A COTSWOLD LEY - Ian Thomson & Paul Devereux
This ley runs for 3 1/2 miles NNW - SSE on the northern edge of the Cotswold Hills, in Gloucestershire. It is one of the alignments we surveyed as part of our nationwide ley hunt. It has been exactly determined by mapwork, traced in the field and confirmed by prismatic compass bearing along its route and at each ley point
The northernmost ley point on this alignment is a cross (SP11684026) on the A46 near Weston Subedge. (Its position is not clearly marked on the 1:50,000 map.) It has a C15 shaft surmounted by a C19 dial and Maltese cross. It was a resting place for funeral processions on the way up to Saintbury church. The structure has been much mutilated in the past. It stands at a crossroads formed by the A46 and the minor road leading up the hill to Saintbury. This minor road now exists as a track north of the main road.
The track, cross, crossroads and a substantial section of the verge of the Saintbury road all fall on the line of the ley. It has been our constant experience in fieldwork that roads and tracks fall alongside or immediately parallel to the line of leys, never directly on the alignment. From the cross the spire of Saintbury church is visible - it is the next ley point
The church (SP 11723944) is set high on the slopes of Willerspey Hill, the beginning of the Cotswolds proper. From the church, dedicated to St. Nicholas, commanding views of the Vale of Evesham are to be had. The spire is unusual in that it sits on a tower in the south transept, so is fairly central to the body of the church as a whole. The present church is Norman and later, but a Saxon church stood on the site. Fragments of this are preserved in the remarkable Saxon sundial on the south side of the church, and a gargoyle or two. Within the south transept is a strange octagonal stone, known commonly as 'the pre-Christian altar', for it is believed by many to pre-date the Saxon church at the site. In the north transept there is another great stone underneath a Jacobean table, and it is thought this may have been used as an altar in medieval times. The ley passes through the eastern end of the church.
Saintbury itself is a dreaming Cotswold village, pure England, through which an ancient road now known as Buckle Street passes.
The top of Willersey Hill rears up immediately south of the church. Crowning the hill is a Bronze Age round barrow (SP 11743927), the next ley point (not marked on the 1:50,000 map). From the tumulus the spire of the church is visible back along the ley beyond the rim of the hilltop, and the cross and crossroads can also be discerned. The barrow is 12 paces in diameter and now only about 2 ft high, having been reduced in the past by ploughing. It was excavated in 1935. The hilltop is circumscribed by earthworks which are apparently remains of a medieval village. Known locally as 'Castle Bank'.
Moving south down the ley, the next ley point is a long barrow (SP 11783827) in the middle of a 60 acre Iron Age fort - two ley markers for the price of one! The barrow is, of course, Neolithic, and this location underlines the ley-hunter's contention of evolved sites, with the much later Iron Age structure surrounding but not destroying the barrow. (Sacred sites were sacred sites to them that knew, as it were. Now our perception is more cloudy, for the whole area is a golf course. What will archaeologists of, say, 4,000 AD make of golf balls found buried around the long barrow...`ritual objects`?) The barrow was excavated in 1884 and large stones, the remains of a chamber, were found at the eastern end (where the ley passes through it). Ox and human bones were uncovered. The barrow has been smoothed by ploughing and landscaping as part of the golf course.
A little further south, the ley passes through a Saxon pagan cemetery (approx. SP11853680), not marked on the maps, on Broadway Hill. The alignment passes near Beacon Tower, built by Lady Coventry and completed as a folly in the latter 1700s. Not valid as a ley point, but perhaps of interest to students of coincidence.
The ley finally passes through a farm called Seven Wells (SP 11943464). We usually steer clear of farms, as we agree with Watkins when he observed that ancient homesteads often seem to be related to leys but as there are so many of them it is unwise to include them at all as ley points. But we wondered if there really were wells at the site, which, if so, would make it a perfect initial point at one end of the ley in keeping with Watkin's findings. So before leaving the area we dropped in on the farm. We are glad we did.
The farm is a group of buildings surrounded by a semi-circle of trees. It was once a stopping place for stage coaches. We asked the farmer's wife if there were really wells on the site. She told us that there were and that the site had been known as Seven Wells from at least the C11. She also claimed that a goblet or chalice had been found buried in the curious ring of trees and that John Galsworthy had written about it in a book or story called 'The Sword' or 'The Silver Bowl' - she couldn't remember which. We haven't checked up on this and would be grateful to any reader who could enlighten us further.
It is perhaps worth emphasising that the features between and including the cross and the Iron Age fort and long barrow occur on a common line only 1 1/2 miles in length. That line extended a further 2 miles passes through a pagan cemetery and a farm that appears to be a valid ley point and site of some mystery. What are the chances in all that? We asked stats man Bob Forrest to take a look at the line for us. His findings indicate that the alignment is above chance. A cautionary note for ley critics who thought the statistical case was all sewn up.