Saturday, May 26, 2007

West Kennet Long Barrow

Tuesday May 22, 2007

Built more than 5000 years ago, West Kennet Long Barrow stands amongst water meadows and corn fields. Four chambers are arranged symmetrically leading from a small central passage, with a fifth larger and rounder chamber at the end. Modern architects have laid concrete blocks on top with sky lights cut into them. The barrow, lit from above is therefore quite light.

The country lanes were verged in white. Cow parsley frothed across the meadowland, nodding and bobbing in the breeze. The air was filled with the scent of green freshness and bitter herbs. The poplar trees clapped and rattled, sounding uncannily like water bubbling across pebbles. High in their branches, Robins’ blackbirds and crows chorused cheerfully.

We crossed the river Kennett, clearly and gently flowing between the patches of algae and weeds. A moorhen bobbed a greeting. The Green corn rippled in the breeze. Behind us, skirted with wooden huts, Silbury Hill sat huge and conical, its flat top distinctive against a blue sky.

The barrow was flanked by huge stones, standing like massive uneven teeth. We squeezed past, ducking our heads, climbing in turn into each of the small chambers, until we arrived at the larger rounder one at the end.

My hands were everywhere, examining the great stones standing solid and firm. I sought out the places in-between where smaller ones had been balanced cleverly, to fill up the space. All around, little offerings; stones, feathers, beads and coins were tucked into little nooks and crannies. We were enclosed within the womb of the earth.

The drum beat insistently. The rattle’s voice wove in and out. The stone was cool on my cheek, holding me with a mother’s firm hand against my shoulders and side as I leant into the rocks.
The clearing was green. The stones around the spring, white and shining with water in the light. The blackbird led me through the forest to a tree which I climbed. At its top, the blackbird flew off and I followed, soaring high, stretching out my great powerful wings, swooping over the landscape below, laid out like a map, seeing every fine detail with my hawk’s sharp eyes.

Below me the stones made a distinct pattern of circles. In and out of these, hundreds of people, ant-sized and silent from this great height, wove in and out, drawing with their dancing bodies, a beautiful pattern of spirals on the earth below.

The sun moved and I swooped down, landing in the empty field outside the barrow. Standing in its shadow, for the sun was low in the west, I prepared to enter, taking one more look around at the megaliths, the wooden palings and across the meadow in the far distance, the cut-off cone that was Silbury Hill.

I moved inside and lay down on skins to sleep. In the night I dreamed, but I don’t know of what. In the morning, I rose with the answer to a question, clear in my mind.

From beyond the chamber, a crow cawed. Voices intruded, coming nearer. The stone was cool. I stroked it with my fingers, tracing its rounded shapes, probing the nooks and crannies, breathing in the cool damp air.

A man strode into the chamber with a camera. My companion explained that we were nearly finished and would he mind waiting. He wandered off again and we were left alone to share our journeys and to say our thanks to the stones.

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