Weird Walk: Wanderings and Wonderings Through the British Ritual Year
In the frenetic pace of life and drudgery it is all too easy to overlook the fact that in the British Isles we are incredibly lucky in that we are surrounded by monuments, history and folklore that hugely pre-dates the more popular likes of Elizabeth I and Henry VIII. It even pre-dates the Romans! We are talking about druids, standing stones, ancient rituals, iron age burial mounds, ley lines, solstices, and fire rituals to name but a few. Think of the film ‘The Wicker Man’ (the 1973 original with Christopher Lee is better than the 2006 Nicholas Cage re-make by the way) which featured an ‘Obby ‘Oss being chased through the streets of a Scottish village. That wasn’t made up for the film, it happens every year in Padstow, Cornwall on May Day. The whole village transforms from a sleepy harbour for the ‘Obby ‘Oss festival to welcome back the summer sun, with flags, a giant maypole (I will leave you to work out what that represents in terms of fertility!), and crowds of eager pagans, curious visitors and photographers crammed into its narrow streets. That’s covered, along with much, much, more in this first book by Alex Hornsby, James Nicholls, and Owen Tomans, the creators of the zine ‘Weird Walk’, an insanely popular (60,000 copies sold since it started in 2019) independent publication covering ancient stones, bones and rituals, now into its sixth edition.
Hardback, with a bright yellow cover, it is a beautifully executed book, full of evocative and carefully thought out photographs, complemented with line drawings in the margins illustrating things that are referenced in the text. Rather than opt for a more geographical approach (though location is important of course) for the journey through the mystical landscape of Albion (the ancient name for Britain, dating back to the 4th Century BCE) the authors have instead taken the four seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter as their format (mentioning the Pagan Wheel of the Year festivals where relevant). The book walks us through the seasons via a wide variety of ancient places and events. Standing stones covered include not only the better known Stonehenge and Avebury sites, but the less famous, yet equally impressive, Stanton Drew, The Hurlers, Rollright Stones, and the evocatively named Devil’s Quoits, amongst others. Also featured are the figures carved into the landscape like the White Horse in Oxfordshire, or the impressively endowed Cerne Abbas Giant, alongside ancient burial mounds, temples and chambers like Silbury Hill in Wilshire, Coldrum Long Barrow in Kent, or The Druid’s Temple in Yorkshire. Many festivals and ancient traditions are covered, including the rather dangerous sounding flaming tar barrel rolling in Devon’s Ottery St Mary , horny stag rituals in Abbots Bromley, and the famous ‘Obby ‘Oss festival in Padstow (which I’ve already mentioned). As if these were not odd enough in themselves, there are some real curios included too, like the bizarre face of a Green Man carved by an unknown hand into an ancient oak tree in Wiltshire’s Wooton Rivers.
The writing is highly accessible and is interspersed with contemporary references to musicians like XTC, Julian Cope, even Joe Meek, who were inspired by these landscapes. That, combined with good book design, makes it an easy and fun read.
You can sense my enthusiasm here I’m sure, and it’s true that I have visited many of these sites myself over the years, along with many more in Northern France and other countries. This is not the first book to attempt to capture the magic of ancient landscapes and stones. The best examples are probably Julian Cope’s defining masterpieces ‘The Modern Antiquarian’ and sequel ‘The Megalithic European’ (although you will be lucky to find either of those second hand for under £200 each), along with Aubrey Burl’s less ostentatious yet informative ‘A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany’. However,’ Weird Walks’ is a very worthy addition, capturing the ancient allure and spirit of these places perfectly.
This is honestly such a huge subject to cover that I fully anticipate further books from Weird Walks will follow, but this is an impressive start and reminded me of so many great places I have been to. There is nothing wrong with being weird either. In fact, we all need more weird in our lives to be frank, to relieve ourselves of the tedious day-to-day routine, depressing news, and the intellectual wasteland inhabited by slack jawed dullards we all have to exist in. And amen to that, or rather I should say “blessed be”!
Order from Watkins Publishing, here