Leylines. Ancient tracks for Our Ancestors or Their Ghosts?

England is said to be criss-crossed by leylines. In the 1920¹s an Alfred Watkins observed on his travels around the English countryside that pagan sites such as burial grounds and standing stones could often be linked by straight lines, and it is still accepted that this can be the case.

Brightwell-cum-Sotwell has its very own leyline passing through the parish. It is comparatively short and starts at St Mary-le-More church in Wallingford. Travelling in a straight line, it traverses the Kinecroft and across to Sotwell then Brightwell. On reaching Brightwell Barrow it follows on to Wittenham clumps and skirts the edge of Little Wittenham ending at St. Mary¹s Church Long Wittenham. Both St. Mary¹s at Wallingford and Long Wittenham are thought to stand on pagan sacred sites. Pagan incinerated remains were also found in a "dig" on Brightwell Barrow in 1923.

What is a leyline? There are a number of explanations and the one you favour may well reflect your personality. For the scientifically minded there is the theory of leylines being invisible energy currents passing through the earth in straight lines, which our early ancestors could detect and tap into by means of standing stones and sacred sites.

For the romantic or imaginative, leylines are linked with German ghost paths or Irish fairy trails which all have the characteristic of being in straight lines. In medieval times there were the corpse trails, when bodies from remote areas were often carried several miles to the nearest consecrated ground. Many of these trails were not always straight, the pall-bearers took the easiest route. But with spirits, it is a different matter. They fly in straight lines hence the saying "dead straight". Witches are depicted flying through the night on their broomsticks in straight lines!!!

For the more practical there is the theory of prehistoric tracks linking ancient meeting places and sacred sites. It was the Ancient Britons network of ancient tracks. One leyline enthusiast, believed sighting staves were used for alignments and the chalk figure on the Sussex Downs of the Long Man of Wilmington holding a stick in each hand - is an ancient road surveyor. The name "Dod" often occurs upon Leylines and sometimes becomes distorted into the word "dead", with patches of land now known as "deadmans" piece or acre - we have a local example of this with land beside Castle Hill.

It was possibly the "dod" men who supposedly surveyed our lands. "Dod" is the old name for stalk or staff as used by surveyors. In Norfolk a snail is known as a "dodman" because of the two staves he carries on his head!

Despite all the different theories, it is clear that many prehistoric hill forts and barrows, to medieval churches and castles are all connected by straight lines.

The sceptically minded may wish to pull all these theories to pieces - arguing for example that leylines could not be tracks as some go through swamps and lakes and over mountains etc. However fascinating the theory, it remains that many ancient sites were connected by straight lines, unfortunately, nobody really knows why, but if we explore our imaginations we can have fun in choosing our own favourite theory.

These theories, or maybe crackpot ideas, were taken from the late John Timpson¹s book on a "Layman tracking the Leys".

Rosemary Greasby