|Negotiating some of the narrowest farm tracks in the world, including a huge puddle which appeared to be two feet deep, but happily turned out to be two inches deep, the lovely Karen and I finally drew up in Stoney Littleton’s small parking area - at the foot of a very steep hill. Well, it seemed pretty steep when struggling over stiles and rutted paths whilst carrying a very heavy camera bag and tripod. In addition, the weather was solid overcast gray; close, and warm. Yuk.
After trudging the tortuous path up the hill, through two fields of cute sheep, we scrambled over a nettle-bound stile into a field of gloriously yellow rapeseed. “A-ha!,” exclaimed Karen gleefully as she waded through the chest-high plants, “Here it is!”
Climbing over another stile, we were confronted by a beautiful Neolithic barrow cresting the hill. Above it’s subtle dry-stone walling, the grassy mound was a riot of colour, smothered in white campion, ragwort or common cat’s-ear (I think), and creeping thistle. In addition, there was a particularly gorgeous purple plant that looked like a heather of some description; it was trailing beautifully down the dry-stone walling of the south-west corner of the mound.
The outside entrance to the chamber was very understated, and on the right, rather blemished by the huge gray slab commemorating the Victorians who restored the barrow initially after several pillages in the past. As usual, it had been erected in the most blindingly obvious place, thereby ruining the aesthetics. (See Tinkinswood for similar acts of vandalism).
I waited a moment before entering the passageway, clutching a torch as advised. There was a subtle nervousness to standing at the light end of a very long, very narrow, very dark passage that the original engineers had cleverly constructed to fall away slightly with the shape of the hill, thereby emphasizing the entry to the earth’s womb. I walked the few feet past the first two chambers, then was compelled to stop for a few moments before stepping down the slight lip into the rear half of the barrow; a place that truly was an Inner Sanctum. In order to enter, it required a scramble through on hands and knees, jagging myself on a portion of the magnificent dry-stone walling that created the whole of the inside chamber. (This isn’t because the passage narrows particularly dramatically at that point, it’s more to do with my lack of spatial awareness and general clumsiness).
By now, it was very dark indeed, and I rather edgily swept my torch beam round each chamber in turn, harbouring a fear of discovering something ‘from the woodshed’ so to speak. Or an animal’s home. But my fears were unfounded, enabling some contemplative time at the bottom of the tunnel, at the same time hugely enjoying the way the weak outside light fell into the passage.
On the way out, I shone the torch upwards, admiring the corbelled roofing (look for the slab with a wonderfully preserved limpet shell in the center), and all the little creatures that lived in the crevices. It was very cool. So was the temperature, as the close humidity was like a slap in the face when returning into the light.
After all that, I applied myself to photographing the site, both inside and out. Inside was difficult, as it was so dark; so whilst avoiding tedious photographic detail, I will reveal that it involved removing my t-shirt in order to cover the camera. (An illogical method of taking a photo, I agree). This meant I was scrabbling around inside with very little on, whilst Karen assisted at the camera end. The shirt was replaced minutes before another four visitors arrived, so they don’t know how lucky they were! (If the two lady ramblers who visited the site at around 14.00hrs on Friday 26 July happen to be reading this, thank you very much for eating your sandwiches at the other end of the mound, and letting me finish the shoot without rushing. It was much appreciated).
After spending a very pleasant couple of hours at the site, the lovely Karen and I were famished, so set off in search of food, sunshine, and Stanton Drew . . . .
Posted by treaclechops
31st August 2003ce