The four of us donned what protective gear we had with us and set off over the moor. It soon became evident that we should have brought Wellingtons. Stuart was the only one thus sensibly clad and my walking shoes are only waterproof until the sodden peat and pooled water rises higher than the ankle. At least it wasn’t raining.
It was a perfect morning, really. The clouds rolled low across the hilltops, drawing a veil over a landscape already shrouded in mystery. Glacial boulders strew the moors, the striations of pressure still visible after millions of years. In such a place it is not easy to distinguish the hand of man…until you know what you are seeking. Then you cannot miss it.
The four of us squelched through the boggy ground in search of a drier path. The irony was that we had chosen this route to avoid the one we had taken the last time we were here, where water ran like a stream, and pooled in every hollow. That day we had been alone and we have become accustomed to finding ourselves with soggy feet on our explorations. This time, we were with friends… and the baptism of chilly mud seemed a poor welcome.
We had arranged to meet author Graeme Cumming and his partner again… it had been decided that we would play out on the moors before lunch, so Stuart and I were going to take them to see an unusual site and a very special standing stone. If…and where Stuart and standing stones are concerned, it was a big ‘if’… it was still where we had left it. They have a habit of going walkabout. It is well attested in our folklore…there are many tales of our standing stones wandering off. Stuart is inclined to believe this is what had happened to the Lost Stone of Chat… a huge monolith he swears has seen before… and for which we have now searched across vast tracts of the landscape and through gallons of liquid mud. Most of which I end up wearing.
Stuart explained the theory to our friends. Up to this point, they may have still thought we were normal. Any such lingering suspicions were probably destroyed by the discussion about the UPS theory. The Ubiquitous Pointy Stone theory, unlike the wandering stone debate, is grounded in solid observation. Granted, there may still be room for interpretation of the finer points, but it makes perfect sense that our ancestors should use such visible landmarks for navigation between their sacred sites. To me, at least. Stuart has reservations. While he accepts the feasibility of Pointy Stone Theory, he still shakes his head over Ubiquitous Pointy Stones.
However, our friends had not yet turned tail and fled and by this time we were beginning to see traces of the site we had come to explore. The whole of the edge is littered with archaeological evidence of ancient man, dating back at least three thousand years. We passed through Meg Walls, an enormous D shaped enclosure with seven entrances. At around two thousand feet long and up to thirty two feet wide, the dry-walled enclosure remains an enigma.
No traces of permanent occupation have been found. It has been suggested that it was a site for seasonal gatherings and perhaps also as a place of trade at such times, which is more than probable if tribes are coming together. There is so much we do not know.
We looked across the valley towards the Eagle Stone. It looks so different from this angle, I wonder if it is indeed the same stone we had visited when the heather was in bloom. It is one of those odd stones, the size of a house, that disappears from view when you think you should be able to see it. We have found this is often a feature of the ancient and sacred places. Even the vast bulk of Silbury Hill ‘disappears’ and the mystery of why that should be important is one we have debated.
There are cairns too and hut circles, though we did not venture as far as the Three Men of Gardom’s, cairns of stone that were once an ancient barrow, now piled on the Edge to commemorate the deaths of three 18thC shepherds lost in the snow. There is a strange pit alignment and a good deal to see up on the Edge… so far we have barely scratched the surface.
We did find the standing stone again though, which was something of a relief given Stuart’s track record at losing them… though last time we were at Gardom’s Edge, it was time itself that went missing…. but that’s a whole other story.
The stone looks like the gnomon of a sundial and in winter one side of it is in perpetual shadow. It seems time plays a part in its purpose. Or it looks like an unearthly face. Or a bear. Or a hooded old woman.
It all depends where you stand; it changes completely whichever way you turn and is quite disorienting. The notched top seems to align with the ridge where we had seen the Eagle Stone… and on a clear day I would like to check that.
We talked and debated, speculating on questions to which we will never know the answers, but perhaps the questioning is enough to know enough. After a while, we went in search of another stone, less easy to spot as it lies flat in the ground. There too we wondered at the purpose of the grooves and depressions, the spirals and whorls.
The ancient carvings though are now sealed against destruction and weathering, capped by a perfect replica cast from the original, though there are other carvings on this part of the moor. One of these days we will look for them. Perhaps the Birchen Stone will show the way, being definitely a Pointy Stone… But that would have to be for another day…the pubs would be open and it had to be time for lunch.
We squelched our way past another hut circle and a stone that looked freshly folded, but which must have lain there since the Ice Age rearranged the landscape. This time we followed the stream that is supposed to be the path down to the gate.
Regaining the cars, we donned dry footwear and drove the short distance into Baslow. Taking the same table as our last shared meal, we left the ancient past behind and talked instead about present and future, about books, birds, sailing, ‘cabbages and kings’. And next time, it looks like we may end up getting more than our feet wet…