I set out seeking Arthur's Stone deep in the Coed Maenarthur. Somewhere, between the stony banks of the Ystwyth River and the heights of the Iron Age hill fort of Castell Grogwynion, was a stone or outcrop named for that ancient King of the Britons. The trail began at my own front door and yet, after only half a mile, the path led me to a world of myth and a rural idyll that seemed to be of another world.
As the poet Waller explained:
'In such green palaces the first kings reign'd;
Slept in their shades and angels entertain'd.
With such old counsellors they did advise,
And by frequenting sacred groves grew wise;
Free from th' impediments of light and noise,
Man thus retir'd, his noblest thoughts employs.'
The forests of our European patrimony are ever in our dreams, our native ancestral memories. Ever the place of refuge in times of calamity the woods are still a solace to escape the mundanity of everyday life. A source of food in game, fungi and other wild fruits; fuel for the fire and timber for the beams, a place for the pigs to root and the space where our children can run laughing in play. Yet the arboreal spaces that still play such a role in our unconscious were also once a place of fear and danger. It is there that the rogue hid out, the woodwose crept, creatures of Faery walked, the wolf and the bear and other were-beasts lay in wait. The forest could be malevolent and tricksy. Those memories of dark haunted places remain with us.
Though the Wildwood is diminished in these benighted times, there are still some deeps where the old spirits remain. It is to these sylvan haunts I am always drawn, ever in search of a Green Chapel that lies not just in the landscape but in our very being itself. It is eternal.
'This grove is the centre of their whole religion. It is regarded as the cradle of the race, and the dwelling-place of the supreme god to whom all things are subject and obedient.' Tacitus, Germania