Saturday, 5 February 2011

Megalithic Monday: Oddendale Stone Circle III

This prominent location in an open and exposed landscape is not accidental. This place must have been chosen because it allowed clear lines of sight to other important places and conversely because from those places this site could be seen. In the landscape of 4000 years ago, with a warm and gentle climate it is not too difficult to imagine a hospitable, greener and more wooded location than the bleak atmosphere these northern uplands sometimes project. To the immediate west of the site is the modern M6 motorway, which occupies the valleys of the rivers Lune and Lowther. Beyond is the old A6 road connecting Shap to Penrith in the north and Kendal to the south. When I have tracked badger and fox I have noted their use of paths and trails through the landscape and I have wondered which came first – are the animals using our paths or are we building our roads and paths on animal trails that are far older. Animals and people need to move across the land, they naturally use the paths of least resistance – river valleys, passes across the hills, ridge lines that give clear views and avoid dark and dangerous places. The Neolithic population of Cumbria would have also used these routes, allowing them to move from the coastal peninsulars in the south – a place with another concentration of stone circles and monuments – to the ritual centres around Penrith, with its confluences of rivers, massive henges and stone circles.
It would be a mistake to assume that these sites are simple way markers, mere signposts that point the way for ancient travellers. Anybody who has ever walked in the countryside will quickly realise that no such help is needed – it is obvious where the best path is to be found, the landscape tells you very clearly by the pain in your legs but I feel that there is something deeper going on – the sites mark, maybe even venerate, special places in the landscape. From here people could see the High Places in the hills and mountains that surround the stones, as well as the surrounding valleys with their rivers and woodland. There is a genius loci about these places that is only grasped by looking up at the sky and hills, not down at the stones.

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