There’s a megalithic burial chamber at Pentre Ifan in the Mynydd Presceli that has a seventeen ton bluestone balanced on top of three pointed stones, and it’s been balanced there like that for the last five thousand years. As with all great standing stones, it reflects and focuses its location, the mountains all around, the field patterns, the sweep of the sky, the glimpse of the sea to the North. We don’t know anything much about the people who built it. They probably farmed. They liked standing stones, but we don’t know why. They understood landscape. They shipped bluestones all around the country. They knew the math for balancing stones, somehow. We don’t know what language they spoke, what their houses were like, what they ate, wore, cared about.
It’s a wonderful place to stand and look through the teeth of the stone and see the sky and the sea and the sheep dotting the fields. (They wouldn’t have had sheep, sheep are a modern invention. Modern sheep are an eighteenth century invention. They’re part of the industrial revolution. They don’t look it, I admit, grazing peacefully there, but they are.)
Ledbury, in Herefordshire, is full of half-timbered houses. There isn’t a pub in the town that’s less than three hundred years old. One of them has a sign commemorating a battle that took place there in 1645, there in the dining room, where they’ll still serve you food, though they probably won’t take offence if you raise a toast to Cromwell these days, not that I would. There’s a room in the town hall that has Tudor wall paintings, re-discovered in the nineteen eighties, and some of them are as bright as they ever were. They have texts written into them. “Better a dinner of herbs where love is…”
Stanley Spencer decorated a chapel to commemorate the Great War at Burghclere near Newbury. It’s full of his rather odd paintings, with a theme that says these men were alive, alive, living, and they will be ressurected, without ever touching on the point that they are in fact dead. It’s most peculiar.
Just outside that chapel is Watership Down.