Our trip to Belas Knap

Belas Knap is a small neolithic monument atop a hill south of Winchcombe in Gloucestershire. I’ve visited it many times now and still wonder at its shape and construction. It is in the rudimentary shape of a reclining person, most likely a woman with its vagina recreated by a sandstone slated curved wall there are also three side chambers which you have to duck into and again constructed of sandstone tiles and larger sandstone boulders. It is very human scale and we were drawn to climb the mound from its truncated “arms”? The structure then slopes gently for about 40 feet to rise like a pregnant belly above the yoni like entrance. People stood eating their sandwiches, Debs and I danced atop the belly and the wind blew fiercely all around us, it was intense and chilly. We descended and walked slowly into the northern chamber to offer one of Enzo’s venison snacks and to give thanks to the Goddess whom this surely represents and honours. As we looked around at the budding hazel trees and bluebells, it was easy to believe that she had passed us by then and there. The monument also feels that it has depth and roots burrowing deep into the cold earth. The skylarks chirped cheerily as we stood and felt the earth hold our ankles and call us home. I wanted to lie down and let go but something kept me upright and so we struggled over the small wall back to the path south to the hillside and then back to our car.

As we descended the hill, the view south to Winchcombe and the Vale of Evesham was hazy but still breathtaking, engendering a real sense of the landscape and the age of this hill. Our ancestors would have looked across this valley thousands of times before from the 20th century to the 18th century, from the 14th century when another plague had raged to the 10th century before the scourge of Norman rule. To break my reverie, a family walked up the steep incline towards us – a woman and a man mid 40s with two teenage daughters, one of whom was sitting on a swing in a lone tree. The branch swayed vigorously as she moved herself back and forth. They smile and laughed as our dog Enzo barked and played with their white poodle who silently played back. I felt sad that we had no kids. They seemed happy and enjoying their late Sunday afternoon walk with mum and dad. The guy has specs on like me and we nodded at each other. Then chatted on loving the dandelions and the cowslips which was clumped along the grass path.

The day before we had arrived at the Rollright Stones somehow by accident. We had drives somewhat optimistically to Dunelm at Banbury. The rain lashed down all day so the traffic was heavy and then parking proved challenging. We parked luckily in front of the store and then masked and tentative, we headed into the building and mooched about looking at the homeware. We were after a tablecloth. We had got hold of a large richly varnished table in February and, much as we loved the varnish, it now looked tatty. The tablecloth was to lighten the room so a beige vinyl tablecloth was taken along with 2 deep blue mugs and a mustard coloured runner. It seemed perfect and the muted colours bring us into harmony with the great mother. She has been very present to me this past few days. Paying and then leaving the shop, we headed into Banbury seeking toilets…

All to no avail so we headed up Horsefair and out on the Chipping Norton road.Fleetingly I saw a fair haired former colleague called Rachel, possibly a secretary at Banbury School and then we sped up and along to Bloxham, a town remarkable by its distinctive sandstone buildings like many towns around here but also the home to another ex-friend Simon and his wife Nadine. I reflected briefly on why some friends have let me go from their friendship circle over the years, Wilf being the most recent.

On to Hook Norton or so we thought for a public toilet but then, as the rain came down heavily again, we were at a crossroads, left to Chipping Norton, right to Shipston, straight on to Rollright Stones. We didn’t hesitate and parked at the shabby wet copse which surrounds the iron gate into the south site. Enzo was on his lead and I removed my cap as a sign of respect to the stones which seemed asleep, quiet, docile even. We walked inside the circle and then outside the circle once past the clootie tree which has become a feature in recent times. The stones slept on and I kissed the tallest one and pondered this ancient place, this powerful symbol again atop of the earth, ancients having moved these stones nearly 6000 years ago? An agricultural culture with time to build a monument and to mark the seasons somehow. I imagined there being large circles further out and possible ritual walkways, the clue being the Whispering Knights over the east where a larger huddle of stones lean in and seem to whisper. There is now a wood labyrinth which has been skilfully erected in the woods which we followed as a rainy meditation. The smell of pine was warming though Enzo bounded in, out and over the short posts which marked the labyrinthine walkway.

The last monument is the King’s stone which stands tall across the busy road looking over the valley and Long Compton.

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