As soon as I turned off the B4032, I saw Drayton Parslow church, up on the hill in front of me. Have ever noticed how often it is this happens, that as you approach a village the first thing you see is the church?
Two more examples that occur to me, because of the roads I use, are Great Horwood church, from the Winslow road, and Hardwick church, when coming from Aylesbury on the A413. I don’t think this is by accident, but why does it happen? The only reason I can think of is for navigation, probably from well before the Norman conquest.
Many churches are not the first one to be built on a particular site. At Great Horwood an earlier church was already in place there in (we think) 1066. It’s believed that an earlier church was at Hardwick, too. And many churches were, or still are, on pre-Christian sites.
The 14th Century Holy Trinity church at Drayton Parslow was not the first to be built there, and there’s an ancient preaching cross in the churchyard that I think must be older than the church.
Either of these would have made a fine landmark. They are up on the hill top so would be visible from the B4032, once a Roman road and a route that’s been in use for two thousand years or more.
But there’s another reason I think they were used for navigation; Leys.
Alfred Watkins believed that a network of straight tracks (the leys) covered the British Isles, aligned for navigation with beacon hills, mounds, moats, and old pagan sites that now have churches on them. Some of these routes were 4,000 years old, he believed. He called these routes leys because ‘ley’ as part of a place name seemed to occur remarkably often on them.
Some call these ley lines, and believe they are lines of force in the ground. I don’t believe this and neither did Alfred Watkins; it’s a belief that only came about in the 1960s.
Watkins published his book The Old Straight Track in 1925. By then he had been developing his theory about the leys for four years.
I have a much later reprint. The most interesting part for me as the North Bucks Wanderer is Appendix B, titled ‘Buckinghamshire Leys’. There he lists 15 leys, and many of the alignment points are churches. Quite a few of those leys have major Roman roads running along them. What do you think the truth is about leys?
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