If you put a big enough stone in a place, it begins to fill it with stories.
Look at Stonehenge. Or that King Stone which sits outside the council chambers in Kingston. Look the Scottish standing stones, like those on Islay. They can be tall and thin or squat and crouched, watching men walk by.
I pass them, every now and then. On a local walk not far from Ascot there is the Quelm Stone, a low stocky lumpish thing; and wandering in Horsham Woods, looking for the place HG Wells’s martians landed, there was another; smaller, less swaggering. But no-one had moved it for a very long time.
They seem to be markers; boundary stones.
They are part of place, and no-one wants to disturb them. They squat there like irascible ogres-in-waiting. They have a personality, and quicksilver it is not.
When they are moved there is often a to-do. Round these parts we don’t hold with folks moving stones.
Take Cookham for example, the village on the Thames which charmed Kenneth Graham, and Jerome K Jerome, and so many more. Cookham has a stone which, like so much about the village, captured the heart of its savant resident artist: the artist Stanley Spencer.
That’s his snapshot of it, at the outset of this post. Full of energy and bulk and presence. It has been in Cookham for as long as anyone can remember anyone remembering. And it is called the Tarry Stone.
People beat the boundaries – walk the paths which surrounded a settlement- all over England. And in Cookham, for as long as anyone has been recording those annual walks to keep pathways open so locals might continue to enjoy right of way, they have been recording the Tarry Stone. Tarry means: to wait. To linger.
It used to linger at the fork in the road where one track went off to church, and the other to the Thames ferry. It sat near Dodson’s fence and observed, in that way these rocks do.
Locals used to hazard that it was a great rock which crashed here from space. But it’s local sarsen stone. It marked the edge of the property of a very powerful man, it’s said: the Abbot of Cirencester, who had a nice house nearby.
Cookham Manor court rolls say villagers used to play sports there. And it is the centre of the home territory of that fearsome fiery ghost, Herne the Hunter. The stone sits stolidly, it is said, whilst the sound of the spectral huntsman’s horn sounds across the common and Herne’s wraith-hounds charge across the nearby flat spaces.
Like every decent stone, it has its special powers. They were not tested until someone took it into their heads to move the stone.
A man called George Venables moved it into Mill House Gardens, nearby. And immediately, the family began to have problems. Locals concluded that the family was cursed because it had moved the Tarry Stone.
Naturally, and with all speed, the Venables moved it back again.
If you put a great big stone in a place, it begins, effortlessly, to fill it with stories.
And the Tarry Stone is no exception.