The Ley Of The Land

They sound like a poem written by one of Tolkein’s dwarves: tump, tumulus, mound, twt, castle, bury, garn, tomen, low, barrow, knoll, knap, moat and camp.

Whilst apart they are a curiosity, together they lead us a merry dance.

They began in 1921, or alternatively, they began just before history.

But let us go with the twentieth century theory at present. Shortly after our Summer solstice, on June 30 of 1921, a businessman, keen amateur photographer and beekeeper was in his automobile, travelling near a village called Blackwardine.

Alfred Watkins loved his archaeology and his antiquities, and so when he espied a Roman fort he felt he must pull over and take a look.

He pulled out his battered old map. And he noticed a pattern which was to absorb him for the rest of his life. He is said to have told his family it was like ‘a chain of fairy lights’: a set of ancient sites- old churches, standing stones, crosses, causeways and hill forts. And to his mind they were arranged in a geometrical straight line.

And where there is one line, Alfred reasoned, why, there must be others.

With more zeal than rigour, he set about identifying a set of lines which criss-cross the British Isles, linking the old places.

His theory, enthusiastically expounded in Early British Trackways – moats, mounds, camps and sitesruns like this: in early times when Britain was almost totally forested and visibility on the ground was much less far-seeing than it is today, early man had straight lines of travel which ran from peak to peak.

But men needed more than the peaks for navigation. And so they sited their important places along the lines. These were made of one of three elements: earth, water or stone.

They even had a name, Watkins effervesced. You could find it if you looked carefully at the litany of British place names: The Ley Farms exist in several places; Wyaston Leys, Tumpy Ley and Red Lay, near Letton, and Redley in the parish of Cusop.

Surely, these were Ley lines?

And while the archaeological and antiquarian worlds snorted in derision, Alfred Watkins continued his crusade for the Ley Line for the remainder of his life.

The theory needed something to season it, though. A little salt and pepper to ginger it up.

Enter John Mitchell, Eton-educated member of the hippy hierarchy, author of The View Over Atlantis and so many other books which re-ignited our passion for the old places. It was Mitchell who resurrected Watkins’ lines and used them to mystify a landscape which had become mundane.

His premises were so engrossing, so seductive, that a whole counter-culture grew green and vigorous around it.

Look at the map: Glastonbury Tor is the focus for a veritable spaghetti junction of lines, a perfect ancient centre for the tie-dye set.

Photo from glastonburytor.co.uk

Now, the lines are surrounded by a mist of affable hokum. Ghosts feel more at home at the junction of a Ley Line, happenings happen with more frequency, mystery is commonplace there where the lines meet.

Praeternatural poetry: painted poppycock. But the tales bubble up as if from a sacred Briton spring. Take a look here at some of the Cotswold routes: at the old monk who haunts the line’s beginning at Pershore Abbey, of the child drowned at the old Mill which still walks its boards, the bumps and bangs made by the wraith in breeches and a felt hat at Vine Cottage; of monks disappearing at Winchcombe Hill, and the haunted fairy-infested mound at Bell Knapp.

There are more stories than there are lines.

And despite a sardonic exercise in which telephone box plotting led to a similar grid created by archaeologist Richard Atkinson, we persist in believing the lines have potent psychic energy.

Because, like the litany which opened this post: the idea has too much poetry for us to discount it.

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39 thoughts on “The Ley Of The Land

  1. If not discount it, I try to ignore it. It reminds of fey 60’s and 70’s “flower children” that I knew, who could talk bollocks at the drop of the mention of the word “ley”. They were more interesting when the middle letter was transposed for another vowel:)

  2. I have to confess, I have a weakness for old maps like these. And for the ideas people have built around them.

    And we mock them. Probably quite rightly.

    But then, all of the unknown becomes known in this fashion. We have ideas, which crystallise into deeper thoughts, we postulate theories, some wilder than others, and slowly the truth forms.

    1. I think you make an excellent point. Open minds are essential: and if Richard III can be found underneath a car park then it is quite possible that additional evidence could arise to support Watson’s theories.

      The ghostie stuff: hmmm. Energies beyond our ken: I have locked up haunted mansions and so forth, and can readily attest to the paranormal. I just don’t see any link to ley lines other than John Mitchell’s enticing fancies. We have ghosts everywhere here, don’t we? If we plotted instances on a map I’m sure the ley lines would be utterly obscured by a matted rug of supernatural occurrences.

  3. Your post sent me travelling to refresh my memory of Glastonbury Tor:

    Glastonbury Tor is a hill at Glastonbury, Somerset, England, which features the roofless St. Michael’s Tower. The site is managed by the National Trust. It has been designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument (No: 196702).

    Tor is a local word of Celtic origin meaning ‘rock outcropping’ or ‘hill’. The Tor has a striking location in the middle of a plain called the Summerland Meadows, part of the Somerset Levels. The plain is actually reclaimed fenland out of which the Tor once rose like an island, but now, with the surrounding flats, is a peninsula washed on three sides by the River Brue. The remains of Glastonbury Lake Village nearby were identified in 1892, showing that there was an Iron Age settlement about 300–200 BC on what was an easily defended island in the fens. Earthworks and Roman remains prove later occupation.

    The spot seems to have been called Ynys yr Afalon (meaning “The Isle of Avalon”) by the Britons, and it is believed by some to be the Avalon of Arthurian legend.

    Aah . . . Merlin rising from the mists of the Tor. 😀

  4. The human brain naturally seeks organization and pattern to make sense of the world. Distinguishing purpose from coincidence is something else again. Fascinating post!

    1. Yup: were the ancient Britons and their successors doing it on purpose? It seems strange that no legacy of story or folklore is there to back it up, PT. There’s a dearth of any mention of patterns like this until the mid nineteenth century.
      Would be nice, though, wouldn’t it?

  5. Your instinct about leys being poetic is just right, Kate; it is a wonderful concept, whatever its significance. However, having read the books, listened to the theorisers and drawn lines on maps myself since the 60s, I do accept that while there are alignments in reality (if you can join objects up in a line they’re by definition aligned) rarely are they deliberately set out by human agency, let alone by nature or by higher powers. As for mystical leys, they can mean all things to all people; and frequently do.

    I do like the idea of ‘Arthur’ Watkins, but actually (whisper it) he was an Alfred. It’s an easy mistake to make, especially in Somerset where they often got the two kings mixed up in their legends.

    1. 😀 That’s what comes of spending too much time with pretty ideas, Chris…thank you, and duly altered. It almost bests the time I lauded the extensive castle-building programme of Norman the Conqueror, but not quite.

      1. Norman the Conqueror! I like that! Can I pinch it? Sounds like a character out of ‘1066 And All That’. By the way, sorry if I came across as all grumpy and pious in my post; I blame the late hour, when I should have been curled up in bed with Joan Aiken…

      2. Not at all. Glad to have a reason not to read a book…my reading list is growing outrageously long. Please feel free to use Norman. One of my favourite bloopers ever.

  6. My feelings are very simple. I just love the idea of it all! I don’t know that I actually “believe” a lot of things…but I can get completely caught up in the mystery of the unknown, the unprovable, and if I’m exposed to the keen imaginings of certain creative forces, I am easily prone to fall right in line just because! This was a delight to read…and things that go bump in the night are extremely interesting to me…from a distance! 🙂

  7. The trouble about these ridiculous theories of lines of power is that the more one goes into them the more seductively they make sense.
    Phil Rickman has made a meal of ley lines in his excellently-written stories with – or some without – his reluctant ‘Deliverance’ priest or exorcist, Merrily Watkins. They are extra scary for the understated way in which the tales are spun. I hope you are acqainted with them?

  8. If its all nonsense then why has so much construction of sacred sights gone on. They are there , fact , written in stone, literally. Millions of man hours and tons of stone. The earth energies were not ridiculed in the past and are known of in China where they are called dragon lines. Acupuncture was similarly ridiculed as hippy nonsense but is now re-known to work. It is the same but in the land. I have researched , dowsed and listened to the head druids. It is blatant that the church is aware of this as the female energy has churches dedicated to St. Mary and the male St Micheal as they twist around the straight ley like a caduceus . I find the tie dye comments slightly irksome and vapid. It appears the new generation of hippies are far better informed, thank goodness.

  9. As far as I comprehend, at this stage, the true ley is almost invariably a straight line. It’s a geographical line and doesn’t technically exist . only in the sense that it follows the two earth energies (dragons, male and female), connecting the nodes (junctions) like the staff of the caduceus, And has sacred sights built on it , also natural occurrences eg; mountains ridges, lakes, ponds ,and springs to suit the gender of the dragon.
    The 2 earth energy lines do exist, wiggling round the staff (ley) like the serpents of the caduceus and are dowsable, fact . I can hear the sniggers now, so I throw down the gauntlet to get your coat hangers out. Love to see ya faces. 80% can dowse naturally. It can be shockingly powerful.
    The nodes are very sacred places and have been for thousands of years. See Royston cave for a stunning earth mother womb node , also ask the cave shop about the American Indian shamans turning up seeking it, if you like a good “Fairy story”. May the”mists”be lifted.Their is also a true Belinus/Elen line see “The spine of Albion” to further your discombobulation with the new tie die crew.

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