Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Magic Circle

On Sunday we indulged our love of things magical in Wiltshire.  This involved an hour and a half drive, accompanied by not a little dissent from the children, particularly when we tried to describe why we were going. 
Not the easiest of sells trying to explain why large stones (no seriously, REALLY large stones) beat Minecraft, but there was little scope for diplomacy seeing as it looked like being the one gale force-free day of the holiday. The phase ‘you’ll enjoy it when you get there’ may have been deployed more than once.

In the morning we went to Lacock Abbey, specifically the cloisters, as this is where a lot of the Hogwarts classroom scenes were filmed. We’d come prepared with C & H’s Gryffindor robes, scarves and wands, ready to create some photo opportunities and doubtlessly irritate our fellow National Trust visitors.  And the sub-zero temperatures proved no obstacle to stripping off coats for flimsy robes.  Charlotte had even slept in plaits to authenticate her Hermione waves – an attention to detail I couldn’t help but admire.  The cloisters are beautiful; it was as easy to imagine them filled with serene nuns as with budding wizards and witches, and there was a Christmas tree festival backdrop to add extra twinkle.  There was even a rather spectacular caldron in one of the ‘classrooms’, which had apparently been incorporated into spell-making class filming.

Sprits lifted, we bustled back to the van & drove the half hour to Avebury stone circles, a part of the country steeped in mystical landscape – we crept past a white horse, flat-topped hills, and just the most amazing geometry in landscape. I remember my husband and his best friend, both science undergraduates, spending a camping weekend around here UFO-spotting, and being secretly impressed at their wilful dissent from the traditional student Saturday night down the Union.  Not that I appeared anything but disdainful at the time, obviously.  (There were no UFOs, incidentally, or none that they were at liberty to talk about...)  I’d sold the whole Avebury part of the trip to Charlotte on the theory that they were built by the Beaker people as a homage to the sun (you see what I did there? 8 year old, Tracey Beaker?  I’m here all week).  And while I perhaps didn’t appreciate it totally at the time, being preoccupied with raising the morale of a cold-addled 3 year old, looking back on our photos it is really striking that the most incredible rays of sun dominate about three-quarters of them.  To the extent really of distracting from their subject.  It is a quality of light that takes you slightly aback.  The landscape instantly appealed the older two, who tore up and down the moat as we negotiated Katie around the embankment (chalk mud being a new experience for us all).  Mystical or not, the landscape was saturated with a calm rawness, and it was fascinating watching the stone pathways appear and disappear as we moved around the circumference.  As we left, just before dusk, we stopped off to marvel at Silsbury Hill, the tallest prehistoric human-made mound in Europe, sitting in the landscape like a defiant English pyramid.

And then tonight, after writing this and pausing and wondering if I had finished, in one of those marvellous coincidences, Neil Oliver’s new series the Sacred Wondersof Britain- amid an exploration of the mysteries of Neolithic earth-moving - came to Avebury.  As he moved from Norfolk to Wiltshire and Orkney, discovering stones underground and over, a series of thoughts that have preoccupied me over the years came flooding back.  In my own working life, my research interests are all around occupational identity and the way that class affects our movements through work.  (My husband bans me from talking about this as I apparently lose the ability to read boredom on people’s faces, but hey, this is my blog). I did my PhD on coalminers, and the movement of earth and rock, what motivates and binds people together in this treacherous work, is something that dominated a huge part of my 20s.  Later I worked on architects, and then farmers, all separately but the thing that struck me about the 3 professions, these different ways of sculpting the landscape, was how totally a ‘way of life’ the miners, architects and farmers described their work.  It seems almost crass to put it in these terms, but the certainty and distinctiveness of the work to me sounded comparable to some kind of religious experience.   Which I guess is why the stone circles chimed with their stories for me.  I’ve always wanted to bring these three projects together to try and make sense of them, and perhaps this day in Avebury, contemplating how the human spirit moves metaphorical mountains to create a thing of beauty will provide the spur. It certainly feels like a place of questions and energy, and if the light is this spectacular so close to the winter solstice, it must be a pretty amazing thing to behold in June.

Where have you been recently that’s taken your breath away? 


  1. Oooh goody I LOVE reading posts like this! I'm not sure whether it's to do with my teenage years where I was convinced I was a witch or my general love of all things historic, but reading magical explorations such as yours, always gives me goose bumps.

    I've been to Avebury and adored walking around those gigantic stones. There was even a man there practising Tai Chi atop a hill! Wonderful stuff.

    I'll totally didn't realise Neil Oliver had a new series. Love that man I do. He has the most fantastic hair ever!

    1. Thank-you, that's such a lovely comment. I absolutely love Neil Oliver's enthusiasm, it's a 3-parter this series, we only found it by chance. I did worry for him in the flimsy coat he was wearing though!

      You'd probably like Totnes too, everyone there is fabulously New Agey!

  2. That sounds like a lovely day, so nice to give your children all different experiences, I'm sure that they'll appreciate it someday :)

  3. A few months ago I drove through the Nevada desert from LA to Vegas. It was breathtaking.

  4. This looks like such interesting places to explore!

  5. I love the large stones beat Minecraft approach! I find my kids never want to go out, but will always have way more fun if we do

  6. Like you, we have to work really hard to persuade my son to tear himself away from the computer screen and come out to explore the outside world. Worth doing though!

    I really like the photo of your shadows on the grass. Plus taking Harry Potter garb to Lacock is a fab idea - must do that next time I go!

  7. this looks like such a magical place to explore! xx

  8. I used to live in Wiltshire but didn't make the most of exploring the area enough. I'll make more of an effort to travel and enjoy some days out in 2014. Getting outdoors with children is always enjoyable - looks like you all had a great time.

    I've been enjoying the views of large puddles across the New Forest this week, there's something beautiful in seeing trees reflections in water x