Monday, 18 June 2007

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finally reached the the omphalos last night: the village of the wise woman herself, the Green-witch. The Sark, like her insurers, low in her Crone phase: gutted; whilst the Dome squats reborn atop Zero Degrees, zero squared, the o2. Now revamped as one of Europe's bigger indoor music venues, complete with smaller second hall dubbed the Indigo... The 02 itself, all 20'000 seats of it, is the stage that Prince will be commanding for his 21 Days in London concerts later this summer, just a week less than the 28 Days we have already seen highlighted in relation to Greenwich; and continuing the regal (princely) storyline currently developing... (See here for more.)

Nelson, pleasingly, is everywhere in this naval stronghold. For auld men of Colliers Wood- where Stane Street traverses the Wandle- this is no great luxury: for my Merton manor is Nelson's old beat, where the sea dog shacked up with Emma. But Maritime Greenwich- the term favoured by UNESCO- is a glaringly more fitting, if somewhat contrived, venue; head for The Trafalgar pub on the riverside, and there he is. Forever in his Greenwich cups.

Was very interested to learn, in two weeks or less, that the Tour de France will begin in these grey climes: the first leg being from London to Canterbury, starting at the Romney Road in Greenwich.

This deeply symbolic passage follows in spirit if not in practice the line of Watlingstrete, or Watling Street, one of the four royal roads of medieval England. This is the Celtic, pre-Roman road that the Romans greatly extended: a road which even mainstream scholars agree skirted preciously close to Greenwich (the nearby town of Blackheath being cited as an important stop en route to Westminster.) But folklorists, enthusiasts and, yes, no doubt a few psychics, have made a convincing case that this unusual perambulation- a characteristic for which Roman roads are hardly noted- may falsely disguise the true, uninterrupted path: which may well have passed directly through Greenwich itself... and preciously close to the Romney Road depart reel of this year's Tour de France in Albion.

The pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales would have used Watling Street to reach their destination; despite the adoption of the Chaucerian-sounding 'Pilgrim's Way' to denote another, even more ancient track: traversing the North Downs from Winchester to Folkestone. This path, or paths- the precise course is contested, and would have changed according to season and conditions- is today closely associated with Kent and Hampshire's crop circles: which seem to be drawn to its ancient circuits as if attempting to impart some faintly-remembered secret. Like last year's 'Pointing Star' glyph: referencing Aylesford's famous priory, with its Black Madonna, and the Medway megaliths scattered nearby. Or the Boxley formation of the same year, a beauty, barely a stone's throw from the grand old road.

Writing last year about the Aylesford formation- which, considering we are rapidly approaching the Feast of St John, appropriately sprang up upon the solstice- I described it as a call 'to revive the pilgrim's quest.' (What a romantic soul I was.) Strangely, happily, in spite of worldly woes and the electrosmog, the call has been powerfully answered. This is the first time since 1994 that the Tour has visited Britain, and the first time ever that it has started here, and that the paramount religious centre of Canterbury has been added to the route. A more striking example of a latter-day pilgrimage, one that will draw energy from all across Europe, could scarely be imagined. (The fact that this all begins at Zero Degrees in Greenwich adds yet esoteric intrigue to the mix.)

So what will all this attention mean- for the country, for we individuals? Pilgrimage, I believe, is a powerful, revivfying force- reclaiming, if only temporarily, a drowned world of myth. This holds good even when the participants are only dimly aware of the significance of their steps; there is still an interaction between consciousness and landscape in a dialogue which refines both. This has been understood by elites from time immemorial; which is partly why large churches so frequently seem to appear in places associated with this ancient alchemy; and why the traditions which are imposed around this necessary act are predominantly religious, serving to funnel the spirit for the benefit of parasitical institutions.

And our own mythmakers have likewise not been tardy in imposing agendae of their own upon what is still an opportunity for emancipation. Announcing the news back in January- this is what happens when you don't possess a television set- the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, declared that the two stages would be used to commemorate the victims of the 7/7 London Bombings. 'Having the Grand D├ępart on the seventh of July-' I can hear his Lambeth whine- 'will broadcast to the world that terrorism does not shake our city.'

Fortunately, there are always ways of hacking the system: and certain people who seem to be more adept at that than others. Take Peter Doherty, for example, appearing this weekend in front of a giant pyramid stage at the heart of another mass pilgrim site whose hold over the public consciousness is steadily consolidating.

The Pilgrim's Way, Watlingstrete, the Tour de France in Albion and Zero Degrees in 2012? Seems like Albion is finally stirring...

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