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The Whispering Knights
I park up Woody and walk through a copse into a field and see the stones for the first time. The field is empty and the stones are beautiful in the softened light. I walk over to the centre of the circle.
My Billingham bag holds all the paraphernalia of a travelling photographer. I’ve set up my device upon a tripod right at the heart of the circle. My finger hovers over my watch which acts as a remote for the camera on my device. With the stones encircling me, I feel as though I’m at the centre of the universe.
Then, just as I’m about to take the shot, people start to team in through the entrance at the opposite end of the field. They each react to the stone circle in a different way. One family starts to count the stones. They walk intently around each stone and shout out the numbers as they pass. One man, dressed in a long white robe, walks over to the bench at the side of the field and sits in contemplation.
"One man, dressed in a long white robe tied at the waist with a rope, walks over to the bench at the side of the field and sits in contemplation."
"They're all behaving a bit oddly", I think. I smirk at the stone-counters and raise an eyebrow at the robe clad man.
Can’t they see what I’m trying to do? Couldn’t they just hold back for a second? I feel frustrated - I want to get my shot - to record the stones.
Of course, it’s a misguided form of entitlement, underpinned by technology that tells me that I’m undeniably at the centre of everything: the me, myself and I - my viewpoint incorruptible.
Unfulfilled, I pick up my device and walk out of the field.
I see a sign for the Whispering Knights. They lie a few hundred yards away in another field. I take the dog-leg path that circumvents the field. The path turns in on the stones, offering a view of them across the valley. As they get closer they rise above the horizon - each stone entangled with the other. Again, the light is soft and welcoming and the stones look magnificent against the backdrop of the valley beneath.
There’s nobody else here, so I pull the camera from my bag and start to take some photographs, until I’m shuttered by an overwhelming feeling to strip back - to remove the paraphernalia of modernity. And it isn’t a completely pleasant feeling - my hackles are raised, I feel uncomfortable.
"I’m shuttered by an overwhelming feeling to strip back..."
So I do it. I take the 360 cam from around my neck, I put the tripod and pocket cam back into my bag. I switch off my iPhone and put it into my pocket, and finally, I take off my watch. I place it all behind a tree next to a bench and walk over to the stones.
For a moment, I disappear: Andy Marshall the frustrated and entitled photographer, the writer, the anxiety ridden camper-van-camino chap - completely disappears.
I walk back over to the stone circle and notice that I’m trying to rub away the indentation marks that my watch has made upon my wrist. At the stone circle, I watch as more people walk into the field. Students, lovers, hikers, academics and tourists. I hear laughing, chanting and chatter. A young man hangs something on a nearby tree. Now there’s a large group of students who are counting the stones. Two young lads with back-packs stand in the corner of the field, wrestling each other to the ground. One of them drops a crisp packet on the floor. In the middle of the circle there lies a couple - prostrate - head to head - with arms outstretched.
Where do I fit into all this - the grumpy photographer?
Then I see it through the blurred movement of people passing in front of me. From where I’m standing, it looks like an orange dot against one of the stones on the other side of the circle. It seems to be blinking.
I walk around the outer edges of the circle (and pick up the crisp packet) - then cut through the centre, past the prostrate couple who are now sitting up and having a smoke. As I move closer the bright orange dot takes shape.
It’s a butterfly. It looks so utterly fresh and present against the ancient oolitic that it grounds me in the here and now.
A new cohort of tourists walk in through the gate. They see the druid on the bench, the couple smoking at the centre of the circle, and a middle-aged man on his knees intently observing a bright orange dot on a stone.
At the heart of it all the stones stand still and silent like an echo of the universe. Their stillness and silence is so polished with time that they have become mirrors. The full gamut of human existence passes through them like the motions of an orrery.
Photographs and words by Andy Marshall (unless otherwise stated). Most photographs are taken with Iphone 14 Pro and DJI Mini 3 Pro.