Sunday, 14 November 2010

Genius Loci: The secret place

Once I dreamed that I was the first man to enter Europe. There must have been somebody who was the first to see the virgin forests and rivers. Some hunting band from the south or the east that pushed on over the next ridge, beyond the next river and found a place with no footprints. This dream has stayed with me for many years and I strive to find places that has stood. Hidden groves and secret hollows that have escaped the modern world because they are too far away, too hard to get to or just too small to be noticed.
Even in England there are still places where it is possible to feel as if you are the first to stand in that place. These places are few and far between, lost deep in the hills where nobody ever goes but if you look hard, if you fly over the moors with the eyes of the lapwing or the gamecock, if you follow the paths made by badgers that are the mothers of the paths people use today you will find them, waiting in their eternal presence with their faces turned out from rock and wood, whispering in their forgotten tongues. These are the sacred places of Old Britain. These are the places were we find the roots of the land and the sources of its mystery.
In a deep canyon lined with ancient oak woodland there is a place that is so special it glows in my memory like a beacon. A place that I return to with each season, a place that is always new and changing yet unspeakably old, a shard of the wildwood that once enveloped the land. In this place the river extends its tributaries back into the hills, rivers become streams and then becks then finally small runnels of water that seep down the heathery slopes and into the blanket bog. This visit will be my last of the year, this place is too far to attempt in winter, the drive in is too steep and the roads impassable to all but four-wheeled drive vehicles, the walk across the wild upland fells not something to attempt with the depth of the snow that falls here. Today I will see the place in autumn and fill myself with its presence until I can return again.

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