There are certain places that hold a certain special something that can’t be denied.
Whether it’s the soaring heights of a crumbling medieval cathedral; a proud beacon hill or panoramic viewpoint; a mysterious, prehistoric stone circle in the middle of a desolate moor; or the liminal zone where the river meets the sea over the wetlands - even the most hardened cynic, atheist or materialist can, in good faith, catch a glimpse of the ineffable - of something shimmering in the perfection of natures beauty or the vastness of the skies.
Throughout history and long before, humans, and other creatures, have pilgrimaged, wandered alone and gathered with others to commune or create in these places, adding layer upon layer of meaning and memory to the atmosphere and tone of emotion experienced by those who are to come in the distant future, as they have in the distant past.
But whilst these places somehow remain intact in their essence, as all changes around them in the onslaught of progress, our connection to the connectedness of them, and our understanding of their place in the broader psycho and socio-geographical context, has been obscured.
Over time, roads replaced footpaths and routes altered to allow for the circumnavigation of obstacles insurmountable to motorised vehicles, and our maps, which had once related to the skies above and the movements of celestial bodies - became chaotic, snaking diagrams of avoidance and subterfuge.
The term ‘Ordnance Survey’, which we tend to associate with the joys of outdoor pursuits, national parks and ramblers associations - has it’s roots in War and Defence. The word ‘Ordnance’ literally meaning ‘Military supplies, weapons, heavy artillery, ammunition, combat vehicles…and so on’ - the first Ordnance Survey maps were created for military use.
This casual, cultural association of Mapping with violent history does us no favours when it comes to how we intuit the nature of our landscape, and whilst motorways, roundabouts and bypasses have become indispensable to our contemporary economic and cultural life - the utilitarianism of their routes, their nullification of the realness of the pace and spaces of nature, and their inconsiderate slicing through wildernesses, leaves much to be desired.
With the advent of satellite mapping, we have entered into a whole new relationship with the map.
A relationship which, whilst bringing many perceptual and practical benefits, is as entwined and aligned with commercial and political interests as ever.
The most easily available, free, mobile maps replace old farm titles with the names of businesses, and are paid for by advertising and giving prominence to commercial industry.
The public footpaths, rights of way and common land are not as clearly depicted as on the OS maps, which are not free.
Access to the open land is disgracefully inhibited in the UK, and the long history of enclosure, land theft and ownership still affects us deeply today.
Going for a wander in the countryside is simply not acceptable. We must stick to the paths and stay OFF the land - or like the foxes and birds, we are liable to be threatened with a gun.
It is no coincidence that King Henry VIII’s reformation, his sacking of the monasteries and destruction of the places of sanctuary, also saw to the banning of pilgrimage in England.
With the wholesale desecration of the pilgrim network and the abolition of Saint’s days - a heritage stretching back into unrecorded time was abruptly lost.
Britain has long been a land of wandering and pilgrimage, a land of sacred groves, high places and magical wells and water sources - and Christianity, on it’s arrival, didn’t entirely replace or erase these histories, but also absorbed, appropriated and merged with them, where it deemed fit.
Some of the ancient places of importance where marked by churches, Abbeys and Shrines, sometimes even incorporating old standing stones and ancient features into the very fabric of the buildings themselves - ensuring a continuity of place and meaning survived in the symbolisms, mythologies, Saintly attributions, and sanctified tone of these sites.
Henry’s violent acts of 1538 marked a turning point in Britain’s sense of it’s spiritual legacy; in it’s understanding of it’s cultural landscape; and decisively chopped through the threads which connected it to the Ways of Old.
This disconnection, these maps of war, this speeding up of the pace of travel and the forgetting of the natural world around us, when taken together leave us in a psycho-geographical mess.
The Map is tangled in knots and overlaid with a completely human-centric ideology.
We are in chaos.
From a land of open plains, mysterious moors, wild forests and mountain peaks, we have become, perceptually, a wasteland of concrete, fences, barbed wire and trespass.
But the open plains are still there - some of them strewn with the un-exploded bombs of war games - true...
But the patches of forest left still hold magic, the mountain peaks and high hills still offer their expansive views.
It is not the magic of the land that has faded, but our ability to access it.
Our natural propensity to ‘know our place', to ‘feel’ the landscape, to navigate and orientate ourselves not only to the mystery of the land, but to the mystery of living itself, has been obscured by a veil of mundanity and utility.
The dark magic of industry, war, exclusivity, obscurantism and spiritual confusion casts a spell of ‘Unseeing’ over the realm, rendering us blind to the everyday magic of living in an enchanted land.
But what does it mean to live in an enchanted land?
So let us circumnavigate the circumnavigations and find our way back to the clear paths of inspiration and connectivity, where we can orientate ourselves to the harmonising influences of the unnameable sacred;
Where we can feel the spine tingling thrill of adventure under the open skies;
Undertake the foolish nobleness of The Quest;
Follow the river to the heart of the forest;
Remember the joy of gathering in the presence of the unknown -
- and rise once again, above the chaotic overlay of the profane and meaningless.
For those who want to un-map the map and re-build the meaning - who long to walk new paths of harmony across the landscape, and find New Ways through to the places of Old…