Little disclaimer: I had fully intended to write a post about eclecticism – a sort of sister-piece to my post about Welshness, in grateful recognition of all that I have learned from other cultures and traditions. But inspiration takes me where it will, so, with that in mind, here is a post that is not quite about Neolithic rock art…
Ever since I heard of their existence, about a year ago, I have wanted to visit the Snowden Carr carvings. The “Tree Of Life” stone in particular draws my imagination irresistibly into the Neolithic landscape of North Yorkshire. When I heard a friend was driving from Liverpool to York yesterday, I took the chance to beg a lift to Otley, thinking I would walk to Askwith, to seek out the stones and whatever else might be revealed to me, up on that lonely moor, at the Calends of Winter with the dark of the year closing in.
Thus began my quest.
The walking was haphazard, with none of the steady, focused progress of a pilgrimage: I was constantly searching, seeking, pushing the pace of my legs up hill and down dale, keeping one eye on the sun and another on the hillside.
Waylaid by a woodland while looking for a shortcut, I lost an hour in the gold-green light among the bracken. Magic happened, as I circled back around, parting the branches of a weeping birch to step onto the path: I felt the mundane world slip from my shoulders as a cast-off garment, all thoughts of bills and bus timetables and what to cook for dinner fell away. I stepped into full awareness of the sacred landscape, through the veil.
Two miles onwards, the sun set behind the brow of Ilkley moor. I kept on walking, past the old stone houses of Askwith and up to the open crest of the Askwith moor. Dusk settled into the valley below. The night was clear; the road ahead lit only by the gloaming.
This was the place.
The rocks showed as shadows on the contours of the field; the crags protruding, proud above the valley against the twilit sky. Beneath the moor was pastureland, watered by splashing streams with wild bilberries growing in the hedgerows. I had expected the rocks to be up on the wildest part of the hill crest – but here they were, overlooking the shelter of a gentle valley.
But it was already dark, too dark to see, and I walked right past the object of my quest.
If I had set out prepared, with clearer intention, I might have reached the valley sooner; I might not have found myself walking alone on a strange country road through the Yorkshire moors in darkness. I must have made a good few Hallowe’ens – a sudden, pale face in the headlights on the empty road… But mine was the adventure: the two mile walk to find a nearby pub (one of the longest of my life) was strangely cheering. The city lights of Leeds and Bradford glared orange on the gathering clouds, but all other horizons were beautifully dark, a rare delight for a feral, urban-dwelling countrywoman. I have always loved the night. Stretching my senses to perceive the contours of the hills around me, listening for the distant rumble of approaching cars, I felt a deeper, more immediate connection with the landscape: strong and powerfully grounded. I may not have found the object of my quest, but on this first night of winter, in the darkness, I found myself again.