“Find the path and stay on it…” Stuart and I exchanged a complicit grin as I quoted a phrase from The Initiate. It seemed appropriate; the morning had a feel of our trip to Wayland’s Smithy and Uffington, a little over a year ago where the birds had led us, hopping from branch to branch. This morning the tiny birds continued to guide us along the path; the morning felt uncannily similar. That, for us, was a true initiation… a beginning… the start of a voyage of discovery that had led us into a deeper relationship with the land. It was appropriate too as the long line of sandstone flags snaked across the moor. This area is close to the summit of the hills, and stands open to the winds. When the sun beats down there is no shade, when the wind blows, no shelter, but at six o’clock on a summer solstice morning , it was simply beautiful.
There used to be duckboards… rotting, slippery planks, lethal to the unwary, that spanned this stretch of the high moor. The peat and sphagnum bogs hold water, even in summer, capturing rain and dew on star-like leaves and making the ground a quagmire in wet weather. The flags had been flown in… 500 tonnes of them… to protect against erosion and make the path walkable once more. Two ancient trackways cross the moor here, their meeting point close to our destination. One is thought to be an ancient trade route across the Pennines, the age-old hills known as the Backbone of England. The tracks meet, marking the four points of the compass, close to the Twelve Apostles, the stone circle towards which we were walking.
You can see for miles. There are no trees here, no buildings… You could be forgiven for thinking this a barren place, yet it is rich in life; mosses and heather, sundew and tormentil, rushes and the tiny white stars that look like a miniature woodruff. Here and there bog cotton wave tufts of white fluff like little flags and, at this season, foxgloves make a splash of warm pink against the moor. We even found a furry caterpillar… an oak eggar moth, I think…the biggest I have ever seen… and of course there were the inevitable comments about that, given my recently acquired nickname… and further hilarity became therefore inevitable when I mentioned the proximity of the Grubstones …
That morning everything sparkled. The air was full of swirling motes of light… the ground blanketed in sparkling dew; laughter shared sparkled too, but the silence went deeper as we walked on. For myself there is the deep love for this place that wraps itself around my heart and it had been a very long time since I had last walked this path. To walk it in such company was a gift… and a joy.
Others have written the archaeological history of the Twelve Apostles, a circle of stones standing as a crown on the moor. The stones have known much change in the past four thousand years, since they were placed here. Once an ovoid of twenty with a central menhir, they have been moved… felled and re-erected by those who care for such places. They have been called a Druidical Dial, and the Druid’s Chair… names which give clues to ancient use and memory. The enclosing bank and ditch is all but invisible; the spring nearby almost forgotten. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the feel of the place and how you feel the land around you… how you feel the connecting lines that run from past to present, from earth, from the old ones, to you… and, perhaps, deeper still.
Others had felt it there… a central cairn of stones now stands where the menhir once cast its shadow. It matters not if the beliefs of our ancestors wore a different face, nor if those who rebuilt the altar walk a different path. All that matters is their vision, the touch of the divine life in theirs. All that matters is to know, to feel, to be…
The biscuits had ears of corn on them, the wine red as blood, the scent of gifted cedar…the moment shared, barefoot in the dew, blessed by the white light of the sun in a clear blue sky. And then, from a clear sky, the clouds came down to play and we were hidden from the world, cocooned in the dragon’s breath, and the great, dark wings of a harrier hawk circled the silent stones as we, ourselves, had done… a silhouette, a shadow in the mist. A gift.
We watched in awed, grateful silence… in joy… in tears… for some things, there are no words, and none are needed… until the mist lifted, disappearing as suddenly as it had descended.
“Find the path and stay on it…” Yes.