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ARBOR LOW LEY
Derbyshire/Staffordshire

This ley, which is particularly suitable for ramblers, starts at a tumulus near Foolow in Derbyshire's High Peak, with its stone walls and rolling, spectacular scenery, and travels SSW for 16 1/4 miles over Arbor Low stone circle and across the N end of Dovedale to a beautiful sacred well near Ilam, just within Staffordshire.

It is also a ley that provides the opportunity to 'lay' a geomantic myth that has built up around Arbor Low. Almost every book that refers to leys makes the handed-down comment that 'between 50 and 150' leys originate at Arbor Low. With a thick pencil and a 1-inch map perhaps many map leys can be plotted - but they don't hold up to closer analysis. One feels there should be leys through the site and, on the ground there may well be. But on the map we were only able to find two that satisfied us. This is one of them.

During our fieldwork around the country it has been one of our less happy experiences to find that many tumuli are either already the victims of the plough, or are becoming lost in undergrowth, or have been hemmed in by impenetrable Forestry plantations. What a joy, the, to visit the round barrow, called Tup Low (18707698) at the N end of this ley, standing proud amidst a pattern of limestone walls, and affording a magnificent view of the ley from its barrow.

Following that line a mile or so past Wardlow, we come to the second ley marker,which is tumulus (17817239) on Hay Top. Access is via a steep but short path from the narrow road in Hay Dale, 20 yards in diameter, 4 feet high and excavated in 1851, this barrow was found to cover three cists cut into rock. These contained contracted skeletons, food vessels and a flint arrowhead. To skulls, jet beads, and 'an intrusive Anglian burial' were also discovered.

Down on the road again, it is only a very short walk to the third ley point - Moss Well (17807233). This is by the roadside, but easy to miss because it is so overgrown. The well seems to have been of some importance, for a substantial rude stone structure has been built around it.

The ley crosses beautiful Monsal Dale and strikes an extant corner of Fin Cop camp (17517090), close to Ashford-in-the-water, The earthworks here may never have been continuous. It is dated to the Iron Age, but Bronze Age remains have also been found within the ramparts. At Ashford Church there is a carving of a dragon with a long beaded tail.

The ley continues on its SSW bearing over a three-arm crossways (16906776) which is high up and gives sweeping views across the country. There is a distinctive stone in the wall at this junction, precisely on the ley, but it could be merely a single gatepost with a drystone wall built up to and beyond it. A named road, Horse Lane, comes to this junction, so it is probably fair to consider it as an ancient meeting of ways.

Passing literally over hill and dale, the ley comes to Arbor Low (16056355) circle-henge. This is 250 feet in diameter from crest to crest of the earthern embankment. There are 42 stones, all recumbent. It is thought that these were upright at one time, and were brought to the site from elsewhere. Arbor Low is considered to have been constructed somewhere between 2500 and 1700 BC, and there are Bronze Age barrows around the site, including one that breaks into the E wall of the henge. A cremation in a well-built stone e was found in this mound (now ruined through repeated excavations). Together with some food vessels and flints. There are two entrances to the circle, in the NNW and SSE, neither of them in line with the centre. The ley passes through the SSE entrance. A linear earthwork of unknown purpose runs parallel with the ley for some yards southwards from the henge.

The whole site is an awesome feature, and this quality was brought home to us during our fieldwork. When the course of the ley through the site had been ascertained, we put a sighting stave into one of the banks to fix the line - at that precise moment the heavens opened in one of the fiercest cloudbursts we have ever experienced! Whithin seconds we were drenched, the maps ripped from our hands by the weight of rainwater, and the compass could not be used. Vague thoughts of site desecration and darker reflections on staking the earth spirit flashed across our minds as we scurried for shelter.

Paul Screeton has described the experience of 'a very sincere man' who spent the night at Arbor Low and was awakened by the spirits of 'Atlanteans' who explained the purpose of the structure to him.. Screeton has speculated that England and Wales can be divided into 12 segments in an astrological scheme, each segment containing one primary and a number of secondary terrestrial zodiacs, the whole being centred on Arbor Low. It is an interesting fact, as Jimmy Goddard has pointed out, that one meaning of 'arbor' is the fulcrum of a machine, though Burl explains the name Arbor Low as deriving from the Old English eoroburh-hlaw - the Earthwork Mound.

The ley proceeds SSW past the significantly named hamlet of Coldeaton, through part of scenically unsurpassable Dovedale, over Ilam Tops in Staffordshire to the final ley point, St. Bertram's Well (13715141) just north of Ilam. A public footpath past Townend Farm goes by the well. St. Bertram, or Bertelin, was prince of the Mercian Kingdom, but renounced it and became a hermit. (Hermits Watkins believed, derived their name from Hermes, the god of the highways, and easily associated with leys.) The holy man is said to have performed miracles in the neighborhood. The present well structure is post Norman fed by a natural spring. The tree above it is known as St. Bertram's Ash (it is in fact a maple) and was venerated. It was thought unwise to break a branch from it. St. Bertram's Well is ancient and profoundly beautiful, sacred place. The earth spirit is close at hand. Stay awhile.

Archives ArborLowLine.zip

26km 11.3°/191.3°