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Country diary: An ancient site of discovery and disorientation | Amy-Jane Beer
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Country diary: An ancient site of discovery and disorientation | Amy-Jane Beer

In his gazetteer of Britain’s ancient sites, The Modern Antiquarian, the musician Julian Cope warns that hours can be spent unwittingly at the Rollright Stones on the Oxfordshire/Warwickshire border. He advises that visitors should not be in a hurry. I have one hour, and an appointment to keep, but the three parts of the site – the King’s Men stone circle, the lone King Stone, and the collapsed dolmen of the Whispering Knights – are barely 300 metres apart. I have time enough.

The stones in the reconfigured circle of the King’s Men are said to be uncountable, and indeed it is trickier than you might imagine, as they vary greatly in form and it’s hard to see where some join. A small boulder of entirely different geology might have been added, mischievously, last week.

Offerings tied to an ash clootie tree at the King’s Men.View image in fullscreen

Beside the Whispering Knights – a 5,800-year-old burial monument – a gate leads into a woodland of larch and young oak. Inside the wood, a surprise: a labyrinth made of timber posts of varying height and diameter. I’ve entered before I know it.

The labyrinth does as labyrinths do – taking me on a journey requiring constant shifts in perspective, occasionally obliging turns of almost 180 degrees; a life lesson perhaps. By the time I reach the centre and raise my gaze, nothing is where I expected it to be – an orange forestry vehicle, the gate, the Knights, all seem to have shifted while I wasn’t looking.

A near-forgotten rhyme rises to my lips. “Twist me and turn me and show me the elf …” – part of the undeniably trippy Brownie Guide initiation ceremony I took part in, in 1980, which involved being lifted over a giant mushroom and walking a windy path to a mirror on the floor, mocked up to resemble a rushy pool. “… I looked in the water and there saw … myself.” The last word was to be uttered by the inductee. I chuckle at the memory. The pagan in plain sight, like a Green Man in a parish church.

Both these rituals involve deliberate disorientation, and opportunities for self-discovery and the setting of intentions. There are offerings of many kinds here at the heart of the labyrinth. I feel in my pockets and add an acorn and a chip from a beaver-gnawed tree I’ve been carrying for months. I leave with thanks for the obvious love being given to this spot.

I am now, inevitably, running late.

Source: theguardian.com