Equinox is a time of in-between, when the day and night come to meet halfway forcing the light and dark to clash in an epic show down. Around one corner it’s Summer, while, at the same time, ten yards down the lane, a little pocket of Autumn is waiting. The sounds of Summer are still present, the Crickets still chirp and the bats still squeak, while at times it seems too cold and windy for them to be doing so.
In these most mutable weeks of the year, it’s never quite clear in whose territory we reside. The lingering sun coaxes away one’s overcoat, while autumn’s indignation at the sun’s reluctance to depart ensures that just around the corner your coat will want to be tugged firmly closed.
The light is neither fully here nor is it completely gone and we too are neither here nor there.
In one moment it feels like the sun never left and in the next like it never came at all. We long for the lingering warmer days, but at the same time, we yield to the approaching and inevitable Winter.
In the orchards, peek fall is now well passed and only a rare thud cuts through the tranquillity. The remaining apples have either been picked or else have been left for nature to disperse, they hang half nibbled in trees as feast for bird and squirrel and provide juicy fodder for the resident sheep. At the orchard edges, the hawthorns have produced a bumper crop this year, perhaps thanks to the amount of rainfall. The fruits are visibly plumper and in places more closely resemble cherries than haws. When the rain gathers upon them they shine like a thousand tiny toffee apples!
Around the edges of the ancient lanes of Stone down the leaves start to gather, the bright reds of Norway maple, lemons, limes and grapefruits of elder, the burnt orange of copper beech, and the singed edges of hazel leaves all dance with the early fall of ash.
This year, in contrast to last, the ash trees seem keener to throw off their leaves and provide that first layer of autumnal litter in the verges. The first whispers of chill are enough for them to commit to their yearly reset with barely a change of colour well in advance of most other trees.
As their pinnate leaves untether from the summer long security of the branch they sway towards the ground like boats bobbing down river, oars extended in an attempt to steer the fall for those precious few extra seconds before they ultimately fail to escape the downward pull of autumn’s vortex.
Recent high winds have sent anything that had less than a firm grip hurtling out of the trees, a collage of foliage and small branches decorate the lanes of Wick Hollow. Lichen encrusted ash and oak bits that may have been growing for decades lay on the ground as a gift from on High, allowing us a glimpse into life up there.
Local walker/writer, John Bernard Eagan, noted this rather eloquently in a recent poem entitled after the storm.
after the storm
it has been a time
of partings, of loosenings,
unanchored by blasts of wind
a time of being
detached suddenly without
prior warning, in sudden shock
yet leaves descend slow
in effortless. floating swirls
completely at ease to drop
whilst acorns hurtle
with a plunge to hit the ground
with a crack and yet bounce back
old wood, dried-out twigs,
broken off from parent trees,
tossed away as storms drive by
branches have been wrenched
to reveal jagged, and raw,
splintered, shocking open wounds
yet the trees are still
serene as they now retreat
deep into their winter’s sleep
This month’s solo walking has taken a slightly different tact. For the past few weeks, I have had my head stuck in 19th century OS maps of Glastonbury, so I decided to embark on an adventure to discover the landscape as it was charted over 150 years ago.
The maps – found here: oldmapsonline.org – are some of the earliest OS maps of the area and show the location of old ponds that are now dry, the markings of old paths that have been lost to time and the location of hedges that are long gone. These features are now only identifiable by subtle visual clues in the landscape – sunken areas, long ridges or shallow humps that speak of former layouts.
The old maps also mark “stones” most of which now are missing. Many of them sat on the edges of fields; their purpose was to mark the bounds between one field and the next. Others appear in the centre of fields and their purpose is less clear. In two places on the map the stones form short avenues, but it’s not clear how large the stones were nor if this was their originally intended location or layout.
Where two boundary stones are marked on the map, there now appears a small carved stone with the letter B engraved into it. I could assume this is one of the originals, although I am drawn towards the consideration that this might have been a more formal replacement for previous larger stones.
Certainly, the size of this stone would raise the question how large did a stone have to be to warrant inclusion on the maps? There are plenty of others, including the large boulders towards the bottom of the Tor, that are not marked on these maps.
The only other stone that still exists in place is the famous egg stone, a strange spherical stone that sits halfway up the Tor’s south eastern side that is said to mark the entrance to the Underworld. It is well known and often visited, surrounded by veteran thorns and decorated with offerings and prayers. According to the maps there were once two stones up here, the second must have rolled down the hill or else been drawn mysteriously back into the other realm.
A number of fanciful stories have been applied to this stone over the years. One story says that it was a druid alter that was rolled from the top of the Tor signifying the toppling of druids from this land that they held as a sacred sanctuary. Others describe this as a “Tor burr” one of the spherical stones that is every once in a while birthed by the mound, adding to its mystery as a living dragon mount that lays eggs.
Other stories confuse this stone and its missing neighbour with the another egg stone found next to the Abbot’s kitchen in Glastonbury Abbey. As far as I know, the Abbey Egg Stone was found within the grounds of the Abbey, and was not removed from the Tor and transported there, as is written elsewhere.
The only other remaining clues to the presence of stones on this landscape is the ominous name of this part of Glastonbury, ‘Stone Down’. The name suggests the presence of stones, or stone, but it’s not immediately apparent in the modern landscape that any existed at all. Perhaps original stones were removed, stolen or repurposed. A commonly used explanation for the lack of stone circles and earthworks on Glastonbury is that it was for centuries home to one of the richest Christian centres in Britain, and surely they would have taken the initiative to remove evidence of pagan worship.
Further, the name “Stone Down”, could be taken simply to mean the place with fallen stones, but just to tempt you with a little more wordy intrigue, the word “down”, meaning “rounded hills with trees, often made of chalk” (though not in this case), in this context is derived from the Celtic word dun, or hill fort – leading my mind into further states of fanciful past time adventures.
To be continued…
History of Glastonbury: british-history.ac.uk
OS Maps: Oldmapsonline.org
Lidar image: archiuk.com
To be continued…
UPCOMING TREE WALKS