We were in the car and everything was subdued: it was late afternoon and the kids were both asleep in the back, exhausted from their play on the beach, my wife sandwiched between them both. Gathering clouds were threatening to bring some welcome rain.
My friend, Derek, was driving, weaving along the country lanes, passing the time trying to identify the various victims of roadkill splayed along our route.
Then my eyes lit up at a sudden sign: Ancient Burial Site.
Derek started following the directions in a tacit understanding: some of you older Jackdaw followers may recall that the Neolithic is my thing. (Not because you hail from the Neolithic yourselves, of course, but because I posted about it a few times in my early blogging days.) It is the period when we began to become us, ceasing to wander and instead put down roots. Transforming the landscape and, though so much is unknown, leaving just enough tantalising clues to feed the imagination.
The structures of this period have always drawn me, wherever I find myself, and so we arrived at the site that is known as Pentre Ifan.
“Do you want to come and see it? We could take it in turns?” I asked the Mrs who still had the heads and the spread limbs of the children across her.
“No, I’ll stay here in the car.”
“It’s stood for five thousand years, and you don’t want to take a two minute walk to see it?!”
“You see it for me.”
Derek interjected: “I’ll take some photos for you and the kids to see.”
“And I’ll give you the feel of the place,” I added.
And so we abandoned them in that country lane, passed through a wooden gate, and came upon they type of ancient structure that is known as a dolmen.
Though the landscape may be different to what it was back then, the fact that there wasn’t another soul or building in sight, added to an absence of sound, (aside from a crow calling), added to the sense of timelessness about the place.
The caw of a crow is not sweet birdsong, but is dark and ominous and deathly, (carrion crow after all), but that may just be the perspective and penchant of the poet.
There was an information board that gave a diagram of how it would have looked back then. It was built around 3,500 BC. Who would have been buried here? Who (and there would have been several) was important enough to warrant such a memorial?
Whenever I look across the fields and ruins that dot the British landscape, I often wonder about the great stories that have become lost to us. Stories that tell of the exploits of people from all periods of our history, undertaken before records began. Legendary figures; famous battles; Gods; Celtic warriors – the Arthurs of the time.
But this monument was built long before the Celtic era.
Approaching it it looked an obvious health and safety risk, but the stones had been secured. And besides, these things had obviously been made to last.
The top stone was shaped like a flint knife. That seemed more appropriate than a hovering spacecraft, which also crossed my mind.
Derek left me to spend a few minutes there, alone, to soak up the atmosphere. I’m like that-a human sponge of the vibe of a place. And then I left, the crow still calling its lyrical lament.
The ancestors: unknown and unfathomable, littering this island of mine with some extraordinary wonders.
I have since read that local lore says that fairies are sometimes sighted there, described as ‘little children in clothes like soldiers’ clothes and with red caps.’ I wished I had known that then, I would have regaled the kids with such tales. That’s the kind of thing to engage them.
But I didn’t know, and when I got back to the car they slept on, that damn Justin Bierber playing on the radio.
Give me the crow any day.