Sunday, 23 October 2011

Alfred Watkins, Ley Lines and Me

In 1921 Alfred Watkins published a theory. In truth others had had the same idea before but Mr Watkins was the first to put his thoughts into print. Thus the world was introduced to ley lines.
So what is a ley line? There is some disagreement as to exactly what ley lines are, yet all agree they are lines and what is more they are straight lines. Mr Watkins was the first person to give these alignments a name. The word is taken from the Saxon leah meaning 'a woodland clearing' and appearing at the end of innumerable place names, such as Hanley, Hinckley, Dudley and Rugeley. However the accepted pronunciation for the line is now as in 'lay'. Many cultures have shown an interest in straight lines, the most famous and enduring being the Nazca lines of the high plateau in Peru.
A more recent theory suggests these lines mark the paths of an earth force, intersecting points of two leys are said to release a special psychic or magical energy. This energy is not only said to be beneficial but a vital source of positive energies. There are also those who maintain they are able to trace leys using dowsing rods. I have seen this happen more than once, with different people holding the rods, yet have never managed to get any movement at all from the dowsing rods myself.
Any credence I could give to the more supernatural explanation evaporates with the claim that leys can be traced by dowsing, this time using a plumb line, over a map. In order to accept that this is possible, we would also have to assume that the tool (either the plumb line or the plumb bob) can read. Otherwise how would the tool recognise that it was a map - complete with contours, names and features - rather than a piece of paper with a few random letters, and straight and curved lines scribbled on it (or even an old cigarette packet)?
Other properties attributed to leys include the power to heal, a magnet for ghosts and anything supernatural, geomancy, the explanation for the existence and creation of crop circles, and signals to UFOs. There is even an account of an alignment being found on Mars, leading to (or from, depending upon which version you read) the phenomena which has become known as the Face of Mars. Apparently this is the only proof required to show that leys are common to every planet in the galaxy. My only acceptance of leys is the same as the man who named them, Alfred Watkins.
Watkins proposed that the straight lines were ancient trackways, laid down by those who settled in the British Isles when it was largely forested. As the ley was created a number of markers were created to enable the traveller to follow the track even though he was out of direct line of sight of both his point of departure and his objective. It is these tracks that my book Ley Lines Across the Midlands examined.
Obviously the first time anyone travelled from point A to point B there was no marked path to follow. Therefore someone had to find a way of marking the shortest route and also making sure there was no error otherwise all that was being created was a road to nowhere. The method used to ensure a straight and true path was simplicity itself and the same basic system is still used by surveyors today.
Few tools are required to produce a perfectly straight line over unlimited distances. Three wooden staves are all it takes. Whilst both his point of origin and his target were in sight he would secure his first stake in the ground at a point where it stood on a direct line between the two. The second stake would be placed further along this same line thus creating two certain points of reference. His third stake would be aligned at a point as far away from the first two as it was possible to see and maintain the accuracy. Now the first stake can be removed and aligned at the front, thus effectively becoming the fourth stake. Alfred Watkins referred to these surveyors as dodmen, citing the gait of the elderly being referred to as 'doddering' and the Welsh dodi meaning to place or to lay.
Some have pointed to the staves or stakes being carried by the chalk figure of the Long Man of Wilmington in Sussex, suggesting the figure may have been created to acknowledge the invaluable contribution these men made. This 69 metres (227 feet) long figure carries two long poles or staves. Like the other human figure of the Giant at Cerne Abbas, these are considered ancient. However no record of either figure has ever been found dating from before the 17th century. Considering the planning and the huge effort which would have gone into the construction, it seems unlikely that either would have avoided any mention for well over two thousand years.
The only thing left was to create markers. These would have stood out from everything in view like the proverbial sore thumb. Each marker had to be within sight of the previous one as there was no path underfoot to follow. Markers were originally simply a pile of stones, or a burned tree, or a purpose-built ford. Later some of these sites took on more significance and became tumuli, cairns, pagan places of worship and sometimes even new settlements.
Obviously not all of the permanent markers were contemporary. Indeed, those who doubt the existence of leys point out these great differences in age as evidence that the ley could not have been marked out using the marks cited, for originally many of them could not have existed. This cannot be disputed, however perhaps the way to look at it is that the modern evidence was erected on the track already in existence. Even today any construction work grows alongside an existing road, so it is a safe assumption that this has always been the case. Besides there would be no point in creating a sacred place which was quite literally off the beaten track for nobody would ever be able to find it.
The Romans, famous for their straight roads, would undoubtedly have taken advantage of the trackways already in existence. They used the same method to mark out their own roads which, although they were not significantly wider, were vastly superior underfoot. Furthermore, no markers were required here for the road itself was evidence enough. Today these former markers can still sometimes be seen in the names of the settlements, indeed such is often the only clue we have.
It should be noted that skeptics have discounted the idea of ley lines as fanciful archaeology. Quite rightly they point to the comparatively large number of settlements in Europe and, seeing these as dots on a map, conclude that there is no deliberate alignment. The fact that there are so many dots means it is inevitable that some will fall in a straight line. Alfred Watkin himself pointed this out in his book The Old Straight Track.
My book accepts that ley lines do exist and takes the reader along a number of these ancient routes across the counties of the Midlands. While the different leys have similar markers in a general sense, each has its own individual story to tell and is a different piece of the whole incomplete puzzle. Incomplete because the several leys can be traced across distances much greater than just central England. Not only will we discover something of the places and the markers, but will look at the possible reasons and uses for the trackway, and the people who have followed these same paths.
Although they lie outside the area covered by Ley Lines Across the Midlands, the stone circles of Avebury and Stonehenge in Wiltshire are well-known as focal points for a number of trackways and importantly can be dated. These two religious sites are over five thousand years old. Clearly they were built on trackways existing beforehand, hence the leys themselves are older and likely very much older. Since the original markers have long since disappeared it is difficult to know exactly when any particular track was created. Indeed it is virtually impossible to say just how old any of the leys are.
Therefore we must guess as to the age of these tracks and for this we need clues. The only ones we have are the people, and when they first settled into permanent homes rather than leading the life of hunter gatherers. The only other really relevant factor are the forests, which severely hampered the vision of those people of the British Isles and created the need for marked trackways. This all happened closer to ten thousand years ago.
Whether any of the routes covered in my Ley Lines Across the Midlands are among the original tracks of ten thousand years ago is unknown and never will be known. However it is safe to assume they date from at least the pre-Roman era of two thousand years ago and are likely to be twice that age.

Published by The History Press Ley Lines Across the Midlands was the first of my books on ancient routes and trackways.

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