For one reason or another, we have spent a lot of time driving backwards and forwards to Glastonbury since the birth of the Silent Eye. We never take the motorway, choosing instead to travel the slower, more beautiful route south and west into Somerset. The road leads through an ancient and sacred landscape, passing the White Horse at Uffington and beneath the stark contours of Barbury Castle before crossing an unseen threshold into Wiltshire. There is no need to be anything other than simply open to the moment to feel the difference; there is a change of gear, an indefinable frisson and you get a glimpse of the weight of ages carried in the memory of the land.
The road passes beside Silbury Hill and the stone circles of Avebury and it was a simply as a gesture of respect that we formed the habit of stopping by the great mound for a moment. Avebury is a huge complex, not ‘just’ a stone circle and a sense of presence seems to radiate out from its heart. We spent Saturday with a friend and were returning from Glastonbury in the dark. We had already stopped at Silbury on the way there and paid our respects to hill and stone in the sunlight; now, however, it was dark and while the land gathered its shadows, we decided to dine at the Red Lion, the reputedly haunted pub that has stood in the middle of the stone circle for the past four hundred years. The last time we had been here, we had been taking an extensive detour northwards to a Silent Eye workshop in Yorkshire. The time before that, it had been the midsummer workshop.
There are no lights on the road that leads into the village; the darkness is complete save for the light you bring with you. The circles and stones of Avebury have stood here in silence for around five thousand years. The stones that are overwhelming by their sheer scale and presence during daylight hours seem immense and overpowering when they loom out of the darkness, caught in the headlights like frozen ghosts. In summer, this is a place of rich green adorned by swathes of wildflowers. But winter has the land in its grip; the ground is iron-hard and the trees as leafless skeletons, stretching hoary fingers to the stars. It is an eerie sight. It does not look like the kind of place anyone in their right minds would want to explore.
So, of course we did. The sub-zero temperatures of midwinter meant we had the stones to ourselves. Without light, there is no way to see a clear path across the uneven surface of the grass… yet for some reason, our footsteps were sure and confident. Without light, the stones should have blended into the moonless darkness, yet they stood clear and luminous, reflecting back at us, or so it seemed, more than the meagre glow from the darkened village should have allowed. They even cast shadows on the embankment of the henge… confusing shadows that seemed to replace the lost stones with ghostly memories…
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