Mid-England Round Barrow
Updated: Jun 25, 2019
In an earlier blog post ( https://www.ruthjewellcelebrant.co.uk/blog/options-for-your-ashes ) I talked about how I spent my childhood exploring Long and Round Barrows. I also told you all how excited I was that a modern day version was being built not too far away from me.
On Tuesday I had the privilege of visiting the Mid-England Round Barrow, and I wanted to tell you all about it. Firstly though I would like to try to explain why this has excited me so much. To do so I have trawled through my Dad's photographs, these were all taken on slide films, and a few years ago my brother transferred them all into digital format. There are over three thousand of them, and they are in no particular order, so every time I pay them a visit I see yet another memory of my childhood.
Anyway, I digress! I have two older brothers, six and nine years older than me, and my whole family were fascinated by history. Wherever we went we would visit ruins, castles, standing stones etc. etc. What you could always guarantee was that if there was a long or round barrow marked on the map, anywhere near our route, then we would visit it. We always had five torches ready in the car (Barrows are generally dark, damp places), and of course a picnic.
What struck me when searching through the photos was how stunning my Mum always looked. As you can see from this photo, it is no doubt wet and cold, and yet my Mum looks like a model. You will see this in every photo she appears in!
So us picnicking is a typical photo of us all, as are these.....
Yes, that first one is Stonehenge, how lucky was I to visit (many times) when you could stand right by the stones? We didn't just explore standing stones, barrows, gun emplacements etc, in this country, but also on the Continent too.
So the routine would be that we would park the car, often on a grass verge, then trudge over stiles and across fields, until we came to the Barrow. The 'men' would always go in first, just to check it was safe, and then Mum and I were allowed to follow. Oh flip, how I hated having to wait. Some had beautiful, big clear entrances, and others were hardly bigger than a badger sett entrance. However we still went in, my Mum clutching her handbag!
The middle photo shows the inside of one Barrow. These were built as burial chambers. A place to lay the body, often on a shelf. Each Barrow held many bodies. Some, like Belas Nap near Winchcombe ( https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/belas-knap-long-barrow/history/ ) had a false entrance. Belas Nap is out in the open, but some are built into a hill. All were covered in grass, and can often be hard to spot until you are right by the entrance.
So, as a young (and not so young) child, Barrows were a part of my life. They evoked an air of mystery. Who built them, and why were they built where they were built? Who was buried in them and why? The biggest question being how did they build them? Often stone has been moved many, many miles (just like at Stonehenge, and other standing stone circles), and all without the tools and vehicles that we have at our disposal today. Each one had an air of calm, not only inside, but also outside, for a child... almost a magical feeling.
So basically I was hooked. Barrows were a big part of my growing up. They were something we visited as a family, and are therefore special for that reason alone.
Hopefully this explains why I was so excited to hear that I had a modern day Barrow near by. Of course, as a Funeral Celebrant, it brings another side to things. To be able to deliver a service there would be wonderful, of course, but just to be able to offer my families an alternative place to store their ashes (other than the wardrobe where most ashes end up) is equally wonderful.
I had been in touch with Sarah and Richard for the last year, and have been excited to see the progress from afar. The Barrow is situated on the borders of Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire, and is being built entirely from natural resources. Building began on 11th March this year, and will be completed shortly. You can follow their story via their website https://www.mid-englandbarrow.co.uk/ or their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Mid-England-Barrow-Ltd-567705210361640/?ref=br_rs
Having set the date for my visit the weather decided that rain would be the order of the day, however this wasn't going to deter me in the slightest! I am so lucky that, apart from a short piece of motorway, my drive is through country lanes and roads, with stunning views. Even on a wet and murky day I saw house martins swooping, pheasants dicing with death and birds of prey soaring above.
The directions from the website were very clear and I found the entrance easily. A lovely big sign ensured I was in the right place and the large wooden gate was rolled back to reveal the entrance, car park and tent.
Just like the many Barrows I visited in my childhood, it was not instantly clear where the Barrow was. If you weren't looking for it, then you probably wouldn't have spotted it. Once it is covered in grass it will be even harder to see when you arrive.
Sarah and Richard made me so welcome. We had a chat over a cup of tea (I took chocolate biscuits to share too), and then set off in the drizzle. I have to say that I probably looked like a crazy woman, as I couldn't stop smiling the whole time I was there!
To one side of the car park is the Safari Tent. This is the perfect structure for the setting, and fits in beautifully. It is an ideal venue for refreshments, a party, the service, or a place to learn a craft.
There is now a lovely grass area next to the tent, ideal for a picnic, or as extra parking.
A wide path has been laid, that weaves its way through wild grasses, flowers and newly planted trees. This is suitable for wheelchairs, and will eventually lead right to the Barrow entrance. The fields in view have been planted as wildflower meadows, and even on a wet day looked stunning.
Obviously at the moment the area around the Barrow is still muddy, particularly as it has been so wet this last week, and after all it is still a building site, but this didn't detract from the overpowering feeling of calm and magic that I felt, just as I did when I was younger.
There is a proud Standing Stone, placed in line with the entrance, and another large stone will soon be laid flat to make a seat, or resting place for a coffin.
The entrance looked incredible. Just as the stones at Stonehenge looked huge to me all those years ago, so too did the lintel stone above the doorway. Even with our modern machinery, it seemed impossible that it had been placed there, just as they did all those thousands of years ago.
In the middle photo you can see the frame for the beautiful, metalwork gate, that will be added soon. The last photo shows a stone seat, these are set into the curved wall either side of the entrance.
The colour of the stone is stunning. It has been sourced from a local quarry that has recently reopened, and fits perfectly into the Countryside.
I have to say that I held my breath as I walked through the entrance, it just felt so incredibly special to be walking into a Barrow that is yet to fulfil its purpose. After all, I have so often visited ones that have served their purpose and no longer hold any remains.
The craftsmanship was just as I expected it to be, each stone, lovingly placed, and nestling alongside its neighbour. Even without a roof it was easy to imagine how calm and peaceful it will be when it is complete.
To the right and the left are small chambers, and ahead was the large chamber, which is complete. Each niche will hold up to five sets of ashes, for up to 99 years. There are lots of options available, and Sarah and Richard are more than happy to chat these through with you.
A few weeks ago the Barrow was visited by some local school children, who placed a time capsule in the wall. I asked if a shoe had been placed in the wall and Richard and Sarah asked if I would like to bring one with me. A shoe? Yes, a shoe. Shoes are often found in the walls of old houses and buildings, they were placed there to ward off evil and bring the building luck. In particular a child's shoe is often found. I doubt an adult shoe could be spared all those years ago.
It was my honour to place a very modern day child's shoe (with my business card with a hand written good luck message, slipped inside) in the wall of the right hand chamber. How incredible to know that it may well nestle in there for thousands of years. I really hope that it brings luck to the Barrow, and to Richard and Sarah.
Throughout the Barrow are tiny holes, where tealights will be placed, a far nicer light than the harsh torchlight I used as a child, that's for sure.
The left hand chamber is being completed, but in the entrance there are different colour stones set in the wall on either side. These stones from were gifts from the other modern day Barrows, each Barrow has exchanged stones, linking them together. It made me wonder if this happened in the past too.
The stone from Soulton Hall is the one on its own, it has plough marks on it from farm workings, the top one of the other two is from Willow Row, and the lower one is a Sarcen stone from All Cannings.
The view from the doorway is of lush fields and the rolling landscape, and despite being near to a country road, there was no sound of traffic, just birds. Richard has a herd of Longhorn Cattle, who were grazing on the other side of the farm, but will sometimes be in neighbouring fields. Longhorns conjure up an image of days gone by, which seems so fitting with the Barrow in this setting.
This photo really doesn't do the view justice at all, and can never capture the calm and quiet feeling that I felt, standing at the entrance looking out.
We made our way back to the tent. This has been linked to the kitchen behind, and will be the perfect venue for refreshments or a service. Sarah is keen for it to be used by local craftspeople, who are welcome to run workshops there on days when there is no service at the Barrow. I suggested that it would be the perfect venue for a family get together to celebrate the anniversary or Birthday of their loved one, or to encompass their loved one in a celebration even though they are no longer here.
My families often have no idea about where to place the ashes of the person they loved so much. They want a fitting place that they can visit, but feel that cemetery's aren't an option for them. I can't think of a better place to store your ashes, it is a beautiful place to visit, and will always remain so.
My advice would be to arrange a visit, either on an open day, or speak with Richard or Sarah. remember there are a limited number of niches, and you can reserve one now. How thrilling to follow in the footsteps of our ancient ancestors, but with a modern twist.
I would like to thank Sarah and Richard for making me so welcome, for answering my many questions, and for showing this grinning woman around their pride and joy. How right they are to be proud of what they have achieved. This is a legacy that anyone would be honoured to leave behind, and how incredible to know that something they have created on their land will more than likely still be standing in thousands of years time.
I drove away (still smiling manically) and realised that, in the case of this Barrow, I have all the answers. I know when it was built, who built it, how they built it, and who will lay inside it. I also know that there is a shoe hidden in the wall that no-one will see. Most of all, though, I know that this new Barrow is as magical and meaningful as those built thousand's of years ago, and I can't wait to see it finished.