Mindfell

Dr Julie Carter

 

Writer

The standing stones remain aloof in their circle as I run past in the pre-dawn gloom. Sometimes I come up here just to be near the stones and to run my fingers over them, as if to read some braille encoded story of how and why they came to be here. This morning I just run-on past them, following the small beam of light from my headtorch, I am in my own world. The stone hulks are congregated in their circle the same way they have been for five thousand years. They just stand there, unemotional, and unmoved by the mountains that encircle them. A circle of stones within a circle of fells. The sounds of pattering trainers on the tarmac lane, and the pull and release of air in and out of my lungs, are almost drowned out by the insistent easterly wind, as the first pale hint of dawn creeps towards me.

The Neolithic stone circle at Castlerigg is less than four miles from my house. I’ve been running for only half an hour since leaving our front door. Being up here in early mornings or late evenings I can never help feeling that, without the usual daytime tourists, when these great hulking stones are left to themselves, they might confer. The stones remind me of Tolkien’s tree-like ‘ents’, those sentient inhabitants of Middle-Earth, which took on the forms of the beings it was their mission to protect. In ‘Lord of the Rings’ the ents protected the trees from felling. These stones—I imagine them holding council and enacting peculiar practices behind our backs in the darker hours, making plans to save the fabric of the planet from the evil destructive humans. If ever there was a time to catch them at it, surely it would be now, in this hinted grey-half-dawn. But no. The stones are still and silent, and this morning I run on past them.

From ‘Makin a Mackem’, published by Mindfell, Nov 2023.

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In the above excerpt from my book Makin A Mackem I write about Castlerigg because it is one of the many places which have the capacity to hold me in a way that makes me feel encompassed and belonged. Over the winter months I haven’t spent a lot of time in my home fells because half the time I was in Scotland and half the time I was in my bed with Covid. But during the last month I have been visiting some familiar haunts, and although I am trying to build up my fitness by running on the fells, I often find myself stopping for a few minutes, just to be held by the places that help me to feel connected. These moments are important antidotes to the cultural problems of non-belonging, which I explore in depth in Makin a Mackem. Living in a world where measures of success and personal worth are mixed up with money, status and celebrity, and where most of us have not grown-up having links to the land and its ecology, and adding to these is a sense that personal heritage can feel insignificant or non-existent—all these can conspire to create an unmoored feeling. A feeling that true belonging is something we have lost, or never had. And to me this a fracture which needs some repair.

My repair comes from different sources. One of these is connection through these special places like Castlerigg. The others are through the power of words and art to rescript and reimagine, to redefine some of the ready-made stories I have previously swallowed second hand. Stories like not being important, that it is wrong to ever cause offence, that I must be nice above being honest. And of course, being loved for who I am is a powerful source of repair, and being related to fellow humans. And Castlerigg is a special place, where layers of relationships with the land and with our common humanity are present, some of them rather unexpected.  Again, from Makin a Mackem…

 This old and mysterious feeling I get at Castlerigg contains a nostalgia for lost kinds of knowledge and a yearning to reknit severed connections. The stones themselves may be indifferent, but they exert a gravitational pull on my being, a desire to know who the people were who built the circle. There is a longing within me, a need to be of a lineage, to belong to a place and tribe. The longer I live, the more I want this. These people who built the circle, I ponder about them. Were their lives a desperate struggle, plagued with disease and straitjacketed by superstition? Or were they knowledge-seekers who held different values, who didn’t believe in total human dominion? Did they see themselves as the top of a hierarchy of life, or as participants in an ecosystem enmeshed in natural cycles? Maybe they had different concepts of what is beautiful, and what is ugly; what is painful and what brings comfort. Whoever they were, if they have descendants alive today then the overwhelming likelihood is that I am one of them.

Genetic surveys have shown that we only have to trace back a thousand years to find that all Europeans have family relations in common. Every European alive a thousand years ago who has descendants alive today is an ancestor of all present-day humans of European lineage. And every person alive on the planet five thousand years ago, who has passed some of their DNA to presently living descendants, is an ancestor of everyone in the world. It’s not that there was one couple, like an Adam and Eve, five thousand years ago. It’s that the human family tree has woven itself together through entanglements and relationships. The human family tree doesn’t just keep on branching, it keeps knitting itself together too. In fact, we are more of a tapestry than a tree. A five-thousand-year-old family tapestry which weaves in all eight billion of us. These people who built the stone circle—if any of the pattern of their DNA code survives today then a portion of it is inside my cells. The cells that make up the fabric of me and are the metabolic factories supplying the energy to keep me moving, to keep me running. If the circle builders have a living family, then I am in it.

 

If you know someone who needs to feel a little more woven into the world then go to

https://www.mindfell.co.uk/books/makin-a-mackem

It’s easy to feel alienated, othered, like an outsider, an imposter. But none of us are those things. We all belong to the circle.

 

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