In a previous post, I wrote of being haunted by the cup and ring symbol. In this wired, digital world, these cross-cultural, cross-geographic ciphers are all around us. Infiltrating our consciousness and yet remaining elusive and enigmatic. Tune in and they will reveal themselves in many unexpected places – from iPods to the X Factor, to packets of washing up powder.
How exciting to discover that some well-preserved marks exist on the north side of The Binn (Hill), the volcanic plug that overlooks Burntisland. It’s unlikely that you would stumble across them without having been tipped a nod as to where they are – they have protected themselves well for over 4000 years.
Lets just say that when you find them, the setting makes perfect sense. Vistas out over the Forth, high ground but sheltered. The heavens and stars open above. A place to capture energies of earth, wood, wind and sun; a place to inscribe these enigmas upon stone. Make a mark. An image of transmission; of energy radiating outwards, of ripples on the surface of consciousness being picked up by the tuned in antenna. Perhaps our ancient forebears were also receptive to this idea, way before the discovery of radio waves begat such an adaptable and iconic image.
It’s a pleasant walk to the stones. Up through a sheltered path, heady aromas of rain drenched wood bark, soft underfoot. Off to the left the sound of falling water. At the end of the path a steep scramble and over the stile. A pause for breath and across the butterfly strewn meadow, until you pick up the path that heads up to the summit of the Binn. A couple of ducks, glide aimlessly amongst the reeds in the pond on the left. Dragonflies hover like winged shards of stained glass and suddenly they are gone as if dissolved in sunlight. As you commence the climb up the Binn, the rocks are up on the right hand side. A scramble over some rough ground and fallen trees and once you are in the vicinity, you will feel the pull of the rocks and there they are.
There are two key marks. One is a fully complete cup and ring, perfectly preserved. Another smaller one has been started but remains unfinished. I wonder why? It’s a blast to close your eyes and think that around 4,000 years ago someone had taken the time – many many hours – to carve these marks into this rock. This rock here – now! We can still only guess why and perhaps it is better that way. Do we want to know that it may have only been for some dull utilitarian purpose? No! Here it remains today something quite beautiful and powerful, expressive human poetry. Materially tangible but elusive and meaning slips away, like grains of sand through the fingers, if we try to wring out its mystery in theories and guesswork.
Carrying on up to the summit of the Binn. There is a ‘top of the world’ sensation. Burntisland lies, directly below. Once home to Mary Somerville, pioneering mathematician and astronomer and the Reverend Thomas Chalmers, radical, social reformer and founder of the Free Church of Scotland. Once described by Patrick Geddes as ‘an anarchist economist beside whom Kropotkin and Reclus are mere amateurs’.
Glinters of sunlight on the Forth to East and West as the wind whips up a frenzy of pebbledash rain. We are forced to take cover in a small natural alcove on the hillside. Sheltering from the elements, thinking of pioneering radicals just as our stone carving friends would have done 4,000 years ago.
Now playing – Franca Sacchi: En