We’d cancelled sunrise. Not literally, you understand, but what with our company, for once, being lodged across a swathe of miles and the weather being singularly uncooperative, it seemed unfair to drag everyone from their beds at some ungodly hour just to get wet and see nothing. It was, therefore, a rested and well-breakfasted company that gathered for the short trip to our next ancient site.
Only two of us had visited the site before. We had found it quite by accident whilst on the track of the infamous wandering stone which, although it remains stubbornly lost, has a habit of revealing wonderful places as you follow its trail. We had come back in winter with author Graeme Cumming and more recently to check the site before the workshop when we had been thoroughly drenched by unseasonal rain that had filled my boots until I squelched with every step. Even so, with each visit, the magic of the place had caught us unawares…. but we were hoping for better weather this time, in spite of the pall of grey cloud that hung low over the moors.
A short walk across the moor takes you to a fence and a gate. It is as soon as you walk through the gate that the land seems to change. Regardless of the weather, it is quieter here… as if the place has withdrawn from the world somehow and waits at a temporal tangent for those who come seeking its mysteries. A few yards to the right of the path and the land falls away steeply from the edge of the cliff. In between is a green lawn strewn with boulders and silver-barked birch. It feels as if you have slipped into the realms of the Fae and the guardians of the place watch as you pass.
For a little way, the path slopes gently uphill. After a while, you begin to notice that the boulders look odd, as if placed rather than strewn by ancient glaciers, then the land opens out into a boulder field of monumental proportions, very similar to the top of Carl Wark in appearance, though here the stones are enormous and the cliffs sheer. But whereas the atmosphere of the distant hillfort is one of peace and serenity, here there is something else; it ‘feels’ odd and uncomfortable.
It is always difficult to tease apart the threads of impression. Most people are sensitive to atmospheres and will react predictably to the serenity of a quiet chapel or an eerie, moonlit ruin. With the open landscape, it is impossible to say what it is one picks up, but places have their own particular ‘feel’. Most of the time we are visiting sites of which little can be known, given their antiquity and the mind inevitably tries to make sense of the landscape in modern terms first. When it cannot, the natural reaction is to seek a story the mind can accept, but these sites are older than our knowing and alive in a way difficult to express. Images arise and are dismissed as imagination… until others, too, begin to recount the same feelings and you have to take note. At this particular part of the site… and only here… the impression is that the rock-strewn cliff was once used as part of the ancestral funerary rites… and was then desecrated and despoiled by invaders, as if to take the heart from its people. The atmosphere affects everyone differently, so saying little except that there would be a chance to look around on the way back, we hurried our companions through the stones to the second gate.
Once through the gate, the land changes immediately. Delicate mosses carpet the undulating earth in emerald, scattered with diamond drops of mist and festooned with jewelled webs. Even the sound changes as the slender trunks of the silver birches cluster closer. It is a quiet place… a child’s fairyland… and at its heart, a standing stone, almost invisible, yet very present…