It seems that many people who have a love of the Goddess also have a love for the ancient cultures and sites upon which She was worshiped and venerated. We don’t have to go too far on these fair isles to come across circles of stone and earth, spirals carved into rock and natural pools and hills sacred to the Goddess.
The complexes of Avebury and Stonehenge in Wiltshire are popular with Goddess-loving people as are the mounds and passage tombs of County Meath in Ireland. But it’s to Cumbria I would like to take you, to a lesser known site scattered and hidden within the Lakeland Fells where the Goddess still breathes.
I’ve been visiting the English Lake District for 17 years. I have spent many wonderful days and nights meandering through the fells, climbing upon the high crags, sitting at sacred sites and searching through the bracken for ancient burial grounds and circles of stone.
Many of you may be familiar with the more popular sites of Castlerigg Stone Circle above Keswick, Sunkenkirk (or Swinside) Stone Circle in the Western Lakes and Long Meg and Her Daughters in the Northern Lakes, but it was in the lesser-known valley of Eskdale that my most treasured experience with the ancients took place.
On the windy moorland above the village of Boot, Eskdale is a complex of circles and cairns hidden by the tall grasses. It is known as the Burnmoor complex and consists of at least 5 stone circles and various cairns. The whole site covers more than 2.5 sq km and is somewhat ruined.
The first time I visited Burnmoor was in 2003. I was on my own and it took an age to find the first of the circles in the mist that hung over Eskdale. Why is it that searching for lesser known sites is always arduous? It is as though one has to go through some unspoken acceptant ritual with the spirits of the place.
The first circle, Brat’s Hill, has an outer ring of stones surrounding 5 cairns where excavation uncovered burnt remains and antler picks. For me, at that time, the circle was a welcome rest and as I sat down I felt an overwhelming urge to sleep there as though the Goddess Rhiannon herself had made me the finest bed and beckoned me into her fey realm.
Of course I didn’t sleep, I resisted the urge to join the Goddess for fear I would not return and instead made my offerings in quiet solitude. The mist was clinging and close making visibility difficult and so it was impossible to gain an impression of the overall site that day.
The following year I made a return trip and discovered the other circles and some of the ruined cairns. It was at that time I recognised the vastness of the site and the practicality of the location.
During that second visit it seemed like the magic of the place had retreated somewhat. It was summer and the land was dry with a barren feel to it. Burnmoor went out of my mind then for a while and it wasn’t until early this year I visited the site again and encountered the Goddess’ presence most strongly.
It was January 2009, the week after the Yuletide holidays. There were few tourists around in the Lakes and the locals seemed to be engaged in quiet time recovering from the Christmas rush. It gave the Eskdale Valley a forgotten feeling.
I was staying within walking distance of the stone circles and two days into my holiday I wrapped up warm and ventured out onto the Fells.
To get to the circles you take a bridleway onto the moor from the edge of the village of Boot. The path takes a fairly steep incline which leads you from the valley floor onto the moor. The paths were covered in ice and the land underfoot, which is usually boggy in paces, was hard and frozen.
As I reached the brow of the hill I felt a wave of dizziness come over me which I put down to the hard walk up. I rested for a few minutes before looking up at the path ahead.
It was then that my inner eye saw them. Lining the bowl shaped moorland were hundreds of ancient figures. There were men, women and children, all with brilliant eyes looking at me, watching and waiting in eerie silence while the wind formed images of them in my mind. I saw the village and circles, the cairns of the dead ones as if they had just been built. These ghosts from the past surrounded me and with sharp focus welcomed me onto their land.
I experienced their energy as very feminine and knew in my heart that these people loved the Goddess. In an instant flash I saw them working with the land, planting crops and selecting the best seeds to plant the following spring. I saw the Tribal Priestess making offerings under the full moon on behalf of her people. I saw the older children teasing the younger ones saying the old water Goddess would “get them” if they went too close to the nearby Burnmoor Tarn. These people were happy and they were part of their land.
The illogical nature of the vision did not concern me; I knew this was one of those moments you had to just accept. It was as though they recognised me as one of their own, as a lover of the Earth and the Goddess. I was privileged to be shown these things and in my head I heard a voice saying “remember me”.
My time spent in the circles that freezing day was magical and timeless, an experience I will not forget and one I felt I must acknowledge as authentic, at least for me.
There’s not an awful lot changed on the fells of Cumbria since our Neolithic ancestors lived on Burnmoor. Lower down towards the village of Boot there are old industrial workings, but up there, no modern buildings, farm clearances or other inhabitants apart from the odd sheep. I think this is what is special about Cumbria and her ancient sites. Whether these ancestors worshipped the Goddess or not, the land itself is alive with Her presence.
You can hear Her voice on the winds and sense the heartbeat of the Earth Mother as you tread the well worn pathways. You can see her energy undulating and infusing the trees, gills, valleys and hills in spring and summer. You can sense the icy grip of the crone and the timelessness of the winter months brings you visions beyond belief. The Goddess is truly alive in Cumbria and waiting for your visit.
© A Chaloner 2009
Burnmoor is above Boot, Eskdale. The following grid references take you to the circles. NY172028, NY172027, NY172023, NY172024, NY173023.
There is parking at Dalegarth Station and a strenuous walk from Boot up onto the moor. The nearest and largest circle, Brat’s Hill, is on your right.