This year is the eight hundredth anniversary of the Magna Carta on the 15th of June, 1215, between King John and the English nobles. It was signed under the Ankerwycke yew tree, less than a quarter of a mile from where I am boat sitting for my friends Tara and James at Wraysbury on the River Thames.
Most people think that the Magna Carta was signed on the Runnymede side of the river just to the north of Egham, but alas no; it is near the lesser often visited village of Wraysbury on the opposite bank. I have to confess to the same ignorance until my friend James corrected this erroneous knowledge.
It has been a pleasant sojourn living afloat again on a boat albeit on a river, and February has been a forgiving month, as this area last year was flooded in almost biblical proportions. Tara and James, and their neighbours, struggled in very difficult conditions to live life as normally as possible, despite there being an almost undefined river bank. Not so this time.
I took an opportunity to visit the aforementioned symbol of the apparent beginnings of British Democracy and the subsequent wrestling away of absolute power from the Monarchy. Well, from the divinely rich to the fabulously rich.
A lovely, crisp sunny day, a tramp across a few muddy fields, plus enquiries to some locals as to where the tree actually was, finally brought me within sight of one of the most important events in British History, an ancient, magnificently convoluted yew tree, twisting and turning into the Surrey sky. I was unprepared for the impact of the discovery and surprisingly emotional, considering my own ancestors weren’t English and two hundred years earlier, probably ransacking the British coast way to the north! However, the sense of history is powerful and the pastoral atmosphere almost faery-like in its ambience; a refreshingly uncultivated meadow and glade, littered with snowdrops.
It would not have surprised me if Herne the Hunter himself, that ancient Celtic horned God of the forest, had joined me to quietly contemplate the sheer, sylvan bliss of his realm. He may have reminded me to tread carefully, for this land is sacred.
Rather than the beginning of a political story, I felt at that moment it may have been the end of another, more esoteric one; a final parting of the ways between the ancient faery realm and the oncoming modern era of pragmatic, atheism and institutionalised religion. The question came to me then:
How much democracy do we actually have? Are we really better off now, or have King John and his Barons, been replaced by the new royalty, the Corporations? Will we ever have a true, relevant democracy where every vote actually counts, or shall we as a people, labour for eternity to provide huge profits for the very few, while we struggle to get by, in dumb acceptance?
As the sun began its descent, casting dappled light through the branches of the old Yew, I laid my cheek against its ancient, but beautifully smooth bark and felt the love. Moments like these are fortunately frequent in this old heathen’s life…
And for that I am truly grateful.