Tuesday, 23 December 2008


Do we attract a certain surrealness into our lives, we ask ourselves. Or is it the time of year, the conjunction of the planets or simply the fact that it has always been there and we just notice it at some times more than at others ? Who knows, or indeed cares: it is enough for us that our weekend away in deepest Wiltshire has a good dose of the surreal to increase our enjoyment of the Winter Solstice.

It starts in our Bed and Breakfast Inn, set in a wonderful location: a quiet village which spreads itself out through the surrounding fields. Wherever you stand in this place the sights and smells of agricultural England is all around you. The Inn itself sits very well amongst all of this, as opposed to the (too) many such establishments which have been extended into "family eateries". Financial dictates have changed and many pubs have had to change with them, this cannot be denied, but it is good to come across one which is unspoilt. Better still we are staying in it.

So much for outside of the Inn. Inside is where the surreal starts: we are shown into our room by the landlady who accompanies all of her speech with much wringing of the hands, bows and over-exaggerated smiles. She is wonderful ! Rather like a caricature of Basil Fawlty at his most ingratiating, she is so over the top that it would be impossible to be offended by her insincerity. Our room is so comfortable that we did not feel we were walking into it, more a sensation of melting into it. For the following twelve hours or so this will be our home and it proved to be a perfect escape from the noisy High Street upon which we live. Not even the eccentricities of the en-suite toilet could spoil our night.

If anything the fact that the shit-house declared it's independance when we were on the verge of sleep only gave cause for delight: it was then that we discovered that when the toilet in the room next door was flushed it made ours loudly gurgle and bubble. It was a sound to give rise to images of the Pooh Pooh Monster emerging from the depths of the pan. Being of an age where we have left such childhood fancies behind us such images held no terror. Instead we dissolved into fits of rum soaked giggles whenever it happened. Such was the lullaby that eventually accompanied our drift into the land of nod.

It was also our alarm clock the following morning: it seemed that the folks in the next room were arising early. As this happened shortly before we had intended to be awake anyway, the disturbance was not a problem. It was the start of the shortest day and we were in perfect surroundings to fully appreciate the dawn. Over the field to the left of the Inn an owl was still hunting even as it started getting light. We had this symbol of the night until it's end, at which point the rooks and crows took over the field and announced the daytime with their raucous cries. It was during our waking up process that the en-suite toilet, seemingly in an act of pique at our refusal to take it seriously, became rebellious and refused to flush turds away.

After a cooked breakfast downstairs we packed up to leave the Inn and set off for a days mudhopping. Before we left we paid the landlady, thanked her and then, heading towards the door, informed her about the blocked toilet. It was the least we could do.

Morgans Hill. The birds and beasts had welcomed in our day and then stayed with us through the morning. On our way to Morgans Hill we had diverted off to explore a path on the Marlborough Downs- one of our " where does that leads to ? " moments - and met a hare. Everybody knows that hares can run very fast but this one wanted to show off to us, to make sure that we were fully aware of how fast fast is. It is usual to only get a glimpse of one of these creatures before they bolt for cover: not so this one. We were walking down a grassy track between two fields when it was suddenly there at the side of the field to our right. It took off and ran straight ahead of us, ignoring all cover each side and giving us a good display of speed as it did so. Then there were the starlings and their air show. It is , apparently, rare to see large flocks of these birds nowadays so to have them all around us - at a little over head height - was a treat. The flock would take off from the field and create their dark mass, a shape in the air that constantly fluctuated with changes in direction. At times they seem to disappear entirely for a few seconds as you are looking at their side profile. When they then suddenly bank to swoop around in an arc, it is as if the flock has materialised in the air before you. This is an example of nature at it's most magical and knowing how the magic works does nothing to diminish it's wonder.

Climbing up to the top of Morgans Hill fires the imagination in another way. There are earthworks up here, also barrows. There is the Wandsdike cutting through it with all of these things showing usage at different times of pre-history. The name is evocative of "The Morrigan" and on occasions, when storm clouds are gathering in the sky, it could not be more aptly named. Today we are approaching it from a direction new to us attracted by a clump of trees standing atop part of the hill. It looks both intriguing and ominous mixed with more than a little inviting. We head towards these trees knowing that they were not placed here at random, we will find something amongst them. Which we do, but it is a new one on us. Having crossed a henge and ditch to get to the trees we find they surround a large bowl shaped hole dug into the ground, at a guess it's aout a hundred foot across and twenty to thirty foot deep. All around are Beech trees, their exposed roots clinging desperately to the sides of this bowl. The atmosphere in this place is very "other wordly" - so much so that had we encountered the little people we would not have been at all surprised. Normally after we have mudhopped our way up such a hill we would need to stop and get our breath back. But here we find ourselves clambouring about with new-found vitality, completely forgetting to have any theories about exactly what this place is. It has a very happy atmosphere too, which is proberly a good clue to it's secret: whatever it's use in the past it has retained a very strong energy, a very positive energy. All we can add to this is; go there, feel it and enjoy it.

Walking out of this clump of trees we can see the Wansdyke in front of us so we follow it across the rest of Morgans Hill. It is a good way to see the extent of this site and also the incredible views across this part of Wiltshire. The air is fresh and free, as it was to those who built this dyke all those thousands of years ago. Time passes but in places like this there are some things that have remained the same, in this sense we are walking with our ancestors. Above us a kestrel hovers, around us cattle and sheep are grazing giving us a connection to the present time. It is the winter solstice, and whatever else we do today, this is how we will remember it.

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