Albion, ancient sites, Art, Books

Back to the start

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It was pleasant sitting in the sun, watching the kites glide in and out of vision. ‘The’ photo did not materialise, but that was fine. There were the minute black specks in the sky, or the fine silhouettes that capture the birds’ presence in the moment. It is enough. It feels as if the great birds play with us sometimes, teasing and tantalising. It doesn’t matter; we get to watch.

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Why do they matter so much? Apart from the obvious joy of seeing these beautiful creatures ride the wind, of course… It is hard to explain without sounding far-fetched, but it was the birds that did it… they were responsible for setting in motion the chain of events that led to a growing collection of books based upon the adventures we found in the landscape as we followed them. Fragmented knowledge became understanding as we began to join dots that opened the world for us in new ways.

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The first time my companion came down here to visit we were driving back from the station when a huge white owl flew up beside us, mere feet away, in broad daylight. The following day there had been more sparrowhawks, buzzards and kites than I had ever seen before…including one that appeared to want to join us in the car, so close it flew as it rode the air around the vehicle. We fell in love with the birds that weekend and it is an enduring emotion; I cannot see a kite soar without smiling, or feeling a sense of awe at their power, grace and beauty. The next day we had been gifted a whole flock of kites playing… for us, or so it felt; landing close, swooping in and making eye contact… which sounds crazy enough, but it was one of those times when you had to ‘be there’ and see for yourself. On impulse we had begun to follow them and by the end of that day had found more ancient and sacred sites than sounds feasible in such a small area.

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So, late on Saturday this weekend, we retraced some of that first journey and revisited a place that is very special, both to us and in itself. The tiny church has stood there for 800 years or so, its font and tiles older still; its walls still bear the faded paintings of the 1300s. It stands beneath a hill sacred to our ancestors and crowned with a barrow. A motte and bailey castle once stood here, a trackway whose origins are lost in the mists of time is still walked here today, and a Roman villa lies beneath the grass near the holy spring. It is a place of legend, deeply entwined with a history that can be traced back thousands of years; the hill itself is named after the fabled Cunobelinos, the Hound of the Sun, and if you run seven times around it, it is said the devil will appear.

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For us, however, it is a place of deep, silent peace and beauty. The little church, so simple and homely, seems to open its arms to embrace you as you walk in. We looked once again at the now familiar details of the wall paintings and the much loved windows and paused beside the tree of life, where the hand of St Francis of Assisi still reaches out to the birds, centuries after another hand painted it there. It had all been there that very first weekend but it needed us to catch up… to realise what was there and begin the journey to understanding. To paraphrase something my companion often says, we were looking for something that had already found us.

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