We regained the car and headed towards our original destination, the moors above Sheffield and Barbrook Stone Circles. You can feel the change as you walk through the gate from the layby… on one side a modern highway, on the other just ancient earth, quiet, brooding, warm… A flash of red feathers… a Hawk perhaps… diving from a tree in the tiny valley below. We don’t see the Kites often up here, and seldom see Hawks…but that colouring is almost unmistakable.
Barbrook I had never seen, and heard of only from my companion. I had no idea what to expect. Many of these ancient sites conjure images of a Stonehenge or an Avebury… and visitors may be disappointed to find only small boulders buried in the grass and the russet of autumn heather. Yet there is unquestionably something intangible about these places. You don’t need to believe all the weird and wonderful tales ever written to feel the atmosphere of a place and the way it lifts you out of time, just … a “willing suspension of disbelief”. As the sky came down, iron grey, and a shaft of light lit the sudden darkness, that was not difficult.
A sodden path leads from the gate across the moor… a small patch of green caught my eye… and moments later Stuart pointed out the stone at its heart, standing taller than the others, waist height, perhaps. As we stepped into the circle a furry caterpillar made its way to the stone, climbing it to the top. I haven’t seen furry caterpillars for years, yet our last foray onto the moors had given us two…now another… and a little while later the biggest I have ever seen wandered across the path.
The circle is small, yet the vegetation itself defines it. It is odd that all the stone circles we have visited… all those I have known… seem to have a particular flora…attracting certain types of plants around them and generally having only grass within. Perhaps there is a very good reason for this…something to do with the microclimate created by the sheltering stones… Except the majority are half buried small boulders and offer no shelter and sit amid an unchanging landscape. I doubt it can be down to the number of visitors at the remote sites…but it is curious. You cannot help wondering about the subtle earth energies said to be associated with these sites…and what, after all, would be more natural than the plants responding to something we perhaps simply cannot yet measure?
Be that as it may, the insignificant looking circle that you would be forgiven for missing has an atmosphere all of its own. The inner gears shift and the usual levels of thought seem to lose their boundaries. Not that this circle is insignificant… far from it. The small ring stands bedside another… and another… and walking through the dying bracken an entire ritual landscape reveals itself. Burial cairns and stone circles, settlement and a stone row….and the sense of time and place blurs sending imagination winging into visionary mists….
At the foot of the hill a stream runs through rowan and birch. Following its course we came upon a lake… otherworldy somehow with its reflected sky. A dragonfly waited for us on an oak leaf. A huge feather beside the path… There was something very unreal about those hours.
We returned to the car and set off, looking mainly for somewhere to turn round and head back to the pub…ending up at another some distance away on Pudding Pie Hill… a fairy hill it is said, crowned with barrows. Two more Hawks… one hovering over a barrow… just seemed to set the seal of unreality on the time.
Reading this back gives little sense of the strangeness of the hours… I was struck by the legends of people losing hundreds of years when encountering the fairy folk, waking to the world centuries later. I wondered if this otherworldliness was what had prompted those tales…certainly those few hours left a hole in conscious time that tasted like days and a tale in my mind that encompassed decades.
But of one thing there was no doubt at all by the time we finally reached our destination…. Book Three was already well under way…..