Tuesday 10 May 2016

Review: The Old Straight Track

The Old Straight Track The Old Straight Track by Alfred Watkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Originally published in 1925, this book by Alfred Watkins bought the concept of ley lines to the public. The concept came to him after visiting a Roman excavation and looking at the map to get a perspective on the wider landscape, he saw that a number of features seemed to line up. When he had the opportunity to get to higher ground he had the opportunity to look at the landscape and see that these features had straight paths running between them. He came to believe that the people of this country had made a series of straight paths through the forests with the prominent features being used for guide and navigation.

He first presented this theory of leys at a public meeting in 1921, and went on to develop his theories to present in this book. Controversial at the time, the Antiquity magazine refused to publish even an advert for his book, it captured the imagination of the public. He was an excellent PR man, using pagan rites to demonstrate and promote his work, and it inspired generations of readers and walkers to take a closer look at the country that they walked through. The concept of lines passing over hill and dale were picked up by those seeking to rediscover the the mysticism and ancient ways of the Celts and re-enchant the English landscape.

There was only one flaw though; none of it was really true. It can be proven that given the sheer quantity of ancient and prehistorical sites in the landscape that the chances of them lining up is as much coincidence as it is design. This page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ley_lin... shows just how a random collection of 137 sites can give 80 or so four point alignments. Richard Atkinson, an archaeologist, has even proved that red telephone boxes could produce their own leys by lining up.

Theories aside, this is still worth reading. Firstly, it is a classic piece of text on the English landscape. Secondly, the eloquent and atmospheric text and the black and white images and maps that are liberally scattered throughout the book giving us a snapshot of the English countryside between the two world wars before big farms and pylons spoilt some of the finest views. At the time the science of excavation was starting to change and improve, Watkins may have prompted people to look at and discover the genuine links between sites in the wider context of the landscape.

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