Newest Review: ... As the Romany's say - we borrow the Earth, we don't own it. WEST KENNET LONG BARROW Turn left out of Silbury Hill carpark and dr... more
This Sacred Land
England in general
Member Name: Whitehorse
England in general
Date: 15/08/02, updated on 15/08/02 (208 review reads)
Advantages: Beautiful, historic, a land full of folklore
Disadvantages: The land is abused for profit
This Sacred Land
I moan about England a lot. I hate the politics, the cynicism, the over-priced housing and the sheer determination to cover every field with blocks of concrete. I hate the soaps and game shows on the telly, the class system that supposedly doesn't exist, the jealously of the have-nots; the arrogance of those who have. I loath the rail system that's forever in a mess (and they want to put prices up again?), the NHS that struggles at ground zero because admin need a new clipboard. I get jittery when our prime minister speaks because all I see is a puppet waving his hands in the air - whatever party they're from!
But there is so much more to this beautiful country - an age old history just bursting at the seams with mystery and wonder. Recently I went on a pilgrimage to some of these places. It started out as a visit to a friends in Brighton but we soon left London by the sea and made for the green. I want to share some of these wonderful places with you, some of the feel and history. If these are places you have never seen I urge you to don your walking boots and make for the hills!
With 2 year old child finally asleep after a drive that should have taken us around two hours but ended up taking nearly 5 because of motorway congestion, we arrived exhausted but happy at the base of Silbury Hill. It was nearly 9pm but the sky was clear and promised heat the following day.
Silbury Hill is on the A4 between Marlborough and Beckhampton and you really can?t miss it. It is a Neolithic manmade hill which has remained an utter mystery. Although excavations have been done all that have been found are pieces of flint, animal bones and antlers. There is a legend though that a horse and rider's bones were found in the seventeen hundreds which fuels the claim that King Sil was buried here with his golden horse but that's never been verified the bones that is!). It is also said that the Devil dropp
ed a pile of Earth here when he was put off his mission to dump the lot on the people of Marlborough.
The Hill stands 130ft high and the base covers 5 acres of land. The top is flattened and when seen from a distance it lays flat to the horizon. It's estimated to be between 4000 and 5000 years old. The hill was built in stages with the first stage beginning around August (according to the remains) which links the hill to the Pagan festival of Lughnasadh (or Lammas meaning loaf-mass). In the 18th Century, festivals were still held on the top of the hill to welcome the harvest time.
Sadly a couple of years ago part of the hill collapsed in on the top. There is now a huge hole there. The National Trust/English Heritage tried to blame people who chose to walk up the hill. This is find very irritating seeing as this is a place of celebration for Pagans and it's managed to stand quite happily for nearly three thousand years! Nowt to do with the rough excavation work from the 19th Century then? Whatever - the solution has been to fill it with polystyrene rather than actually make the Hill properly safe. There are various groups lobbying to get them to restore the Hill but as ever money is claimed as an issue. Of course now I would NOT advise or encourage anyone to climb the hill for any reason. The hill is vulnerable and so will you be if you fall down the 10ft wide hole that's around 30ft deep!
We had made our way to the tiny car park in the field just beside Silbury. Here you will find space to camp but be warned you are NOT meant to camp here! There is an old farmer who comes around every morning at around 7am just to check up on who's around. Every time I've ever been he has appeared with his lilting Somerset accent commenting on the weather then pointedly asking how long you are planning to stay. I rather like the fact that he has taken it upon himself to look after the area. Mostly you will find that you don't have a
ny problems with camping here and most people would probably want to be in a campsite seeing as you have no water/toilet or anything facilities. I love the wildness of the place though so it suits me to stay for a couple of nights. Be warned that in other areas around here the National Trust have begun fining people for camping - probably because sadly a lot of people don't know how to behave in the countryside (or elsewhere for that matter) and dump their litter everywhere, light fires where they shouldn't or trample over crops etc...That said I do believe that as long as a person is respecting the land and other people they should be allowed to camp overnight. When someone says 'I own this land' I just say 'How far down?' As the Romany's say - we borrow the Earth, we don't own it.
WEST KENNET LONG BARROW
Turn left out of Silbury Hill carpark and drive up to the top of the hill. As you drive look to your right and you will see a small gate and sign pointing the way to the barrow and a little layby. When you get out the car turn back to look at Silbury because you get a great view of it from there!
To get to the long barrow you need to go through the gate and walk up a country track. It's a gradual incline so nothing too strenuous! The views from here are wonderful and if you are as lucky as we were you may see some crop circles as they often appear in the surrounding fields. In fact the whole area is renowned for this. There was a giant one in the field beside us. If you do see them however please respect the crops and don't go traipsing around the field.
The barrow itself is around 2000 years old. A large mound were some 46 skeletons were found in the 1800's. It is estimated that the barrow was finally sealed around 1600 BC. Nowadays it is open. Duck through the stones at the front and you find yourself in a long cool corridor with chambers either side. I have a great reverence for this place.
I felt great emotion as I walked the track way up to it. The connection to loss in the past and loss of my own. Inside it is incredibly still and silent and all around there are offerings to the Goddess and God. Corn dollies, feathers, flowers, dream-catchers. People come here to honour the ancient ones and those who have passed into the Summerlands.
AVEBURY STONE CIRCLE
There is so much I could say about this place but I will attempt to give you just a taster else you and I will be here for hours and Dooyoo will run out of space!
I first saw Avebury when I was about 10. We were going on holiday to Devon and my Dad took a detour. I was asleep in the back of the car and woke up when I felt something akin to an electric shock pass through me - not uncomfortable but very odd. I looked out to see we had just crossed the circle as we heading into the village. I knew from that moment that there was something very special about this place.
Avebury lies around a mile away from West Kennet and Silbury. It's a tiny village with a single pub and two shops. In one you'll find lots of trinkets, books and information in the area and the other is a post-office come supermarket wot-have-u. Part of the village is surround by a large circular earthwork. Just inside the Ridgeway lay the stones. It's estimated to be around 4000 years old. There's a good aerial picture here which is easier than me trying to explain it!
Within the main circle lie two more smaller circles. Sadly in the 1800's many stones were pulled down. Some say it is due to farmers clearing land, some to Christians who saw them as a representation of evil. There is an old legend that if you count all the stone 3 times and get the same number each time the Devil will appear and take you to hell!
The whole of the area is accessible to everyone. There are usually quite a few visitors at any
one time. If you go around any of the Pagan festival dates you may well be met by King Arthur, Druids and drumming - a wonderful atmosphere. On the days we went Morris dancers were entertaining us and amazing they were too. It irks me to think that in so many other cultures folk roots are respected whereas here they are laughed at.
I recommend a quick visit to the Red Lion Pub which sits right opposite the main fields of stones. Unfortunately we got flat beer this time and um...last time as well but the service is lovely and friendly and I think we were just unlucky with the alcohol! The pub welcomes children and dogs (although with the latter you have to sit outside).
Be aware that the fields where the stones sit are still used by farmers so you will have to dodge the sheep as you walk around them. For that reason keep dogs (and kids) on leads and under control! The stones themselves are incredible giants that each have a personality of their own. Those that were knocked down are now marked by concrete posts. Entrance stones are roughly at the four quarters and from each once ran long avenues of stones. Now only the west avenue remains.
Even if you never visit any other sacred site, Avebury is a must see.
UFFINGTON WHITE HORSE
Well now I could hardly write this opinion without giving my namesake a mention could I? Just as we absolutely HAD to visit this place next!
Nobody really knows why the horse was built and there's also some debate on whether it is in fact a horse. Some say it is an image of the Dragon that St. George slew; others suggest it's a cat! Well personally I see it as a horse. It has that grace and beauty of line associated with the magnificent animal.
This is one of the more difficult places to find as there aren't that many signs pointing to it. It's situated just off the B4507 between the villages of Wantage and Wanborough. Uffington village is between Swindon and Oxford. If you
9;re trying to find it on a map, look for the A420 between Swindon and Oxford and just come down a bit. There is a sign pointing the way from the A420 - well at least on one side of the road.
The road to Uffington is tiny and winds it's way through the most stunning villages and scenery. If anyone has got a house to give away here then let me know! The Horse is carved into a chalk hill high up in the Vale. At the bottom of the main field is a car park with the inevitable ice-cream van and picnic tables but that's all. The walk up the hill is quite a climb I'll warn you now. Again - lots of sheep and we even spotted a very lost look field mouse.
Uffington White Horse is the oldest hill figure in the country - around 3000 years old. At 374 feet long it's also pretty huge so you can only appreciate it truly from the air or faraway. Horses have long since been associated with fertility and this figure may be in honour of the horse Goddess Epona.
Once at the top of the hill you are rewarded with a stunning view of the Vale of the Whitehorse. Field upon field lays before your eyes. Dragon Hill lays just below. This is the place where St. George is meant to have slain the dragon. On the top of the hill is a bear patch where no grass grows. This is supposed to be where the dragon's blood fell. The whole story is an analogy of Christianity beating out Paganism - the same as St. Patrick and the Snake.
English Heritage maintain the horse in pristine white condition so please don't walk on the chalk. You can however walk right around the horse itself although it's a bit precarious in places due to the lie of the hill. Even if it's hot, take a jacket because it's windy up there! There is much folklore and legend associated with this place much of which was dropped into the wonderful 70's children's program The Moon Stallion. Yippee - you can still get it on video!
On from Uf
fington back down south to Glastonbury in Somerset. I had never climbed the Tor so we thought it was about time I did. We arrived in Glasters late in the evening and spent an hour driving round trying to find the campsite that used to be at the base of the Tor. Sadly this has now gone so after getting directions we made our way to The Isle of Avalon campsite (okay tacky name!). This is set just on the edge of the town so you can walk from here back into the centre. It cost is £14 for two of us with a child and car/tent. The site is lovely and has a shower block and toilets etc. It's even won 'loo of the year award' for the last x amount of years - I'm impressed!
Glastonbury town is full of twinkle and charm although we found it hard to find somewhere to eat in the evening. Quite a lot of pubs had stopped serving food and those that were were either no kids allowed or not veggie friendly. We finally settled on a visit to the chippie just round the corner from the campsite.
A child in tow generally means an early morning start. We woke to find everything damp - this is certainly the place of mist! The whole of this area used to be under water most of the time afterall. We arrived at the Tor by around 8.30 in the morning. There's little parking space around here and technically you're not supposed to park on the road leading up to the Tor although we did as it was so early. There are two paths up the Tor and I recommend the long and winding one as the other will half kill you unless you're really fit.
The Tor itself is a natural feature of the land which has long been associated with magic and mystery. Perhaps because it stood above the flooded landscape it gained magical power. In olden times a stone circle sat on the top of it. Now St. Michaels tower has replaced it. It's a pretty folly but of course I would prefer to see the stones. We were greeted however by two doves as we walked into the tower which was a
This is a place where the veil between the worlds is thin, where faery folk appear and transformation occurs. Many come to the Tor as a sacred pilgrimage both Christian and Pagan. There is an excellent website which covers all aspects of the Tor and legends surrounding it.
When you come down form the Tor take a visit to Chalice Well Gardens. It's around £3 to get in. It is quite beautiful and many people from all over the world come to gain healing from the holy water. You don?t have to go into the gardens to get some of the water. Just take a few empty bottles and follow the stone wall around the side of the garden and you will come to a spout where the water flows from. (Oh and visit the Veggie cafe opposite because it's lovely!). The water is considered holy as it has a reddish tinge which is meant to be connected with the blood of Christ. Wells and springs have been considered sacred from ancient times. Legend says that Joseph of Arimethea hid the Holy Grail within the Tor and a spring sprung from the place where it was buried. The water does run red due to the high iron oxide in the water which you can taste. I have always a bottle of it in the house and it seems to keep for years! It is thought that this Spring has been in use for around 2000 years.
As a quick note if you do visit Glastonbury then do try to visit the Abbey. It's around £4 to get in but it really is worth seeing the ruins.
Of course Britain's most famous landmark has to come into this opinion. I had never been to Stonehenge before and I was absolutely awed by the stones. However - RANT warning...
I am absolutely and utterly disgusted that it costs £4.40 to go into the field where the henge is and the whole thing is totally roped off. The place has stood for more than 5000 years and suddenly English He
ritage are desperately worried that someone might damage them - never mind the fact that they do not OWN this place, that this is a site of religious significance for some and that it should be open to everyone in this country!
The fact that this site takes more money than any other British site probably has nothing to do with it either...Oh I think so. I think very much that there are pound signs glaring in someone's eyes whilst the stones lie desolate without human presence. Thank the Gods for Midsummer when we are 'allowed' to go and be with the stones - I should damn well think so!
My friends little girl made a bee-line for the henge and I shouted encouragement all the way (she's only 2!). The security there gave us and many others Paddington hard stares as if they owned the place.
I have no objection to having security present to make sure no one damages the area but to keep us away altogether is outrageous. My feelings ranged from absolute inspiration at such an incredible structure to reverence because of the sacred nature of the place to sheer rage that I couldn't walk up and lay my hands on the stones. Had there been less people I would have done but there were so many tourists that security was really high. I don't mind being hauled unceremoniously away but we were on holiday and I didn't want the hassle. I settled for loud pointed comments about religious rights and how the stones used to be open in the 60's as my Dad told me.
I would like to see the stones permanently available to the public - even just a £1 charge would bring in an incredible amount of revenue. The other option is to have special opening times for ceremonies and rites to take place - not just midsummer so that those the wish to use the area for sacred rites can do so and those that simply wish to visit can also do so.
It is perhaps obvious that we bought absolutely nothing from the range of shops and food/drink sta
lls at the entrance to the tunnel leading under the road to get to the stones.
Go and see Stonehenge, complain about the price, don't buy from the shop, and DO checkout the details of the road planning that some idiots are intent on doing by the henge. http://www.savestonehenge.org.uk/
This land is beautiful and magnificent and stunning. The landscape changes county to county - the flat fens, the lush of Somerset, the wild folding hills of Cumbria, the rocky dales - everywhere there is beauty. And there are secret places where no footstep is heard - places that hang between this world and another. There are stones touched by a millennia of fingers. We may not always have good weather here but there is so much to see. We are the landscape and legends - they are part of us and our heritage.
Remember - We borrow the Earth.