We met the rest of our party in the car park and, attended by dancing butterflies, headed towards the Ridgeway. The ancient track runs beside Uffington Castle and the outline of the enclosure is stark against the sky as it continues a guardianship nearly three thousand years long. The weather, finally, had decided to be kind and warmth reflected back at us from the chalk of the pathway.
Fields to either side, with barely a sign of modern life. Time ceases to hold meaning as you walk between the hedgerows, following in the footsteps of the many thousands who have walked this way through the ages. Walking the old trackways and sacred routes there is always a feeling of being lifted, as if the footsteps of shadows make the going light; you are never alone.
Ghosts seem to whisper in the cornfields and the breeze becomes the breath of old friends. There is nothing unfamiliar… it is uncanny, not unpleasant; there is a warmth and welcome in the very air as if by your presence, the old ones remember theirs.
We were being watched. Not only by the shades of memory, but by bright eyes in the hedgerows. Starlings and sparrows, blackbirds and chaffinches watch from the hedgerows in an echo of our first walk down this long, straight track towards Wayland’s Smithy.
That is our destination, but the journey itself matters just as much. It is, I believe, a mistake to fix your sights so firmly on the goal that you miss the wonders by the wayside and that walk along the Ridgeway was a perfect illustration.
Everywhere there are flowers. From wild orchids to the simplicity of daisies, prickly thistles and nettles with their cascades of pale green, cinquefoil and buttercup, campion and cow parsley… Moths and butterflies from the drab brown to the brilliant cinnabar moth… Beetles, bees of many kinds and even a stray dragonfly… Elder blossom, and the last of the hawthorn, creamy plates of flowers threaded through with the blush of wild roses… There was time to stop and look as we walked… even if I lagged behind a few times.
How often do we pass such things by, head down and intent on reaching our goal? Our eyes register but do not see the small treasures around us when we are caught on the hamster-wheel of necessity.
Would it not be criminal to ignore such beauty when the morning opens itself to you, inviting you in to a bower strewn with petals? As if fairytale Prince fought his way through thorns and failed to see the Princess, awaiting her bridal kiss…
The earth wakes for us when we truly see her, responding to our attention and showering us in beauty for our mutual delight. All it takes is to open ourselves to her touch… Wayland’s was our goal, but the journey, walked with friends, was beautiful.