Druids, stones, witches but only one brand of ketchup

Two people are earnestly looking at a rock. One of them is talking knowledgably about the rock with an air of great authority. The other one is taking photos of the rock with an expensive camera. I sneer inwardly and then realize I am here to look at the rocks as well. And my boyfriend is photographing the rocks.

These were not always rocks though-they were WITCHES! It’s true. The naughty witches  led by Long Meg (the long stone of course- see it all fits together)  dancing (no doubt widdershins) on the Sabbat were turned into stone by a furious anti-revelry God who really needs to see what is going on in the average Wetherspoons on a Sunday afternoon if he wants to get enraged and do a bit of good old fashioned smiting.

Apparently it is impossible to count all the stones correctly but if you do the magic of the stone circle is lost forever. This leaves the reasonable supposition that someone over the ages might well have counted the stones correctly because delightful as the stones are, there appears little in the way of Magic, more drizzle, rabbit burrows and earnest men talking knowledgably about rocks.

Long Meg and her daughters are made even more pleasing due to the fact that a weather-beaten sign points to ‘Druid Stones.’ Everyone knows that the prefix of Druid makes everything more exciting, mysterious and swirled in the shadows of an ancient past that was all sunsets, chanting and dark dark sacrifices like some sort of real life Dungeons and Dragons but without the acne.

But just when the novelty of patting each standing stone has begun to wear off slightly, we come to Long Meg and nestled against her in a hollow lies a shrine.

Against the sombre greys and greens of a wet day is a cluster of colour-a Hindu statue, two playing cards which must have some amazingly exciting occult significance but I am buggered if I know what it is, a letter, flowers and trinkets like some tiny little pagan pound shop. Finding an impromptu slightly hidden shrine at Druidy witchy standing stones is impossibly exciting and I am happy.

Little Selkirk Mill, a ‘biodynamic’ tearoom and mill is nearby and we decide to go in, enchanted by the bright paint and tumbling flowers surrounding it. Ducks waddle, chickens huddle and we discover that ‘biodynamic’ means bloody expensive. It all looks very nice but a fiver for some soup and bread is just too much. We buy a loaf of £2.20 bread. It is heavy, earnest and joyless. I demolish it sadly and butterlessly in the car. Now THIS is what they mean by middleclass poverty.

The house is a tip and there are many important things that we really need to sort out like stair gates so we decide to not go home and keep driving. As far away as we can. And that means Alston.

Alston has to be the remotest place in England. It is a happily long way away from a house with an unfixed stair gate and little cairns of baby sick on the carpet. We get there along a long winding hilly road through high moorland and warning signs. The town itself is a small grey nestle on a hillside. A little shop that sells all that cutesy homely stuff like slate hearts on ribbons is closing. As has a ‘artisan’ bakery. Alston is one of those places that straddles rural poverty and Cath Kidson- there are boy racers revving up the high street and old men in sadly over-smart clothing booming ‘hello’ as they slowly pace up and down, up and down. The isolation hits home when seeing people with full sized heaving trollies going around the small Co-op which is clearly the only ‘supermarket’ for a long way around. This scares me more than it should.

The thought of living in a beautiful rural setting but only having one or two brands of ketchup to choose from fills me with a claustrophobic terror. I fall in love with a quaint detached three-bedroom house with wood burning stove, dining room and walled garden for under a hundred grand in the estate agents. But it would feel a hollow pretence at life to live there with such a sparse range of branded products for sale nearby. I realize there is an echoing void where my soul should be as I look over the now sun drenched moors and mountains and suddenly have a burning desire to get in the car and fuck off to the nearest Asda.



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