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Widecombe History Group Talks
An Illustrated Talk was given by Tim Berry entitled 'Ancient Trackways of Great Britain'
His talk was based on the findings of Alfred Watkins who wrote a book 'The Old Straight Track,' in which he examined the theory of Ley Lines, and how early man used them to navigate across the countryside. This principally dated from pre-historic times.
One of the main findings is that there is a direct alignment of man-made features within the countryside that were used for early navigation. These consisted of mounds, barrows, standing stones, notches in the ground on the sky-line, trees (in England generally Scotch Pine) and in the valleys, ponds, fords, stepping stones and clapper bridges.
Over the course of years many of these were replaced by crosses (wayside crosses) these replaced standing stones, trees etc. that had been removed. Some of the original stones had hollows created in them, into which wooden poles, sometimes crosses, were erected. Over a period of time, these wooden items were replaced by more durable stones and the original marker stones became socket stones for these heavier items. Often at these sites it has been found that Ley lines either pass through, or on many occasions, cross each other at these important wayside points (Way-markers). On O.S. maps, the letters M. S. (marker stone) can often be seen, generally signifying a land mark (mark or merke), depicting way marks and sites of ancient gatherings. Many place names ending with the word 'ton' 'tun' and 'ston' or 'stone' depict the old sites of many old standing stones. An example quoted was Kingston (King Stone). Many trackways followed across the high ground and in many parts of Britain, known as 'ridge ways'.
The 'Long Man of Wilmington' was mentioned, carved in the Chalk Downs, he appears with two staffs. The people who surveyed these early trackways used these staffs as a method of plotting their course, sometimes using three staffs to develop a straight line. They were often called 'Dog' or 'Dodge men' perhaps due to the style of moving left and right until creating the desired straight line (dodging left and right). Churches, such distinctive buildings, often fitted into this plan as sites of great antiquity and size. Many ‘pagan’ sites were used by religious groups that came after them, due no doubt to their significant position. They were not destroyed but ‘purified’ and built over. Ley lines are reputed to pass through many churches and buildings of importance.
Specific Ley Lines are notable throughout the country and the one Tim mentioned, is the Buckingham Palace Ley line. He showed how it runs in a straight line through ten important places in London. Particular mention was made of Charring Cross. This led to some members saying how in London, many places are noted as being ‘so far from Charring Cross’, this showed the importance of this place in navigating the capital! Many places named Ley or with Ley within their name are often places where Ley Lines cross.
Tim posed the question, “Was Widecombe, Ashburton and Totnes on such a Ley?" There is certainly a Stonehenge Ley, he said. A mention was made of the book “The Sun and the Serpent” which claims to record the Michael Ley Line running from St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, through many churches dedicated to St Michael, including Brent Tor, Glastonbury and reaching Bury St Edmunds in Norfolk, before disappearing into the sea nearby!
This talk was meant to inspire the traveller of today to notice and recognise these relics of bygone years in the countryside, and to think of how they fit into today’s methods of navigation.
His conclusion was reached and encouraged by the following lines:
Written by Jimmy Goddard:
What can we say of the song of the Ley
Sounding so faintly and so far away
Echoing hauntingly over the land
Ever elusive, yet ever at hand.
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