6. Timemarks
Rose Macaulay, in her book Pleasure of Ruins, sought to penetrate to the essence of the matter. She cited among the pleasures to be derived from ruins a morbid satisfaction in images of decay, as well as the historical and literary associations of the remains, and of course less sophisticated pleasures such as looting fragments and scratching one's initials on the ancient walls. But her sights were set chiefly on the crumbling remnants of lost civilizations, and the 'backward-looking dreams' deriving from the 'stunning impact of world history on its amazed heirs'.
If one sees ruins merely as heaps of stone, then all ruins are the same. It is our psychological response which gives them holiness or heroism. But is there a more deeply felt and compelling need for silence at Fountains Abbey than at Corfe Castle only because we know that one was a monastery and the other a fortress, or does the fine tracery of a Gothic window inspire, of its own accord, more reverence than a battlemented wall? Are we victims of self-hypnosis even before we arrive, conditioned by our own expectations? What is certain is that our reaction to ruins is highly complex.
Literary landscapes
The rich literature of any tract of country is like an elegant multi-hued tapestry; the weavers over the centuries have taken as their inspirational threads the atmosphere, the sights, sounds and colours of the countryside. In Britain, the immense and unique variety of our landscape is vividly portrayed in the word pictures – from the graceful gentle sweeps of Sussex Downland where Hilaire Belloc roamed to the bleak wild mountains of Scotland, the haunts of Sir Walter Scott.
We read the words of Thomas Hardy and we too are experiencing the turbulent pastoral world of his green Wessex, our green Dorset. The young William Shakespeare knew the woodlands of Arden; here he discovered the delicate beauty of the wild flowers, the intricate world of the animal kingdom and where the deer could be poached with impunity.
In more recent times, authors too have observed their local surroundings –often the scene would be tinged to darker tones by industrial works. Dylan Thomas knew the tough life in the valleys of South Wales-, the mining world of D. H. Lawrence was the East Midlands of Nottinghamshire. And who has read the descriptions of the Yorkshire moorland by the Brontes and not felt the desolation, the whipping, damp west wind?
The biographies of these weavers of words tell of their love of the countryside and their wanderings into the quiet ways.
Things of time
Timemarks are reminders of the past in the form of a literary work, a work of scholarship, a social movement, a notable site, an entire landscape, or a building, regarded as commemorative the ideas of a particular period.  Cultures from the Stone Age to the Electronic Age have left timemarks  that may be used to chart the progress of human belief systems.  These timemarks tell us that our ancestors always lived in a world which is incomprehensible regarding questions about how and why they exist and what was the beginning of it all, what will its end be, what is time or space, and how do humans related to other living things.  If we keep our eyes closed and our heads down and refuse to worry about these whys and wherefores of our existence we can usually muddle through.  Each timemark as an object or an '-ism' pulls us towards a different island of hope and assurance like so much flotsam and jetsam. Many of us finally acquiesce and establish ourselves on the best island of faith we can find. Some of us try to struggle on, but often glance with envy at those who have swallowed the carrot of a particular set of beliefs.
Humankind has, ever since Homo sapiens began to think, worshipped that which it cannot understand. As millennia have passed a general understanding has emerged about  the scientific place of humans on planet Earth. However no civilisation has hoped, in its most optimistic moments, to comprehend it all.   But even those securely ensconced in their faith's replies to the ultimate questions of existence are still aware of problems. The answers given to the faithful are often vague and full of ambiguity.  They may even conflict directly with recent scientific discoveries, and great psychological stress can be caused to the faithful by this discrepancy. Yet the need for an answer to the problem of existence is a strong force in the modern world. We have to feel we understand our environment, so that we are better prepared  than previous generations to face any threats it may present to us.  This is why the 'things of Time', as the substance of eternity, are important as windows on the past.
The modern Cistercian monk Thomas Merton put it this way:
"There is no leaf that is not in Your care. There is no cry that was not heard by You before it was uttered. There is no water in the shales that was not hidden there by Your wisdom. There is no concealed spring that was not concealed by You. There is no glen for a lone house that was not planned by You for a lone house. There is no man for that acre of woods that was not made by You for that acre of woods.
But there is greater comfort in the substance of silence than in the answer to a question. Eternity is in the present. Eternity is in the palm of the hand. Eternity is a seed of fire, whose sudden roots break barriers that keep my heart from being an abyss.
The things of Time are in connivance with eternity. The shadows serve You. The beasts sing to You before they pass away. The solid hills shall vanish like a worn-out garment. All things change, and die and disappear. Questions arrive, assume their actuality, and also disappear. In this hour I shall cease to ask them, and silence shall be my answer. The world that Your love created, that the heat has distorted, and that my mind is always misinterpreting, shall cease to interfere with our voices."
Ruins can serve as more direct windows into the communities they represent.   Cultural timemarks include the remains of such famous and spectacular places as Stonehenge and the great abbeys of Fountains, Rievaulx and Tintern, Lindisfarne Priory and Corfe Castle, but also the lesser-known sites - the long-abandoned villages and country churches, intriguing for the myths surrounding them more than for their architectural importance.
Then there are perhaps the least explored aspect of ruins, such as the forsaken splendour of once-magnificent houses such as Minster Lovell Hall, Cowdray House and Moreton Gorbet Castle. While some have been reduced to rubble, others are perfect facades - like a film set - their walls pierced by mullion windows and rising to dramatic silhouettes of pinnacles and gables. Brian Bailey examines the historical background of each one and the lives that were lived there in days of former glory, and subtly evokes the spirit that now pervades the deserted, silent spaces -the inspiration of Tennyson, Wordsworth and Turner.
The picturesque, melancholy beauty of ruined cloisters, roofless medieval halls and crumbling towers excites the imagination as powerfully today as it did when the Romantic Movement first flowered in Britain in the eighteenth century. It was then that ruins began to be appreciated for their intrinsic beauty and not simply as a convenient source of building material. As a delight in classical symmetry was replaced by a longing for the sublime and the soulful, so ivy-covered ruins came to epitomize the romantic ideal, their dereliction imbuing them with a poignancy and an air of mystery that buildings can never have in their complete, inhabited state. The evocative power of ruins lies in their landscapes and the intricate details of their adornment by both man and nature
Today, our knowledge of the ancient world is almost entirely based on the evidence provided by archaeology. Before the middle of the nineteenth century, antiquarians based their knowledge of the ancients on written records, the writings of the early Greek, Roman and Jewish historians and geographers, and books such as the Bible. Literary evidence, however, is unreliable, for man often omits to tell the whole truth for a number of reasons. For example, he may see events through biased eyes, he may not be a good observer, or he may be basing his account of events on hearsay evidence, passed on by word of mouth, which may, in some cases, be hundreds of years old. Language again is a difficulty, as meanings tend to change with translation from one language to another. All these faults, however, did not daunt the early historians who wrote with absolute conviction.
Chronologies were calculated and established which were looked upon as infallible facts. An example of this was the way in which the Old Testament was regarded as the only accurate account of ancient history, including its chronology. In 1650, Archbishop Ussher published his Annals of the Ancient and New Testaments in which he asserted that the world began in 4004 B.C. Soon after, this date was not felt to be precise enough, and Dr John Lightfoot, master of St Catherine's College, Cambridge, made some obtuse and lengthy calculations, and announced that the world had indeed begun in 4004 B.C., on the 23rd October, at nine o'clock in the morning to be exact! He published this statement in a book entitled A few and new observations on the Book of Genesis, the most of them certain, the rest probable, all harmless, strange and rarely heard of before, a fitting title! However ridiculous the ideas of the early antiquaries and theologians, they were accepted at the time, and by the eighteenth century the date 4004 B.C. had been placed in the margin notes in the Bible, where it had an air of authority and therefore truth.
Not all antiquaries were satisfied with this state of affairs. Some realised that the situation was far from good and attempted to improve things. Men like William Stukeley and John Aubrey sought to supplement their knowledge about ancient monuments with accurate field observation. John Aubrey, a Wiltshire squire, was the first observer to give a detailed description of Stonehenge and Avebury. In recognition, his name has been given to the pits which surround Stonehenge, a feature he first noted. Another pioneer of field archaeology was a Welshman by the name of Edward Llwyd, one-time Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. He travelled widely throughout Britain publishing the results of his work in a book called Archaeologia Britannica.
The nineteenth century saw a change in attitude. By then a number of antiquaries appreciated the sparsity of their knowledge and began asking awkward questions, which, at that time, could not be answered. Many suspected that the antiquity of man was extremely great and began to focus their attention on the stone implements of the 'pre-Roman period'. It was obvious to them that this period was very long, and contained a number of phases, but until some sort of order was established, the best they could do was to group it all together.
The way was now clear for other advanced thought. Soon Sir John Lubbock in his book Prehistoric Times pioneered the use of the terms 'prehistory' and 'prehistoric'. He also believed that the Stone Age could be divided into two. This he did and invented the terms 'Palaeolithic' and 'Neolithic' to describe the Old Stone Age and New Stone Age respectively.
It was becoming increasingly clear that in order to advance the knowledge of ancient man, excavations had to be undertaken.  The aim was not simply to fill museum cases with curios, but to provide answers to many unsolved questions. Excavations of the former kind had been undertaken for some time in Britain, Europe and the Middle East, but the philosophy that brought science into archeology was the need for a more logical and scientific approach by excavating for information and not for objects.  The result is that the concept of 'ancient monument' now includes the study and protection of remains below the ground as well as those that have always been visible to stimulate enquiry.