Beyond the forest’s leafy shade,
The hooded one, with giant’s pace
From pinnacle to pinnacle
Leap’t silently, in moonlit grace…
In eremitic solitude
In caverns deep to meditate…
Within, the riddle of the night,
A key that will elucidate…
Beyond the stones, to four once nine
To where the goddess meets her mate
And heavens dance at winters turn
Bends earthwards to illuminate.
The Haystack seems a misnomer for the huge rock that sits beside the path that leads towards Backstone Beck and looks down to the Cow and Calf. It is a very special rock. Between archaeology, myth and the stories woven by my grandfather, it has a very unique life for me. It is an altar, a place of ancient sanctity as sacred as any other.
It stands at the edge of the Green Crag cairn-fields… a place of the dead from a time when the dead were honoured; their presence sought, their wisdom valued, and their place in the Otherworld perhaps not so far removed from the hearths of the living. This huge, altar shaped boulder, covered in carvings stands at the entrance to the necropolis which extends across Green Crag and beyond.
My grandfather showed me how to pace out the two circles of small, almost buried boulders that surround the stone and told me that this was a place of sacrifice where the groove in the rock carried the blood out to the edge of the moor. In spring you can faintly see a strip of lighter green… Of course, the lurid tale delighted the child I was, sending those delicious shivers down my spine, yet I never saw a problem with sacrifice in essence, only in the bloody practice. It always seemed to me as if they had the right idea, but had misinterpreted the deeper meaning and the death need not be physical. Then, you see, I was an odd child, I suppose, with an even odder upbringing.
These days, I still delight in sharing that tale, although the circles may now be officially classed as prehistoric walling dividing, perhaps, the realms of life and death. I feel that this may have been an altar upon which the dead rested on their journey to the cairns to be brought to birth in the Otherworld. Perhaps the carvings map the heavens or the journey through the veil to that Land of the Dead… perhaps they map the moor itself… We do not know. My grandfather told me the figure carved there was the sun god… perhaps he was right. Or perhaps it is simply a man… or a woman, a goddess, about to give birth… Or maybe it is something we cannot know. It doesn’t matter. It matters only that it shapes our thoughts and fires the imagination as it points across to the Pancake Rock.
This stone too is covered with faded carvings. It juts out from the edge of the moor with the necropolis behind it. From one angle it looks like a hawk poised for flight, but most of the time it is the profile of a face, the flat rocking stone on the top his hair, or his hat. It is said that only an honest man can move the rocking stone. It is also said, with a certain amount of local pride, that no Yorkshireman ever has… Some say it is the face of a druid, some that of a god; I was told it is Giant Rombald who sleeps there… he for whom the moor is named… guarding the sleep of the dead. These are the legends and stories of my childhood, and these are the tales I wove into the adventure in Swords of Destiny. So much more could have been written… maybe one day I will, before the old tales are lost.
We walked down to the beck, drinking first, then washing the peat stains from feet and my shoes… which, made of soft fabric, we already soaked and could dry on my feet. The menfolk were hungry and ready for breakfast by this time. We had been out for around five hours and it was only about nine in the morning. I, however, wanted to show them a hidden place, Rocky Valley, where the great stones cling to the crags like monumental totems. “We’ll never get her down…” I heard the mutter of despair, but set off up the track. They waited a while as I climbed the ridge that separates the valley from the little wood where another godlike creature is carved in a stone, and where memory lay in ashes for me. They joined me in silent companionship and we looked across the beauty of the moor.
Retracing our steps we crossed the beck a final time. I showed them the little waterfalls and the pools where I had played as a child, where my sons had dammed the stream and where my memories were all of laughter. Then we passed once more through the heather and headed down for breakfast…
People often ponder the uncanny hold that the ‘Matter of Britain’ exerts upon both the inhabitants of these Blessed Isles and those much further afield beyond its shores, though few of them are ever graced with a satisfactory, let alone adequate, answer…
The legends of Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere and the Ladies and Knights of the Table Round are sourced from a mystery tradition that hails from far across the Atlantic Ocean, and one which was also responsible for the construction and maintenance of the old stone monuments and ancient causeways of West Europe…
This sacred tradition, preserved in the Irish, Welsh, and Brythonic myths was re-cast by the Troubadours and Trouvres of twelfth century Aquitaine and from there it spread like a forest fire into the castle keeps and festive halls of Mediaeval Christendom…
These tales continue to speak to the hearts and souls of modern men and women today because they can still inspire their creative imagination, that inner faculty without which all cultures sink, inevitably, into abject barbarity, like sand-pies devoured by the sea…
The Arthurian mythos, then, is singular in that it provides a still living tradition which links our primeval spiritual yearnings, as a race, with the mystical heights to which any individual can, or ever will, aspire.
The Matter of Britain
Giant Rombald – Now available in paperback from Amazon