Although my chapter in ‘The Wanton Green’ tells of life on recent protest sites, the spirit of an older campaign hovers in the background like a ghost.
Twyford Down was an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a Site of Special Scientific Interest, but in 1989 the UK Government decided a new road was needed; a 250 metre wide and 40 metre deep cutting now slices through the chalk downland. The protest was intense and involved hundreds of activists, some of whom – the Eco-Pagan Donga Tribe – lived at various camps on the Down.
The Donga Tribe – who were were named after the Iron Age trackways that criss-crossed the land – practised an earthy animist Paganism that honoured the spirits of place. I commented earlier that anthropologists often wrongly assume that only ancient indigenous peoples can sense the spirit of place (Spirit of place: What lies beneath). In fact, that kind of sensitivity is available us all if we choose to be open to it.
St. Catherine’s Hill, which still rises above what’s left of the Down, was the site of many fire-lit rituals. We danced to celebrate the land and the cycles of Sun and Moon; we danced to call the spirits of place; and we danced for courage to defend the Down.
Although the road was built, Twyford Down inspired hundreds of anti-road campaigns that in turn merged into the ‘anti-globalization’ protests of the Global Justice Movement. The spirit of Twyford now whispers to all who call for land rights, look to live ‘off-grid’ or celebrate a sense of place.
There are many factors in this process but the power of place is more fundamental than almost anyone realises. The land not only inspires us – it is part of who we are. Philosopher Christopher Preston puts it more precisely; “people craft some of their very cognitive identity in communion with a landscape” (Preston, 2003).