Chris and I are a week into our road trip around Pembrokeshire and already we’re falling under its magical spell. Before we left, pretty much everyone to whom we mentioned our plans had something positive to say about the place – eyes lit up as happy memories were recounted. And, now we’re here, I’m sure our own eyes are starting to sparkle with an other-worldly brightness – there is definitely something very special and powerful within the landscape here. It’s an elemental kind of magic – it’s in the thick, black peaty soil and quartz-studded bluestone of the Preseli Hills, it’s in the ancient, moss-covered woodlands, it’s in the salty air and flocks of silhouetted starlings, it’s in the soft croak of the raven, and it’s definitely in the vastness of the ocean, which somehow still contains within it the promise of bright summer turquoise, even beneath steely skies. I wondered if that’s where the word ‘teal’ comes from – a hybrid of turquoise and steel.
But it’s also in the visual clues that scatter the landscape, which help put together a clear sense of an ancient connection between man and landscape, that spans thousands of years. There are literally hundreds of standing stones, burial chambers, hut circles, deserted villages and stone circles, dating back to the stone age and beyond, not to mention the stone crosses and churches of more recent celtic Christianity.
Chris and I are drawn to these mysterious, peaceful sites, time and time again. More often than not, they are sited in particularly beautiful, out of the way spots with spectacular views, and if we hang around long enough, usually a mood of tranquility descends upon us like a strangely familiar blanket. I often wonder at this lure of the stones, which I feel goes beyond the enticement of an unsolved mystery. Do we long to reconnect to our past? Do we feel the tug within our DNA to revisit sacred places that our ancestors, or even ourselves, may have known before, long ago?
Or is it something else again? Could it be that our ancestors had knowledge that we’ve now lost; knowledge that connected them intimately to their landscape, not just the ground beneath them, but the skies above them too? And could it be that this knowledge directed them to place sacred markers, burial grounds and ceremonial grounds at particular locations that carried a potent energy? Certainly, there is rising evidence that many (most? all?) of these sites are somehow intelligently aligned with auspicious moments in nature’s calendar, such as the summer solstice sunset or winter solstice sunrise, and some are aligned to more than one such event. Some are aligned with due north markers or similar, perhaps providing the service of age-old trig points, and many are aligned with each other in intriguing, geometrically intricate ways. Can this be coincidence? And, above all, I feel I am drawn to these places by a mysterious force that seems to have come from nowhere – up to a few years ago I held no real interest in such things. And I feel these visits energise me, inspire me, change me somehow and the calling only becomes stronger.
We visited a recreated iron age settlement yesterday and marvelled at the cosiness of the round-houses and the skills possessed by the residents, in hunting, weaving and building. A passing mention was made of wandering druids, highly respected at that time, who would move from village to village, welcomed by all. I thought again of all the knowledge these wandering wise men and women may have possessed, drawn from an intimate connection to the land on which they depended for survival, that we now have largely lost, except perhaps in small pockets, now considered, at best, esoteric or, at worst, downright weird or plain nonsense. Perhaps our ancient ancestors were not as simple and uneducated as we think, only educated in a very different way.
But, one thing’s for certain amongst these musings with no answer, and that’s that we’ve definitely lost the simplicity of how life was lived back in the stone age, where there was no entertainment beyond that which could be produced by yourselves around the fire at night. Possessions were minimal, but time spent together with family and community was plentiful. Again I wonder – were our ancestors more happy and content than we are now? I don’t have the answer, but I have a feeling that perhaps they were. There is much to be said for a simple life, lived in intimate knowledge of our integral place within the grand scheme of mother earth.