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Midwinter Mardness

I've been waiting to visit Marden for a long time. Finally an opportunity presented itself, at the Midwinter Solstice.

Marden Henge (and Hatfield Barrow) — Fieldnotes

I like approaching sites on foot, so I parked in the village and walked. Marden is special amongst its similarly monumental friends (Avebury, Durrington..) because it uses a stream as part of its boundary; its banks and ditches only surround it on three sides. Crossing the stream and entering the henge I was fairly disgusted to see the meadow by the stream had been sold and houses are to be built on it. Surely a nationally important place should deserve more protection?

It's a further walk than you think to the banks on the far side of the monument. I felt pretty confused about their layout to start with. But when you get there look for the stile hidden up in the hedge (almost opposite the big trees, where there is a tiny spot on the road you could park in) - that's where you'll find the plan on the EH board that's in Earthstepper's photo. I then realised what a tiny proportion of the place is under the EHs guardianship.

Now I could see where the Silburyesque Hatfield Barrow had been. It was too cold to keep still, so I jumped back down onto the road and started to walk back towards the spot. A car heading for the village slowed next to me. "Can you tell me how far Marden is?" a coiffeured woman enquired. I restrained any sarcastic remarks. As she drove on I reflected on how the huge henge could go unnoticed in the modern world. I thought on: the Hatfield Barrow itself would have been a locally famous enigma, something in local people's consciousness for literally thousands of years. I felt really outraged. How could somebody just come along and ruin it?

I stood there mentally grasping for clues, trying desperately to understand what the mound would have been like. I probably looked bizarre: a shivering figure staring at an empty field. As the wind dropped and the sun finally appeared I got something of it in my mind. It loomed up in front of me. So ok, to some Marden isn't more than a few low banks and an empty meadow. But to me, just to visit the place and exercise my imagination, it was well worth it. I felt really pleased to have been in the same place where this huge mound once stood.

I was going to walk back to the car, but as the sun had come out I decided to go back to the EH area for a sit down in its (relative) warmth.

As a silly hippy affectation I had brought an incense stick out with me. Well, it was midwinter's day, and I'm not a big winter fan. I hate it being so dark, and I see the solstice as a turning point in my mood as much as anything - a point of hope that the light will come back and spring is not far away. I was delighted that I could get outside and visit somewhere interesting for that particular day: the stick was a last-minute thought and an extra thing to mark the event. It took me a lot of effort to light, and then I sat down in the weak sunlight to relax.

As I sat there I was facing the sun, and the site of the barrow. I was just on the edge of the henge, up on the bank, and I felt that was a good place to be for an 'outsider' to observe from. What could I possibly understand about what had gone on here all those centuries ago? Was there anything left at all I could glean - was there anything the same?

Well, there would be the patterns in the sky, and the cold, and the wintry colours of the vegetation in the landscape, these would be the same. And the landscape (visibility permitting). Looking directly behind me at the line of hills in the distance, I realised what they were. That horse wasn't the Pewsey white horse, as I'd imagined dimly earlier. It was really the white horse at Alton Barnes - So that meant That was Knap Hill - and Adams Grave - it became completely obvious. I couldn't believe how visible they were from Marden.

[warning: you are now reaching the Daft Bit]

I was getting really relaxed and my thoughts were just turning to gardening ("I wonder how they kept the henge tidy? Grazing? Scythes?") when I got this completely unexpected bolt of fear pass through me, convinced that someone had appeared over the stile. I told myself it was my hair waving about out of the corner of my eye that had given me this impression - I hadn't actually seen anything. But it was a real heart-stopping moment, out of the blue. I had been feeling calm and relaxed, happy to stay for an indefinite period. Now I felt jumpy and stressed. I wanted to go, right now. I picked up the incense stick to put it out but it had gone out. Starting to feel unaccountably freaked out I walked briskly back towards the village.

I passed an old man walking in the opposite direction and we exchanged greetings. Every now and then I'd look back and he'd be looking at me, or he'd look back and I'd be looking at him. After all, there aren't many places to walk to or come from up that road. I was still clutching the stick and wanting rid of it I chucked it off the bridge into the stream as I left the henge. Rushing over 'pooh-stick' style I hoped to see it come out, but it never reemerged. I felt even freakier. Walking on I was firmly back in mundanity - Xmas decorations, dogs, a car alarm. I felt a bit better. I didn't set out to feel weird I assure you. And I had eaten. I offer no spooky explanations of my state of mind that day, but I did find it unusual how instantaneous my change in mood was. (Hey, but I am female.)

Leaving Marden I drove on to Swanborough Tump, then stopped at the Sanctuary, and briefly at Silbury Hill before heading for home.

Swanborough Tump — Fieldnotes

Swanborough Tump lies at the t-junction of two long straight roads, in the edge of a wood. To be quite honest it didn't look like much, and I couldn't make out what was supposed to be the 'Tump' itself. I think you're on it as soon as you climb up from the road. This could be significant, if you look at the 'miscellaneous' entry.

An inscribed stone marks the site:

"Swanborough Tump - Swinbeorg c850
Here in the year 871 the future King Alfred the Great met his elder brother King Aethelred I on their way to fight the invading Danes and each one swore if the other died in battle the dead man's children would inherit the lands of their father King Aethelwulf."

Hardly recommended by the Plain English Campaign, I think.

(also - on my way here I was entranced by the nearby 'Picked Hill' (also given as 'Pecked Hill' on the OS maps) - if this (like its neighbour Woodborough Hill) aren't natural inspiration for round barrows - or for Silbury hill, for that matter - then I'm surely a monkey's uncle.)

Picked Hill — Folklore

I can't help wondering if the name of this hill implies that it was supposedly thrown from somewhere - pick or peck are apparently both old words for pitching or throwing, and the hill is known by both versions. Maybe thrown from Knap Hill or somewhere else along the nearby escarpment? This is pure unfounded speculation but the shape of the hill cries out for a mythological explanation. It seems a natural inspiration for a barrow or even for Silbury.

On second thoughts, I suppose the name sounds a bit like 'peaked hill'.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
7th January 2004ce
Edited 7th January 2004ce

Comments (3)

I've always really liked your blog posts. I revisit them from time to time. Any chance of a resurgence? Evergreen Dazed Posted by Evergreen Dazed
16th January 2014ce
I remember reading this one a while ago. ED's right Rh. thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
16th January 2014ce
How kind and encouraging of you both. I should arrange myself a little outing. Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
17th January 2014ce
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