In 1971 a friend introduced me to the concept of ley lines and I was instantly hooked. It appealed to my love of archaeology and, as a land surveyor, of maps. Of course, at that time I had no idea that the subject was anathema to the archaeological establishment. Having a good selection of one-inch-to-the-mile Ordnance Survey maps I spent many happy hours with ruler and pencil drawing lines between ancient monuments and churches. Although most of were inconclusive I noted that some of the alignments appeared to radiate from a central point, often a church in a town centre, and this caused me to wonder if it were possible to discover lines radiating at intentional angles or directions. I also noticed that some sites were at certain distances from these centres, enabling circles to be drawn passing through several points thus hinting at the possibility of a common measure of distance.
After a while I had so many lines and circles drawn over my chosen area of West Surrey that it was obvious that I was getting nowhere and it became clear that playing about on one-inch maps was a complete waste of time. This scale is far too small and inaccurate to attain an acceptable degree of accuracy. The relevant detail, such as churches or tumuli are symbolised and therefore are not necessarily in their true position; for example, a church in a fork of a road junction may be shown many metres back from the junction in order to fit the conventionalised symbol on to the map; for this reason I have found a barrow on the edge of a group of tumuli to be some forty metres out of position. Not only is the detail inaccurate for the purposes of research, but it is also in short supply. All churches are shown but, in the area I have chosen to research, there were many tumuli and other ancient sites omitted. Taking these factors into consideration it is evident that one cannot hope to get an accuracy of any greater than a band of about 25 metres wide. This is nowhere near the tolerance acceptable for any serious investigation.
Deciding that I needed to determine, if possible, whether it was all hogwash, which seemed at that time to be increasingly possible, or whether there was really something to be discovered, I needed an area to concentrate on. The area which appeared most interesting on the one-inch maps was around my home town of Guildford. Therefore I purchased enough two-and-a-half- inch-to-the-mile maps to cover an area centred on Guildford from Farnham in the west; Dorking in the east; Woking in the north; and Horsham in the south, covering an area of some twenty miles by twelve. This area is about as large as was practical working on a full-size drawing board.
Once the area of interest was decided upon the next task was to list all the possible relevant sites. All known prehistoric sites; all pre-reformation religious sites; and all other historic sites. Also, some landscape features which may have alignment possibilities. The total of listed sites reached 80. The Ordnance Survey co-ordinates were listed as an excel spreadsheet and columns added to allow various tasks, such as plans, photographs, research, and other jobs, to be ticked off once completed.
The paper maps were glued together to form a composite. Upon transferring the lines from the one-inch to the two-and-a-half-inch maps it became clear that some of the alignments were not acceptable to the new limits of tolerance, but what was more interesting was that other lines appeared to be an excellent fit. I spent several months with this map, researching and visiting all the relevant sites, these included all tumuli and pre-historic sites, and all pre-reformation churches and chapels, wondering at the possibility that they may have superseded pre-Christian religious sites. But, at this scale, the detail was still very small, churches still being symbolised, but the alignments and the relationship of sites that were emerging were intriguing enough to justify the expense of transferring the findings on 1-10560 scale representing six-inches-to-the-mile, commonly known as six-inch maps. A far higher degree of accuracy could now be achieved but there were still problems. One is that paper is not a stable base, being subject to small amounts of expansion and contraction. Another is the curvature of the earth, the map being a flattened portion of a sphere. Over a distance of ten miles, running east to west, a small deviation will be found, meaning that a straight alignment would be very slightly curved when drawn upon an Ordnance Survey map. The deviation is far less North to South, indeed it is zero on the central meridian of the Transverse Mercator projection, on which the Ordnance Survey is based. This meridian is two degrees west of Greenwich, roughly a line from Bournemouth to Berwick-on-Tweed. And a third problem is that the maps are not as accurate as many people think. The largest scale Ordnance Survey map is 1-1250 but this only covers urban areas. The scale covering rural areas is 1-2500. At this scale, the Ordnance Survey does a grand job but much of the information is derived from very old editions and it is not unusual for errors of several metres to be found, for example, the area of Crooksbury Common appears to have been updated using aerial photography, but the two tumuli hidden beneath the trees are not visible from the air and so remain in the same position as on the old County editions with the result that although the surrounding tracks are accurately positioned the barrows are five metres to the north-west of the surveyed position. Although the errors at the larger scales can be several metres for hedgerows, watercourses, boundaries, etc. it is seen that the errors in solid structures, such as churches, in general, do not exceed one and a half metres.
Eventually, a composite of six-inch-to-the-mile maps was glued together covering my area of research, measuring some nine feet long by five feet wide. Although I had my own drawing office at home with a four feet wide drawing board, this composite was unmanageable and became increasingly creased and dog-eared. At this time I had a pattern of alignments centred on Guildford comprised mainly on five rays radiating from Whitmoor Barrow – the outer rays being almost exactly one hundred degrees apart; the inner rays being sixty degrees apart; and the central ray pointing roughly south.
In 1981 I had a long letter published in ‘The Ley Hunter’ magazine criticizing current standards of research and suggesting some outlines for new more acceptable criteria. I requested correspondence from anyone working along similar lines and eventually received a letter from Edward Collier of Ludlow in Shropshire who was using an early home computer to analyse grid references to locate alignments. A lengthy correspondence ensued culminating in a computer analysis of all known ancient sites within the selected area. The most striking aspect of this branch of research was the difference in our approaches to the same problem. A computer programmer’s approach is primarily statistical, with the nature of the site, its archaeological significance and its topography, being of secondary interest. But I felt that although a computer analysis may be desirable in the first instance for a large area, such as a county, it was too objective for a small area; it did not allow for the varying data as applied to different types and sizes of a site when working to a large scale. For example, it is possible to obtain the coordinates of a round barrow to within a metre or two (providing the location is precisely checked on site), whereas a church assumed to be on an ancient site, may be of considerable size, inside a yard of considerably greater size. It is evident from known instances of barrows occurring near churches that the original point of interest may be anywhere within the consecrated area, and sometimes without. The obvious conclusion from the above – that only sites contemporary to the period being investigated should be used as primary data leads inevitably to the problem of site relevance, perhaps the greatest and most valid criticism of the theory put forward by detractors of the theory.
Looking back this was probably the turning point; the decision was made to take this research seriously and so a programme of work was formulated. This fell into three broad divisions – Firstly; the gathering of relevant data from available sources, the most important being the archives of the Surrey Archaeological Society (SAS) in the library of Guildford Museum. Secondly; the indoor tasks of plotting and calculating. And thirdly; field walking, photographing and surveying. Not until this programme was substantially complete would I begin the most difficult task of interpreting, drawing and writing.
Firstly to the museum. The prehistoric sites as listed in the Ancient Monuments catalogue and all locations of known prehistoric activity in the selected area were collected from the Surrey Archaeological Collections and plotted onto the six-inch maps. Added to this were all the pre-reformation churches listed in Pevsner’s guide to Surrey. The information obtained was compared with the previously discovered alignments. Of the 21 churches known to be ancient nearly half had some significance. The list of prehistoric monuments was more impressive; of eleven known no less than eight were on alignments. I started the mathematical analysis with the rays. Firstly I had a large computer-generated protractor printed onto stable drawing film. On the 1-10560 scale plan I was able to obtain reasonably accurate initial data upon which to base the preliminary plot.
As the rays were lying on ten-degree divisions of a circle this number was used as the relevant factor and it was found that the error meaned out over the 100 degree span of the outer rays to only half a degree. Using this information a set of map coordinates were calculated for every 9.95 degrees ray from east to west, and at intervals of 3600 feet, a unit refined from research, (later named by me as the Druid Mile as a convenient handle) down each ray from the base point of Whitmoor Barrow accurate to one metre. For the required degree of accuracy, it is absolutely essential to use coordinates, by having a precise map reference for every point of interest all the errors probable when drawing lines by hand are ruled out. They enable one to see where each point falls and thereby make the necessary fine adjustments to the angles and distances. The one error remaining, that of earth curvature, is very slight over the short distances involved here.
The accuracy of the alignments at this scale at last convinced me that coincidence was being stretched to its very limit considering the precision of some alignments. The most important step towards attaining greater accuracy was obviously to eliminate as far as possible the vagaries of paper, so a one-kilometre grid to match that on the Ordnance Survey composite was drawn by a computer-controlled plotting machine onto a sheet of stable plastic drawing film. This was then laid over the six-inch map and the relevant detail carefully traced into its respective grid squares to produce a plan of the area showing only the selected sites. A steel straight edge was then used to transfer the alignments onto the film. Surprisingly the lines became even more precise, passing through the centres of churches and tumuli. A church may not be directly over the original sacred site; there are several instances of churches being constructed alongside barrows or standing stones, and where a church stands within a circular yard with its possibility of being based on a circle of stones or posts, the building may not be sited over the centre, therefore it is difficult to set out strict criteria of accuracy for the acceptability of alignments. I tried to stick to this simple rule: The line should pass within the physical limits of the site as shown on the Ordnance Survey largest scale data. In the case of churches, this means through the yard but it is much preferred that the alignment passes through the fabric of the building. This is expanded upon in later chapters.
Eventually I lost interest in further research. There were several reasons; as a surveyor I was travelling the whole of the British Isles and staying away from home; weekends were spent with the family, and in truth I did not really know how to take the work forward. Eventually it became evident that the only way was to load all my research into a computer database. Computers have transformed the work of land surveyors and once I had become computer literate my eyes were opened to the marvellous possibilities of handling data with undreamed of accuracy and flexibility.
The above photographs demonstrate how the database in the computer is not restricted by size. This is the base point for the bearing alignments. Note that it can hardly be seen in the top picture demonstrating that this work could not be achieved without a computer.
The white linework is downloaded from the Ordnance Survey. the blue circles are co-ordinates logged from the handheld GPS. Green lines are bearing alignments.