(Continued from Part two on Sun in Gemini)
“There’s nothing else in Midmar, so just look for the church.” Allan’s words, given some time prior, echoed in our heads. We were lost… and he was nowhere to be seen.
Its a cat problem, in the sense of herding them, as Allan said (and I agreed), during the weekend… It’s also a problem of our over-reliance on satnavs. When you key in Midmar anywhere near Inverurie, you get taken to the new part of the village, not the old one.
By the time Helen had located the correct postcode using her iPhone and Sue had persuaded an amused local to direct us off his rather posh housing estate, we were equipped to continue–ironically along the road our instincts had been taking us prior to trusting the satnav.
It’s an inevitable consequence of several cars in a convoy. They always get split up; by roundabouts, junctions and idiots in GTIs who will overtake several cars on dangerous country lanes tonne free of the ‘convoy’ in front of them.
By the time we got to old Midmar, Allan was standing at the foot of the lane that leads up to the kirk (church), looking very anxious. But all was well. We had lost only twenty or so minutes and all the ‘cats’ were safe, and united, again.
It’s often said that many Christian churches were deliberately built on the sites of the older ‘pagan’ sacred places. This was one of two such locations we would see in the weekend and provided a vision of how dramatic such a sharing could be.
But for the information board, you would not know that an intact stone circle was here. To get to it, you follow the wall of the Kirk, past the gravestones, expecting to see a sign that points you off into the woods.
But, no. Immediately at the end of the graves, you enter the stone circle that has been the heart of this landscape since four-thousand BC… three times as long ago as from Christ’s birth to now. A sobering thought, and perhaps a statement of the sheer presence in the landscape of these ancient places, charged in some way with their former rituals and their attachment to the natural world.
To quote from Allan’s own handout: ‘ It is a recumbent stone circle, 17.3m in diameter. Also known as Christchurch. It consists of a recumbent, two flankers and five other erect stones. This re-arranged circle now stands in a churchyard. The two flankers, each c.2.5m high, have been matched and shaped into two enormous canine teeth, and flank a massive recumbent which weighs some 20 tons.’
The sheer size of the recumbent, with its flankers, dwarfs anything else in the grounds of the Kirk, apart from the church, itself, which sits, uncomfortably but peacefully, within a few metres of the stones. The central part of the ring is entirely grassed over, concealing any possible remains of what may have been a central cairn.
The present church is relatively young, having replaced an older building in 1787. Allan pointed out that Midmar is fascinating as it contains the entire known history of spiritual activity in this area, from prehistoric times to the present day.
The stone circle is the original place of this. In the 7th century, two disciples of St Kentigern created a chapel to the south of the circle. This was followed by the establishment of a Norman parish, with castle, within which a new church was constructed. This bore the name of St Nidan, one of the two disciples of the original St Kentigern. The old Kirk shows signs of alteration in line with the changes in style brought by the triumph of Presbyterianism in 1690. The old Kirk was replaced in 1787 by the present re-sited building, which, ironically, brought it back to the original site of spiritual activity – the Neolithic stone circle.
The valley in which its is set is very beautiful. One of the far hills marks a line along which the Sun at the winter solstice passes along the top of the hills in an exact, visible arc. One could only imagine the beauty of such a sight in the depths of winter.
There was too much else to see to linger at Midmar, good though it was. We were due next at a very different circle – the one in which the women had disappeared…
To be continued…
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost, supervised correspondence courses.
His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com