DARTMOOR is an area of wild moorland in southwest England, a mist-veiled landscape of hidden valleys and bare tors where the stone circles and settlements of ancient people exist at the fringes of present time. It is one of the most undisturbed prehistoric landscapes within the British Isles. We have worked on Dartmoor for over 25 years, living with our family in a longhouse located in the heart of these hills which, at over 1000 years, is one of the oldest habitable buildings on the moor. This part of Dartmoor is still worked by traditional hill farmers, the pace of life is measured and there are still pockets of silence where mobile signal can be avoided. Wild (or semi-feral) pony herds still roam the slopes and valleys; we are both Dartmoor Commoners and pony herders, roles attached to and passed on with the farm. Our own herd is fairly small, all born from a single foal orphaned 22 years ago, who became the feisty matriarch of her own group. Three generations of daughters and sons graze the hills above this farm.

In recent years there have been new discoveries on the high moors about how our Neolithic and Bronze Age ancestors lived and died. The rescue excavation in 2011 of a burial cistvaen on White Horse Hill, which is one of the highest ridges on Dartmoor and located in the centre of a complex and ancient ritual landscape, uncovered the intact bone bundle of a woman from 4000 years ago. Her cremated bone fragments were tenderly wrapped inside a bear skin, along with many delicately preserved burial goods, including an intricate clay, shale, amber and tin necklace; a tiny copper pin; a wrist band made from braided animal hair and tin studs; woven cloth fragments with a fine leather trim; ear studs hand-turned from spindlewood; and the remnants of meadowsweet flowers, once laid into her granite tomb. Very soon after she emerged from the crumbling stone and eroding peat, a large Neolithic ceremonial circle was uncovered on the high slopes of a nearby tor, the beautifully carved large granite stones laid in position within earthy graves by the Bronze Age people. This central part of the north moors is rich with ancestral memory and so much more still rests quietly beneath the peat.

We have always drawn our inspiration from the raw and primordial landscape that surrounds us, constantly reaching to catch something of the moor’s deep mystery and wild momentum into our music, instruments, paintings and words. The roundhouse we built in 2002 to honour the ancestors of these hills and the burial cistvaen that we created in 2014 to celebrate White Horse Hill Woman, have been part of our long journey to anchor the piece of land of which we have guardianship, into the broader sacred landscape of Dartmoor.  We try to express our gratitude to these moors by sharing this farmstead – with its growing woodlands, peat bogs, organic flower meadows, salmon stream, shrines and sanctuary – through the festivals, workshops, gatherings, circles and quiet moments that take place here. And often we find ourselves returning to the question: where will we lay our bones, when all is said and done? Below this peat, beneath this granite, into this ancient, constant, blessed moor…

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