It took us about an hour to drive the twenty-odd miles from Brentor to the Cornish village of Minions on Bodmin moor. There were two sites that we wanted to visit, both of them on the Michael Line, the ley that crosses the country from toe to rump. The girls were amused by the name of the village and by the sheep that occupied prime position in the middle of the road, showing little inclination to move for something as unremarkable as traffic.
We lost Alethea and Larissa almost as soon as we had parked the car on the edge of the moor as they went off to explore the stones of the Hurlers. They disappeared into the mist that shrouded the stones and that was fine… we would find them later and meanwhile we too needed to explore.
Bodmin Moor is littered with archaeology, both ancient and modern. The skeletal remains of tin and copper mines break the horizon, a testament to the shifting stories of human history, while the earth they plundered is littered with stones. Quarried and blasted, shaped by wind and water or smoothed with reverence, the landscape bares its heart to those who would see.
The two stones called the Pipers stand guard, turned to stone for playing music on the Sabbath… while the men of the land suffered the same fate for a game of hurling… or so the story goes. It is a common theme at ancient sites, where the Christian clergy sought to discourage the old ways and pagan beliefs with threats of damnation and eternal torment.
It is not so very different in our own time, when we still tend to look at our ancient ancestors as little more than barbaric and unsophisticated savages, ignoring the complexity and beauty of their legacy. Not far away is Rillaton round barrow, which, when excavated, yielded a beautiful golden cup from the Early Bronze Age. It was made around seventeen hundred years before the birth of Jesus and is of the same date as at least some of the circles on the moor.
The legends tell that a Druid priest haunts the area around Rillaton, offering those he meets a clear draught from a cup that cannot be drained. The symbolism is also clear… the cup of wisdom never runs dry and all may drink as much as they are able. The legends, though, also add the tale of the traveller who met the Druid late one night and was offered such a drink. Instead of accepting, he threw the cup at the ghost. His body was found the next day in a ditch…
Mistwraiths danced across the moor as we left the portal of the Pipers and made our way to the Hurlers. There are three stone circles here in all, with the central one being the oldest. The stones are precisely chosen and shaped… everything has meaning and purpose, it seems, even if we have forgotten how to read the story.
There are the familiar shapes we see in the stone circles across the land. One stone resembles an odd shaped upright in Derbyshire. Another is the same shape as the ‘horse’ stone in the Avenue at Avebury. There are the pillars and lozenges that are thought to represent male and female… the dynamic and receptive potencies of the universe… and a very definite sense of presence; almost as if the stones watch and wait for those who will, one day, understand.
The stones of the three circles are carefully dressed and positioned, taking into account the slope of the hillside and the lay of the land, so that they all appear to be the same height, even though it is not so. The central, oldest circle, has a single central stone, mirrored in the pool of water created by the unremitting mist.
The smallest circle is the most southerly and measures a hundred and five feet across. Nine stones survive, and it is easy to miss the fact that this is a circle at all, as only two of its stones remain standing, with the rest forlornly felled by time and weather.
The central circle is not a circle at all, being elliptical. Half of its original twenty-eight stones are still standing and it measures a hundred and thirty-eight feet across. The inner surface of the stones has been hammered smooth and, when it was excavated, they found that it had once held a crystal floor.
A paved way once led from the central to the northernmost circle, which is a hundred and fifteen feet across. The three circles, so close to one another, form an almost unique arrangement. We could not help noticing the fact that they do not sit in a straight line, but are slightly offset… rather like the pyramids of Giza… and we wondered if they might represent the stars of Orion’s belt, and if the Pipers were more than a portal, but also served as sighting stones.
Sure enough, our later research revealed the work done by Professor Thom, that suggested stone to star alignments with Vega and Arcturus, two of the brightest stars in the night sky. Given our own odd journey and research, it did not escape notice that Vega is part of the constellation represented as a bird of prey, and Arcturus means ‘bear’… as does the name of the legendary king, Arthur, who we had already equated with an archetypal figure like the one seen at Cerne Abbas two days before.
More recent research by astronomer Brian Sheen, using a state of the art computer programme, confirms that the circles predict the precise date of midwinter, when, once a year at midnight on the winter solstice, they align exactly with the stars of Orion’s belt. Not bad for our ‘primitive’ ancestors from four thousand years ago.
We finally found Larissa and Alethea close to the base of the path up to the next site we wanted to visit. We had been watching for a while, seeing the ghostly shapes of stones half-revealed by the swirling mist. We all wanted to climb to the Cheesewring… also on the Michael Line… but knowing how treacherous the mists can be and seeing how uncertain the path and how dangerous the quarried cliffs could be, we were feeling uneasy about the climb.
Looking back on that moment, it wasn’t logical at all. There was bound to be a safe path and safety barriers to such a well-known landmark, but every time the mists cleared and we decided that perhaps we could go for it, the mists came back in and the entire hill disappeared from view. Sometimes you just have to listen to what the land is telling you… and it was telling us, quite firmly, ‘not now’. Perhaps we could come back one day… and perhaps ‘then’ would be the right time. Maybe there was something we needed to do or see first… odd as it may sound, it is often the way with such journeys.
We made our way back to the car, stopping within the central circle to pay our respects in meditation and visualise the Web of Light that has become such a part of our work with these sites. When we were just about to leave the moor, we looked back for a final glimpse at the Hurlers…and saw the Cheesewring sparkling against a perfectly clear sky, as if to confirm that we had made the right decision.
There was time to share a meal at a local café before heading back to Brentor, where we took our leave of the girls. It had been far too short a visit… they always are… and especially when we knew that the places we were yet to see would have had Alethea glowing!
We drove back along the same road for the third time that day, and there is magic in that number. We were heading for an overnight stay in Penzance, about a hundred miles away, regretfully passing a good many places we would love to have stopped. But although we thought we had done with the Hurlers, they had not done with us. Not only would there be another chance to see the Cheesewring, but, when we began to look closer at the pictures we had taken, we noticed something strange. On a day when there was no sun to cast shadows and when the mist shrouded everything in sight, there were two dark figures on one of the photos. Except, they aren’t figures… and there was no-one there except that sense of presence. A trick of the light? Perhaps…