Some miles before reaching home, we see that familiar black topped hill, away to the west.
Nearly there, we think – or at least, this is our country now.
The landmark, Bampfylde Clump, is actually just a clump of trees – densely planted beeches, mature, but not especially ancient. It’s said that a certain Bampfylde, one Baron Poltimore, established the tautological Round Ring (another of its titles), so that he could look around in all directions over the land he owned.
More interesting, is the deep-rooted awareness of this natural high-point, and the celebration of it over the centuries, in various ways – secular and sacred. Certainly, many coming into north Devon – be they resident or visitor – must have raised their eyes to the hills: Round Ring – there it is, Round Ring, as it’s always been, awaiting our arrival.
Who knows what lies in, among and under those beech tree roots? Earlier burial places, perhaps even barrows, invisible now, will have been disturbed by the later plantings of saplings. At least one significant find of Phoenician beads – just outside the Ring – is recorded, which I describe in my poem.
How many other artefacts and human remains, not to mention myths and legends are buried there? Over the years I’ve taken many people up to the Ring. We’ve all told all sorts of stories.
Entering that dark quiet clump, suddenly protected from the prevailing wind, looking up into the twisted, intertwined canopy, wondering which trunk belongs to which branches and picking your way round the circle to be abruptly surprised by the discovery that one has returned to the original point of entry – I’ve yet to meet anyone who hasn’t found it a strange, even mystical experience.
Old mine workings nearby add to the effect. There were copper and precious metal ores to be discovered in these hills. I sometimes wonder if this particular adit was driven towards the Ring in the subconscious belief that there was gold to be found. Perhaps that was the case, though whether what they had in mind might have been raw or refined, like so many other aspects of this wonderful place, we shall never know. Nor whether the mine was abandoned simply because it was unyielding, or the miners found the site, what shall we say, strange, even mystical…
What I do know is that for me this is a landmark, showing me I’m almost home.
The dark clump called Round Ring
dense with its stories
has long crowned the hill,
a landmark from long ago.
From near and from far,
from moor and from sea
it draws in the visitor
and they who return
as I do in my time
its gravity pulling me home.
The hedge fades when it nears
as if awed. There are sheep
keeping clear. I’m pulled closer
feeling a magnetic field.
There’s a fence to protect
these grey pillars of beech –
or does it retain them?
Although in the centre
branches are intertwined
as if holding hands.
The farmer was ploughing
when Darling’s front foot
got hitched in a hole
he said, like a pot.
He stopped to look –
no golden coins but
some bits and pieces
he took home to clean –
soon newly-bright beads
the sort to surround
the neck of a queen or a princess
perhaps. Amber from far away –
the sun, with faience and lignite
a special necklace for her
whose black ashes remain
in a round vessel, broken
by a long dead draught horse,
pursuing her own curved path.
The clump is a quiet church
cool among columns of old trees,
young for a barrow, where no bird dare sing
over those stories. As I describe
the circle once more I walk and am drawn
centripetally. There in the core,
is there still amber? And high in the vaulting
whose trunks make which branches?
So many questions. I stumble,
my foot caught in a bramble – then break free.