We walked between the cairns towards the circle known as Barbrook I, an unromantic name for a site that tugs at my heartstrings in a way no other does. It is neither grand nor imposing and sits at the edge of the cairnfield where forgotten mounds mark the passage between the worlds. I do not know how many mounds there once were, today around eighty remain across the extended site, though some may be field clearance, many are ancient burial mounds. It seems as if every way you turn another is waiting to be greeted. This is no place of cold stone and far memory, but seems to hold the echo of a long intimacy between realities.
We pass the reconstructed cairn just above the stone circle. Excavated in the 20th C, it was found to contain fragments of bone, sherds of a collared urn and the cremated remains of a child. There were also four cup-marked stones, removed from the site to Sheffield Museum. From here you look down upon the circle and across to the settlement on the Big Moor. Today there are still traces of the ancient fields and homes of the people who once lived there, visible to the eye. Other senses can still see the curling plumes of smoke and hear the bleating of goats and the laughter of children on the wind.
A little further below runs the path across the moor and beside it stands the stone row, perhaps once part of an avenue. We have seen it silhouetted against a winter sky like the jagged teeth of a dragon and caught the acrid smell of torch-fire in the air.
Usually, when we come here, the weather is less than clement. In fact it is almost always driving rain and freezing cold. We have squelched through rivulets of running water, head down against the deluge, or waded knee-deep through sodden grass. This time, for once, we had perfect weather… and even so, I managed to take very few photographs. This is unusual, but this place imprints itself in other ways and the camera hangs forgotten on my shoulder as I touch the stones.
The circle faces the settlement and looks out even further, towards the standing stone and the petroglyphs of Gardrom’s Edge and beyond to the distant blue of the Deryshire hills. We have watched the sun sink beyond that horizon and seen the stormclouds roll in. We are not the first, other eyes once looked out from this spot and Saw more than we. It is hard to be objective at such a place with the past melding with the present.
There are twelve…or thirteen… stones in this circle, surrounded by an eroded rubble embankment, some three feet wide. To the southwest stands the ‘Seeing Stone’, the tallest of the circle at around three feet high. Its top is notched, reminiscent of the ‘Crone Stone’ across the valley. I wonder what the notch aligns with? Perhaps a midwinter sunset or a distant site? Many of the circles have discernable alignments. This one will be no different in that.
Part of me wonders about the archaeology. I cannot recall ever having come across details of an excavation here. Most of me realises I can learn more about this place simply by being here and looking out cross a landscape that shows little trace of the destructive hand of modern man. It cannot have changed greatly over the past five thousand years. It is easy to ride the current of time and lose oneself in reverie. As we leave the circle, buffeted by the warm wind, a hawk hovers, dives into the bracken and emerges. Some things never change…