Treading somewhat more carefully than usual, we made our way up to the stone we had come to see. From far across the moor the shadowed faces in its surface had caused us to name it the Merlin Stone. From here we could still see the bearded visage on one side, but moving around it revealed a whole host of forms and faces. It also showed a worked edge to the weathered stone. Not, as it stood, perhaps an ancient stone, then… or perhaps it was something older reworked for more modern purposes? We had no way of knowing.
Later research simply called it an aiming stone… not a stoop, as such, just a waymarker for travellers. We found this a little odd, as from here we could now see several of them… all far too close together to be of any real use in navigating the moor. One thing was certain though, the traces of ancient man were all around us. Here are the last vestiges of Bronze Age field systems and the clearance walls formed when the stones were removed to allow cultivation. There are cairns and the hut circles of round houses… it is hard to move above a few yards without seeing their ghosts in the landscape.
A little further there was another stone beside a cairn… further over the moor we could see yet another. To decipher the landscape in its entirety would need an aerial map… here, all we could do was follow our footsteps and use our eyes to see what they would have seen. Across the shallow valley, the settlement of Gardom’s Edge with its true standing stone and petroglyphs are only half an hour’s walk away. The four stone circles also very close, as is the mass of the Eaglestone … it is not difficult to see, with the mind’s eye, the community that once lived here.
One stone looked out over the moor like the statues of Rapa Nui, a silent sentinel. It matters little when this stone was originally erected, today it is guarding the hearths and the altars of a time long gone. The feel of this side of the moor is different; as if we have somehow stepped out of time. It is not menacing, just beautiful, yet I feel almost an intruder in a private place, as if watched by the eyes of many in silence.
As we begin to descend towards the brook, a deer bounds through the bracken. I miss it, but my companion sees. I am too busy looking at the ghosts in the stones. The bracken forms a waist-high belt around the hill… we were a little reluctant to tramp through it after our brief encounter with the adder, but managed to find a faint pathway, probably created by the deer. It led us down toward the brook and another thick bed of sphagnum moss to navigate, avoiding the lizard that took cover at our approach.
We crossed the brook, heading for the wide lawn on the other bank. Which wasn’t a lawn, but a series of clumps with deep holes between into which it was all too easy to fall… as we found out. We rested on an interesting fallen stone that looked as if it would have made a perfect standing stone before tackling the steep bank that led back to the path. Neither of us fancied the easier but longer route. While the strange feeling had lifted crossing the flowing water, it had not passed and a direct climb to the path was preferable to staying in the valley. We headed straight up, and the relief was palpable, leaving us with yet more questions. That could well have been enough for one day, but it was early yet. “We could go to Beeley and get those shots…”