Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Dowsing the mound on Chosen Hill

I keep coming back to the little known and much underrated Chosen Hill (shown on maps as Churchdown Hill) between Gloucester and Cheltenham. It's one of my special places in my local area. And every time I come here I feel the same thing. An urge to do some dowsing!

The reason I've not done so before is that I didn't really know where to start. I don't have the time or resources to do a detailed survey, but there didn't seem much point in doing a half-hearted effort either. Besides which, Chosen Hill is a very popular place for dogwalkers and ramblers, and whenever anybody sees me swinging around a bent coathanger they invariably come and ask "whatcha doin'?" which is almost impossible to explain without sounding like a nutter.

But this week I went up there and gave it a go. I would love to hear from any other dowsers who have done any work up here, and whether they get results which are similar to or different from mine.

The church on top of its green mound.

That's some location for an old church.

First of all I should explain why this site is special, though the photos probably say all that needs to be said. The hill itself is an outlier to the Cotswolds and sits on its own – a 500ft high steep-sided lump sat in the middle of the Severn Vale. Perched on the north-eastern corner of the hilltop (which is not, incidentally, the highest point of the hill but it's pretty close) is the isolated medieval church of St Bartholomew, which was originally the parish church for the village of Churchdown, and a punishing trek up a steep slope for former parishioners. There is a newer church in the village now, but St Bartholomew's is still used for a handful of services and it's a remarkable place, full of historic curiosities, re-used carved stones from an earlier church, and images of dragons. It's also quite a landmark, visible from all around the local area, looking like a faery castle when the sun catches it in early evening.

The church is built on top of a steep-sided mound in the churchyard, which is a very striking feature, and suggests the place was sacred before the church (and its Saxon predecessor) was built. The mound has curious ridges or terraces around it, in a style which reminds me of Glastonbury Tor, albeit on a smaller scale. Some of these are visible in the churchyard, while others can be seen continuing some distance down the northern and eastern side of the hill, interrupted by field boundaries and clumps of trees but still visible if you make the effort to look. These lower ridges are on private property so it isn't possible to explore them close up, but they have intrigued me for a long time.

There is uncertainty as to whether the topographical features of the hill are natural or man-made, or both. Older maps show the whole hilltop as an Iron-Age camp; modern maps don't. I think it probably is an ancient camp because it has that sort of vibe and there have been finds of pottery fragments from that time period. Unfortunately the majority of the original enclosure has been destroyed by the construction of a set of covered reservoirs in the 20th century, but there are still some surviving earthen banks around the hilltop which look very much like ramparts.

It's the small green mound immediately underneath the church, however, which draws my attention the most.

Ridged pathways around the mound in the north-western corner of the churchyard, with a pedestrian gate at the bottom leading down towards the village.

The western end of the mound.

The southern side with old box tombs set into the slope of the mound.

The entrance on the northern side. I got a water reaction with my dowsing rods in the gateway instead of the usual 'entrance' response.

One of the things that intrigues me about the mound is that it has a direction of spin. I don't much like using the New Agey term 'earth energy', but I don't have another name for it and can't really explain what it is either, so I can only say that there is some kind of telluric flow which goes around the mound in either a clockwise or anticlockwise direction on different occasions. I feel this so strongly that I don't need dowsing rods to pick it up. Every time I visit the churchyard I immediately feel which direction the energy is spinning and feel obligated to walk around the churchyard in the direction of flow. It seems to switch over on some periodic cycle but I don't go up there often enough to know how often it changes. I can only say that it was flowing in a clockwise direction during my dowsing trip on the afternoon of 1st December, but on my previous visit two weeks earlier, on 17th November, it was going anticlockwise.

So even if I couldn't do a proper survey, I wanted to dowse the area of the churchyard and get a sense of what is there, hopefully to follow up any interesting discoveries later. My dowsing tool of choice is a V-rod, which is a metal or plastic version of the traditional forked stick divining rod. I also used angle rods to check my results afterwards and for those tasks which the V-rod doesn't excel at, such as directional pointers. To record the places where the rods reacted I used a handheld GPS to mark them as waypoints. This isn't perfect: the limitation of the technology is that it's only accurate to within a few feet, but for a job like this it's a lot better than faffing about with maps and measuring tapes. It was very cold and frosty on the hilltop on 1st December (most of the photos you see here were taken during previous visits when the weather was nicer) so I was hoping there wouldn't be too many people up there. A bit of a vain hope, and I got interrupted a few times. But over the space of about two hours I collected 70 dowsing response points, which were a mixture of water (negative) and earth energy (positive) reactions. When I say positive and negative, I only mean that the V-rod dips downward over water and upward for any kind of telluric stuff. I also get an upward response for boundaries and entrances, which are distinguishable from the telluric reactions only in that they feel subtly different. More static I guess, rather than flowing.

I got one of these 'boundary' responses while walking up the path towards the church, in an open area with no sign of any boundary. But when I looked around I could see a few clues, such as a change in direction in a nearby wall, suggesting that this was once a perimeter and that the line I was picking up was the original boundary of the churchyard before it got extended. When I got home I dug out some old OS maps and found exactly that – in 1924 and earlier, the churchyard boundary was on that very line. This is one of the things that draws me to dowsing, its uncanny ability to pick up the 'ghost' of things which aren't there any more. Not the ghosts of people (though it can do that as well), but of walls, doorways, paths and hedges.

A tomb with a view.

Water lines in the churchyard
The first thing I did was search for water lines – a bit of old-fashioned water divining. Water is the easiest thing to dowse for, and gives nice decisive responses. I found two parallel water lines crossing the path just inside the churchyard but had the feeling they were modern pipes. Then when I got to the mound itself I started picking up lots of underground water. The first one was a few feet in front of the church door and when I looked down I saw there was a cluster of small iron stop-tap hatches set into the ground. Well that explains that then! But actually it's really nice when you get that corroboration, that there really is underground water in the place where the rod decided to dip. It makes you feel like a bit less of a loony prancing about with a metal stick.

Oh well, that explains the water response here then.

But I soon found more. In fact the stuff seemed to be everywhere. Some of it with very strong reactions, where the rod felt like it was tugging itself out of my hands. And then I realised the little hatches were everywhere too. Some stop-taps, some monitoring hatches, dotted around in odd clusters all around the church foundations on every side. Elsewhere in the churchyard I spotted two much larger inspection hatches which gave me minimal reactions ... one caused the rod a slight twitch, the other nothing. But most of the small hatches on top of the mound were close to points where I got a really strong water reaction. Surely an old church doesn't need this much plumbing? I can only assume that there are a load of springs on the mound, and that they are being actively managed to prevent soggy soil from undermining the church building. It's so precariously perched it's easy to imagine it sliding off down the hill towards Badgeworth after a heavy rainstorm.

As well as the drainage arrangements, I found water lines in a few more interesting places. There was a water line coming out from under the church at each of its four corners (at chancel and tower). This is quite a common thing that most dowsers find at old churches, though don't ask me the reason for it. But in this case, the water line in the north-west corner on the tower was very slightly off alignment. The other three were bang on. I don't know why that one corner should be off, but the tower was rebuilt in 1601 so it's not inconceivable that the water line may be aligned with the original tower; who knows.

It would've been interesting to dowse for water lines inside the church to see where the corner lines go and see if I could find the 'blind spring' which is almost always to be found somewhere near the altar of such an old church. But the church was locked as usual, so I had to limit myself to the outside.

The eastern side of the churchyard has a retaining wall which cuts off the slope of the mound. You can still just see two sculpted ridges in the mound on the right hand side of the photo. The wooden fence follows the line of another, wider ridge lower down. 

Telluric lines
This is where things get a bit more nebulous. The term 'earth energy' is often bandied about without defining what it actually means, and I admit I don't know either. In 30 years of doing this I'm no closer to understanding what it is I'm picking up and I only know that I'm picking up something. Whatever it may be, there are consistencies and patterns in where it appears and how it behaves, and that's good enough for me to want to dowse for it. It dowses positive (i.e. it flips the V-rod upward) but is sometimes more difficult to pin down than water, and more liable to change. It usually has a clear direction of flow but feels like it has less of a defined spatial position ... unlike water it may or may not be underground.

So having got that caveat out of the way, here's what I found. The energy goes around the mound in concentric rings. (It's possible it could be a spiral, but I think it's concentric rings.) These are elliptical and follow the shape of the mound. Nearer the top of the mound the rings are fairly narrow and close together, but as you descend the hill they get progressively broader and and more widely spaced. Dowsing the south side I counted nine rings in total, from the old churchyard boundary up to the church door. They might continue inside for all I know, but I didn't have access. Nor did I have access to the northern or southern sides of the mound, which are on private property. But I did dowse the terraced ridges inside the churchyard and found the energy rings corresponded to them closely, with some additional rings in between them as well.

I also picked up a broad energy line passing through the west wall of the tower, almost dead centre. A corresponding line comes out of (or into) the east wall, but this one seemed to be off centre. As I didn't go in the church, I can't be sure whether it's all the same line, and whether it's straight or not. I picked up another broad line going south-north through the church, but ran out of time to plot any details of it.

The elliptical shape of the hill on the north-eastern side, looking from the churchyard towards the Cotswold hills. You can't see the ridges and terraces very well in this photo, but they are there! The village of Churchdown can be seen on the left, down in the valley, with Cheltenham in the middle distance.

There were a couple of buttresses which seemed to have become active nodes for energy lines. One was on the north side at the edge of the tower. The other was on the south side (almost opposite in fact) on the outside of the south transept. This is not the oldest part of the church by any means, but it seems it's been there long enough to accumulate some telluric welly.

The buttress just to the left of the drainpipe has quite a zap to it. As does the one just visible to the right of the tower.

A small area just to the west of the north porch gave me a very odd reaction with the V-rod, as if something was pulling or jerking the tip of the rod to the right (towards the church). The same spot when dowsed with angle rods was not quite as strong, but the rods did ‘range’ and swing about.

Another oddity was that I got a decisive water response in the pedestrian gateway at the north-west end of the churchyard. I usually get a positive ‘entrance’ or ‘boundary’ response over a gate but the water response was far stronger. I tried dowsing over the hedge to the side of the gate and got the expected boundary responses.

The north porch is unusual in that it has two storeys – the upper floor being a priest's room which once would have served as basic living quarters.

This photo was taken on the public footpath down towards the village, on the north side of the church. My dowsing rod picked this up as an old track-line, running around the base of the mound and crossing the current footpath at right angles.