On Silbury Hill and belonging


I have just finished reading Adam Thorpe's excellent book 'On Silbury Hill'. It is much more than an introduction to Europe's largest man-made prehistoric mound - covering the theories as to how and why it was built; accounts of the archeological digs that tried to discover what (and if) anything lay within; and the personal relationship that the author (and others) has had with it. The book is also part autobiography, part gazetteer of the Wiltshire ancient sites, a quick dip into paganism/druidism, and a lament on what we have lost in our uptake of all things technological.

Although I've never visited Silbury Hill, the Wiltshire downland of much of the book's setting is my ancestral home. The Gale family left the open hills and farms for London at the end of the 19th century. My father returned twice - as an evacuee and retiree - and during his latter years I visited on many occasions, getting to know the countryside surrounding All Cannings, Pewsey and Devizes. Pewsey Downs (above and below) in particular is a wonderful place to visit, for stunning scenery, superb botany,  a fine collection of invertebrates and a surprisingly rich bird life. I have sat at the top of the undulating hills and looked out across the fertile farmland - northward towards Avebury and southward facing Salisbury Plain - and imagined my forefathers at work on the fields and in the public houses. They were simple folk, farmhands and pot men, all born, christened, married and buried in the handful of villages scattered along the Vale of Pewsey. Even though it is most probably nothing more than romanticism, I do feel a belonging here, as if those family members lying in the churchyards are whispering towards me, inviting me to stay a while. As I say, highly fanciful.

Belonging is something that many of us today have a vague notion of. The 'staying put' in one place is not very 21st century and slightly frowned upon, so we have thin strands of 'life' that connect us to several places. Me? London (born), Hertfordshire and Surrey (lived), Wiltshire (fanciful ancestry). To some, it is a big deal. I was once in a pub with a work colleague, who had a Belgian Father, French Mother and was born in Northern Ireland. He had a strong Ulster accent. We were talking about 'belonging' when he stood up, slightly the worse for wear, and shouted at the top of his voice, "IT'S ALRIGHT FOR YOUSE LOT, I HAVEN'T GOT A F**KING CLUE WHERE I BELONG!"

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