“The barrow, its shape, its natural stone, its location, instantly gave me the same feeling of the past being an essential part of the present, of our lives being a shared history. Of peace and calm and connection. And I am drawn to the barrow as a place of rest and pilgrimage for exactly those reasons.” Anna Pugh, Bedford.
Last week we visited Willow Row, the round barrow destined to house hundreds of cremated remains that is being constructed in Cambridgeshire by Sacred Stones Ltd. Three of the company directors were there to meet curious locals and others fascinated by the prospect of a Neolithic style barrow being built in the 21st century.
Toby Angel is a former business development manager who met stonemasons Martin Fildes and Geraint Davies just after they had completed work on the long barrow at All Cannings in Wiltshire. Thinking back to his aunt’s cremation service, Toby recalled just what an impersonal experience it had been ‘at an ugly, municipal building’. He felt that there had to be a better way, and when he met Martin and Geraint, he realised that the privately commissioned barrow that they had just created in Wiltshire was it.
A vision of providing a modern interpretation of ancient burial mounds across the UK was born, and now the first of their sites is becoming a reality, in a secluded spinney on farmland near St. Neots. Willow Row round barrow, once complete, will have 345 niches where urns of cremated remains can be placed in hand crafted niches. Most will have space for two urns but there will also be some larger ones where four or five urns can be placed together. Single capsules will also be available, made of Portland Stone and sealed with beeswax.
Sitting in the inner circle of what will become the central chamber, we quizzed Toby and Martin about their ambitions. There was no mistaking the passion that has gripped them personally as the project has taken shape, and both men talked eagerly about what the creation of Willow Row meant to them. There was a strong sense of connection to our ancestors who toiled with stones thousands of years ago to create barrows for their dead to be laid to rest in sacred surroundings. Even Geraint the stonemason, a man of few words (but immense forearms..) became animated when he was explaining how the beautiful limestone being used in the construction tells him where it wants to go. “If it’s not the right place for it, it doesn’t work,” he said.
The organic growth of the barrow belies the years of craftsmanship involved in its design and construction, and even in this early stage it is clear that Willow Row is going to be a beautiful and very special building that will blend into its surroundings in a totally natural way. Sheltered from the environment by the surrounding trees and bushes, the barrow will eventually be covered with topsoil and look as if it has been there for thousands of years. The only sound you hear as you approach it is birdsong, and despite the surrounding fields being part of a working arable farm, there is peacefulness in the chosen spinney around the barrow that is perfectly in keeping with the reverence of it becoming a final resting place for hundreds of people.
We have asked Toby to write a guest blog for us over the coming months as Willow Row reaches completion, and to keep us updated with how his vision, inspired by ancestral rituals and rites, becomes a reality. We liked the idea tremendously. Only time will tell if the people of Cambridgeshire and the surrounding areas do so too, but in the meantime Toby and his co-directors have plans to build more barrows in Hampshire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Buckinghamshire, Somerset, Yorkshire, Scotland and Wales.