A cold March morning, wind whipping the branches of the trees outside the window. What else would you do but head off to the moors? It takes only minutes to leave the city behind. The horizon opens before you in shades of russet, green and gold; the sky arcs above, bluest of blues with an ethereal landscape of clouds echoing the undulating hills. The earth wears her winter robe here, barely touched by spring at first glance, yet the signs are there. Young lambs play in walled fields, birds carry twigs and wool to their nests and wildflowers hug the ground.
We parked by the bridge that spans a small stream. The water is guardian of a place seen more often in vision than in reality; a place close to our hearts. This will be my third visit to a circle I had not seen until nine months ago. So much has happened in that time. It is just a year since our adventures began at Uffington and Wayland’s Smithy and our discovery of the Spirit Stone. Who could have guessed back then that a day in an ancient landscape could have given birth to so much? Not us, that is certain. Yet reading back it was all there, right at the start. A nascent friendship that became a writing partnership; an exploration of myth and folklore, ancient sites and places of worship, symbolism and belief. An adventure that has, in a few brief months, travelled the landscape of Albion and spanned millennia… All fuelled by laughter in the sheltering warmth of a succession of village pubs. Three books tell the story so far and as we embark on the next it felt right to be once more high on a hillside exploring the stones.
“His hands bound and a noose about his neck, his throat cut. He is not of the Raven-Folk. They pass and she casts a blessing on the mouldering corpse. He too serves the Raven now. For a moment it seems she hears joyful laughter and sees the strangers of her dream walk beside her, forging a path through the bracken…Then her heart lifts… the Raven-Stone, sharp point of rock against the skyline and the soft glow of the hearth fire beyond. The circle of stones her people call the Raven’s Nest. She has never been here before, but she knows. She is home.” – Heart of Albion
We were heading towards a small stone circle in Derbyshire and it is one of those places where almost as soon as you set foot on the path beyond the stream you feel as if time has departed to do something useful elsewhere, for here there is no time, no date, only you and the land. You could be anywhere and anywhen, yet you are undoubtedly here.
Emerging from the trees at the base of the hill the mark stone pierces the skyline, unmistakable, an arrow of rock pointing the way to the circle. We take the path that winds around the base of the hill, deeper into the wooded valley beside the stream, skirting the borderland between the heights and the sheltered deep. Stuart strikes off up the steep slope to examine a rock, I continue around the hill, climbing beside the tumbled stones of the stream and meeting him on the summit. I have a theory I can’t wait to share about the shape of the stones, the waymarkers. We follow them to see if it works, agreeing we would need many more stones to test the theory. Short term at least, it works and we discover a little shelter where we rest awhile from the frozen wind. The shelter brings silence save for the sound of water at our feet.
Heading back the way we came, following the stream until it tumbles down the hillside, we walk across the plateau to the circle. The stones, as always, look bigger from a distance. We know them to be small, typical of the area. Perspective is strange at these places and the stones recede the closer you get. Perhaps this is true… perhaps the closer you try to get physically to something that belongs to the Otherworld, the farther it goes from your grasp. Some things cannot be held or pinned down, and the story of Eros and Psyche comes to mind, or the collectors of butterflies who have but flightless wings encased in glass, unable to ride the sunbeams.
Entering the circle feels like stepping further out of time, a syncopation of being. The fire pit has long been unused and the grass has taken it back into Earth. Beside a stone, a wooden vase holds a pine cone, an offering left by others who revere the old places. These things also seem out of time… a consciousness of something beyond the ordinary hustle and bustle of the modern world, a something that is deeper, wilder, older and intrinsic to the life of Earth. We lie in the circle, our backs to the stone, sheltered from more than the wind. Above and around us the clouds chase, shifting images in the heavens, a life, it seems, we cannot truly see or grasp. It is as if we are inside a snowglobe looking out, the familiar world distorted by our new perspective. The bowl of the sky turns above us and we are still, points in a circle, the centre of a turning universe. Amid the buffeting winds, we find peace.