Arbor Low


Everyone told me that Arbor Low, toppled stone circle and barrowful of bones, was a place of bad vibes. So of course I had to go. Sunday was sunny and bright, the kind of day that makes you ache to get out of the house. Chris drove us into the countryside along a series of narrowing and increasingly rutted trails, following the Satnav because we still foolishly haven’t gotten round to buying a map. Yes, that’s right. We’re those idiots, charging into the unknown, relying on Google Maps and Chris’ uncanny homing pigeon abilities to save us.

So we found Arbor Low, and the cheeky farmer trying to charge an access toll because you have to walk through their field to get there. The circle is on high ground, and the surrounding  earthwork is imposing, giving a sense of shadowed claustrophobia to the central ring of stones. To induce claustrophobia on top of a moor, under a beautiful blue sky, is quite a feat. The rest of the landscape has such a feeling of expansiveness, entering the circle is like feeling a cloud cover the sun. Each stone lies flat in the grass, toppled perhaps by witch-fearing medieval folk or just the ravages of time. The wind whips around the circle, the head-high raised earthworks somehow offering no shelter at any angle. Sheep wander freely, and some hikers sat happily picnicking on one of the stones. That seemed like a bad idea. Too many ghosts for sure, and maybe they’re contagious. The least evil-feeling place was, surprisingly, the round barrow forming part of the earthworks, where archeologists have found human remains and grave goods. They also found human remains in the centre of the circle. Human sacrifices? Honoured burials? The neolithic equivalent of someone doing Black Mass in your favourite cathedral? It’s a mystery.

The feeling of sorrow is there. A similar melancholy to ruined churches, but with more than a touch of enmity. 4000 years is a heavy weight of history. So now there’s a place which could have been beautiful, now haunted by ghosts and hostile weeping, out there on the moors. It’s cold and lonely at Arbor Low.

For more fascinating historical info on this place, click here. They seem to know their stuff, and cite a fascinating array of historical sources.

As for myself, maybe I’ll do a cleansing ritual just in case. The mourning of the Earth is not to be trifled with.



Arbor Low

I Want to Walk a Trail

To reach the far horizon

For a few years now, I’ve been fascinated by long, long walks. Pilgrimages. Solo treks across countries, across continents. From the Pennine Way to the Pacific Crest Trail  (recently made famous by the film Wild) as well as less officially designated trails, there are so many journeys to make. I like the idea of wandering, but having a route and destination at least vaguely in mind is a part of it. Being free to point your nose to the trail and walk, knowing that’s your task and your goal. Otherwise, I have a tendency to merely drift.

Today I found out about The World Walk: a guy my age who is spending five years walking across all five continents. He’s pulling his stuff in a handcart. I read about Cheryl Strayed’s self-help trek on the Pacific Crest Trail, but also Peace Pilgrim‘s 25,000 miles across America without baggage or supplies. Walking has power, and walking far, travelling those immense distances under your own power, being just that small dot on one huge map… I want to do that. I remember reading an article or essay or something, let’s call it a short travelogue, of someone walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. I’m not a Christian, I’m not any religion, just can’t deal with being spiritually dictated to, but the idea seemed to take hold that I should become a pilgrim. That spiritual element is important, I think. Or maybe the idea of walking for penance. Retreat.

Me striding out on my super legit spiritual quest. (Obviously not me. Amazing pic tho.) Credit due:

When I get frustrated, I wish I could just wander off. Obviously that’s an immature approach to problem solving, but it isn’t my main motivation any more. I’m done with running away from home. I suppose it’s the usual unbearable self-absorbed search for ‘meaning’. Or something. A search for space. The amazingly smart Rebecca Solnit expresses the contemplative side of walking perfectly:

Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord. Walking allows us to be in our bodies and in the world without being made busy by them. It leaves us free to think without being wholly lost in our thoughts.


The rhythm of walking generates a kind of rhythm of thinking, and the passage through a landscape echoes or stimulates the passage through a series of thoughts. This creates an odd consonance between internal and external passage, one that suggests that the mind is also a landscape of sorts and that walking is one way to traverse it. A new thought often seems like a feature of the landscape that was there all along, as though thinking were traveling rather than making.

I want to walk in order to think clearly, not in the neurotic circles of sedentary contemplation, but with the freedom lent by an ever-changing scene. To experience new things constantly, while maintaining a constant rhythm of steps, of days. To get strong and overcome some painful misery that actually counts. Walking as meditation and pilgrimage and self-discipline, as well as good old-fashioned means of transport to see the world.

It’s 1am and I’m absolutely convinced right now that I should go on some walk. Not literally right now, it’s dark outside, but I’ve wanted and talked about some kind of backpack treck adventure for years now, without it moving any closer to reality. So this is me realising that if I don’t start thinking real world, I’ll never get to do this, and I’ll die unfulfilled and embittered by regrets. I’d like to walk across Europe, eventually.

I Want to Walk a Trail