Journal Entry from a Desolate and Disquieting Location Where Death is Absent – Written by Amy-Jane Beer
It is late and chilly, but I am currently near a location that has been on my wishlist for a long time. Despite the limited daylight, I convince myself to visit it. Wetwang Slack is well-known for its large iron age cemetery, which was in use before the Romans arrived. While the extravagant chariot burials nearby received the most attention, most of the graves in the valley were more humble. The shallow graves were destroyed over time due to ploughing, but the deeper ones were protected until the 1970s when they were excavated and the remains were removed due to planned gravel extraction.
On a map, the slack area stands out as an anomaly among the undulating terrain. According to the OS 1:25,000 scale, there are numerous fields that appear to contain only empty space. Despite this, I am still taken aback by the vast emptiness of the location. The ground is mostly white, composed of chalk and broken flint, with young winter wheat sprouting in neat rows. A massive new barn resembles a warehouse more than a traditional barn.
A meadow filled with red clover, vetch, and teasel provides a ray of hope, but the only birds taking refuge in the area designated for wild birds are red-legged partridges and pheasants. They hastily fly away with anxious noises. The casual clucking I hear turns out to be a large number of rats moving stealthily through the plants near the feeders for gamebirds.
As I navigate the bend of the terrain, I notice a cloud of smoke rising from a series of shadowy mountains next to the trail. In the dim light, I mistake the peaks for a group of circular homes, but upon closer look, I realize it is actually a large pile of extremely steamy manure.
It is disconcerting to contemplate the erasure that has occurred in this place through occupation, conquest, excavation, extraction, and currently, large-scale agriculture which is both man-made and dehumanizing. Is there anyone who truly belongs here now?
As I prepare to depart, I nearly step on the remains of a hare lying in the middle of the path. Memories from my childhood resurface as I mutter, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley…” A ghostly figure appears from the shadows, resembling a pale apparition. In various cultures, owls are believed to guide souls to the afterlife, but this one seems to be searching fruitlessly. I wish I could apologize and say, “I’m sorry. They are no longer here.”