Walking Sacred Landscapes

There’s no doubt that the people who lived in this country in what we call prehistory regarding the land as sacred. Just look around and see the stone circles, henges and stone rows they left behind. It is hard for us to enter their mindset, though most folk still experience a sense of wonder when they visit these historic sites.

The Cockpit Stone Circle (c) John Bainbridge 2019

The question that often occurs to me is whether the places where the circles, rows etc. now stand were in some way held to be sacred before those structures were erected. That might explain why, in some cases, stones for these antiquities were often brought considerable distances to the sites where they now stand. Why bother? Why not just use the stones of the local area, or erect these monuments close to where the source stones were?

I’m an amateur antiquarian and not an archaeologist, so I’m not qualified to give an opinion. If you are please comment below with your thoughts…

But just look at the surviving sites – the great monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, the rich archaeology of Dartmoor, the many stone circles of Aberdeenshire, the wonders of Kilmartin Glen in Argyll – the list goes on.

The Copstone (c) John Bainbridge 2019

I was considering this the other day when we were taking one of our regular walks on the edge of the Lake District, across the fells of Askham and Moor Divock.

There’s no doubt that this wide stretch of moorland was one of these sacred stretches of landscape – the evidence is there for all to see with the remnants of rows, an excellent stone circle now called The Cockpit, banks and ditches. In my Dartmoor days we would have described it as a sanctuary.

And where these ancient people went – and we should think of them not as savages but as human beings as mentally sophisticated as we are – we have a multiplicity of trackways. The ways that these men and women took not only to survive day to day, but to access sacred sites.

On the fells around Moor Divock, there are a great many tracks. Some undoubtedly of recent origin, but others which must have existed for thousands of years.

Crossing the hillside is the Roman road known as High Street. Was it built by the Romans? I don’t think so. I think it was a prehistoric way across the eastern Lake District fells, that the Romans adopted and probably improved.

High Street (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Take a walk along it and consider that – High Street not a relatively recent Roman road, but one of the oldest roads in Britain. Perhaps dating back to Neolithic times when the men and women who dwelt in these hills first felt the need to travel regularly, unlike their ancestors, the hunters who had no defined routes, but simply followed the herds of animals they needed for food.

When we walk the old ways, we are often walking in the steps of the most ancient of our ancestors. So take a walk along the old tracks and visit these old sites – the circles, henges and row. Take a walk and wonder as well as wander.


Published by John Bainbridge

Rambler, hillwalker, stravaiger and trespasser, access campaigner. Novelist writing historical and period crime fiction.

21 thoughts on “Walking Sacred Landscapes

  1. It seems like a chicken or egg question, doesn’t it? I find the whole thing even more complicated when we experience something ourselves — like that peaceful feeling we can get upon entering a cathedral or a temple or a mosque… as though the centuries of people repeating prayers and rituals have left a kind of imprint that resonates when we need it most… all maybe because a spot just seemed to carry the special signature of the creator, leaving us with a painting of sorts that set the poems free…and someone thought to lay a stone to find that moment again…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Its not easy to know with High Street as to whether it was there before the Romans. We know the Romans used the route over high street to stay away from attack, high on the hills, rather than the valleys. Would pre Romans have needed to avoid attack in the same way as the Romans. If so then I’d agree that its certain out the way!! As for the stone circles I always wondered why they are build with different sizes, you have two together at Grey Wethers on Dartmoor, why do you need two? I’m always in awe of these old places, places like Drizzlecombe and Grimspound are fantastic

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, I know those Dartmoor sites well, they are quite incredible. as for High Street I think by the time the Romans were that far north, they seemed to be trading and “Romanising” the locals. The other Roman roads, such as the one that follows the present A66 runs low and is frequently overlooked by higher ground. Sadly, we’ll never know – except to add that there are a great many pre-Roman antiquities on the line of High Street.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Great post John! All land was most likely ”sacred” at one time as I believe people’s sense of self-identity was much more intricately tied into the land. It had more meaning, and that connection is what we sometimes call the 6th sense. We were more directed and connected to a very different value structure than what our current lifestyle dictates. Why I keep coming back there to walk such paths!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I’m sure High Street would have been a route in existence well before the Romans knowing the liking earlier folk had of keeping to the safer high ground.

    I certainly think modern people are more ‘savages’ than our ancestors… and becoming more so with each generation unfortunately!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Hi John,

    Some places definitely seem to have a special ‘energy’ to them, even when there are no monuments to mark their uniqueness. On occasion, while walking through the woods I’ve suddenly been struck by the feeling that a place I just entered was different in some way, although there’s no way for me to know if such impressions were in my head or ‘real.’

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I believe a lot of people get that feeling, Josh. I certainly do. And I think it’s instinctive and would have been clearly understood by the people who built these monuments,

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’d say that feelings would’ve been more clearly understood by the people who built the ancient monuments; since, given their lack of technological distractions, it’s reasonable to assume that they were more in touch with their bodies.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. When we study ancient history or prehistory, there is so much that we don’t understand because we live in times so distant from those times. The earth was more clearly respected and even made sacred by the ancient ones. To say that people living in those times were primitive does not give them credit for their many achievements that we are just beginning to understand in some cases. I do have a degree and experience in the field of archaeology, but in a different part of the world, and I think each culture, each race, each religion or spiritual following, each political leaning, creates a really interesting set of events that follow it. It is amazing to me that regardless of the country, etc., we can find so many similar stories (i.e. the great flood and many, many others) that there are still some very mysterious things we have yet to discover about our world and how so many different peoples of the world, how many different types of creatures and of plants and earthscapes came to be. I am currently following and studying about ancient cultures with Sue Vincent, Stuart France and Steve Tanham of The Silent Eye Mystery School. I love studying and learning these things because I am becoming aware of how much we have lost in the hustle and bustle of a highly complex world that we live in today. This really IS a great article, and would love to see more. Thank you all very kindly.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I am not so certain that we can’t grasp how clever they were, but we will need to get into the right sort of “brain think” to have a context for what they were dealing with on a daily basis, and what all the other folks around them (other tribes, etc.) might have been thinking, what diseases they were dealing with, what climatic issues and food issues. Remember that they did not have good ways of preserving food to last through the cold seasons, for example. And what were the sources of food like from season to season? We know in Ireland much later there was a potato famine because the people were relying on potatoes as a staple for their diets, so that leads me to think that there was a scarcity of meat, and other types of food available at that time. Could that have contributed to the failure of other cultures too? I know in Pre Columbian Mexico there was a time of great famine that contributed to the widespread human sacrifices. And was there always adequate water that was something the people could drink without falling ill? Certainly by the time of the Romans, they had pretty good water management, but what about before that?

        It always interests me that after so many hundreds of years of recognition of some of the world’s great sites, there is still very little known about many of them. The Nazca Plains to this day are still not fully understood. But it is understandable that today’s cultures are so engrossed with the issues of everyday living in this time that there is not enough funding or enough scholars to really get looking at everything that puzzles us in depth.

        I wonder 100, 200 or more years from now, what issues will the people of those times be concerned with regarding former societies as it may well be. There are so many areas in society where we do not seem to have learned much at all, but it certainly IS a wonderful thing to learn what we can, or at least to try to figure out what might have been going on based on what we can see. Archaeology, in my humble opinion, is very focused on the smaller issue, but not so much looking at interactions between different cultures in depth yet, or how the people in one culture came to be so advanced in their building of structures and the planning that went into that most often. Well, we can go on and never be bored for sure.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post, John, and beautiful photography. I couldn’t agree more about our prehistoric ancestors not being savages – I believe they were really quite sophisticated for the time. Sadly I’m not an archaeologist either but I’m fascinated by it all and learn what I can. It’s a privilege to walk in the footsteps of our ancient ancestors.


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