Kenneth has revealed his take on the situation re: Destination. And Fliss has allowed Julia her desired three days. Seems things are clarifying—or perhaps not.
Ken wasted no time, barely waiting for Fliss to disappear off to her afternoon therapy. “A walk.” He steered me towards the Priory’s deeply arched door (which anyway had been my destination). “Just up the Ridgeway. We need to talk—while Boudicca’s busy.”
“If this is . . . Dave ought to . . .” He ought to be party to whatever was said. I was assuming this was Project-business.
“Davey’s dashed—some ‘xtremis-stuff at his old man’s nursery. Besides, this is us, not him.”
I didn’t like the sound of that, coming so soon after the flurry with Fliss. To buy time while I thought, I made an excuse of nipping back in to collect a jacket. Besides, though the day, in typical May-fashion, had started cloudless it had now changed to overcast with a hint of rain. I returned, having decided I was probably jumping to conclusions. I was not.
“Felicity believes we’re inches off an affair,” he said after we’d crunched up the track in verbal silence.
“I know,” I said with a tiresome breath as comment. “She said—while you were in the ‘pod. I told her no way. But, Ken, I can understand her fears.” Shit! I realised how he could take that. I had to clarify. “I don’t mean that I don’t fancy you, or I do, I mean—” Shit! I was making it worse. “It’s just, there’s no chemistry there.”
“It’s her condition—and mind the dog’s doings—” (I’d already seen it, as ubiquitous on this stretch of the track as the Neolithic cowpats.) “I tried, Julia, I did try, honestly, for months when it first happened. But, the bitch knocked me back—or kicked, rather, right in the gonads. I thought . . . well she deserves pleasure, and the docs assured me her libido’s still there. You know, just cos she can’t use her legs . . . But . . . Aggressive, impatient—I’m not allowed near her.” He sighed, deeply pained. “But I tell you, Julia, I pass that door when she’s having her therapy and . . . I swear she’s getting more than just the paid massage.”
This wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. And no way would I encourage him in his speculation of what Fliss did or didn’t do with her therapist. Yet it might explain her comment of Small village, no one says when somebody’s gay. Projection? Her therapist was female.
“Sorry,” he said after my extended silence. “Here’s me hardly know you and I’m talking of your best friend’s sex life like . . . It’s just, well . . . so you’d understand.”
Best friend? But I let that I go. “No, I do understand.”
Again we walked in silence while I rehearsed how to nicely reject his ‘misunderstood husband’ act, so sure he was building to it.
He stopped at the top of the hill, where the beeches stand, and looked back over the Vale. “She doesn’t know it, but I’m mapping all the settlements, indies and matries—it’s what you said of no archaeology without the people. To east and west of the matries’ courtyard-clusters are those same hedged settlements of the southern indies. The deeper project now is how they they relate. Did they live peaceably as neighbours? Or were there, like, cattle-raids or the equivalent of fire-bombings—harassment? They’re quite distinct people—not just in their architecture. Can we call it architecture at this primitive level?”
“How, different?” I’d happily encourage him to talk of this; better than his relationship with Fliss. “I mean, apart from what you’ve already said.”
“Their togs, e.g.. You’ve seen the indies’ gear. Sure, they’re tailored and all, but that doesn’t change that they’re skins. Now the matries’, they wear linen—okay, don’t start; I’m assuming it’s linen.”
I laughed. “It wouldn’t be cotton,” I said, “though I’m not so sure about wool. The early sheep weren’t much different to goats—hairy, not woolly. Though by the time agriculture arrived on our shores the woolly version had appeared in the Near East. Moreover, by four thousand BCE they’d definitely spread to the rest of Europe. But it’s not known exactly when they jumped the Channel.”
“Woolly jumpers?” he tried for the obvious joke.
“Yea.” I graciously smiled. “Goats, on the other hand, yield a silky fibre—think cashmere. So, what you took for linen could have been goats’ hair. Or even some kind of mix.”
“I take it you’ve set-up an expo on textiles?” Ken said with a piercing look back at me.
I answered with another smile. “But telling question: Have you seen flax growing here? Pretty blue flowers, not very tall, more likely grown on the edges of the Vale. Certainly not in the hills.”
“No,” he said.
“Then it’s probably goats’ hair they’re weaving. Besides, there’s no archaeological evidence for flax in Britain prior to the Late Bronze Age.”
“Anyway, skating over—the matries’ know how to weave, while the indies—”
“Could be nettles,” I cut in with an afterthought
“The matries’? Stinging nettles?”
“Yes. Stinging nettles. They’re treated and prepared—retted—the same was as flax-stems. In fact, they were probably used long before linen—though linen (if my memory serves) is recorded at thirty thousand in the Ukraine region. But, mixed with goat-fibres nettles would probably make an acceptable fabric. So, what other differences have you noticed?”
“They don’t fence their fields. In fact, apart from penning their goats, they don’t use fences—zippo, zero.”
“What, no fenced paths?”
He shook his head. I frowned.
“Ah, but do they keep cattle?” I asked.
He nodded. “Though not herds, not that I’ve seen. Just home-used oxen. Used in their fields. You know, for traction—ploughs.”
I pulled a face. These matries seemed too technologically advanced. I mean, does an ard—a glorified digging stick—need oxen to pull it? But maybe it was me, not up to scratch on agricultural technology. I hadn’t yet set up an exhibition for that.
“And you’re recording all this?” I had to ask; what a killing-shame if he were not.
“On the gizmo in my workshop. And hardcopy. And that’s another reason why this talk. What say you to a comparative study? I take the north, you the south.”
“Indies versus matries?” I nodded slowly while I was still considering.
“There’s a gaping difference twixt the two, you can’t deny,” he said (trying to tempt me?) “Yet the Marlborough indies, living tit-by-arse—sorry, I mean over-the-fence neighbours with the matries, we can’t say for certain how they’re affected. But south of the Vale . . . that’s a sufficient divide. So what say you? Give this project added bite? ‘Cause, quite honestly, I’m screwed to the nuts with this long-barrow-mapping.”
“And Fliss has now allowed you to progress to houses,” I said, tongue wedged in cheek to stop me from grinning.
“Yea, check—but only big babes with stone-footings.”
“You know, Ken, I’ve underrated you. And here was me thinking you’re just the tech for this project.”
He regarded me, face dead-pan. “Care to come up and see my library?”
I laughed, as I hoped he intended.
“Well?” he prompted, still with a poker-straight face.
“I think your wife has sufficient suspicions without me tiptoeing up to your room.”
“I meant ‘well’ about the project proposal. I did support you—got you that three day ‘trip.”
That three-day ‘trip began the next day, in the strained light of dawn. My co-tripper, Ken, wanted an early start, again, because, as he told Fliss, he intended to push further inland, towards the Kennet. And Fliss didn’t even flinch. Yet by her theory it shouldn’t be possible to progress beyond the hills—unless over the millennia there’d been a major change in the hydrology. Anyway, fully equipped as ‘Captain Julia’, I slipped into the time-pod, eye-pads on, breathing and counting, to emerge a few moments later in the Neolithic.
And something is different. I’m not sufficiently ‘towny’ not to know how dramatically woodland can change its appearance in the course of a week. The leaves burst their sheaths and widely spread. The flowers, beneath them, deprived of sunlight, rapidly die. But it isn’t that—or not entirely. And I ought to have noticed it while climbing the hill, not waited till here at the top and following the track leftwards into the woodland. It’s the hedge.
On the previous ‘trip I’d noticed a hedge was beginning to form around the fencing. But now there is no fence; it’s been thoroughly swallowed by holly and elder, brambles and briar and various nameless bushes. I feel like the prince in Sleeping Beauty, faced with an impenetrable wall of thorn. It’s as well I’ve no need to find a way through it. I’m sure the hedge will guide me, as the fence did before.
There’s another change. This one brings no complaints. The cowpats have dried to innocuous fraying patches of khaki. Yippee!
Blue sky (though lost now behind the leafy canopy), birdsong almost deafening in astounding variety, a sweet-scented breeze: a pleasant day for walking. At the intersection, where previously I took the east-heading path, I forge straight ahead, southwards, my thoughts all for the buzz I’ll get when finally I see Durrington Walls. Circa 2,500 BCE, that’s the height of its occupation. But my niggling conscience gets the better of me, reminding me of Ken’s request of a comparative study. Still, with this early start I figure I’ll reach the Walls long before dusk, and that without having to push the pace, so I’ve plenty of time to look around me.
Trouble is, those hedges now are too thick to see through them. For all I know, I could be walking through continuous dense woodland. Yet I know from the previous ‘trip that beyond the hedge is a goat-cropped grassland with herders, and their benders, and more long-houses, briar-and-bramble ringed. But if I’m to study the south in the same way that Ken is studying the north, I ought to start now by mapping the settlements. Yea? How, when I can’t see them?
I’m thinking, if I can find a track that leads down to the valley, and walk the riverside—since I’m betting that’s where most of the settlements are . . . but then I risk being seen. At least I’m safe from that while on this hedge-guarded track. It’s all swings and roundabouts: to see the settlements and be myself seen, or not myself be seen yet to not to see the settlements. I know Ken said of ignoring them, that then they’ll take me as some local deity and maybe even offer me food. But the image of those flint-headed spears raised and aimed at me remains horrendously vivid. And so, too, the fright (it was probably that which brought me back; didn’t Dave say something of the ‘pods being attuned to our distress signals?) Anyway, sooner or later I’ll have to go down to the river, though as yet I’ve a full canteen. I check on the map; no springs marked anywhere near, though plenty of later-dug wells.
I’m still mumbling of swings and roundabouts when the hedge to my right dwindles to nothing, and there the original fence is revealed, complete with signs of repeated repairs. Beyond it the land falls to a steep-sided gulley, dotted with saplings—and a family of deer. Enchanted and grinning, I stop walking and watch. The deer are browsing the early leaves. But it annoys me I can’t name them. Are they red deer or roe? I know they’d not fallow since they only arrived in Britain along with the Romans. No, they must be roe deer, they’re the smaller species. A Great Dane would dwarf these.
Apart from the deer, there’s nothing of note in the valley. No benders, no herders, no domesticated animals—unless the early farmers are deer-herders, which has been mooted. No fences cross the valley. It’s an exquisitely peaceful (pre-)idyllic scene—which I shatter by fishing around for my map. Heads up, hoofs up, the deer scamper away. Deserted, I find the valley on the map, and mark it ‘Roe Deer seen here’.
To my left the dense hedge towers while, to my right, the unclad fence continues. I’m now looking right into the heart of Salisbury Plain (where today heavy tanks and trainee troops more often ‘graze’). I can see beyond the gulley to where the land falls less steeply. Typical of the valleys that divide the Plain, like veins on a leaf, it continues far into the distance. Formed during an Ice Age, though I’m not sure which one; the same glaciations gouged, upturned and tumbled the massive grey sarsen-stones that abound by the Kennet on Marlborough Downs. Incredible, the valley now resembles a Georgian parkland, complete with wide-spreading oaks and hefty beeches, but of no interest to me being devoid of archaeological interest. And still no return of the hedge, though to my left—where there might be settlements—there’s not a hint of a gap to peep through. So much for mapping. But that’s soon to change.
I’m walking along a flattish hilltop when, ahead, there’s a feature that, at first, makes me laugh. It’s like the Neolithic equivalent of a ‘roundabout’ at the junction of three fenced paths. Only instead of a central island, primly grassed or put to flowering plants, here there’s a chalky-shelled long barrow. Okay, so it’s sparsely covered in low-growing greenery, and it’s not so outstandingly long and not high-mounded. West Kennet Long Barrow, when new, would have dwarfed it. Even so, it’s perhaps (being generous) around 90 feet long, and easily 6 feet high. The ever-present fences fall back a respectful distance to allow the monument to stand uncluttered, alone.
I can see why the barrow-builders picked this spot. Looking at the map—a sneaky way to see beyond hedges—it’s not only the fences that here pull back. On all three faces, to west, south and northeast, the land drops steeply. It’s only to the east that the ridge continues where, much narrowed, to gently descend. The fenced path follows it down. Almost straight, it directs the eye to a distant hilltop, across the river where, at dawn at a certain season the builders would have the sun emerging. That season was spring, early, around Easter. The third path follows a gulley down to the west before sharply turning to south.
I now have to make a decision—though, in truth, it’s really no contest. Which of these two paths should I take? I’ve a feeling both will take me to Durrington Walls. But while one will almost certainly lead me through uninhabited terrain, the other (tracking east) will take me down to the river, and that’s where I’ll most likely find the settlements that, thanks to Ken, I’m supposed to be mapping.
Before moving off, I take the chance to take a break, sitting down beside the barrow. I’m surprised at how long it’s taken me to cover so little distance but perhaps I’ve just misjudged time. Yet my rumbling belly insists it’s close to lunchtime. I wolf down a muesli bar and demolish a packet of dried mango pieces, and wash them down with deep draught of water. And suddenly I feel unaccountably tired. Perhaps it’s the clean air and being unused to it. And now I realise my cheeks are burning. While I’ve been beneath that perpetual leaf cover the sun has climbed high, and it’s hotter here than is usual for Wessex in late May. Perhaps it’s the heat that’s tiring me. I fish my hat from its pocket, one of the many arrayed round my trousers, and gather up every tiny scrap of wrappings to push them into the pocket I’ve mentally labelled as ‘rubbish’. That activity brings sharply to mind the problem of whether or not I really am here. And if I am?
How to explain it. At least Fliss’s theory of memories recorded by water-and-rock make some kind of sense. While this . . . ? Yet here I sit in the very real heat of a very real sun, with very real insects chirring around me. And the birds, I notice, now are silent. Time slips; I must get moving if I’m to reach Durrington Walls.
Durrington. A nervous excitement fills me. To see that place as it was 2,500 BCE! I push up to my feet and set off, eastward.
To my left the hedge continues, impenetrable. To my right the fence continues, unadorned. I notice, now, stiles set at wide intervals. But I’m not tempted to enter what’s essentially a wasteland—though without the trees to block the view I’d be able to see Stonehenge in the distance, by now. Not that it’s regular woodland beyond the fence. It’s more a scatter of copses and thickets. And deer, now, are everywhere. This time I ignore them. I want to reach Durrington before the light fades.
The path turns unexpectedly southward—or, more accurately, it turns to south-east. And there, in an equally unexpected break in the hedge to my left, I can see all the way down to the river. And, oh yez! there’s a hedge-ringed settlement in a sheltered coombe. With unsteady fingers (the excitement), I mark it on the map with the number of longhouses within (judged by the roofs). I can see people, too, moving within the enclosure. Though when I study them I realise it’s only one man and, by her posture, an elderly woman. No children, no other adults—no animals, not even a dog. Then the gap closes and I shove the map back into its pocket.
Descending into the valley at a knee-jarring pace I have a moment of panic. If I’m seen now . . . but I have to ignore them, that’s what Ken said. If I ignore them they’ll think me a god. But why? Do their gods usually ignore them? Beside me now the valley-sides rise—and lo! Benders, high off to my left. And goats. And children: I can hear them squealing. I want to look but dare not, not even to count the flimsy-made shelters, for fear that they’ll see me. But I do slow my pace, enough to mark these on my map. To my right there’s still only a fence. I wonder, if it’s wasteland, why is it fenced? But then the scrappy trees become a woodland proper.
I hope there’s a way off this track before it delivers me right down to the river. I can see, even from here, there’s cattle down there, grazing the riverside pastures. I can see, too, those pastures look decidedly wet, not having time yet to dry from their winter flooding. I’ve waded through worse when I was as a child—and lost my wellies! I’m not about to venture there now. Perhaps it’s time to find a stile, or otherwise clamber over this fence. I shouldn’t get lost in the woods—should I? Not if I keep my eyes on the river.
As if on cue, there’s a stile just ahead. I’ve no more than put a foot upon it when—
It’s so unexpected; of course I turn to see who is calling.