Merrivale Field Trip

A field trip to Dartmoor in January could be a challenge, but having negotiated some very icy roads on the way to Merrivale, we were blessed with one of those rare, clear and cold winter days. The moors were dusted with snow and lit with that pure winter light under a vast blue sky. Even though we were on the high moors, there was very little wind and so it was a completely magical experience.

Having been inspired by our exploration of hunter gatherer cultures to wonder and wander more freely, we didn't pore over maps and guide books but set off to explore this ancient sacred landscape in a more open and intuitive way. When you don't know for sure where you are going, a distant standing stone really does draw and guide and soon we found ourselves standing at the opening of a wide avenue flanked by double stone rows, with the musical water of a little leat meandering along one side.

With a village of round houses to our right and a landscape of burial cairns, a stone circle and standing stone to our left, it felt as if we were entering and moving through a liminal space between the everyday world of the village and the sacred space of the ancestors. It was easy to feel the power of this sacred landscape and to imagine how awe inspiring a shared ritual would have been here.

Damson Libation
As we processed to the end of the avenue, some of us prepared to make our own shift of awareness and offered a libation to the ancestors in a hollow on the crown of the final stone. Walking then to the stone circle, it seems we were each inspired by grounding and orientating ourselves within this sacred vessel that is held within the encircling hills. Some of us heard and saw vast presences in the long lines of the landscape and others in the shapes of the stones, which seemed to affirm the history we have been studying about how the creation of stone circles & rows could have been ritual processes expressing the coming together of communities, with the megaliths representing the beings of earlier sacred trees or human ancestors. We were blessed to have a young open spirit, Laura, with us and below are her impressions of the stones:

Open Spirits and Stone Circle
The Magical Circle

Today I went to Dartmoor and I went to a magical circle of stones. My name is Aledy Brinkworth and this is my story to tell;

I went to Dartmoor and there was snow there! I built a snow duck but my hands soon got quite cold, it was still lots of fun though and I love snow. Then we walked on a bit further and there was a row of stones on either side of me. At one end there was just one stone and at the other end there were two stones next to each other like an archway.

We walked on a bit further and there was a magical ring of stones. First me and my mum walked all the way round the outside of the stones. Then we walked all the way around the inside. It was so magical. 

On the first stone I saw in my imagination a lady dressed all in black, staring at me with yellow eyes and an owl sitting on her shoulder. 
On the second stone I saw a kind of oval with the head of a rhinosaurs and the head of an elephant. 
On the next stone I saw a pretty young lady with blond curly hair and a light dress with colours of green and pink and yellow and bits of blue.
 The next stone I walked past in the circle was like the lady in my mums book; Mrs Greenfields. She has bushy, twiggy , green hair and a long dark green dress on. She smiled at me. 
At the next stone there was an old crooked lady, bent over with a walking stick and a long pointed nose. She was clinging on to the rock and told me that she was so bent over because she had done so much spinning.
 I saw on the next stone a dog, just a dog. I put a lot of description with the other stones but I don’t really know what to tell you about this one but I just know that it was a dog.
 The next stone I saw was a lady sitting on the stone. She had bouncy golden hair and a cat purring on her lap. She was wearing a long golden dress which matched her hair.
 There were twin girls on the next stone, both with bunches. One had brown hair and the other red. The red haired girl was wearing a tee shirt and the brown haired girl was wearing dungerees and a yellow tee shirt.
 The next stone was a tortoise who had a deep voice, “Hello Laura” I waved and he tried to wave back and fell off the stone, so I put him back. 
On the last stone was a howling wolf.

Then me and my mum walked around the circle and said goodbye to all our new friends. We walked out of the circle.

Sky gazing with the support of Merrivale standing stone

After exploring the circle and its nearby standing stone, we closed by gathering around a nearby circular burial cairn to share a simple communion of damson liqueur (created by Wood Sister and friend, Jo Swift) standing side by side within the vast space of the land as perhaps loved ones had once gathered for the original burial. We thought about what we had learned about similar remains found nearby at White Horse Hill, about which I wrote the following in our notes:

The burial site revealed the cremated remains of a young woman wrapped within a bear skin and laid on top of a calf leather and nettle fibre sash or cloak. Also within the bear skin was a lime basket containing beads of amber, tin, shale and ceramic (evidence of great trade networks, often using rivers & water) and spindle wood studs, along with a flint flake and copper pin. These were all placed within a box or ‘kist’ of granite slabs packed with moor grass and meadowsweet flowers. I find such a sense of love and care in these details which are so like the way we too choose special places and offer tokens and flowers when our loved ones die. 

Wending our way homewards afterwards, we finished our field trip with a delicious pub lunch in Princetown. Looking back now, I am struck by how familiar the sacred space of Merrivale felt and how close I felt to those who had created, loved and celebrated within it four thousand years ago. Being in a sacred landscape takes us beyond ideas, even spiritual ones and into shared sacred experience. Walking with reverence, gathering in a circle and feeling held by a greater space, celebrating and honouring life and death and marking the sacred cycles of nature which we are part of - these are universal experiences which go beyond words and which we can share across cultures and even across time.


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