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Thoughts at Lugbury Longbarrow

For 'work' on Friday we went to a fantastic Down to take some photos of the characteristic chalkland plants that grow there. Chalkland plants seem to have the best names - yellow rattle (that really does rattle), milkwort, fairy flax, quaking grass - and my personal favourite, squinancywort. I collected lots of vacated stripey snail shells in various shades of pink, yellow, green and brown and after walking back via the most fantastic sunken green lane steeped in delapidated drystone walling, moss and shiny harts-tongue ferns I decided I'd finish the day off by visiting the nearby Lugbury Longbarrow - somewhere I felt I hadn't been in far too long.

As I approached the barrow across the field I was thinking 'rationally' about its shape and everything, taking photos, trying to 'appreciate' it, but underneath I had quite a serious worry on my mind, and I couldn't push this away far enough to.. (well this is difficult to communicate, but I hope it means something to some people) .. to kind of really 'experience' where I was. You know how sometimes you can't seem to concentrate on where you are in the present because your mind is too concerned with things that are in the future, or that have happened in the past? Perhaps it's just what they call stress. Maybe (despite my pleasant botanical day out) I was feeling stressed. I felt really happy to be there and I thought the huge limestone slabs were amazing, but I felt like there was something separating me from really 'getting the most' from being there.

I know that the psychological or maybe 'spiritual' benefit I get out of visiting such places is a major reason why I go to them. I suppose if I haven't felt I've truly relaxed then I haven't been able to properly take in my surroundings. It's not a matter of some new-age 'ooh I can just see what those neolithic people were up to' kind of spirituality. I think it's more a truly human thing about experiencing whatever there is to experience. I think I would personally brand this paganism, though I know the term encompasses a huge range of things to different people. The 'pagani' to the Romans were the 'country people' as opposed to the townies - I can certainly identify myself as one of the former having been in London at the weekend! I think a willingness to pay attention to detail is important to me, and for this I need the time and space to think properly. My bumpkin mentality doesn't allow me to do this in a town - there's too much going on that requires your attention in terms of staying ahead of the rest and surviving (not to mention all the distracting noise!)

Having circled the flattened mound of the longbarrow, taken a load of photos, faffed about a bit, touched the stones, stung myself copiously on some nettles, etc etc I finally sat down in front of the stones. Only now did I actually 'relax' and actually forget the worries I'd been carrying. I just sat there and took it all in, the view, the sounds of the rookery and the M4, the general ambience I suppose (maybe catching the 'spirit of place' that's been discussed so much lately).

I would totally (but respectfully) disagree with the Ocifant's suggestion that the site is sad and dilapidated - though perhaps he didn't mean it had such an air, only that it is physically dilapidated. When I first arrived I was slightly peeved that the stones were even more surrounded by vegetation than the last time I visited (when I was able to sit between them under the shelter of the capstone when it rained) - but actually as I sat there I started to think how sterile and dull the stones would be without their skirting of plants. There were so many insects visiting the flowers and I kind of felt that the plants were representing life rather than being a sad reflection on the state of the barrow. The slipped capstone [I now realise it's probably not a slipped anything, but a deliberate placing] particularly is pretty enormous, which for me represented how strong and positive the site remains.

I sat there for quite a long time and felt very refreshed. At the time I didn't even realise I wasn't thinking about my worry, though I was aware that I had stayed past the point where I no longer felt agitated and 'unconnected' with my surroundings. I definitely reflected on how important it is (at least for me) to stay for longer than a certain period of time at a site in order to cross some point in the way you're experiencing it - at the least in order to truly relax and feel that you're there experiencing it, rather than just passing through on a whistlestop visit.

My thoughts eventually turned (as they usually do) to my stomach, so I got up and started walking back towards the road. What happened next sounds a bit artyfarty and contrived but I can assure you it was not, though I was aware it seemed a bit daft even at the time. I became aware of the rooks cawing in the trees in the aptly titled 'Three Stones Plantation' bordering the field. I looked down and spotted a small shiny black feather. I walked on and bent down to pick up another larger feather. In a moment it became really obsessive and I walked back and forth in a compulsion to pick up all the feathers near the barrow. I've no idea why. They're pretty in their way, and I suppose I like many other people have an urge to collect natural objects - like the snailshells from the morning which I'd kept. It also seemed something tangible to mark my visit I suppose. I tied them up with some grass improvising as string and waving goodbye to noone in particular, wandered back to the car.

Driving off I was extremely aware of how relaxed I felt - almost a bit too 'trippy' to be driving in fact! My usual style is fairly frantic, but cruising down the outrageously straight but flowing Fosse Way towards home my driving was smooth and calm for once. I reckon it's pretty good for you visiting these places.

Lugbury — Fieldnotes

Walking across the field to the longbarrow I realised it was much bigger than I remembered. The bump of the mound stretches out a hugely long way. Was the barrow really that long and wide, or is it
just the result of being ploughed so much? And if it is due to ploughing, well that still hints that the barrow was pretty high to begin with.
I wandered right round the end of the mound - although most of it has been left with tufty vegetation, the edges of it have still been mown at some point, which distorts your idea of how extensive the mound is. According to the information at there are flanking ditches, from which the material for the mound was quarried, which run parallel to the long sides of the mound. These were about 3 metres wide but have been infilled gradually.

The stones are pretty enormous, and beautifully patterned with lichens and mosses against the warm colour of the stone. The capstone is quite something - about 3 by 2 metres, leaning firmly against the two uprights. I saw what I took to be claw marks on its face - maybe a fox or a badger?

It would be a perfect spot to linger (no cows when I visited though), and I would heartily recommend a visit. As you will appreciate if you read my weblog, I felt thoroughly relaxed and peaceful after being here. I realise I'm not familiar with the large stones at barrows in Cornwall or Wales (not to mention further afield) but I think in terms of actual remains in this region (ok, bar Stanton Drew and Stoney Littleton) Lugbury deserves more recognition than it appears to receive. Ok I am biased.

Lugbury — Miscellaneous

The barrow doesn't seem to have a 'view' (unlike many longbarrows that are apparently positioned prominently - and having been to the nearby West Yatton Downs, it's not like hills with views are unavailable locally?): it's on level ground above the valley of By Brook, a tributary of the River Avon. It's orientated east-west and has been measured at 56m long, 38m wide and 1.5m high.

Lugbury — Images

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Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
8th July 2003ce
Edited 27th August 2007ce

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