Sunday, 26 April 2015

Dol Tor

Dol Tor was our second stop in my recent megalithic road trip. It is quite the opposite of the Andle Stone - a small, intimate circle buried amongst the trees at the edge of a wood. Indeed, standing on the Andle, one can almost see the Tor a few hundred metres away.

Built around 2000-1500BC Dol Tor comprises of a circle of small megaliths and a cairn. The stones are barely a couple of feet high, and feel like a nervous little heard of animals grazing below the pine trees. The cairn is now no more than a pile of mossy rocks - a damp, soft shadow, no doubt, of somehting that was once far more solid that gave up and caved-in as the years rolled by. The land beside the circle has been quarried but since left to overgrow. The resulting ravine is a verdant slash in the landscape, over which the heard of megaliths now watch.

While the plaque beside the circle describing its origins is well meant, I found it rather confusing. Since the first serious excavation and recording of the site in the 1930s, the stones have been moved about and re-arranged. However, the sign reproduces the 1930s plan. We stood there, somewhat baffled, for some minutes trying to equate the arrangement of the real world with that of the diagram. On reflection, this situation perhaps encapsulates modern man's dilemma when finding any megalith or circle.

Someone had scrawled "I did it" below the note describing the inconsistency.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Bronze Age adventures; the Andle Stone

Last weekend I spend a great afternon trucking about Derbyshire looking at megaliths and stone circles.

I set out armed with a few choice tools. The Modern Antiquarian by Julian Cope is a must-have gazeteer of all things megalithic. Its design is rather of-its-time and screams of the late 1990s, but it is still a thing of wonder. Plus you'll never loose it thanks to the hazard-orange and blue foil treatment on the cover. A canvas bag and leather jacket are staples of any self-respecting retronaut, and the former held my Nikon FM. I was really keen to get the thing out again as I've not used it for a couple of years and missed the satisfying pop-and-ku-thunk of the shutter. I also love the 70s braid strap I found for it, which kind of makes me feel like Dennis Hopper on assignment. The FM functions mechanically and does not require power - only the light meter uses the tiny batteries inserted under the chassis. Which is ace since they failed in the cold so I had to guess the exposure. Let's see how that pans out when I finish the reel of ISO400 black and white... All the photos you'll see are taken with my Samsung S3 (which I'm very impressed with).

Our first stop was the Andle Stone on Stanton Moore. This is a boulder sitting on a mound which has since had a dry stone wall added to one side. It has hand holds carved into one side and is ripe for climbing. Various bits of graffiti are engraved on its surface including dedications to servicemen from the nineteenth century. These give this vast, natural rock a weird air of po-faced-state-approval. There are bushes around much of the stone and from certain angles it pokes above the foliage like a nervous animal in a thicket. It's a sturdy thing and would undoubtedly have been a choice landmark for our ancestors.

Next up is Doll Tor.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

The rise of rural terror

The Guardian has just published an excellent piece by Robert Macfarlane entitled The eeriness of the English countryside. In it Macfarlance charts the course of the pastoral in English horror and gives a great overview of the recent groundswell of interest in the topic. What I'd like to explore is the 'why'. I want to compare Macfarlane's theories on the contemporary rise with those of Adam Easterbrook in his essay on MR James' A Warning to the Curious from the BFI booklet that accompanied the DVD release of Ghost Stories for Christmas. Easterbrook concerns himself with the preoccupation with the genre in the 70s.

Macfarlance lays the blame at the feet of "an attempt to account for the turbulence of England in the era of late capitalism." This timult is the result of several things. The first is that we now live in "a phase of severe environmental damage" - things are lost (native species) and as a result mother nature is wreaking her revenge (powerful storms, flooding and droughts). The second factor is politics. Macfarlane argues that the right have 'cupcakeified' rural Britain turning it into a twee lifestyle choice while at the same time bleeding the rural poor to the point of breaking. The rural horror genre is a left wing response to this.

Easterbrook argues that the interest shown fourty-odd years ago was the result of much more substantial upheaval. The decade saw, "industrial strife, rising inflation and unemployment, terrorist attacks and the three day week". The population, he argues, resorted to the comfort of the pastoral tradition, and so the country chic of Laura Ashley and Fairport Convention were embraced. It was no surprise that the horror genre looked back to the stories of MR James and the like to provide its own dark view of the comfort zone.

I wonder if there is something of Easterbrook's argument about the 70s which can be applied today, in our post-9/11 world where Russia is rattling its sabres and home-grown bombers are, the tabloids encourage us to believe, hiding in dank terrace houses in the Midlands. The UK housing crisis means the countryside is both at risk from further development, while folk from the capital are forced to leave for the provinces (gasp!) in ever greater numbers simply in search of a place they can afford to live.

Above: A sceen from Blood on Satan's Claw, 1971