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Dreaming The Ancestors

Here’s another short story written on the theme of Solstice and inspired by the weather during our recent trip to Whitby.  The pictures are from the Yorskhire Moors and from Anglesey, Knowth and Loughcrew in Ireland, during our recent megalithic visits. I hope you enjoy it.

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Dreaming the Ancestors by Rose Jones

Shakespeare must have been channeling the North York Moors when he described the blasted heath in Lear. It was that time of year when summer was apparent everywhere else, but up here, the dark smudges of last year’s heather still seemed depressed at having gone through another winter. The weather couldn’t make up its mind either. When I looked up I could see there was more shit coming our way as those brief blue trousers split another seam. The wind was blustery and incessant and my feet were feeling the damp through walking boots than had not manned up to the task of traversing the rough, boggy ground.  My macho-branded jacket was also proving that seams are still the weakest point in supposedly waterproof apparel. I was beginning to wish I’d agreed to an indoor visit to some National Trust property rather than get my Ordnance Survey map wet searching for some obscure Neolithic site in the middle of nowhere.

It was my own fault, since it was my bright idea to visit these places. There’s a wealth of information on the internet, provided by enthusiasts more enthusiastic than me, but there’s currently no modern pocket guide on how to find these cairns of rocks, monoliths and hidden circles. I hoped to fill this gap and was slowly working my way around the country locating sites and photographing them.  Even if nothing came of the project it was a focus for a day out and I had to admit, the ancients knew a thing or two about location.  We’d been on some fantastic walks and seen some majestic views as a result of this quest.

The balmy days of mid-summer, visiting places where all you could hear were the skylarks rather than distant road noise or the sound of music festivals, seemed a long way off at the moment, even though by the calendar it was just around the corner.  I was not enjoying today’s foray into the unkempt undergrowth.

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Ahead of me was the much fitter form of my partner, who did not need walking poles and who had apparently forgotten he had a companion. He was in it for the exercise and I lived in fear of losing him while I stopped to take a picture, which was more often than not an excuse for catching my breath. He had the compass and the GPS.  I had the map. He was the techie and I was the dreamer. For me, the regular beat of footfall on an easy track brought thoughts and ideas to the surface as I imagined our forefathers walking these tracks.  They would have been far more aware of their surroundings than us, since their lives depended on such knowledge.  As for me, I was ready to jack it in and head for the nearest pub.  The lure of a log fire and a plate of ham, egg and chips seemed to be a far more necessary requirement.

I called to my husband, asking him to stop, but the wind pulled my voice back into my face. He kept yomping on with apparent disregard for what Nature was throwing at him. I quickened my pace, but the mossy hillocks and boggy patches hindered my attempts as any useful speed. He was getting too far ahead of me for comfort. Then, in my haste to catch up, I lost my footing on the uneven ground and fell awkwardly.  I cursed and struggled to get back on my feet.  A sharp pain shot from my ankle, so I knew I’d done some damage.  It was probably just a sprain, but in the current weather conditions and our isolated location, it was plain I wasn’t going any further. I slumped back on the ground to take stock.

Husband was well out of sight by now, so the only option for contact was my mobile phone.  I pulled it from my pocket and hoped there would be a signal.  Two bars.  That was better than ‘No Service’. I didn’t get a response when I called, so I sent him a text and hoped for the best. With the GPS tracker on the phone, he should be able to find me, but just in case, I tied a handkerchief to my walking pole and waved it in the air like a flag of surrender.  I called again, but I doubted my voice would reach as far as the phone signal.

While I waited for a response I looked at my map.  I knew roughly where we were, but I had really been following Dave and his electronic gizmo.  We were close to the right location, but the more obscure ancient sites were notorious for staying hidden and you could walk around them or close by without a sniff of success.  We had been on many a wild goose chase searching for these places.  Maybe this was another one.  I was ready to admit defeat.

My mobile finally chirped. I sighed with relief and took the call.  Dave’s concerned voice filtered into my ear, encouraging me not to worry. He had found the burial site and a small stone circle just a little way ahead and told me he was coming back.  There was shelter amongst the stones, so if he could get me there we could at least get out of the weather and assess the damage to my foot.

He apologized when he found me.  I gave him a few choice words, amplified by the pain in my ankle when he tried to get me back on my feet.  He insisted it was better to walk a little further and seek shelter, rather than try and head back the way we came. I reluctantly agreed with his logic.

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I struggled to put one foot in front of the other even with Dave’s help and it was obvious by the time we finally reached our destination that I was never going to make it back to the car. The three remaining uprights of the tomb still held up a capstone, which promised shelter. It was a handsome site, but it was terribly remote.  What had caused the people of the time to build it here?  The map contours said we were at some elevation, although the route here had not seemed that steep.  We couldn’t see the view because of the drizzly mist.

P1300143 smallDave helped me into the shelter and settled me onto one of the recumbent stones. He then started to remove the boot from my injured foot.  I tried not to show how much pain I was in. He tut-tutted as he inspected the damage and considered I might have broken something. He then looked at his watch and said there was no way both of us were going to make it back before nightfall.  Would a rescue team get to us any time soon? Dave pulled out his phone and called for help. It looked as if we were going to spend the night here.

With my ankle strapped up, I took a painkiller; then we emptied out our rucksacks and pockets to see what kind of survival kit we had. It was soon apparent that we did not have enough to support both of us through a cold, wet night.  Hypothermia was a real issue and all we had was one bottle of water and a Kendal Mint Cake between us. This had never been planned as a major expedition.

I suggested that Dave still had enough light to return to the car. At least one of us had the chance of sleeping somewhere comfortable tonight. I unpacked my silvered thermal blanket and bravely told him I’d be fine. Reluctantly he agreed to leave me and head back. We agreed to check up on each other with regular texts to make sure my battery lasted.

A heavy pit of concern hit my stomach as I watched him walk away into the mist. I was alone on the Moor and the weather conditions were deteriorating. It was too wet to start a fire and the only light I had was a tiny pocket torch. I recoiled into myself and hunkered down to wait until rescue came. It was going to be a long, uncomfortable night.P1270531 smallI wasn’t sure I slept at all, but my thoughts certainly drifted at times. As dusk fell and the rain finally eased, I looked out from my shelter and spotted a couple of stones from the tiny circle nearby. Dave said that most of the ring was covered by bracken and heather, but there was definitely a full circle. I pulled out my camera and took a couple of photos in the atmospheric light. My considerations wandered to the distant past as I wondered about the people who built and used this once sacred space.

After a couple of hours the pain began to return.  I nibbled at the mint cake and took another dose of paracetamol with a sip of water before retreating back into my thoughts.  Outside, the clouds cleared a little and revealed the pale light of a full moon.  Dave texted to say he had reached the car and decided to go back to our accommodation. I texted to say I was OK and that he was a lucky bastard to have a warm bed. For me there was now a low mist rolling through the landscape but above, the moon and the stars danced their circular motion.

P1290756 smallA sense of presence made me start. Someone or something was moving around outside. I asked who was there.  There was no answer, but then I saw a woman, clothed warmly in a plaid dress and shawl, her long hair plaited down her back.  Something golden glinted round her neck.  Bending down to look inside my shelter, she saw me there, but showed no alarm. She said something I did not understand and left a wooden bowl at my feet, filled with what looked like bread. Then she offered me a horn cup.  I was reluctant to take it, but she insisted I drink. It tasted yeasty and alcoholic. She indicated that I should also eat the food.  I did so.  Eventually she came and sat beside me.  Aware that I was injured, she put a concerned hand to my bandaged ankle. I felt a warm healing energy ease the pain. My expression made her smile. We communicated by sign and expression and she seemed as interested in me as I was with her. I had the impression she was pleased to see me there.

As dawn broke, my companion indicated I should watch what happened as the sun rose.  Ghostly shapes began to rise from the stone circle until they formed into dancers dressed in similar plaid, their heads decorated with crowns of twigs and flowers. They seemed to be performing a ritual of some kind. I forgot my discomfort and was transported into their magical world as I watched with fascination.

I did not want to return from wherever I was, but the experience ended all too soon. The dancers faded back into mist as a group of people in orange jackets disturbed their formation.  It was the rescue party.

I came back to the present as they lifted me onto a stretcher.  Dave said something about me being away with the fairies when I asked him to leave the last of the Kendal Mint Cake with the stones. He frowned with concern but I insisted. As we left, I strained to look back at my refuge and I swore I saw the woman standing there. She raised her hand as if to thank me and say farewell. I felt the warmth of her healing touch on my ankle again. I said thank you and promised to come back one day. She nodded her approval and faded away.

I kept my word and returned on the next summer solstice, but only my imagination saw the dance.

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