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Hello English language learners and friends of Blue Noun English Language School Perthshire! Today our English language school for creative minds talks snow and rejoices in new ways of seeing our familiar landscape.

This blog is written with a nod to John Berger‘s seminal ‘Ways of Seeing‘ – a textbook series of 7 essays on visual culture, which are familiar to students of art history.

“In Ways of Seeing, Berger explains how images have layers of deeper meaning beyond what they show on the surface: they can offer a valuable document of how their creator saw the world, but their underlying politics can also be obscured or mystified in order to uphold the powers that be.”

GradeSaver, “Ways of Seeing Summary”

I’m using this notion to re-look at a local landmark – a standing stone – which is sort of ‘reproduced’ by its layer of fresh snow, and which confirm Berger thesis that creators’ intentions are impossible to know fully. 

New Ways of Seeing

 

Snowfall changes our landscape startlingly and while it largely masks elements – it is also capable of revealing them with great effect.

 
Take Crieff’s 8-foot high menhir as an example. Ordinarily frequently missed as it stands alone in a low field in front of a backdrop of earthy colours – surrounded by snow it has now become visible for miles.
 
In fact, I would even argue that seeing the stone in snow or in a wild storm, (with most of modern ‘civilisation’ blotted out) is perhaps as close as we can ever get to seeing it as our ancestors have done?
 
“As you approach or leave Crieff along the A822 you can easily pass this stone by. Which would be a pity, as it’s quite a giant standing alone just above the slight ridge in the field. And in times gone by, not only were there other standing stones here as companions, but a cluster of other prehistoric pits, enclosures and linear markings were all around this very spot. Some of them are visible as faint crop-marks even today, but they remain unexcavated and we are left (presently) in the dark as to their nature.”
Northern Antiquarian website

Inform Yourself and Look Again

There’s still much we won’t ever see about this stone. For example, it wasn’t always a monolith (a free-standing stone): there’s documentation of this menhir’s partner stones being removed in 1909, when a new farmer took over the field, “much to the surprise and indignation of neighbours,” but we don’t know how many or what form the stones all took standing together.
 
Additionally, what did the landscape look like when it was first placed where it stands? Was it thick woodland (as most of Scotland was) – or were the stones as exposed as they are now or were they placed in the earliest kinds of farmland.
 
It said that the tree coverage of the UK used to be such that a squirrel could have swung from where the centre of London now stands to Aberdeen without ever touching the ground. 
 
With this thought, the fresh snow highlights the ecosystems we have lost. The snow becomes negative space.   

 

“This is serious megalith country!”

“As a megalithic complex, this area [Strathearn] is outstanding.

yA little prior information can also alter the first visit completely. Did you know that Strathearn (our region in Perthshire) is peppered with monuments such as monoliths and stone circles, pits and cairns made throughout huge swathes of our ancient history?
Once you learn that this monolith is part of a network of ancient monuments and markers stretching for unimaginable reasons across our region and far beyond (and imagine them placed across an untamed land: unmarked by any of physical alterations that we think of as homes, towns and roads) and you have a new way of understanding its place in the landscape.
 
Standing Stones have been found across Europe, Asia, Africa and India, but most are in North France, the UK and Ireland. They were constructed (and even deconstructed) by many periods during pre-history. Some suggestions include for the purpose of human sacrifice, territorial markers, as parts of an ideological system or as huge calendars.
 
During the Middle Ages, standing stones were believed to have been built by giants who roamed before the biblical flood, thus a great many were destroyed or defaced by early Christians.
Across Europe, an estimated 80% per were destroyed ( and suddenly we have a new negative space).
 
Despite that we can’t definitively know why ancient peoples built menhir, we can imagine their various uses through the ages, large man-made objects being notable in an otherwise sparsely built environment: the Highlanders who sought sheltered here as they crossed the country on foot; lovers who had passionate trysts here; how many of our ancestors were conceived here when menhirs were believed to cure infertility?; who else was stuck by a sword in a drunken duel here?
 

See for yourself when you join us to learn English in Perthshire! 

 
Lastly, you should know that if you only look from the road, you will still miss out on feeling the physical presence of the stone. Menhir hold a presence that is hard to describe, for me it’s barely tangible but I suspect it’s also deeply magnificent if I could just better access it (and many seem too). Walk towards it, spend time beside it – and see if you can feel it too.
Thank you Northern Antiquarian for your amazing website which collates spot-on directions, historical research and photos from numerous sources for every Stone Age site in Scotland (all quotes on this page are from this site).
 
Find the Northern Antiquarian here.
Find a full summary of John Berger’s, Ways of Seeing here

Additional Notes on using our blog:

We include useful language for English learners in every blog. For example, on this page look at how structuring language (adverbs such as however, therefore, thus etc.) are used to help the reader through the text.

These ‘
conjunctive adverbs‘ are less frequently used in conversation, but extremely useful for written prose and presentations as they guide the reader comfortably from point to point (and give an air of authority and confidence).

Blue Noun English Language Challenge

We hope you’ve enjoyed our dip into the built environment of Strathearn, Perthshire.

We cover a broad range of topics in our language school blogs – some a lighthearted look at Scotland, others an in-depth look at art and culture. There’s something for everyone.

If you’ve liked this blog, you might want to read our English tips blog:

5 ways to use BBC Radio to learn English here.

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