There is a long barrow on one of the hills near my home. It is not signposted or protected in any way so it gets a lot of foot traffic. Children run over it and it is popular with mountain bike riders. I assume most of them have no idea that they’re on an ancient monument, and that it could do with kinder treatment from them.
It is a place I like to go, although I really struggle with how other people treat the site. I’ve spent a lot of time there, getting things in perspective – there is a lot of open sky on the hilltop and it tends to help. I go there to listen to the barrow, and to be with it. I’ve had a few interesting experiences there, but nothing it is easy to put into words. The barrow people do not talk much.
I realised at my most recent visit, that they only ever come up behind me and that not looking is clearly part of the deal. Pretty much all that ever happens is that sometimes I will have a feeling that someone is stood behind me. If there’s anything else going on, it isn’t getting through to me. But, my feeling is that nothing else is going on, that they want nothing from me and are not offering anything other than their presence. I find that presence very powerful, and comforting. I always feel better for spending time with them.
There was a beautiful moment yesterday when the temperature dropped. I was lying down on the flank of the barrow, with my eyes shut. It felt like a rush of energy, and people left. There was too much wind noise for me to hear them going, but I felt the land clearing, felt the descending peace of absence, and it was lovely. I’m not terribly good at being around people, and I find people who are out and about consuming the landscape as a product for their enjoyment to be especially difficult. They took their noise, their dogs, their destructive children, and they went away.
I stayed longer, and put up with the cold, and relished the quiet.
It isn’t a park, it’s a should-be-wild landscape full of small flowers in the grasses, larks, and ancient history. But most people who go there treat it like a park, and I hate that.