Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Anima Mundi

Silbury has been in the news lately mainly for the reason of the work that is being conducted in repairing and filling the tunnels that have been dug out by various antiquarians and archaeologists. Being a short term news story, the journalists have had a great source of drama and sensation... plus because Silbury draws so much attention to its mysterious reason for being built, speculation runs riot..
So why title this piece anima mundi, maybe because one of the theories is that it would have been erected to house the souls of the dead. Now animus mundi comes from a saying of Plato...

The soul of the world, a pure ethereal spirit which was proclaimed by some ancient philosophers to be diffused throughout all nature.

This lovely conceit would sit on Silbury's shoulders well, though some would argue that Plato and souls came after she was built. But the idea of Silbury housing the souls of the dead through the medium of sarsen stones is intriguing, whether it is true or not remains in the minds of the people who built her. But to be the soul of the world, a captured essence reminds one of Pandora's Box waiting to leash its chaos. Silbury on the other hand blends in the natural world easily having water at her feet, and if you were to look at Tibetan myths, Silbury as a mountain would be the male god and the water that curves round its base would be female...

Tomorrow is All Saints Day, but the day after is All Souls Day, Hallowmass, it is the day when the spirit world is able to cross the thin veil between life and death. This pagan festival is celebrated through Samhain, a celtic festival, and will be interpreted all over the world in different forms. People will go to worship their ancestors, food will be taken to cemeteries, sweets will be shaped into skulls and bones, and people will acknowledge the dead.

Around Silbury activities will also take place, little ceremonies, candles and dressing up, todays pagans trying to capture the essence of the past, hopefully the souls of the dead that lurk inside this great mound will not join in the ceremonies for they will have known a more fearful past...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Richard Jefferies - The Pageant of Summer

This photo is a favourite of mine, it captures the autumn spider's delicate web attached to an old cow parsley stalk. But if you enlarge the photo, by clicking on it, you will notice the small beads of sparkling morning dew that cluster along the web and in the plant. As a child, the dancing motes of dust caught up in a shaft of sunlight, always led my mind to think of smaller and smaller worlds captured in each particle of dust. This I suppose was an imperfect understanding of infinity, that the one earth we live on could be but only one dimension of an even greater whole. The small beads of dew remind me of this, they are lit by the early morning sun which is behind the camera, a sun that as it rises colours everything a soft rosy glow, highlighting warm colours in the grass and leaves of the trees, so that even my black and white dog is transformed as well.... and so to Jefferies and his green rushes, plant of damp and boggy ground....

"Green rushes, long and thick, standing up above the edge of the ditch, told the hour of the year as distinctly as the shadow on the dial the hour of the day. Green and thick and sappy to the touch, they felt like summer, soft and elastic, as if full of life, mere rushes though they were. On the fingers they left a green scent; rushes have a separate scent of green, so, too, have ferns, very different to that of grass or leaves. Rising from brown sheaths, the tall stems enlarged a little in the middle, like classical columns, and heavy with their sap and freshness, leaned against the hawthorn sprays. From the earth they had drawn its moisture, and made the ditch dry; some of the sweetness of the air had entered into their fibres, and the rushes--the common rushes--were full of beautiful summer. The white pollen of early grasses growing on the edge was dusted from them each time the hawthorn boughs were shaken by a thrush. These lower sprays came down in among the grass, and leaves and grass-blades touched. Smooth round stems of angelica, big as a gun-barrel, hollow and strong, stood on the slope of the mound,their tiers of well-balanced branches rising like those of a tree. Such a sturdy growth pushed back the ranks of hedge parsley in full white flower, which blocked every avenue and winding bird's-path of the bank. But the "gix," or wild parsnip, reached already high above both, and would rear its fluted stalk, joint on joint, till it could face a man. ......"

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Richard Jefferies - Story of my Heart

Trefoil's rich tapestry

One of the joys of the internet is to read the books of people long dead, and to suddenly realise that they express in their words the same feelings that we experience ourselves. At first, as I patiently copied it from Gutenberg, and then realigned it in 'word' I had to stop and just take in the words they were such a revelation. Here was a man trying to express his innermost thoughts, trying to reach down to that 'soul' part we so easily speak of. But this rapture that he experienced, this spiritual ecstasy was transcended into the natural world so exquisitely that he looked outward rather than into that vanity of 'me'. He did not have a camera to record all those things he saw so vividly, so he painted with his words. The soft chalk downland, the long walk of three miles, was it to Liddington, that he sat next to a beautiful tapestry prayer cushion of wild flowers - trefoils, a prayer cushion he could not kneel on, the vivid azure blue of the sky, the parched fields in the heat, all this you can feel and experience; his sadness at the wearisome monotonous daily drudgery of life. And then this escape into nature, the sheer joy of the living world around him suddenly bursts exuberantly forth.
The following piece that occurs by a tumulus as he muses on its long dead occupant, somewhat getting his dates wrong but that can be forgiven, the realisation that good old mechanical time is just a construct humans make up to make sense of our turning world in the wider cosmos of the universe appeals to me. There is nothing more fulfilling to sit quietly in the sun by an ancient longbarrow such as West Kennet, Stony Littleton or Wayland Smithy and feel that intangible pull of long ago humans, the feeling that sometimes they will people the ground in front of you carrying out the duties that they too had to perform in the daily ritual of life......

"Sweetly the summer air came up to the tumulus, the grass sighed softly, the butterflies went by, sometimes alighting on the green dome. Two thousand years! Summer after summer the blue butterflies had visited the mound, the thyme had flowered, the wind sighed in the grass. The azure morning had spread its arms over the low tomb; and full glowing noon burned on it; the purple of sunset rosied the sward. Stars, ruddy in the vapour of the southern horizon, beamed at midnight through the mystic summer night, which is dusky and yet full of light. White mists swept up and hid it; dews rested on the turf; tender harebells drooped; the wings of the finches fanned the air--finches whose colours faded from the wings how many centuries ago!Brown autumn dwelt in the woods beneath; the rime of winter whitened the beech clump on the ridge; again the buds came on the wind-blown hawthorn bushes, and in the evening the broad constellation of Orion covered the east. Two thousand times! Two thousand times the woods grew green, and ring -doves built their nests. Day and night for two thousand years—light and shadow sweeping over the mound--two thousand years of labour by day and slumber by night. Mystery gleaming in the stars, pouring down in the sunshine, speaking in the night, the wonder of the sun and of far space, for twenty centuries round about this low and green-grown dome. Yet all that mystery and wonder is as nothing to the Thought that lies therein, to the spirit that I feel so close. Realising that spirit, recognising my own inner consciousness, the psyche, so clearly"

Old wood


richly flowered meadow turf

The delicate harebell

And to add to this, Bill Byron's words that he made in a speech as new President of the CPRE. The speech was entitled ' A Cherished Land' and with his love of numbers and statistics he worked out that Great Britain is but 0.0174069% of the planet earth, and is dangerously finite and every bit should be cherished. He says, to quote;

"..The countryside remains one of this country's supreme achievement, I know of no landscape anywhere that is more universally appreciated, more visited and walked across and gazed upon, more artfully worked, more lovely to behold, more comfortable to be in than the countryside of England"

Perhaps this is why he chose to live here, but his figures do make one wonder at how much history resides in every square inch of this country. Apparently if you were to visit one parish church a day it would take you 54 years to accomplish it. There are approximately 60 million acres which just allows each one of us an acre each to cherish.

19,000 scheduled ancient monuments, 600,000 recorded archaeological sites, 100,000 miles of public footpaths, 250,000 miles of hedgerow, the list goes on. When I started this particular blog, I was remembering the hawk I had spied near to The Ridgeway by Uffington, I had escaped the mad road system round Swindon and headed for Liddington fort on the horizon. The hawk hovering in the air was a reminder that the real natural world goes on impervious to our frenetic drive to succeed at whatever, the hawks great (how many greats in the life of a hawk) grandparents could have been witnessed by Jefferies, the world's mind spiralling down in the flight of the hawk through the eternity that Jefferies wanted to touch and experience.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Village Life in Weston

Weston Village, for that is what the locals call it, though in truth it should be called Upper Weston as opposed to Lower Weston, which encompasses Chelsea Road, is a village attached to Bath but not quite joining. It is about a 20 minute walk through the park to the centre of Bath, but this green space divides our small space beautifully. So that on walking up from the park, you have to walk along Weston Road, with its elegant large Georgian and Victoria houses, till you reach a curve in the road. Here you are presented with a choice continue down Weston Lane into 'The Dip', the small chasm at the bottom of the hill that once the Locksbrook tumbled over, or you can continue to the right and then left down Weston Park. Here there are even larger victorian houses, set in large gardens with graceful pine and fir trees that reach to the sky.
You will pass the Archery Field on your right and your eye will be led to the fields on the Lansdown, at this time of year the trees are autumnal and their rounded forms seem to dance down the hill. This field, belongs to the village, here dogwalkers perambulate, there is a football pitch, children hurry through from the estate down to schools in the town. It was given by a local benefactor in the 19th century, and because it is on a slope, the ground has had to be built up and levelled, the archery bit is a small square plot at the top by the horses field.
Shopping this morning took me to the other end of the village to the bakers, the vicar's wife was untying her small dog from a lampost, and I was to follow her as she went from shop to shop.
The bakers is a small local one, the price of bread has gone up sharply to reflect the increase in the price of wheat, but it does a good trade with locals walking down to get their bread, and workmen buying their filled rolls and coffee. It belongs in a small row of shops that sit beneath some flats, and as you walk along the pavement there are flowers laid by a pillar to remember a young mother, who accidentally fell and was sadly killed from one of the flats a year or so back.
Next to the chemist, and Charlie the King Charles Spaniel is again tied up outside, always busy this little chemist with people bringing in there prescriptions and then they will wait while the pharmicist makes them up.
Across the road past the pub, the other pub has been turned into an Indian restaurant, and then to the greengrocers. Charlie is once again outside, and I potter amongst the outside stuff, to see what our local vegetable grower has been growing, last week gigantic heads of green celery, today great yellow pumpkins and purple cauliflower. Inside and the gossip is in full flow,the vicar's wife remembers when we got to know each other, which was at the time of the foot and mouth epidemic, and all dogwalkers were confined to the area around Bath. So we would walk our dogs round the Archery Field. We talk of Margery and her new 'rescue' labrador, Margery is a very old lady but indomitable, she lives in one of the cottages on my lane and paints dogs and leads a throughly happy life gossiping. Even in the shop there is a note of tragedy for someone mentions a motorbike accident on Lansdown Lane in the slippery conditions this morning, for the greengrocer's wife lost her son through a motorbike accident down the lane in The Dip. I remember a few years back walking down the High Street and seeing all the shops shut, and then the hearse car passing by very slowly.
Above the High Street, a small back lane runs, Georgian houses, the path, and then small plots of garden, follow the lane up to the church and you enter the graveyard with its elegant tombs and graceful yews. Take the path through the graves and you are now in Church Road, a steep little cul-de-sac of a road that leads to the fields. This is where I first lived when I came to Weston, in one of the small terraced houses opposite the church. The deaf milkman still lives here but the old occupants have gone, old Mrs Gregory who grieved for her 60 year old son who had passed away before her. Bill the gravedigger, who told me terrible tales of how the hair and nails grew on the dead bodies, and the maggots that appeared from the stomachs of the dead, all nonsense I'm sure.
Village life still meshes together in Weston, even though there is a large hospital sprawling on its doorstep. But even here, the buildings of the hospital have spaced themselves out and there are green spaces and trees, blending houses into the countryside with quiet ease. When I first came here, there was a mental unit attached to the hospital, and I would meet all manner of weird and wonderful people as I walked to the shop. Some chattering to themselves, others swearing, some falling into conversation, one I remember dancing about in front of someone's car, reckoning that he had been knocked over by him. People in Weston are used to all this, once I saw a perfectly respectable person sitting on the kerbstone comforting someone who was in flood of tears, or the till girl in our local supermarket explaining patiently over and over again to the girl confused and upset by her till receipt. The tramp who strolled out with a whiskey bottle in his pocket and one under his mac past the bemused people at the till, did'nt end up with the police, just the young store manager following him and relieving him outside and everyone laughing as he came back triumphant and swearing with the two bottles.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The humble bumble bee

"It is the patient humble-bee that goes down into the forest of the mowing-grass. If entangled, the humble-bee climbs up a sorrel stem and takes wing, without any sign of annoyance. His broad back with tawny bar buoyantly glides over the golden buttercups. He hums to himself as he goes, so happy is he. He knows no skep, no cunning work in glass receives his labour, no artificial saccharine aids him when the beams of the sun are cold, there is no step to his house that he may alight in comfort;the way is not made clear for him that he may start straight for the flowers, nor are any sown for him. He has no shelter if the storm descends suddenly; he has no dome of twisted straw well thatched and tiled to retreat to. The butcher-bird, with a beak like a crooked ironnail, drives him to the ground, and leaves him pierced with a thorn; but no hail of shot revenges his tortures. The grass stiffens at nightfall (in autumn), and he must creep where he may, if possibly he may escape the frost. No one cares for the humble-bee. But down to the flowering nettle in the mossy-sided ditch, up into the tall elm, winding in and out and round the branched buttercups, along the banks of the brook, far inside the deepest wood, away he wanders and despises nothing. His nest is under the rough grasses and the mosses of the mound; a mere tunnel beneath the fibres and matted surface. The hawthorn overhangs it, the fern grows by, red mice rustle past. "

Richard Jefferies on humble bees
In a lovely tribute to bumble bees, one of my favorite creatures, their soft gentle unhurried flight to rob the foxglove or cantebury bell of its pollen is a reminder of summer as autumn now approaches with the dry brittle sound of leaves falling from the trees.
bumble bees nest in old mice holes, the mice make a little nest of dried grass which the bee favours as the queen bee raises her small brood.

And to another poem written in a beautiful gloomy style by the welsh poet/vicar R.S.Thomas, a somewhat bleak vision of his god......

The Island
And God said I will build a church here
And cause this people to worship me,
And afflict them with poverty and sickness
In return for centuries of hard work
And patience. And its walls shall be as hard as
Their hearts, and its windows let in the light
Grudgingly, as their minds do, and the priest's words be drowned
By the wind's caterwauling. All this I will do.
Said God, and watch the bitterness in their eyes
Grow, and their lips suppurate with
Their prayers. And their women shall bring forth
On my altars, and I will choose the best
Of them to be thrown back into the sea.
And that was only on one island.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Nihilism - some thoughts..

Nihilism is often described as a belief in the nonexistence of truth. In its more extreme forms, such a belief is difficult to justify, because it contains a variation on the liar paradox if it is true that truth does not exist, the statement "truth does not exist" is itself a truth, therefore showing itself to be inconsistent. .

Listening to Leonard Cohen's 'The Future' track, it struck me that though this is the darkest moment of his mood songs, what underlined it for me was it nihilism, a philosophy that negates the point of our lives, negates everything in actual fact, human thought is not even allowed to balance on the proverbial pinhead, everything must be swept away for it does'nt really have any meaning. It is a philosophy one should never teach the children about, as they grow up they will come on it in books and songs but hopefully will only grasp its teachings imperfectly for it is a truth that is both frightening and destructive of the human soul.
There are plenty of explanations in that invaluable resource Wikipedia;
it was noted in modern music, you see it in 'millenia doom', the end of the world 2012, there is a fear of the unknown, the impending chaos of natural forces too large to be beaten by human endeavour.
Denying that a god or that many gods exist leads to that ultimate thought that there is no 'truth', that we can only explain in terms of the physical, the sciences, Darwinism, to make sense of the world we live in. Even here we are struck by the limitations of such sciences, these building blocks are as yet incomplete, another 'truth' in the future could sweep them aside.
Our western culture, so contemptuous of the rest of the world, is naive in its youthful appraisal of others, and perhaps especially of the intellectual development that has taken place in other cultures and religions, our truth is thinly balanced on our experiences of a historic background founded on a narrative that is patently made up for the benefit of the society that lives in it.
Religion and beliefs of course provides the much smaller stories that make up our lives, they are the myths created to underwrite our societal needs.
Nihilism is a bleak force, it negates the point of living, it can be used selfishly by the young to lead fruitless lives because nothing is important therefore why bother. Its blackness appeals to the dark time of the emotions when pessimism rules, like a dark cloud it sweeps through ones thoughts but conversely the strong warmth of the sun and the blueness of a beautiful sky will lift the spirit. It is a philosophy that has been explained in great detail, and it is a reminder that 'truth' is as ephemeral as water.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sunday walk

This is somewhat of a tradition for me, no religon holds me in its grip, but a need for contemplation is important, so my walk in the great outside world of nature must be a reflection of a spiritual need to connect the centre of one's being with the centredness of the earth. The mind opens to the stony path that winds before me, the graceful hedges leaning down to greet you, the chatter of the crows in the trees. Autumn and its death are rather strange this year, leaves are falling prematurely, some still green, the mist is light but the clouds are heavy with greyness, there is a sombre mood that has descended on the earth.
Nothing to remind me on this walk to the Langridge barrows of the first flush of spring, then summer, hedgerows spilling their flowers on to the stones of the path.
Now the bare trunks of the trees entwinned with ivy and the long loops of old man's beard are on show. I keep coming back to this green lane, its history must stretch back to the neolithic age; it is a small thoroughfare joining the two halves of large downlands which are divided by a narrow valley. Its roughly cobbled surface must date back to a medieval period, or perhaps even earlier, to the romans, who mined and had villas up here. History has rumbled over these stones, they are mute, hard to the feet, the clatter of wagons would have been loud on the air.
There is a an old bench in the field, miles from anywhere, 20 years ago the farmer of Lilliput Farm placed it here, so that one could admire the beautiful tranquillity of the valley below. Its inhabited this valley, half a dozen small houses, and a couple not so small, but its at peace with itself, cows and sheep are dotted in the field like a childish representation of how they should be.
Up on the far hill, its called Freezing Hill, the faint lines of iron age terracing can just be discerned, the hill itself runs back smoothly farmed, hardly broken by fences, but it is crowned somewhat incongruously with a row of tall trees.
The problem with meditating on nature is that there is no stillpoint, life and death are all around, the one complementing the other. Life is movement, the birds flying in the sky, death is stillness, a slow brown crumbling into the earth. The dog chasing with great happiness the dozen or so pheasants he has found in the fields has no need for religion or meditation, he will come home and lose himself in sleep and dreams of careering down a hill with flying birds squawking in all directions, his paws will twitch as he reruns the day's events through his mind.
But where does it leave my mind, refreshed of course, strengthened with the willpower to go on, but answers there are not. No god, pagan or otherwise bounds down the hill, Silvanus is not hunting in the woods below, and the sky above its thick cloud only leads into the endless universe of unknowing. Perhaps there lies the truth, the reconstructed gods and beliefs are no more than wisps of fancy of a race not at ease with death, self seeking is an extravagance that would be better laid aside and the mind concentrated on the present.....

Friday, October 12, 2007

Welsh Landscape by R.S.Thomas

To live in Wales is to be conscious
At dusk of the spilled blood
That went into the making of the wild sky,
Dyeing the immaculate rivers
In all their courses.
It is to be aware,
Above the noisy tractor
And hum of the machine
Of strife in the strung woods,
vibrant with arrows.
You cannot live in the present,
At least not in Wales.
There is a language for instance
The soft consonants
Strange to the ear.
There are cries in the dark at night
As owls answer the moon,
And thick ambush of shadows,
Hushed at the fields' corners.
There is no present in Wales,
And no future;
There is only the past,
Brittle with relics,
Wind-bitten towers and castles
With sham ghosts;
Mouldering quarries and mines;
And an impotent people,
Sick with inbreeding,
Worrying the carcase of an old song.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Sub Megalithic burial chambers

These small rather primitive tombs are to be found hidden from view under great rock tors facing out to sea in Pembrokeshire. 'Houses of the dead' may be a symbolic explanation of the neolithic tombs that dot our landscape and the continent with such variety. To try and place them in some sort of date order is futile, they follow certain patterns, are given ritual significance by modern day archaeologists, but of course at all times they are enigmatic, they refuse to give up their secrets as to why they were constructed in a particular fashion.
Local variation, especially with the use of the rock material present within the geological environment is one factor, placement within the landscape is another, time periods are long, in one place new creative ideas may be at work, whilst in another backwater, the same rituals could have gone on for centuries with little change.
The Pembrokeshire 'cave' like tombs follow a simple pattern, not for them the high swerving grace of the Pentre Ifan tomb, no they are squat, hugging the ground, crouching into the rock faces. Aesthetically unpleasing though they may be to our eye they still present a very strong element of death and ritual within the landscape. Glyn Daniels in The Megalithic Builders of Western Europe calls them half-dolmen, demi dolmen, primary or earthfast. The last term is probably the best description, the back of the capstone resting on the ground, with a single or maybe more orthostats holding up the front of the capstone. The ground beneath the capstone was often dug out into a shallow pit, and presumably stone walls would have been built between the orthostats to protect the bones inside. There is no attempt at dressing the stones to a particular shape, only perhaps that a particular stone was chosen for the capstone. occasionally square in appearance, these stones could also be so arranged as to be diamond shaped so that the front 'point' would lead the eye to a particular aspect in the landscape. More often or not fat grotesque lumps of enormous heavy rock would be placed on tiny vertical stones - they always make me think of limbo dancing - close to the ground.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Porthgain and Abereiddi quarries

Abereiddi Cottages

These two small hamlets are to be found on the Pembrokeshire coast within a mile of each other, Porthgain has the industrial remains of old buildings built to support the quarrying of slate and granite. Slate was originally quarried at Abereiddi for roofing tiles, it was not of particularly good quality, the slate from North Wales was superior, and Abereiddi slate was thought to last only 40 years or so. The quarry itself is in the area of the blue lagoon, originally it was just a large hole but when the quarry had finished the rock that lay between the sea and the disused quarry was blown up and it became a rather beautiful blue lagoon.

Blue lagoon
The black stone ruined quarry buildings can still be seen on
either side of the gap
In Abereiddi itself, six small attached cottages were built of the same blackstone.

The Street, Abereiddi labourers cottages
These housed the labourers and their families plus also itinerant Irish labourers.
It is sometimes difficult to understand today how these small welsh villages worked, especially as they are all but deserted of welsh people and what houses are left are more often or not holiday homes. But look at any 19th century photograph and you will see a flourishing population of maybe a 100 people with plenty of children. Life would have been hard, sanitary conditions non-existent and water probably fetched from a well but the quarries provided a livelihood for the families.
Porthgain was developed on a greater scale over the century, its quarry was owned by several different companies, all English, and based in Bristol. It changed hands quite a few times mostly due to the fact that profits were low and money had to be spent on machinery and new buildings. Speculators came with high hopes but the cards were stacked against them, mainly because transport was difficult, there was no railway line nearby, and everything had to be carried out by ship, either to various ports in Wales itself or down to the Severn Estuary and Bristol.
There was also a slate quarry in Porthgain, but it was decided to open a granite quarry for supplying gravel for roadbuilding.

The Granite quarry

It was still the period of macadam road building, this was simply different grades of gravel laid on top of each layer, which in turn was rollered down, eventually culminating in a fine layer of gravel. For this operation to be successful, the granite had to be crushed into the various sizes. The quarry was a quarter of a mile from the village itself, and tramways were built to and from, one tramway also going to Abereiddi.

line of old tramway

In the beginning the trams were pulled by horses, but over time two small engines were acquired.
A new harbour was also built for the ships to come in and be loaded by crane, so there was a lot of capital expenditure.
In Porthgain itself what remains of the industrial buildings are dramatic, the great brick hoppers built against the cliff face are still there, here the different sized gravels would be loaded from the top and taken from the bottom of the chute, also a large shed still remains on the quay,this is now used as a restaurant.
Its an eerie place, and walking over the cliffs to the ruined buildings facing out to sea is a savage reminder of all the people who laboured with heavy materials during this period.

Ruined buildings by granite quarry

For them it paid a good wage, but old photographs show thin men their faces lined and tired, work that hauls rock and slate from the ground was tough and backbreaking, and one has only to remember the hard lives of the welsh miners to realise this.
Porthgain also has a 'street' of five labourers cottage, and these are still in use today, there was also a larger house for the manager, and of course the old Sloop Inn still remains.
At one stage bricks were made of the slate dust, they were much heavier than ordinary bricks and there was'nt much of a market for them.

Buildings by harbour, the brick hoppers
Abereiddi slate quarry had opened around 1838, and mining of slate continued on and off, Porthgain's quarry opened in the 1850s, and mining continued right up to the 1930s but again the present company owners landed up in the hands of the recievers, and this time there was no rescue, final closure for the workers must have come as a shock and an eyrie silence would have descended on the place. The dust that would have shrouded the place and the small cottages would now disappear; some of the workers were offered work in Bristol but for the rest, they must have moved away to find jobs elsewhere.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Presceli Mountains

Sheep and stones beneath sun and dark skies

Tuesday is a grey rather bleak day for setting out to visit mountains but rain is forecast tomorrow so greyness must be faced. My torturous route through the back lanes of Pembrokeshire takes me on a delightful tour of small hamlets with sheepdogs sprawled in the road, old churches and even speckled hens parading around in the middle of the lane. Wales is at its verdant best,summer may be over but the hedgerows are still heavy with greenery, blackberries, wild honeysuckle, red berried hawthorns and the sound of splashing water as the car goes over humped bridges.
At last I find my way to Carn Meini, and stop by the moor to take a photo of Waldo's striking stone memorial - his history is not told but what a magnificent place to be remembered.
Foel Drygarn looking towards Carn Meini

Then to Foel Drygarn, a spectacular Iron age fort with three late bronze age barrows inside. Parking in the little layby which is the start of the path to the fort, and by the way the much longer walk to Carn Meini - home of the bluestones - we traipse through a field dotted liberally with sheep. On the far hill, four landrovers are bringing a great stream of sheep down, tooting their horns, the sheep are tightly bunched, though they are so far away I can't see any dogs. Up the steep path to the stony eminence of Foel Drygarn, great slabs of vertical rock guard it well, there are three periods to the fort, but what makes it so spectacular are the three late bronze age stone cairns in the centre. They form a straight line looking towards the spiky top of Carn Meini. They are large and untidy, the stone slipping away on all sides, this of course has happened over millenia, with perhaps more slippage due to people climbing in the last 100 years or so
One of the barrows on Foel Drygarn

Wilderness is forced back to these stony outcrops, up the side of the mountains fields creep then give way to moor and rock, and this yellowish grass of the moor is eaten velvet smooth by the sheep, just leaving patches of gorse and rushes round the little streams that run down the side of the mountain. This open expanse of mountain, moor and sky always lifts the heart and everything in life pales into insignificance - if there is a god to be met than he is here, if its ones soul, then it happily takes flight into the grey cloudy sky full of mountainous clouds and rain.
Of course there is also bleakness up on this tor, iron age people forced to live in a defensive mode, pinned to the rocks and a small livelihood which at all times must be defended. The three bronze age cairns are probably there for a different reason, their occupants are most likely tribal elders; they have been awarded this high eyrie to record their eminence and eternity is given to them under the great pile of stones.

Gors Fawr circle seen from a distance

Back down, turn round to the village and off in search of Gors Fawr circle, which is but a couple of miles down the road; Slowly the geography of the place had started to creep into my consciousness, how everything was near to each other,and as I walked to this little stone circle I realised it stood on the same part of the moor as Waldo's grave.

Standing Stones at Gors Fawr
Another surprise was of course on finding the two standing stones that stand a little way from the circle lead the eye towards Carn Meini's rocky presence on the skyline.
In N.P.Figgis's book, (Prehistoric Preseli) he says there are 16 small stones, squat stones of inderminate shape, mostly of the local erratic stones, some of which are bluestone type. There is supposed to be the remains of an avenue towards the two larger stones, but as there is so much stone around it is difficult to judge. He puts there smallness down to being typical of western Britain or Ireland, but of course they are miniscule to Avebury or Stonehenge. But they have a pleasing presence here in this quiet moorland, and I could quite happily live in the area divorced from all the problems that humans bring into ones life.

Small stones of the circle

To end with the words of Jacquetta Hawkes from her book The Land;-

"It is this immense antiquity that gives our land its look of confidence and peace, its power to give both rest and inspiration. When returning from hill or moor one looks down on a village, one's destination, swaddled in trees, and with only the church tower breaking the thin blue layer of evening smoke, the emotion it provokes is as precious as it may be commonplace. Time, that has caressed this place until it lies as comfortably as a favourite cat in an armchair. Caresses also even the least imaginative of beholders"

Of course the Land of Wales does not have such spires, the grey dull chapel must suffice to walk back to, but when walking back to Avebury the same feeling is felt, some decry the little village in the centre of the great stone circle, but as the church spire appears above the trees, ones heart suddenly aches with such a longing for something that is just out of reach that sometimes I wonder if its our inherited ancestors genes that suddenly call out with such longing for times that have vanished - why is there this yearning for the past?