Tag Archives: barrows

Book reviews, and ancestors

Boneland, Alan Garner. This is an adult sequel to the two children’s books, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, and The Moon of Gomrath. Here we find Colin as an adult, troubled, and deeper into the mysteries of the edge than ever. It’s quite a challenging reframing of the first books. The writing is incredible, evocative, reality breaking, heart breaking, ambiguous, glorious… and bloody difficult to talk about without spoilers. If you love Alan Garner’s work, it’s a must, if you haven’t read anything else, you could read this, it would stand alone without knowing the two previous books in the set. I usually like talking about books, I loved this book and I don’t want to talk about it – an unusual reaction, but this is a unique piece of writing.

More about the book here – https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780007463251/boneland


British Barrows: A Matter of Life and Death, Ann Woodward. A fascinating book for anyone obsessed with ancient ancestors in the landscape. The author is an academic, and much of the book is based on her field observations, and her assessment of finds and records of other digs. There’s a lot of technical information – hard on the non-specialist, and a lot of visual thinking to do – a nightmare for me, but scattered through are incredible ideas, observations and possibilities. Perhaps the most exciting is the possibility of a crane bag – with no reference to crane bags or Graves, only to bags, and graves. I also didn’t know before reading that many barrows have no evidence of burials in them, these are places for the living as well as for the dead.

More about the book here – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Books-British-Barrows-Matter-Life-Death/dp/0752425315


Goddess Calling: Inspirational Messages & Meditations of Sacred Feminine Liberation Thealogy
by Karen Tate

Eco-spiritual-feminism. In a series of powerful essays, Karen Tate explores the relationships between politics, gender issues, spirituality and activism. Reclaiming Goddess in our lives is very much about reclaiming healthy, balanced, sustainable relationship with everything else on this planet. For the weary activist courting burnout (and I fear that’s the majority of us) this book is a real lift and contains a lot of much needed hope and inspiration.

There is a section of meditation working with Goddess imagery – meditation is a rather personal thing so whether the exact content will work for you is impossible to predict, but if you know how to take and adapt things to suit, there’s a wealth of raw material here and inspiration for approaches to meditation. I found it a really good read. If this sounds like your sort of thing, I can definitely recommend it.

More about the book here – http://www.changemakers-books.com/books/goddess-calling

Walking Calendar – Boxing Day

Boxing Day lends itself to a walk – the post-Christmas over-eating guilt encourages people to get out. Amongst the set of people I was at school with, there’s a long standing tradition of walking over the hills from Dursley to Waterly Bottoms (we have fantastic place names round here) to a pub, and then coming back. It’s a steep walk, and not the easiest in the dark. I’ve done it a couple of times, and while I like the theory, I struggle with the practice. It also doesn’t help that not living in Dursley I need to get home after the return from the pub, sans car.

This year I thought it would be fun to start my own Boxing Day walk, for which I managed to lure out a few intrepid souls. While I like the idea of committing to a walk on this day, I have no sense of a fixed route I want to adopt – that may settle in time, or it may not.

The inspiration for the walk came from Gloucestershire Ghost Tales (History press, Anthony Nanson and Kirsty Hartsiosis) – the mention of a place called ‘Woeful Dane’s Bottom’ and reference to a standing stone that I didn’t previously know about. I spent a while cross-referencing the story with the local ordinance survey map, but then failed to take the map with me on the day, which had consequences.

We walked from Stroud to Nailsworth, and thence to Avening, where there was a detour to the graveyard. My great uncle – Wilfred Hunking – and his wife Anne are buried there. They are just on the graveyard side of the wall, and on the other side is a stile, and it was at that stile that they kissed for the first time on the night that they met at a local dance. They were a case of love at first sight. Romantic to the end. But also cantankerous – it was a romance that looked a lot like fighting and point scoring from the outside.

From Avening, we walked up the edge of Gattcombe Park, an exercise in trying to keep my inner proletariat from rioting. A vast tract of beautiful landscape and woodland largely inaccessible because it’s owned by a royal. There is now a gate in the field that allows people to access the barrow there – a really unusual barrow with a stone on the top, called The Tingle Stone. I’ve heard stories about Pagans trespassing in that field and finding themselves in conversation with armed police. And so we trespassed, but an unlocked gate is an open invitation, and I think it immoral that anyone is allowed to prohibit access to such places as these. The history of land ownership in the UK has a lot to do with conquest, which can equally be described as violent theft.

We found the long stone, but, without the map, were on the wrong road and the wrong side of the field, so we missed the second barrow, and we did not get to Woeful Dane’s Bottom. That will be for another day.

As is so often the way of it, this walk suggested the scope for another, and one that might be especially suited to early spring.

Walking with the ancestors

I’m late blogging today because I’ve been out for hours, walking with others from the Auroch Grove. We’ve been walking along a local hill line, which the map shows as having seven or so long barrows and tumuli on it, plus rumours of others, the site of a Celtic or perhaps Romano British Temple, and an earth worked hill fort. One of the tumuli has its top off and can be wandered into, one is intact, and can be crawled into, and the earthwork can be walked. Not all of the burial sites are easy to visit, although I’m going to see if I can get permission to go to them in the future.

It was a very long walk, but a feasible one. That tells me that yes, the odds are that our ancestors of land were walking between these barrows and the hill fort. I can only imagine who, when, or why, but the idea of some kind of pilgrimage between the places of the dead and the living really speaks to me.

The views from those hills are incredible, we can see into Wales, miles in every direction in fact. It is mind expanding, to see so much landscape, to experience the enormity of place and sky.

I have a sense of this land that I did not have before. My body is sore, my mind is tired, tomorrow I will hurt. I do not have any kind of intellectual insight into what I just did, no sense of cerebral comprehension, but at the same time… my body knows this landscape in a different way, feels it, has become part of it. It’s been a profound experience. Perhaps with time to reflect, a more head-centric understanding will come, but I don’t mind if it doesn’t. Today has been a good day.

Death in high places

Yesterday when I was out on low ground, I realised I could see my local hilltop barrow. There were at least four round here, down the edge of the Cotswolds. Most are hidden a bit by trees, but I’ve been told that, when the barrows were first here, the hilltops were bare. I’m going to be exploring to see just how far away I can spot my local barrow from, but my guess is, a fair distance.

Back in the day, they would not have been grassed over, but exposed Cotswold stone. The light would have caught them, especially at dawn and dusk, and they would have stood out. My guess is that the ancestors who lived on the Severn plain would have been able to see these barrows every day. The dead, high on the hills in their shining tombs, would have been present.

Thinking about death affects how we think about life. There is some solid research out there around this one, it’s not just a philosophical statement. You can hunt it out if you are fussy. People who are aware of death tend to shift their priorities, usually away from materialism, money and status and towards that which actually makes them happy. There’s nothing like a keen sense of mortality to sharpen your perspective.

We went through this with the boy a couple of weeks ago. There was nothing particular to trigger it, just a sudden realisation that everything passes, he would die one day. What threw him most was facing up to accepting that his beloved cat would not live forever, either. Of course he’s known about the idea of death most of his life, but there’s a big difference between knowing the theory and grasping the implications. There was an immediate and very dramatic consequence: He has almost entirely stopped playing computer games.

While we were on the boat, with limited electricity, computer games could not feature much, but this summer has made all normal things more available, and there was a bit of a splurge. Then he stepped away. Realisation of his own death made him decide that computer games simply were not a good use of his time. We talked about this, and he said as much. He’s retuned to reading and being sociable, which is lovely, and I’ve not had to attempt to reason with him.

The dead speak to us, if we give ourselves chance to listen. They say ‘you too are coming our way, and so is everything else’. They promise absolute uncertainty. We might like to believe that our beliefs about what happens after death can be trusted, but I think we all also know that until we get there, all we really have is a best guess. Death brings every aspect of life into question. The dead remind us, any time we let them, that there is much to be said for getting on with living. Live well, passionately, drink deeply from the cup because you do not know how many days remain to you.

Looking at the prominent barrows, and how they would have been visible in the past, I think our ancestors were on to something. We, on the other hand, have grown far too used to death as a throwaway element in visual drama, the actor bound to be rapidly reincarnated to some new life before our very eyes. We might see a phenomenal amount of fictional death, but it serves mostly to take us away from real death. In our heads, we are never the bit part who bleeds to death in the background, we are the bullet dodging hero bound to survive to the closing credits. It is bullshit.

In living with our mortality, we are more likely to do a good job of the whole being alive side of the process. Those who are in denial about it, may not get round to living very much at all before the opportunity to stop living entirely catches up with them.