Always up for an adventure or a ramble down antiquity lane, I offered up a resounding “YES” when Alun asked if I’d be interested in wandering the downs in search of something called The Polissoir. He explained it was a stone used for polishing and sharpening axes by Neolithic and Bronze Age people. This particular stone was situated somewhere on a part of the Wiltshire landscape called Fyfield Down, exact location unknown. We would get to walk along part of the Ridgeway and then search the designated field for the Polissoir.
Yes, yes, and more yes….so off we set.
We began our walk at the section of the Ridgeway called Hackpen Hill. Hackpen means “the head of the dragon” which in and of itself sets the tone for me as our feet step onto the stony track. The horizon is amassed with brooding clouds threatening to open at any moment and the wind tugs at our raincoats.
The Ridgeway is an amazing trail to trod. It is hailed as one of Britain’s oldest roads, dating back at least 5,000 years. As I stand gazing across the downs into the distance I can see people coming and going. I wonder how many people over the centuries have stood in this very spot watching? Maybe waiting for loved ones, trade caravans, or keeping watch for invading tribes.
We continue winding our way across the ridge as the sun breaks through and the day begins to warm. Finally, we reach the point designated to leave the trail and head down the grassy slope. There are several Sarsen stones surrounding a small, gnarled Hawthorne tree. I am immediately enthralled by them, imagining the how they came to be here, in this configuration. Who put them here? How did they live, day in and day out in this landscape?
We roam around the rest of the stones, searching for the telltale marks that will designate one of these megalithic monuments as THE Polissoir. I love the feel of the stones’ varied texture; rough sandstone, lichen, and tiny, soft mossy spots. I have since learned the lichen and mossy plants are unique to these stones, which exist in just six locations in England and nowhere else in the world.
Finally, I find it! The Polissoir. The Polisher.
I shout to Alun. He comes over to where I am standing and for a moment we both just gaze and marvel. It has a satin smooth circular basin aside four or five smooth grooves that run almost the width of the stone. I am amazed at the glossy sheen and feel of glass, all the while retaining the coloration and strength of the other surrounding Sarsens.
I sit back on my heels for a moment, with fingers tracing the smooth grooves. How many people stood in this spot, polishing first their stone axes, then as time continued, their metal blades? What did they talk about? I imagine the comradery of tribe and clan, working together and maybe even breaking bread here amongst the gorse and nettle and sacred landmarks.
Soon it is time to wind our way back across the Ridgeway to the car and head for home. I take one last look around, offering a breath of gratitude and wonder. I am exhilarated with a day out in the elements and the ancient power of the landscape. And also, amazed at the history that can be found in one’s own backyard if we just get out into the world.
What’s in your backyard?