Archive for the Standing Stones Category

A Magical Walk in Wiltshire, Part 1

Posted in History, Landscape, Standing Stones, Wiltshire, Woods with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2013 by mysearchformagic

I set off from Marlborough later than I had intended, delayed by a huge, deliciously lardy fried breakfast. By the time I had left the town and set off along the White Horse Trail the sun was already high and bright in a blue sky flecked with fluffy white clouds. Following the trail wasn’t always easy, with marker posts few and far between, but with the help of my trusty map I managed to stay mostly on the right path.

Setting off along the White Horse Trail

Setting off along the White Horse Trail, Wiltshire

The trail led me up out of the Kennet Valley, along the edges of dusty, stubbled fields, where a flock of nervous pheasants toddled anxiously in front of me before awkwardly taking flight in a flurry of angry croaks. I scrambled through overgrown hedgerows where my legs were stung by nettles and my clothes grabbed by brambles, then down again into the West Woods.

Looking across the valley towards the West Woods, Wiltshire

Looking across the valley towards the West Woods, Wiltshire

Here I came across the ancient Wansdyke, a long, meandering earthwork consisting of a high bank and deep ditch which stretches for miles across the Wiltshire countryside. The date or purpose of the dyke are not certain, although it seems to have been constructed sometime around the Saxon period, and may well have been defensive, its name apparently a derivation of ‘Woden’s Dyke’.

The bank and ditch of the Wansdyke, Wiltshire

The bank and ditch of the Wansdyke, Wiltshire

Despite a couple of wrong turns along the network of trails in the shady forest, I eventually found the path again and soon ended up on a high ridge, looking south across the Vale of Pewsey. The views here were stunning, the low green hills fading to grey as they rolled gently into the distance.

It was obvious by now that I was nearing the magical landscape of Avebury. My map was dotted with little stars marked as Tumuli in that distinctive gothic script used by the Ordnance Survey to denote ‘sites of antiquity’. As I arrived at Knapp Hill I spotted the charmingly named Adam’s Grave, a long, low ancient burial place on the crest of a nearby hill.

Adam's Grave, Wiltshire

Adam’s Grave, Wiltshire

The next stretch of my journey was uphill again, along the ancient Ridgeway which leads northwards from this spot toward the famous White Horse of Uffington. I was now walking in the footsteps of our ancestors going back centuries, maybe even millenia, as I puffed my way to the top of the ridge.

Walking the ancient Ridgeway, Wiltshire

Walking the ancient Ridgeway, Wiltshire

Towards the summit I walked back across the Wansdyke, larger here but more overgrown with trees and scrub. The vista from the other side was magnificent, facing north now towards my destination. As I scuttled down the chalky, flint-flecked path two birds of prey, buzzards perhaps, or maybe red kites, wheeled and swooped playfully above me, their sharp cries cutting through the soft sigh of the breeze. The sun was hidden now, and I could see an ominous bank of grey cloud moving in speedily from the north.

I knew I was nearing my destination when I spotted the distinctive shape of Silbury Hill in the valley below. Soon I was in the pretty village of East Kennet, with its quiet lanes and thatched cottages, the wooded mound of East Kennet Long Barrow looming on the rise to my left. Not much later I took a short detour to see the impressive remains of West Kennet Long Barrow, now extensively excavated and open to curious visitors. Inside I noticed the strong scent of incense, and in one of the burial chambers I found a lit candle sitting next to a strange corn dolly, a pagan offering of some sort I suppose.

Huge stones around the entrance to West Kennet Long Barrow, Wiltshire

Huge stones around the entrance to West Kennet Long Barrow, Wiltshire

Sitting on top of the barrow offered more wonderful views of the surrounding fields, and also the opportunity to take of my heavy boots and grab something to eat. But before long I was up again, and walking down towards the main road, past an old oak tree hung with colourful ribbons and offerings, and on towards the village and prehistoric henge of Avebury.

Babouin and Babouine, Morbihan

Posted in Brittany, Standing Stones with tags , , , , , on July 16, 2013 by mysearchformagic

I stumbled across Babouin and Babouine by pure chance during a recent trip to Brittany. While driving through the sleepy village of Trédion I spotted a rather tatty looking sign pointing down a narrow country lane towards ‘Babouin and Babouine – Menhirs Taillés’, which translates roughly as ‘Male and Female Baboon – Carved Standing Stones’. Who could resist such a bizarre description? Certainly not me, so I pulled off the main highway and headed down the single track road to find out more.

It wasn’t going to be easy. After a short drive to the edge of a forest where I parked up, I found myself facing a choice of three footpaths leading into the trees. No more signposts were to be seen. I followed the left hand path for a couple of minutes, and then had a change of heart and took the central path. I had no idea of what I was looking for, and after a long but pleasant walk through the peaceful, atmospheric woods I eventually gave up and returned to my car. Babouin and Babouine were to remain an intriguing mystery, for a while at least.

Which path to choose to find Babouin and Babouine?

Which path to choose to find Babouin and Babouine?

Last week I found myself back in magical Morbihan, so after doing some online research I headed straight back to Trédion. It turns out the left hand path had been the right one after all. About three hundred metres along it a smaller path splits off to the left. A short walk across the loamy forest floor, past piles of felled trees which were filling the air with the unseasonal piney smell of Christmas, and I found myself face to face (quite literally) with Babouin and Babouine.

The path through the woods towards Babouin and Babouine

The path through the woods towards Babouin and Babouine

No one knows the age of these two sculpted stones. No one knows their purpose. With its wide moon face, Babouin reminds me of Pictish carved heads. It stares, solid and expressionless, giving nothing away. I suppose it is the flat oval features of this menhir that have led to the unusual ‘baboon’ names by which the stones are now known.

The carved face of Babouin

The carved face of Babouin

Babouine doesn’t remind me of much at all – in fact I find it hard to make out a face or figure in the vague shapes of the moss-covered stone, despite claims that is represents a female form. Deciphering the incised lines which decorate the stone wasn’t made any easier by the contrast of the dazzling summer sunshine and constantly shifting shadows cast by the leaves of the forest canopy. Some people think that these two sculptures are ancient, others that they were once typical menhirs which were carved later by some unknown hand into the odd forms that we find today.

The strange, indecipherable forms of the Babouine

The strange, indecipherable forms of the Babouine

I guess the true story behind the Babouin and Babouine will always remain a mystery. One thing is for sure – encountering them in the shadowy forest near Trédion, tall and silent amongst the rustling trees, is a mysteriously magical experience.