Albion, ancient sites, Don and Wen, TOLL, travel

Beeley Warren… stone circles and ice cream

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It was no surprise to find ourselves heading out in search of ice-cream early on Saturday morning. There were reasons why I was only too happy to head out to the moors on a weekend when the heather was in full flower. We also needed photographs of ‘proper’ ‘ninety-nines’, mostly because of the whole ice-cream lady affair…. She hadn’t been there the last couple of times we had ventured out to Beeley. We had begun to wonder if she ever had… the whole thing was very strange. Particularly after the continued appearance of the Black Shade… but this is not the time for that tale…

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The pubs were not yet likely to be open, so we drove up to where the ice-cream van is supposed to be parked. Nothing. Again. “We could look for the circle… ” Not that there was much hope of finding that either, not with both the bracken and the heather at their height. If we hadn’t been able to find it in winter, when we had walked up to Hob Hurst’s House, now didn’t seem the best time to try… but then, I am never going to refuse the chance to play in the heather and the view from up here is spectacular at any time of year.

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A little way up the path we split up. My companion trudging through the chest-high bracken that would have engulfed my shorter stature, while I explored the tumbled stones of what appeared to be a necropolis of ancient cairns; there are 30 or more up here on this stretch of moor. Swallows and crows flew below and about. A falcon hovered at eye level, high above the valley as I picked up what looked very like a kite feather… russet red, black banded and tipped with irridescent purple.

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“Found it!” There was an unmistakeable note of triumph in the voice that led me through the heather. Against all the odds, he had too. Unimpinged by both the purple carpet and the bracken, the low stones of the circle could just be made out in the grass. These are old places. You can feel that. Not grand or impressive like Avebury or Stonehenge; these typical Derbyshire circles are small, low and almost impossible to spot unless you know what you are looking for, especially the ones that have been disturbed and where the vegetation has come in.

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The Bronze Age circle is broken. Around half of the original twenty stones are missing or misplaced. Around them, the remains of an earth and stone bank; at the centre had once been a mound or cairn, now robbed and open to the sky. He had told me about this place… a ‘sleepy’ energy, he had said.  The bees didn’t seem to think so as we sat in the calm centre of the ruined cairn and they flew through or settled on me to investigate. “Bee ley…” We had to wonder…

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Bees navigate by using a solar compass that allows them to calculate the daily and seasonal movements of the sun and remember the position of a food source in relation to it. Do they use the earth currents too? Was this apian highway a regular route? It seemed so… I have seldom seen so many bees of so many varieties sharing airspace. Had those who explain the old place names missed something when they attributed ‘Beeley’ as a woodland clearing with a personal name…Or maybe our word for bee wouldn’t be old enough. Maybe someone ought to tell that to the bees…

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You could understand their interest, of course, with the heather clothing the hills and sending up a perfume like honey touched with the cleanliness of bracken. Delicate blue harebells fringed the footpath, seeming to hover above the earth on their slender stems. Birds, butterflies, caterpillars… small things crept and flew everywhere. As we left the circle a pair of hawks sailed into view, pale against the dark green of Hell Bank plantation. I caught them on camera, too small to see… two specks of beauty in motion, buzzards from the look of the distant tail feathers.

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We made our way back towards the car. At the back of our minds we wondered whether the ice cream lady would be there now as we talked about all manner of things and, at some level began to realise that the time within the circle had brought us to ‘somewhere’… though quite where we did not yet know. It is always the same when we seem to be in control of what we do and what we write… the land has other ideas and manages to tell us so.

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There was an ice cream seller on the deserted corner… but not ours. A modern contraption with ‘proper’ ice cream and prices twice what our faery-woman had charged. We bought them anyway and raised them in a toast to her. Had she ever been there? had we wandered through some portal in the woods that day and reached another reality…or another time… Strangely, I had taken no photographs, I who photograph everything… A butterfly landed on the stone stile, just where it had the last time we were here… Perhaps we could have asked the ice-cream seller… but did we really want to know? Some mysteries are better if they remain so. And anyway, that didn’t explain the continued sightings of the Black Shade of Beeley….

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