I talked a bit earlier this week about the relationship between Druidry and the Ancestors and Beyond the Map in terms of experiencing blood family. Ancestors of Land are also a connecting thread. We honour them in ritual, and they are whoever happened to be on the land before us. I have a keen sense of many ancestors in my current location. The canal was built, and there are ancestors of the boating life too. Go back far enough and this landscape would have been marshy. It has yielded evidence of ancient settlement. Listening to the wind in the rushes, kayaking, I have a sense of those first people who lived alongside the Severn, hunted the wild birds, and put some of their own dead in barrows on the hillsides. I’ve become conscious of how walkable the Severn vale is, and how, if there was no motorway, the journey from river to hill would be feasible.
This landscape is full of hints about ancestors. Having read Oliver Rackham’s book on the history of the British landscape, I had some ideas about things to look for, but they were broad and general. Then a thing happened. Tom and I were walking down the towpath to get to one of the places I can download email, and I saw a chap with a map in hand, looking out across the fields. There’s a footpath down towards the river, but it’s not as well signposted as would be ideal. I’ve stopped and talked to walkers many times about where the path goes. So I stopped and asked if he was looking for the aforementioned.
He had come down to look at a particularly old landscape feature indicative of former settlement, and explained to me how to read the humps and bumps in the fields. The enclosure around a settlement or farm means lower land levels on the inside as the river dumps soil round the outside. He told me how the New Grounds had been deposited by the river in mediaeval times, leading to court cases about who actually owned the land. An actual, real to goodness land historian, on my towpath, talking about my landscape. He was a tad self-effacing but after enthusing at him we managed to elicit both a name, and the critical information that he writes books. I’ve now got one of them – Gloucestershire 300 Years ago. The author is Alan Pilbeam and he’s written a few. He has an accessible writing style and an eye to the implications, so that the political and power shifts he thinks of in terms of ordinary people, too. So many of our ancestors exist as a silence in the historical record, a reasoned attempt to put some of them back in, is a wonderful thing. There’s a lot of detail about things you can go and observe, including pointers to ancient Pagan sites. It’s wonderful stuff.
To the handful of Gloucestershire Druids and for that matter non-Druids who read my stuff, I can only say hunt out this man’s work, it is brilliant. I don’t know who else is doing this other places, but if you can find any, do. There’s nothing like being able to look at the bumps in the ground and know what they mean and who was there, and why…