Albion, ancient sites

Written in stone

X ilkley weekend 129

We left the Twelve Apostles and headed in the general direction of the Grubstones, before turning left towards the rippled mirror of High Lanshaw dam, crossing the moraine, and descending towards the Lanshaw Lad boundary stone, Green Crag Slack, and the Woofa bank enclosures. The stone, one of a pair with the fallen Lanshaw Lass, is thought to be Anglo Saxon, but now marks the 19th-century boundary between Burley and Ilkley on the moor. We wouldn’t visit Woofa this time, though we would walk through the remains of the cairn field on our way. The moor is incredibly rich in archaeology that spans every stage of human history… you could spend a lifetime exploring and still have much to learn. This particular area is strewn with cairns and ancient hearths and homes, as well as the stone circles, ancient trackways, and petroglyphs.

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For myself, I have only scratched the surface of knowledge, but I have been lucky enough to spend time here, feeling the sense and spirit of the place. Of course, it is beautiful too. You do not need to have a passion for history, geology, or wildlife… you just need to be there and breathe in the morning light.

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We talked as we walked, taking joy in the moment, working on how we would move forward with the School, laughing as I squelched through peat bogs, up to my ankles in water. I do own walking shoes, but here I will not wear them in fair weather, preferring to feel the land beneath my feet and have the freedom of foot accorded by light slippers. I love the curve of the rock and the bounce of the bracken, the spring of the peat, and the cold of the streams… I would go barefoot if I could, but common sense demands at least some protection… some of the time.

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We sat for a while on the rocks at Green Crag, looking out over the plateau below… the next level down the moor that leads to the path along the edge frequented by most visitors. Stuart and I had been here last year when the heather was in full bloom, carpeting this stretch of moor from horizon to horizon. It is less colourful, but equally beautiful now as the patchwork of green and brown begins to show the first small patches of purple. Here too, looking over the boulder-strewn plain, there is a strong sense of the continuing thread of life that binds us… past, present, and future. Traces of ancient lives mark the landscape, shapes of homes lost to time, stones carved with a sanctity we may never unravel in its detail, but which lead through our own connection to land, water, and sky to that greater reality that is the Divine Life, whatever face It wears for us.

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With that bifurcation of vision that may be no more than imagination, a story unfolded of lives akin to our own; I watched as children played and bread baked on the stone by the hearth, as men sat and worked and a priest raised his arms to the sun… the laughter brought me back from a split second journey out of time as my companions climbed down and we continued on our way. We passed the great pointed Idol Rock, visible from so far across the moor. It stands some eight-foot-high, weathered, and curiously shaped besides the path. There is another story here, one that continues to unfold as I expound PST  (Pointy Stones Theory) and Stuart unpicks it, playing Devil’s advocate to my unconventional ideas. By this time it has become something of a standing joke.

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A few yards further and the Young Idol Stone lies detached from its parent, an appropriate symbol of one thread of the School’s thought. The Idol Stone lies flat beside it, still guarding the secrets of the arcane geometric patterns of lines and cups. All around this field of stone the carved markings await in silence and while theories abound, we may never unravel the intricate language that has faced the sun for four thousand years and more.

X ilkley weekend 137

We walked on, a final squelch through a bog filling my shoes, before reaching the top of the final ridge where the valley opens out before us, and the enigmatic Haystack, a great stone couch, sits silently golden in the early morning light. Its face wears symbols carved by our ancient kin that speak as if in whispered communication. We feel we can almost hear… almost understand, what our brethren left written for us in stone….almost… but not quite. Not yet…

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