On Friday August 2nd, I followed some old holloway from Woodchester into Water Lane, up through shadowed woodland and so to Selsley Common. As we (Walking the Land) climbed the common, we began to wonder if our seemingly modern path could be a continuation of the previous holloway, broken horizontally by the Stroud – Uley road. This led to conjecture: how many of our Stroud Valleys' tracks and holloways might be part of a prehistoric network, interlinking the barrows on the hilltops and valley sides?
Tim Copeland, in his ‘Archaeological Walking Guide – The Cotswold Way’, writes about ‘the importance of the River Severn in the landscape’, when viewed from the Cotswold Way: ‘The River Severn, the Roman Sabrina, must have been of special mystical significance due to its surge wave or ‘bore’ …the effect on people in the prehistoric past must have been dramatic.’ That’s still the case even today, in some ways.
With so many barrows in our area (‘Neolithic long barrows are a haunting feature of the Cotswold Way. Of the 500 examples in England and Wales there are 200 in the Cotswold/Severn region, of which at least 20 lie along the route of the National Trail or in the parishes alongside it.’), it will be an autumnal delight to take out the OS maps, locate prehistoric sites, and find interconnecting paths. We have a lot of prehistoric sites to interconnect: Randwick, Woodchester, Selsley, Nympsfield, Minchinhampton, Avening, Horsley, King’s Stanley, Leonard Stanley, Uley, and so on.
The long barrow on Selsley Common would seem to be the consequent ideal spot for some mythopoeic musing. The sublimity of the Severn sunset cloudscape; the sweeps of light across ‘the enigmatic shapes of the hills’; the majesty of the Black Mountains - all conspire to shift modern consciousness and take us to another time. And this is where the Aborigines come in.
On the day after our walk the Guardian carried a report from Sydney (Bridey Jabour and agencies) about a mining firm that was guilty of ‘desecrating and damaging an Aboriginal sacred site’ …’estimated to be tens of thousands of years old.’ ‘Community representative Gina Smith said the site was part of a dreaming songline.”Like a railway line, each sacred site represented a different station along the way,” she said.'
Perhaps we have a dreaming songline right on our Cotswold Way doorstep, up there on Selsley Common, or Painswick Beacon or Haresfield.