of our eventual destination although it would be some time before our actual arrival there…
Road and more road…
So much road in fact that I may have dropped off…
“Where are we?”
“Monmouth-shire’s ‘Golden Valley’.”
“Shouldn’t that be M.O.N-shire?”
“No, it’s definitely Monmouth-shire, and anyway, you agreed we should check out Arthur’s Stone.”
“I have no recollection of this.”
“Just before you dozed off.”
“It’s not easy being Narcoleptic, and in any case, if I did agree to it, which I seriously doubt, I did so before I knew where it was.”
“We still don’t know where it is, technically.”
“But of course we do, it’s just a little further into the middle of nowhere, you’ll see.”
Road and more road…
“I am going to be very disappointed if this turns out to be an erratic.”
“We don’t know what it’s going to be that’s the point. We have just completed an Arthurian Workshop, we are on our way to Wales and there happens to be a stone called Arthur just out of our way…”
“In the middle of nowhere…”
“A slight detour, that’s all…”
“A slight detour into the middle of nowhere…”
“It may be a standing stone.”
“It may, but a lot of the ‘Arthur sites’ have to do with Giants… and battles… and the hurling of huge stones… which is why I suspect it’s going to be an erratic.”
“Why, the connection with Arthur then?”
“Because in legend, Arthur was a Giant Bear.”
“And Giant Bears… are mountains… which is why in legend Arthur and his knights still sleep in one.”
“Huh, huh… you don’t know do you?”
“It’s not a standing stone…”
“Nor, is it an erratic.”
“It’s a neolithic burial chamber!”
“As I was saying, another reason why these type of constructions are named after Arthur is because the Ancestors sleep there, just like Arthur and his legendary knights…”
“Or rather, a collapsed neolithic burial chamber.”
“It’s three sites for the price of one…”
“We have erratics, and lots of them… we have standing stones…
or at least, Leaning Stones… and we have a burial chamber…”
“A collapsed burial chamber.”
“Non the less impressive for that though.”
“I’d be inclined to agree.”
“Maybe it originally took its form from that of The Plough?”
“The Great Bear.”
“Maybe it did.”
“That may even have been its original name.”
“I like that. Arthur’s Wagon.”
“So do I.”
“Makes one wonder what the sky-scape was like from this vantage five thousand years ago.”
“Doesn’t it just.”
“Where to now then?”
“Next stop… The Middle of Wales.”
“From the middle of nowhere to the middle of Wales.”
“You keep getting the emphasis wrong on that.”
“It is now here not nowhere.”
“So do you.”
“It’s not the middle of Wales it’s the middle of Cymru…”
‘In the early epic ‘Beowulf’ occur the similar words ‘beorh’ and ‘burh’.
The first used only for a tumulus or barrow, which was a burial place. The second for a fortified or protected dwelling or enclosure.
Philologists have adopted these ‘meanings’ and have extended ‘burh’ to include, hill-top camps and also, later, enclosed settlements or towns which now carry the suffix -bury.
On this evidence, then, they derive -bury in a place name from ‘burh’ but not from ‘beorh’.
The ley student, on the other hand, finds that the earthwork enclosures called ‘burh’ (camps or castles) in most cases originated from a nucleus of an older tumulus or ‘beorh’. He notes, also, that farmers wishing to protect their roots call the earth-mound used for this purpose a ‘bury’ although the same heap of roots protected in a barn is not so designated.
Our modern verb ‘to bury’ has the earth covering and also the mound, for that matter, as an essential component yet cremated remains are not ‘buried’ if enclosed and protected in an urn and placed on a shelf in a chapel…’
Alfred Watkins – The Old Straight Track
… Just then there is a flurry of wings, and squawks and screeches overhead and we turn our attention skyward in time to see an enormous buzzard chasing off two ravens from the precincts of Uffington Castle.
“Oh, Don look!”Cries Wen, “the hawk of the morning has chased the shadows of the night away.”
As if on cue a sky lark flies up from the ‘fairy thorn’ with as an incongruous a cacophony of song as you are ever likely to hear in such a setting…
As the ravens fly into black specks and disappear in the mist another buzzard glides into view and we watch the two mighty birds soar on the up-draught for awhile as if spiralling around some unseen cone of power.
It certainly feels like we have been accepted into something although I am not quite sure what.
I make a mental note to look up the origins of the phrase, ‘…the Heart of Albion’…
The acrid smoke hung heavy in the night air.
They would feast tonight.
But for now she plaited the strands of horsehair from the white mane.
A gift from the gods she would treasure…
A blessing as she shared the meat roasting in the pit on the plateau.
The flames cast a dull glow across the faces of the clans.
They were expectant, eager yet solemn.
They were waiting…
… The hollow of Dragon Hill affords a stunning vista of the Manger and the Giant’s Stairs.
From this vantage the sheer scale of the site starts to impinge upon my consciousness.
I concur with Wen that the laity would have congregated in the bowl or chalice of the hill where we now stand, shaped as it is it forms a natural amphitheatre and the scoured grass beneath our feet which according to tradition is the spot where St. George ‘loosed the Dragon’s blood’ is clearly as anything a missing piece off the horse on the hill opposite.
I am minded of the myth of Isis and Osiris and the search of the Goddess for her brother’s dismembered body…
The other disconcerting thing, from our point of view, is that the figure is not wholly visible from this elevation.
One would need to be a lot higher up or further back to make out the entire shape.
It is though, nevertheless, a highly dramatic landscape.
We have crossed to the opposite hill now and stand contemplating the eye of the dragon…
Back in the low slung car I stare into the gloom.
A quiet has descended with the mist.
It is the silence that preludes any portentous event.
The car lurches and veers suddenly and we bounce up a dirt track and skid to a halt at the foot of Dragon Hill.
“You didn’t mean to come this way did you?”
“This way, that way…what does it matter?”
It is my turn to look mysterious as we set off up the hillock.
The chill snags my breath as we climb and the mist swirls and eddies, clinging to our legs and arms like star stuff.
I nearly lose my balance a number of times for no apparent reason, a sure sign if one were needed that we are approaching the numinous…
…”The why, is always the same.”
“In order to connect, or to make whole?”
“And in order to then participate in that wholeness.”
“Which is connection.”
“They call Glastonbury England’s ‘holiest erthe’.”
“Perhaps that is why?”
“Today, we look up to the night sky, and wonder, and dream of perfection.”
“Or, at least, some of us do.”
“Perhaps, there was a time when, at certain junctures in the sacred year, to participate in that perfection was just a days walk away?”
… “Vesica’s ‘inscribed’ on the landscape.”
“It is fraught with difficulties…”
“…For the rational mind, I agree.”
“How do you forge a compass big enough, for one thing, and how would you then use it, for another…”
“Maybe you wouldn’t need to.”
“I was being slightly ironic.”
“Compasses are made out of steel…
If it was set out early enough there would be hardly any buildings.
A peg and rope would be sufficient.”
“An extremely long rope… or a couple of sighting staves held aloft.”
“Maybe these things are already there and just need bringing out.”
“A case of seeking rather than imposing.”
“I like that.”
“There is a snippet floating through my mind.”
“I dare hardly ask?”
“It has to do with the sacredness of pigs.”
“I knew this was a bad idea.”
“Allegedly, they ‘sniffed out’ sacred places like truffles.”
“I like pigs.”
“If ‘sacrality’ is sensed.”
“Rather than designated.”
“Then ‘sacrality’ can be dowsed.”
“Anything can be dowsed.”
“So long as you know what you are looking for.”
“Sounds to me like ‘our sacrality’ is a form of energy.”
“Was that ever seriously in question?”
“So much for the how?”
“Now, for the why?” …