Archive for Woods

The Alignements du Petit-Ménec, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, Fairy Tales, History, Standing Stones, Woods with tags , , , , , , , on May 13, 2015 by mysearchformagic

The huge complex of standing stones at Carnac in Brittany is, quite deservedly, world famous. With row upon row of huge megaliths running for kilometres across the landscape, it is hardly surprising that these stones have fascinated generations of antiquarians and now attract thousands upon thousands of tourists every year. The large numbers of visitors have inevitably had an impact on the fragile environment of Carnac, and as a result the majority of the stones are now kept behind fences, far from the fingers (and feet) of inquisitive day-trippers. So, although they are an amazing sight, the best-known alignments of Carnac can seem rather distant, untouchable, lacking that certain uncanny atmosphere that I love so much.

The impressive standing stones of Carnac, Brittany

The impressive standing stones of Carnac, Brittany

What few of the visitors to Carnac realise is that there is in fact one set of the stones which remains rather overlooked, and still retains a wonderfully air of magic. The stones of the alignements du Petit-Ménec, which sit at north-easterly end of the complex, might be smaller than some of their better-known neighbours, and may be rather hidden in woodland, but the fact that they remain open and unfenced means that visitors can still wander among them and get a real sense of their unique ancient mystery.

Approaching the alignements du Petit-Ménec, Brittany

Approaching the alignements du Petit-Ménec, Brittany

Although they do appear on most of maps of the complex, the alignements du Petit-Ménec are not properly signposted, and lie quite a distance from the other megaliths beyond a busy main road. This is perhaps why they tend to be ignored by most visitors to the Carnac stones. Whatever the reason, I am rather glad that they are overlooked. Hidden in a quiet woodland, far from the crowds and their cars, the alignements du Petit-Ménec are a magic-hunters dream come true!

The magical stones of Petit-Ménec, Carnac

The magical stones of Petit-Ménec, Carnac

There are plenty of fabulous tales associated with the stones, including the (rather anachronistic) story that they were marching Roman centurions turned to stone by the wizard Merlin. Another legend tells that they are in fact a fleeing army of Pagans literally petrified by Pope Cornelius. All in all there are 101 standing stones in the Petit-Ménec group, with seven rows facing east and a further three facing north-east. Wandering amongst the stones in their peaceful forest, its easy to imagine yourself in some enchanted wood. I didn’t see any fairies, goblins or Korrigans on the day of my visit, but if I had, I am not sure I would have been that surprised. After all, I can’t think of a more suitable place for them than the magical alignements du Petit-Ménec.

Some of the larger stones in the alignements du Petit-Ménec, Carnac

Some of the larger stones in the alignements du Petit-Ménec, Carnac

Advertisements

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.

Luffness Friary, Aberlady

Posted in Church, History, Ruins with tags , , , , , , on February 10, 2013 by mysearchformagic
The ruins of Luffness Friary sit in woodland just to the east of the historic little town of Aberlady. The path to the site starts on a quiet cul-de-sac, but is not easy to find. I started badly, taking the wrong gate and ending up in a muddy field, the track clearly visible on the other side of a stone wall. After an unsuccessful attempt to find the proper route, I finally clambered over the wet, slippery wall, the fastest (but also messiest) option.
The path to Luffness Friary

The path to Luffness Friary

The woods of Luffness are strange. As you enter them you will come across a large pond, its water bright green with algae, the skeletons of dead trees emerging from the water. It’s a quiet place, rarely visited and slightly eerie.
A strange green pond near Luffness Friary

A strange green pond near Luffness Friary

It doesn’t take long to find the foundations of the Friary itself. Little is known about its history, although it is clear that it was a Carmelite community. It first gets a mention in written records in the early 14th Century, but the remains themselves suggest a much earlier date.
Ruins in the forest, Luffness Friary

Ruins in the forest, Luffness Friary

The most striking part of the ruins is the knight’s tomb, a well-worn effigy of a medieval nobleman lying under a pointed arch. The identity of the subject is long forgotten, although local tradition claims that it is one Bickerton, a standard bearer to Sir William Douglas who turned traitor on his master at the Battle of Otterburn in 1388 and later met a grisly end. Others say it is Henry de Pinkey, a local landowner who supported Robert the Bruce during the famous Wars of Independence in the early 14th Century. Whoever he was, the wide cracks in the tomb reveal that his mortal remains are now long-gone.
The Tomb of the Knight, Luffness Friary

The Tomb of the Knight, Luffness Friary

While investigating the tomb, I also noticed below the fallen leaves the intricate carvings and inscriptions which survive on the floor of what was once the church. On the day of my visit a huge fallen tree lay across the ruins, its elaborate roots exposed to view. In amongst the network of roots and lumps of damp earth I spotted the glittering shells of oysters, the remains perhaps of medieval monkish meals.
The carved floor, Luffness Friary

The carved floor, Luffness Friary

Not much else of the priory is extant, the foundations either lost or hidden below the forest floor, although the dip of its now empty fish ponds can be seen in a nearby field. On the other side of the woods stands Luffness House, a grand mansion which sits on the site of a much earlier castle, still a private home. The whole area is filled with reminders of an eventful history. The fact that so much of this history is now lost or forgotten, with tales and legends inevitably emerging to fill in the gaps, only seems to add Luffness’s incredible air of magic.

The ruins of Luffness Friary

The ruins of Luffness Friary