Ley lines (2)

Last year I wrote a piece for Country Life on ley lines which I subsequently expanded and blogged.


In it I debunked the idea of ley lines as fields of mystic energy and posited that from geographical evidence around me in Somerset that they were very real and practical routes that the prehistorical population used to get around what was a heavily forested landscape. Below, in a review in Harpers magazine, of Graham Robb's new book is a fascinating alternative explanation where solstice lines played a key role over all of Europe. The evidence I have around me for my theory still, to my mind, remains overwhelming - but there is no reason why Robb's thesis could not be coherent with it on a larger scale.

"Graham Robb, author of Unlocking Mallarmé and Parisians, has a talent for looking beneath the surface of landscapes as well as lives. One result of his turn of mind is his brilliant 2007 book, The Discovery of France, in which he explores (literally, by bicycle) the regions of the country formerly cut off from one another (and from Paris) by geography, language, and culture. While researching that book, Robb writes in THE DISCOVERY OF MIDDLE EARTH (W. W. Norton, $28.95, wwnorton.com), he “read about an enigmatic name—Mediolanum—which the ancient Celts had given to about sixty locations between Britain and the Black Sea.” He also happened to be living in a cottage near Oxford where shards of past ages turned up as a matter of course, where mysteries like the Uffington White Horse—a 374-foot-long geo glyph incised into a hillside during the Bronze Age and filled with chalk rubble—abounded. Robb began examining his maps in a new way: Gaul, he noted, was not exactly linked together by the Roman roads of standard histories. Instead, the romanization of Celtic Gaul during and after Caesar’s Gallic Wars depended on, and papered over, an earlier culture that was much more sophisticated, both technologically and philosophically, than historians have realized. Beneath the Roman roads lay a system of Celtic roads and settlements that had been planned according to mathematical calculations of the solar angle at the summer and winter solstices and that for hundreds of years sustained a complex culture stretching from Ireland to the Balkans. In fact, Christianized Romans of the Early Middle Ages expropriated holy Celtic sites and figures and turned them into monasteries, convents, and saints—for example, the Celtic “god Lugh acquired chapels dedicated to a ‘St Luc.’ ”

Robb is most focused on establishing the geographic validity of his thesis—that druidic calculations of the angle of the sun at the summer solstice underlie much of the way modern Europe is laid out. The most important of the primeval roads was the Her a clian Way—allegedly the route traveled by Her a cles when he performed his twelve labors. Beginning at Sagres, the southwestern-most point on the Iberian Peninsula, it travels in a more or less straight line through Nar bonne and Nîmes to the Mont genèvre Pass in the Alps. Robb suggests that Her a cles was actually the Celtic god Og mios subsumed into Greek myth. Once the Her a clian Way is mapped, the rest of France, followed by En gland and Wales, then Ireland, falls into place, and certain enigmas are illuminated, such as why first-century b.c. Celtic coins with horse motifs have turned up in a network of digs across Europe, and why Celtic walled settlements in Britain and Gaul are awkwardly shaped (rhomboid rather than rectangular). “Why would carpenters and roofers whose wooden houses were greater feats of engineering than any Greek or Roman temple have tolerated such a poorly drawn and inconvenient plan?” Robb asks. The answer is “spectacular” even to him.

Toward the end of The Discovery of Middle Earth, Robb is gratified to discover that some of his ideas are now being independently proved (or at least supported) by evidence from the field. The spot where the Celtic queen Boudica seems to have crossed the Thames, following a solstice line, is “a site of no apparent interest”—except it turns out that on just that spot stood a fortress of “earth ramparts and deep defensive ditches” predating Roman Lon dinium by hundreds of years. Fear of “treasure-hunters” has forced archaeological authorities to keep the site secret since its discovery in the 1980s. Revelations must, of course, be received with some skepticism, but The Discovery of Middle Earth is an intriguing and stimulating read by an author whose previous works have been, one after the other, precise, selfaware, and enlightening."

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