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Watkins, Alfred – The revelation that helped the discovery of the UK’s sacred geography

Identifier

026626

Type of Spiritual Experience

Background

A description of the experience

Paul Screeton – Quicksilver heritage

It sounds simple. A man sits down, opens a map, is casually casting his eye over it and notes that a number of ancient sites happen to be in a straight line.

If anyone else on 30 June 1921 had been looking at a map and noted such an alignment he would have thought no more of it. In fact, others had noted alignments and failed to see the significance.

But Alfred Watkins's discovery was in the nature of a vision. The alignment struck a responsive chord, the magnitude of whose significance was inspiration unparalleled before or since in archaeology. The revelation took the form of a rush of images forming a coherent whole. This insight into the truth of what lay directly between Croft Ambury and Stretton Grandison was as breathtaking as any vision any shaman, guru or mystic has experienced. This illumination was unforeseen; but for a man who knew every nook and cranny of his native countryside, it was, on reflection, probably not so unexpected.

Confirmation of his vision was provided in excess as he marked ancient sites and old parish churches on one-inch Ordnance Survey maps, and linked them into dead straight lines. He wandered the countryside corroborating the evidence on the map with the evidence of his own eyes, and with his camera he recorded the reality of the alignments.

Alfred Watkins wasted no time in plotting where leys exist and what marks them. In addition to the basic prehistoric structures which fit into the pattern, he also included primary peaks, tree clumps of significance or special centuries-old trees, parish churches, wayside crosses and castles. The ley system seemed to offer new insights into the study of the historical development of paths and roads, and he presented it as such.

But there are indications in his magnum opus, The Old Straight Track, that he considered there to be occult connotations which he preferred not to enlarge upon.

He was a past president of the Woolhope Naturalists' Club in Hereford, and it was to this society in September of the year of his discovery that he lectured upon the subject. In 1922 this lecture, with illustrations by the author and additional material, was published as Early British Trackways, Moats, Mounds, Camps, and Sites.

Watkins had firstly come to the conclusion that his discovery was simply a proof that prehistoric man had taken steps to mark the landscape in such a way as to make travel easy. A man would set off from one place and aim for a notch, cairn or mound on the skyline; where there were no hills he kept straight on and reached ponds, mark stones, moats, mounds and significant tree clumps.

His best-known book is The Old Straight Track, which was published in 1925, and which brought him fame and infamy. O. G. S. Crawford, then editor of Antiquity magazine, refused a paid advertisement from Watkins for the book (just as the present editor of that magazine, Dr Glyn Daniel, similarly refused a paid advertisement for The Ley Hunter magazine, when edited by the author of this book).

Academic archaeologists derided Watkins's discovery, but interest was sufficient for Watkins to start the Straight Track Club, at the instigation of Mrs B. M. Carbonnel. A year later - 1927 - saw the publication of The Ley Hunter's Manual, a practical handbook required to meet the increasing demand for what the Birmingham Post had described as 'a new outdoor hobby'.

I have climbed Castle Mound, in Cambridge, and can well understand its extraordinary attraction for Alfred Watkins when he visited with his son, Allen, in the city for a few days. He knew Cambridge as a ley centre, and spent his visit never far from the mound. It inspired him to write his last book, Archaic Tracks Around Cambridge, published in 1932.

The source of the experience

Watkins, Alfred

Concepts, symbols and science items

Concepts

Activities and commonsteps

Activities

Suppressions

Communing with nature

Commonsteps

References