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VINE VOICEon 21 June 2009
My casual interest in ley-lines stems from my teenage years, when I, like others, found it possible to connect ancient sites on OS maps in the way Alfred Watkins describes. I found it worth investigating, and discovered 'The Old Straight Track' to be far more coherent in explanation of ley-lines, and related features, than much of what has been written since.
I believe man in prehistoric times to have been more sophisticated and well-travelled than customarily thought, although in consideration of ley-lines as so-called 'energy conductors', I rate with alien visitation and black magic, a bogus hindrance to honest investigation.
Alfred Watkins writes with clarity and a love of the Herefordshire countryside he lived in, and thus in reading his book, you have the bonus of almost stepping back to a gentler era. He paints a broad and sweeping picture that is hard to criticize. I cannot see the point of highlighting errors, for the simple reason it is so easy today, with the internet, to compare other sources. He is never dogmatic in any case, often giving alternatives to his preferred explanation. It is interesting that he sees in British place-names a link with the ancient near-east, particularly Babylon, this fits well with more recent investigators, such as Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett. A worthwhile read.
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on 9 February 1999
"The Old Straight Track" probably has influenced more seekers of "true" Britannia than any single book. It single-handedly began the ley-line craze, and probably is responsible for most of the current interest in barrows, megaliths, and "mysterious Britain." It's still readable, too. Good photos. Good arguments. Cool conclusions. Even if you don't believe, Watkins will make you WANT to believe. The truth is out there ... and it's been under our feet all the time!
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on 3 September 2012
Alfred Watkins was a man of many talents: pioneering photographer, amateur archaeologist, miller, magistrate, inventor, brewer and business man. However, what he is perhaps best known for is his theory of Leys. He was living in a time when there was still considerable resistance to anything considered occult, while mainstream archaeology had a very limited view of what our ancient ancestors were capable of. That said, Watkins presents a theory that leys were man-made, initially for utilitarian purposes such as trade lines, but later took on religious and spiritual significance due to their strong and significant placements within the landscape, and in relation to astronomical factors, especially, as he indicates, with the arrival of the astronomer-priests and druids. So while The Old Straight Track does not propose a mystical theory or origin of Leys as such, it does talk about the existence of leys as interconnecting pathways between landmarks of political, practical or (later) religious significance, such as mounds, moats, megaliths, barrows, castles and stone circles.
As well as being pioneering, what is important about the book is that it is not merely theoretical, but details extensive and thorough fieldwork, at various sites and locations of interest. Despite the fact that it was said that he saw the concept of a network of leys in the land in a single intuitive flash, from that point on he seeks to be strictly scientific throughout. This is backed-up by a fascinating in-depth analysis of place-names and etymology of terms. He points out for instance that mark stones (marking positions of leys) appear to have etymological connections with words like "markets" as traders used the leys as trackways to the markets, and he postulates that the Mercury) and Merchant are words etymologically linked to Marker/Mark-stones. The book is also useful in defining the term "ley" and showing how and why it is probably etymologically linked to words like "lea" and "light".
Mounds and beacons (since they are found on the lines) are thoroughly defined and their relevance discussed. Place-names containing "cole", "black" and "white" Watkins shows are most likely related to the light of the beacons ("cole" and "black" related to charcoal/coal that fuelled the beacons, and "white" relates to the shining light produced , essentially the light-path of the ley. Whether you choose to believe that the light of the ley was simply based on the beacons lighting the pathway, or whether you feel that the ley contains light in the mystical sense of being a pathway made of spiritual, guiding light (a "spirit path") running through the earth, this research of Watkins is significant.
There is also a chapter on Sun alignments, which looks at leys which appear to run from the points in the horizon where the midsummer Sun rises and sets. Watkins, includes in this analysis a discussion of Stonehenge, which he shows to be built at the junction of several leys, one of which being a Midsummer Sunrise line.
The Old Straight Track is the book that really launched our modern understanding and interest in leys. While, unlike many modern ley hunters, Watkins (apparently) didn't dowse for leys or promote any sort of mystical theory behind their existence, his book is an ideal starting point for anyone interested in leys.
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on 19 October 2009
Alfred Watkins' previous work 'Early British Trackways' has been extended upon and we are presented with a compelling case for the evidence of leys in which straight lines link various ancient sites, such as mounds, mark stones, beacons, churches and castles etc. Whether by human design or coincidence, the principles behind this system of ley lines still remains a mystery - were they a network of tracks used in prehistoric times and was there a sacred aspect to their use? We do not know and it is for the reader to explore the evidence and decide for themself. This remarkable little book is beautifully illustrated with line diagrams, maps and photographs and Watkins' visionary system of 'old straight tracks' seems a sound and sensible theory.
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on 14 February 2002
Excellent, early-century guide to the fascinating ley lines that criss cross Britain. These lines were amply pushed by creating notches in mountains, clearing land to view old church centers and of course the pagan mounds we all know so little about. Watkins's book is a delight and inspiring. Go back in time when people had to rely on contours and landmarks from many miles away. Sometimes older is better. Check it out!
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on 8 March 2002
A thorough and fascinating investigation of ley lines in Britain, particularly Herefordshire. This is a classic in all senses of the word: it's an old book (written in 1925), the first to cover its subject (Alfred Watkins coined the term 'ley lines'), and doing it so comprehensively and logically that any other book on ley lines is almost superfluous.
The chapters and snippets on the origin and derivation of words, place-names and surnames are particularly interesting. For example, the modern meaning of the word 'black' is completely opposite to its ancient meaning!
This is the best book on history - ancient or modern - I've ever read.
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on 31 July 2007
This delightful and easy-to-read book outlines the author's gradual realisation that certain well known, yet ancient, features of the (mainly) English landscape, link up to form straight lines called 'leys'. This leads to the author wondering who built them and why? Alfred Watkins presents his findings in a down-to-earth and thought provoking way, inviting the reader to join him in the quest for answers. Anyone with a love of nature and social history will not be disappointed.
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on 7 October 2010
Fascinating if over-detailed book (Watkins' 'The Ley Hunter's Manual' is I think better). Poor Watkins is misrepresented by both friends and enemies - the latter mostly professional archaeologists.

Trying to summarise: Watkins realised (he was among other things a commercial traveller around Herefordshire, and was well aware of the problems of finding one's way round, and the importance of landmarks) that prehistoric man had a problem of transport. To take one example: salt. There are local deposits of this in Britain; but projecting time backwards, how could the stuff be moved around? There were no motorways, or even roads; no tarmac; no motor traffic; no bikes; no maps; not even weedkiller to keep paths clear... obvious points which many people seem unable to grasp.

Watkins' theory was simply that straight tracks were laid out by line-of-sight and marked by whatever method was feasible - dug-out notches on the skyline (early man could do earthmoving on quite a scale), upright stones arranged in pairs to point the way, perhaps church steeples, large stones by the pathside - of types not found locally, to remove doubt. Watkins thought some large flat stones marked with cup and ball marks might be in effect maps of local 'hill forts'. He thought Silbury Hill was built specifically as a landmark. Trees were another possibility, though obviously they would be visible now, if at all, only by traces.

Another of Watkins's examples was water: springs of clean water were presumably a useful asset (and some contained health assisting minerals, though obviously we're in eras predating chemical knowledge). Paths to them might be marked out.

And much more in this vein, including signalling by means of beacon fires.

His SUPPORTERS have often taken a description by Watkins of a sudden insight into this possibility ('wires.. across the countryside') in an electrical sense, adding a whole assemblage of material on sacred sites, lights, currents, electric charges and shocks, and what have you. And of course there was a temptation to rule lines on the then-new Ordnance Survey maps. They also renamed as 'ley lines' what Watkins christened 'leys'.

His OPPONENTS generally laid into the detail - place-names for example obviously are a high-risk source of evidence. So are buildings - many 19th century churches are built in mock-old styles, many manor houses aren't reliable indicators of archaeological precedents, etc.

I think there was also a class element here: archaeologists like, or liked, to look at palaces, military structures, cathedrals, massive megaliths, impressive graves, treasure hoards, and generally high status things. Watkins tried to redirect attention to humble practical tracks and paths.
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on 27 November 2010
Other than hearing the mumbo jumbo mystical types banging on about force fields and magical lines, I had no idea of what a Ley really was until I read the erudite Mr Watkins detailed and scholarly book.

If you wish to know the truth about Leys and have practical examples of how you can test Mr Watkins theories and assertions to your own satisfaction, then purchase this excellent book, it will change your view of the history of our country.
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on 22 November 1998
Though quite old (1925) - nobody seams to have surpassed the depth and completeness with which Alfred Watkins describes the topographic handwriting our very ancient ancestors have left behind in the landscape. If anybody is interested in Ötzi, this book is a must. If anybody loves the idea of power lines - he must question the durability of his believe before reading this book. Be sure not to ease your attention when reading through long lists of examples - mostly important hints come unanounced. To be a ley hunter yourself will help you to truely appreciate the richness of different aspects, providing a greatly holistic picture of ancient orientation. What I like most about this book: This is no preacher or guru trying to convince you - you feel treated as a critical reader and motivated to deepen the understanding by taking your mountain bike out into the open air - searching for more tracks ...
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