The Riddles of the Night weekend, created and hosted by Sue Vincent and Stuart France, reached a dark crescendo on the Saturday night.
By dark, I mean the kind of physical blackness that comes with an early December trip to the middle of an ancient site at nine in the evening…
After the all-consuming (Saturday) daytime visit to Robin Hood’s Stride, and the nearby stone circle and cliff–face, we needed some simple sustenance. The lovely village of Youlgreave, high in the hills to the south-east of Bakewell, with some good quality pubs, had been chosen for the first part of our evening.
Stuart and Sue had already reserved us a table at one of the pubs, mindful that our agenda was not finished yet. We settled for a single course, as time was passing, and one of the best stone circles in Europe beckoned… in the darkness of a December night. It’s the sort of experience you either run towards… or away from. We were definitely in the former camp and had a full turnout to prove it.
Sue will describe Arbor Low in more detail, but in summary, it is a Neolithic henge set on a high moor, which is open to views (and winds) from all around. The circle is set within an earthen bank and has approximately fifty white stones, all made of the local limestone. All the stones are described as fallen, but they may have been laid that way. One of the reasons given is that it could be a ‘night-temple’ where the purpose was for the priests to lie on the stones to look at the stars. The circle features an unusual central stone or ‘cove’. These are only found on sites that were of the highest importance.
We had been before, in late summer, and it had been freezing. We wondered what sort of experience we were in for, especially as the clouds were making it a very dark night.
The weekend had been blessed, so far, with lovely weather. We drove the few miles up the road to the farm that lies in front of the ancient site. Sue and Stuart, our organisers, had secured special permission for us to access the site in the darkness; after dark it is normally closed. Walking up the farm track, we must have cut a strange sight, with our torches picking out the way, ahead. The track gave way to a muddy field, and, by the time we entered the final field containing the ancient site, we were ‘well slutched’ as we used to say in my Lancashire childhood.
It didn’t matter, even if the stars were hidden. What changed everything was the soft and gentle rain that began to fall as we each selected our ‘own’ stone and sat or lay upon it, letting the intellect slip away and drinking in the wonder of actually being there under such strangely wonderful circumstances. It’s prosaic, but it felt like ‘being washed’ by the sky.
After our personal meditation, Sue gathered us together for a small ritual to close the evening. Then, without words, we walked back to our cars and away into the night to sleep.
It had been a truly wonderful day.
The smaller Derbyshire roads can be difficult to navigate, as our Sunday morning was to show. Our party ended up divided and time did not allow the full programme. By late morning a smaller group began the walk up to the astonishing plateau that lies just below Stanage Edge – a series of famous ridges that connect the western edges of Sheffield with the hills and valleys of neighbouring Derbyshire.
Our destination was the stone circle known as the Seven Stones of Hordron – a location alongside the well-known A57 ‘Snake Pass’ with which Sue and Stuart were very familiar. The smaller group meant that they could be relaxed with our own induction to this beautiful part of the landscape.
The first shock comes as you begin to climb up from the level of the track and stream in order to double-back onto the higher plateau.
The few hundred feet make all the difference. You emerge into a completely different world. All around you can be seen a landscape of peaks whose context is suddenly made clear. It is as though there is an upper floor to this world – one that unites the sky and land in a very different way.
Using this path, you approach from the southern edge of the moor, with the dark line of Stanage Edge visible in the distance. It was a strange thought that, a few miles to the south-west, lay the paths and site of the ancient hilltop forts that our two hosts had used as the basis for the September workshop of 2016 – Seeking the Seer
The Hordron stones have a very different ‘feel’. You don’t see them until you are very close. Like most of the Derbyshire stones, they are only a few feet tall (the nine stones near Robin Hood’s Stride are the tallest in the county) and the winter is the best time to see them. In summer, they can be partly hidden by the moorland grasses. Sue and Stuart have an extensive theory about marker stones, and there is a marker stone on path that clearly marks the first point at which you can make out the stone circle.
To stand in the circle is to appreciate just how much this place meant to the ancients who created it. The sense of communion between earth and sky is intense – and yet, this is a very peaceful place.
Also astonishing is the extent to which the upper outline of the stones are shaped to map the distant horizon – as shown in the photograph, below. The architects of this sacred place knew what they were doing – and how to link it with the world around it. One word used to describe this is ‘sympathetic magic’.
We gathered together in a simple ceremony to mark the end of the visit and the coming Winter Solstice – the shortest day and longest night, the point at which the ‘brightening’ begins, leading us, in increasing light, to the Midsummer solstice which marks the longest day; and the cycle begins again.
The Winter Solstice is deeply spiritual. It marks a symbolic ‘death’ in which there is the rebirth of life – an emotional, as well as physical transition to a new state.
While on the track and, later, the moor, we had forgotten time. It came as a shock to find that it was nearly three in the afternoon. We came down from the moor via a different and more direct path, and soon found ourselves at the car park and ready to end what had been a rewarding and beautiful weekend.
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