Ley line discovery

This is Alfred Watkins' original ley definition, though later ley hunters came to regard four mark points as insufficient for a ley, and recommended five within a 10 mile distance.

Paul Screeton offered this updated alternative in 1970

From "The Old Straight Track" , third ed, 1945, Appendix A, p219, "Ley Hunting", by Alfred Watkins

BOTH indoor map and outdoor field exploration are necessary. Field work is essential. It is surprising how many mounds, ancient stones, and earthworks are to be found which are not marked, even on the large scale maps. I often feel sure from small indications such as the knowl marked by a tuft of trees, the two or three Scotch firs in straggling line, the conformation of a road with a footpath and then a hedgerow, the general " lay of the land " that a ley exists in a certain direction; But nothing can be done without the map, and for working directions I repeat those given in my earlier book with little alteration.

You must use Government Ordnance maps. One mile to the inch is the working scale. Other maps of two or four miles to the inch are quite useless, save for checking long leys. The (B) " Popular edition, mounted and folded in covers for the pocket," is the most convenient for field work and is the cheapest, as it contains over double the area of the older (C) z8 by 12 edition; but I have found the latter (uncoloured, in flat sheets) necessary for transferring leys from one map to the next on drawing boards in the office.

Maps cut in sections are useless for this exact work. Two drawing boards, a light 24-inch straight edge, a T-square for pinning down the maps accurately to line with the boards, a movable head T-square to adjust to the angle of the ley, so as to transfer to the next map, a transparent circular protractor for taking orientations, and a box of the glass-headed pins used by photographers (in addition to the usual drawing-pins) are the minimum essentials for real work. A sighting or prismatic compass for field work used in conjunction with the movable head of the square are aids I have found valuable.

Pin down the map, square on a drawing board with the T-square passing through identical degree marks on the edges, latitude for leys running east and west, but longitude for leys north and south. The edges of the maps are not truly in line with the degree lines, and must not be the guide. Look out on the map all named points on it of the following classes:

(1) Ancient mounds, whether called tumulus, tump, barrow, cairn, or other name.
(2) Ancient unworked stones not those marked " boundary stone."
(3) Moats, and islands in ponds or lakelets.
(4) Traditional or holy wells.
(5) Beacon points.
(6) Cross-roads with place-names, and ancient wayside crosses.
(7) Churches of ancient foundation, and hermitages.
(8) Ancient castles, and old " castle " place-names.

With a " bow pen" make an ink ring about 3/8-inch diameter round each of these points, the pivot leg of the instrument being stuck into the exact point.

Stick a pin into an undoubted mark-point (as a mound or traditional stone), place a straight edge against this and move to see if three other ringed points (or two and a piece of existing straight road or track) can be found to align. If so, rule a pencil line (provisionally) through the points. You may then find on that line fragments here and there of ancient roads and footpaths; also bits of modern roads conforming to it. Extend the line into adjoining maps, and you may find new sighting points on it, and it will usually terminate at both ends in a natural hill or mountain peak.

When you get a good ley on the map, go over it in the field, and fragments and traces of the trackways may be found, always in straight lines, once seen recognized with greater ease in future.

Make a rule to work on sighting points, and not, tempting as it sometimes is, to take a straight bit of road or track as evidence. Such a straight stretch should be treated as a suggestion for a trial. If supported by three or four points, it becomes corroborative evidence. Three points alone do not prove a ley, four being the minimum. But three-point evidence or one point and straight road might find support in an adjoining map.

Where close detail is required, as in villages and towns, the one-inch scale is far too small, and the six-inch scale is necessary. The angle of the ley is transferred to it from the one-inch map with the aid of the movable head square.

If you travel along the actual sighting line you may find fragments of the road showing as a straight trench in untilled land, although these are few and far between, as the plough obliterates it all. The line usually crosses a river at a known ford or ferry.

In field work remember that if the evidence were plentiful and easy to find the ley system would have been discovered long ago, that ancient tracks and roads (and most of the barrows and mark stones) have disappeared wherever the plough touches, and that bits to be found are few and far between. Also that if you get on the " high place " of a proved ley, it is very seldom that you can see parts of the track from the height, or even any ponds or moats " on the ley " trees almost always prevent.

It is detective rather than surveying work in the field. But there are plenty of unrecorded finds to be made by following a ley. In map work certain characteristics constantly occur. The ley seeks out ancient camps, and often borders them, or passes through a mound in the earthwork. But it is impracticable to " ring " camps, as they are not points. A bit of zigzag in a road is almost invariably at the point where an ancient track crossed "at the zig." Such a point on the Hereford-Peterchurch road was known by the ancient place-name (not supported by any other " ches "- name near) of the Cheshire Turn, and a ley was found on it.

Keep your eyes open when cycling or motoring on a bit of straight road for any hill point or mound, church or castle on a bank, which is not only straight in front, but keeps fixed in the same position as you travel; for such an observation almost certainly leads to the discovery of a ley through the point and on the road.

A genuine ley hits the cross-roads or road junctions as if by magic. And it treats them as points, because mark stones once (if not now) existed at them, for it seldom lies on the present roads which cross there.

Where two or three field paths converge at a point, such a point is often on a ley, for such points and cross track points remain unchanged down the ages, when the tracks have perhaps all changed in position. It is almost laughable to find where a ley crosses a road, even if diagonally, how often there is a field gate on each side for it to go through. Field entrances remain unchanged for centuries, and at the first enclosure no doubt the entrance would be at an old track.

Faint traces of ancient track or earthwork are most easily seen when the sun is low on one side in late evening. For this reason, and for the absence of leaves on trees, winter is by far the best time of year for a certain type of exploration, camp earthworks for example. Sun shining on one side and very low down is an ideal condition.

The method in the future is an aeroplane flight along the ley. Faint tracks are to be seen from the air (as Mr. O. G. S. Crawford has pointed out) which are invisible on the ground. It is one of many war-time discoveries.

Remember when investigating leys round structures of ancient importance such as Tintern Abbey or Stonehenge that the simple stone which settled its site was probably of no more importance than scores of others all round it, and you will often find an important long-distance ley come within a hundred yards of what seems to you the all-important site, and take not the slightest notice of it. The great multiplicity of leys in a small area will surprise and perplex you, but you will have to accept it as a fact.

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