Wednesday, 28 March 2012


The stone circle is colossal, nearly a mile in circumference, a tribute to the baffling people of the Stone Age who dug this henge monument out of the chalk using antlers as picks. It partly encompasses a Wiltshire village and attracts visitors from all over the globe. The antiquarian John Aubrey described it as 'exceeding Stonehenge as a cathedral exceeds a parish church'. Indeed, that more famous monument on the other side of Salisbury Plain seems a scrappy, soulless place compared to this. Eight times a year it bustles, pagans, druids and wiccans gathering on their feast days: the Solstices, the Equinoxes, the rites of Beltane, Lughnasa, Samhain and Imbolc.
Her skin is pale, her hair and attire dark. She leans into a niche in the upright sarsen stone known as the Druid's Chair, and smiles at me. 'I like this one. I like its power.'
'They all have power,' I point out.
She leaps from the niche and grabs my hands. 'Let's walk. Around the circle.'
'A full circuit,' I agree, and we clamber across the mighty circular ditch that protects the stones, up to the great earthen bank, and commence our slow perambulation.
'Your name isn't really Rhiannon, is it,' I tell her mischieviously, 'She was a character in the Mabinogion.'
'It's my name today,' she ripostes, 'and your name isn't really Vulpine.'
'It is when it needs to be.'
'Stay with me tonight and tell me about it.'
That was unexpected. I blink and gaze into her eyes. No, she's not kidding. 'Rhiannon, you hardly know me. We're using aliases!'
'But I want to know you. You know so much about this place. I want you to teach me. Tell me about William Stukeley. Tell me about Sulis. Tell me about symbolism, what this feast day actually means. Show me how the Old People actually celebrated it.'
Appealing to my ego rarely fails, especially when my conversational partner is so appealing in the first place. 'Your tent is big enough?'
'Just about,' she laughs, 'we'll just have to huddle.'
My turn to laugh. 'And tomorrow?'
'You go home, I go home. We'll probably never meet again. We'll have a nice memory, a reason to remember this date.'
I look up at the cloudless sky. 'It'll be cold tonight.'
'No it won't.'
I stroll along the Avenue, that double row of standing stones that undulate across the landscape, the processional way that leads to the great Stone Circle. To my rear stroll my younger daughter and her boyfriend, a new generation to be entranced by the mystical aura of this pagan landscape. The stones vary in shape from phallic to lozenge, reflecting the male/female dichotomy, the symbolic meaning behind the Avenue's construction.
Once again she is leaning into a Stone, erect and still against it like a sacrificial victim, her smile reflecting recognition and enigma. I smile back, glance at my youthful and unwary companions, and briefly lower my head in a passing salute. Rhiannon nods back, her smile broadening as the teenagers pass, her body remaining static against the huge stone as we amble into the twilight. Our mutual flash of recognition frozen in a moment, a temporal jolt on a different Feast Day, the air damp and refreshing. Her lips silently form the word 'Vulpine.' Then we are apart, back in our own worlds, two of many, and the stones stand in all of them.

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