I’M beginning to learn lessons – though it’s a slow process. So far on Barningham Moor, in my quest to locate the Bronze Age carved stones, one disaster has followed another. Today turns out to be no different . . .
I leave the car on the crown of Newsham Moor and follow a pleasant green track along the ridge towards the high Pennines, rain scattering in from the west and small springs welling up from the ground in half-hearted fountains. It’s not the best of days to search miles of empty moorland.
Drove to Barningham village on one of the iciest days in December. Parked the car in three inches of snow. Walked about a mile across the moor as the realisation slowly dawned that searching for flat stones on a flat moor beneath three inches of snow was a pretty futile way to spend a day. Turned around and walked back. Didn’t see any Bronze Age folk or hear them laughing on this occasion, but something whizzed past my ear as I was taking my boots off and disappeared into a hedge. I think it was another arrow.
Today, though, only small pockets of snow cling to high ridges and clog hollows in the ground. And visibility is moderate, so I could be on a winner.
At the stone circle above Osmaril Gill it suddenly occurs to me that, had I set out on Thursday instead of today, I would have arrived at the stones on the winter solstice. Bugger. Bit of bad timing that. I should have risen before the dawn and watched the sun rise above the distant factory chimneys of Teesside, just as those strange Bronze Age folk did.
A few yards south of the circle, on the crown of the moor, two large sink-holes gobble up the excess surface water, funnelling it in unseen though noisy waterfalls into the bowels of the earth. That’s interesting. The circle is positioned more of less between them.
I descend into Osmaril Gill and discover a fine cup and ring carving on a flat boulder. This is the best one I have found so far. At the foot of the gill the surface water re-emerges in a bubbling spring. That’s interesting too. Were these carvings and stone circle linked to some cult of the unseen underworld beneath our feet? Springs have always been associated with gods and spirits. Is this what we have here – a Bronze Age sacred grove centred around the rocky Osmaril Gill, where water sinks into the earth and re-emerges at a holy well? My imagination begins to get the better of me.
Beneath the gill, on the northern flank of Barningham Moor, I search through heather and bog for the fabled Mother Stone. But I fail to find it. I do, though, find a standing stone (pictured above) with extremely faint cup and ring markings on its side – but it’s not the stone I’m looking for. So I return to the spring to ask the spirit for guidance, because it has occurred to me that the well might have a guardian and he might be in a festive mood. For once I am right. The spirit says:
“Go ye away from this place and gather gifts for the people of the heather. For they have moved their sacred stone to a secret place and will not roll it back until offerings have been left and homage paid. Do this and ye shall reap your rewards, for I am the Spirit of the Well and unlike you I appear know what I’m talking about.”
The rain sweeps in again as I make my way back across the moor, boots sinking into glutinous peat and rain dripping off my hood. I am aware I have another arrow sticking in my rucksack – but I’m in a buoyant mood. I shall return with gifts for the Bronze Age folk, perhaps a bag of sprouts and a Terry’s chocolate orange. And some Pringles. Everyone likes Pringles.