“Can we go out for the day together?” asked my younger son. Days are precious because of their uncertainty around here at the moment, but the chance to spend time with my son and granddaughters made the answer one that I did not need to think about. With everywhere closed and covid restrictions in place, it would have to be in the open air and the first place that sprang to mind was Wayland’s Smithy.
We were lucky with the weather… a glorious, if chilly, spring day dawned. A picnic packed to eat in the car and a wheelchair borrowed ‘just in case’. With the girls sharing the back seat with Stuart, we headed off to one of the most iconic ancient sites in the land… and the place where the adventures Stuart and I have shared over the years had begun so long ago. It was to be a special day for so many reasons.
I already knew that I would not be able to climb Dragon Hill and planned to wait, looking out over the Manger, while the others climbed to the top. I had told the girls the legend about how St George had slain the dragon atop this hill, and how the bare patch of chalk that remains on its summit is where the dragon’s blood was spilt and the grass no longer grows. Caught between shivers of delight and disbelief, Hollie, at six years old, appeared to approve of the story.
I watched the great kites and the buzzards circling far beneath me, and arms outspread, the two little girls ‘flew’ around the hilltop. I could remember clearly our dear friend and companion in the Silent Eye, running down the top of the hill, arms outspread, taking off like a dragon… and she has not ‘come down’ since 🙂
Disaster struck when I fell down for the second time… my leg simply ‘disappearing’ as far as my nerves were concerned. This time I took Stuart out with me and the wheelchair was reluctantly brought out from the car. We drove to the main car park and Stuart and I waited on the grass while Alex and his girls went to see the chalk-cut figure, thousands of years old, that is said to represent a White Horse, or Epona, the horse-mother goddess. Or, given that it has a ‘beak’ or flames coming from its mouth, perhaps a dragon…
Once again, tucked up with a tartan blanket and a granddaughter under each arm, I shared the legends, telling them about the great prehistoric enclosure of Uffington Castle and where to find the Fairy Thorn beside which a skylark had risen one fateful and misty morning that had changed our lives. I was hoping that they would feel the same magic in the land as we had done, and being open to it, would let it in.
A long time later, my son and his girls came back and we headed off to Wayland’s Smithy, just a mile down the five thousand-year-old track known as the Ridgeway. The wheelchair was a necessity now and not one I was happy about… but needs must. I told them the legends… Stuart added to them by including silver-shod unicorns… capturing a little magic for the girls. We told Alex about the feather that fell from the sky when we had been here that first time… a small, white feather, exactly like the one the girls had found and given to me earlier that morning.
The girls made friends with the welcoming darkness of the tomb, sitting within its embrace. Perhaps my own imminent passing may be softened a little for them as they remember the feeling of a peaceful place where loved ones were laid with such care and respect… a place where laughter is as welcome as reverence and where the sun ripples on the spring flowers playing in the breeze.
Wayland’s is a place to which we have taken many people we love, seeking to share the love of the ancient land and its lore that began to blossom for us there. As another generation learned to see with ‘fairy eyes’… to see the many faces hidden in the spirit stones and feel the living presence of earth, stone and sky, I was so glad we had been able to share the day. All you need to do is go out and connect with your roots, no matter where you are in the world… the earth has no boundaries, but continues as a whole, even beneath the sea and beyond time.
And were I in any doubt at all about whether the girls were old enough to understand, two small stones had been picked up along the path and hidden in pockets until they were home… small stones that are standing stones in miniature, covered, from whichever angle you look, in faces…