It is believed that the human eye can distinguish more shades of green than any other colour. Walking across the moors after sunshine and heavy rain, it would be impossible to count the different hues. We followed the path alongside the brook to where it falls from a small reservoir into a copse where wildflowers had found a haven from the wind and weather. There are few trees on the moor, just the odd survivor, but this little dell nestles between the hills; in such an apparently inhospitable landscape every sheltered nook is bursting with life.
At the top of the fall, a small pool mirrors the sky, its surface an impressionists dream, ruffled by the wind and the wake of water fowl. The reservoir is marked on the map, so we know we are heading in the right direction for the elusive circle at Barbrook Three. Mind you, the map is a rather basic affair, just a minimalist line drawing in a book… a book, moreover, that has yet to take us directly to where we are trying to go. You would think that by now we would have learned… invested, perhaps, in an Ordnance Survey map with detailed and accurate directions…Well, we do have one. But at best it would be in the car. At worst, it could still be at my home, a couple of hundred miles away.
Map-reading is all very well, but exploring is better. You never know what you will discover… even if you don’t find what you set out to see in the first place. Sometimes it is best just to follow your feet, or perhaps the hawks, or an odd curve in the land that attracts the eye. You may need both a point of departure and something to aim for, but too tight a focus on that goal can rule out all the other gifts a day might bring. Too tight a focus and you cease to see what is hovering around the edges just waiting to be noticed.
Still, it would have been nice to finally get to the stone circle, even though we knew it would be almost impossible to spot at this time of year. The bracken is getting high and the heather will soon be in bud…. and the stones of Barbrook Three are no more than a couple of feet tall. Yet, although the twenty one remaining stones are small, it is one of the larger circles in this part of the country; around 25 yards in diameter . We could but try and followed the path as it curved over the old bridge and began to climb yet higher.
This whole area of moorland is covered in traces of the past. Stone circles, cairns, barrows and nameless mounds… a necropolis for the dead and the stone ghosts of the houses of the living. Yet, for once, we could see none of the ancient earthworks and stone as we walked, only the shadows of a more recent past. We rested a while… we were beginning to wonder if our map had led us astray yet again. We had come way too far, with not a sign of a circle. We looked again at the book, lining ourselves up with the reservoir, and decided we needed to go back, but this time on higher ground.
We set off, back the way we had come. A kestrel hovered and dived into the bracken, seeking lunch…. which was beginning to seem like a good idea. Crossing the stream we climbed the hill, keeping our eyes open for either the stones or the mound that lies beside them. From here the view across the moor to the distant hills is spectacular. Ahead of us, we knew, waited the circles familiar to us already… and this way we would get to visit them, for once, in good weather. Usually, when we come here, it is bitterly cold and wet, as if sacrifice is required before admission to its temples… Barbrook likes to keep its secrets, until the time is right… And for me, there is no hardship in having a good reason to come back to the moors another day…