Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Psychogeography of Standing Stones

Having returned from a week walking on Dartmoor, which included a number of visits to standing stones, I am once again reminded of the very specific sitings that ancient standing stones have.

Whether  you believe in things like ley lines or geographical vortices of power or not, there is definitely something about the locations that the ancients chose for their standing stones which inspire in us an imaginative power and mystery.

Dartmoor is spectacular, particularly in our overcrowded little island, as a place of miles of nothingness... one can walk for several leagues without meeting a road or building or, indeed, another person. It is always in these places, it seems to me, that birds take over as the dominant species - remove humans and birds move right in, coming and going in their flux of settlement and migration. Buzzards whirled overhead, appearing and reappearing day by day. A peregrine swooped below us as we stood on one of the high tors. A kestrel hanging in the air, that distinctive shape, before making his dive. Crows wheeling everywhere.

Beardown Man is a menhir, isolated, twice as tall as a man, that stands between the tors. He appears to be surveying the hills. His vertical presence on the endless horizontal planes of the moor is remarkable, and seems to draw attention to the horizons. You can see the weather coming towards you from all points of the compass. His presence seems to draw you to consider your surroundings.

It is quite a walk to Beardown Man, as there is only one road that really crosses Dartmoor, so to get anywhere you have to go by foot across boggy, grass tufted land. Many standing stones in Britain are more accessible now, but there are still a number like this that require effort to reach. Often high up on hills, isolated, placed in the centre of open, empty landscapes, the stones require a sort of pilgrimage to reach them. This must be how the ancients intended them to be, before we built roads to access pretty much everything. The effort of reaching the stones adds to their singularity.

Did they wish to place a stone and so sought the right place for it? Or did being in the place itself suggest a stone should be uprighted there.

It made me wonder, where would we place standing stones today? And what would they mean now, given our changed and constantly altering landscape, how would the surroundings interact imaginatively with that extraordinary presence?

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