Monday, 30 May 2011

Druid's Temple, Ilton

Druid's Temple is a folly contrived to evoke the pagan temple of Stonehenge, huge trilithons set in an oval with a sheltered cave and a sinister block altar. Pine woods surround it, enclosing an artificial ritual landscape of dolmens and balanced pillars of stone, suggesting natural temples such as Brimham Rocks and the Cheesewring up on Dartmoor.

Its an impressive place to visit and with no restrictions on opening it has become slightly notorious for its modern, unofficial ritual use.

My second visit to Druid's Temple was at night, in the midst of a turbulent period of my life. I was angry before I got there, and sad that it was in the circumstances that it was. The misplaced pine woods seemed colder and more alien than ever, discordant against the surrounding landscape. I thought that viewing it in the dark would bring some kind of significance to the place, which had seemed cold and soulless to me in daylight. I usually have a boundless, if hugely irritating, enthusiasm for going to unusual places repeatedly. This time I didn't want to get there or leave the car once we arrived.

Walking towards the stones past a pile of felled trees, I felt as though something was watching us from the top of the folly. I fully expected us to bump into a group of equally jittery people, perhaps up to no good, and us both leave sheepishly. When we got nearer, the quiet became oppressive, the air slightly scented with freshly felled pine but thick with something less tangible. I started to see movement in my peripheral vision, something not unusual for me as a migraine sufferer but this time less prescribed and more sudden. I thought I saw glimpses of a huge black creature, wolf-like and immaterial. I could taste a metallic taste, as if blood had been split. Every step towards the encirclement of the stones brought the creature more vividly to my senses, and I started to panic.

Once we stood within the stones, I could not keep my fear under control any longer, and I started to babble about the demon stalking us. As I stood there, it was as if I could see the beast circling us along the top of the stones, waiting for me to be deprived of my only exit before it ripped me apart. I stopped being able to focus or concentrate on reality. Wild images of demonic dogs chased before me, darker than the shadows we stood in, dripping with some kind of unearthly gore that I could smell and feel the heat of. It seemed to me that if I approached the altar, all hope would be lost.

I was completely lost in this vision, it felt like an age before I was able to leave or talk but eventually I remember begging to be allowed to go back to the car. I think I ran. Not an experience I would have shared at first consideration, but as I sorted through old photos I came across my disinterested snaps from my first visit, and wanted to juxtapose the two contrasting events in a post. I guess a blog on the fateful and strange places I visit should include the unpleasant, uncanny aspects of visiting England too. The experience was formative in my current situation and self knowledge, it made me consider how strong emotions seem to arise from something residing in locations I visit that seem beyond the places themselves. The genii locorum of Druid's Temple were roused by something in me that evening, and I genuinely felt as though the place would devour me, or at least a part of me.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Green Howe

We took a walk from Wetherby up to North Deighton via Green Howe last weekend. I have been reading more about barrow culture recently; P.V. Glob's Mound People has been inspiring me in many ways, so it seemed appropriate to go and look at what is possibly the nearest one.

Green Howe is a round barrow 60ft in diameter, although heavily ploughed down. The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal from May 1971 details its excavation over some thirty years; the barrow contained 16 burials from late neolithic to bronze age, mostly children or teenagers. North Deighton is a strange little hamlet, neat to a fault and with a strange quiet for its slightly elevated position over a chalky stretch of land. We found all footpaths blocked, although becoming stranded in a nearby farmyard provided a Marie Celeste-like creepiness rather than the bollocking we were expecting.

Closer to the mound itself, easily spotted from the childrens' playground at the rear of the distinctive and historical row of cottages in North Deighton, we chanced upon a local guy starting up his vintage car. He told us the local farmer was unfriendly, all the locals were pretty unfriendly and we'd have no luck at the farmhouse. We believed him, having read about the landowner's uncompromising attitude prior to our visit in an archaeological survey which mentioned the lack of access and the refusal to preserve the mound from ploughing. Instead, after hearing all about the ghostly disturbances our local and his wife experienced in the locality, we took a wide berth of the farmhouse and skirted the (freshly ploughed!) field in which Green Howe stood. I was able to photograph it, but not very well, and we could only get a rough idea of the character of the mound. I wondered at the time what we'd gained by visiting it, but in retrospect the strangeness of the locale has formed strong images in my mind. The landscape has a kind of foreign quality, the soil is different here and the land has more gentle undulations than the gritstone further west, from down by the Crimple beck this mound helps to form a pregnant hill against the setting sun. The archaeological notes mention the soil reflecting a woodland setting, a prominent mound rising in a clearing of the trees. The notes also mention the existence of a hearth predating even the three primary burials, possibly the mound was built on an even more ancient settlement which was for some reason a significant place for the burial of younger family members.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Otley Maypole and Buttercross Belles morris side

On May Day we had a quick jaunt to Otley to see the Maypole dancing which was very lovely, two of the local primary schools had taught classes the maypole dances and the Buttercross Belles, an Otley morris side, performed some folk dances to complement this. I wish we'd been able to get there to see them dancing up the sunrise on the Chevin!

I'm quite tempted by the open evening for joining the Belles...smocks ahoy

More photos on my new flickr page.... old flickr abandoned for now.