Sacred places of East Anglia explored

  • Date

    Fri 3 Feb 23

A pencil illustration of  Alphamstone Church, drawn by Suffolk artist  Lara Kinsey.

Sacred places, stone monuments and places of worship from across Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk feature in a new book by wild writer Dr James Canton.

Grounded: A Journey into the Landscapes of Ancestors explores the history of communities and their relationships with the landscape around them. It features Warham in Norfolk, Linsey in Suffolk and Alphamstone in Essex in its journey around the UK and beyond.

Dr Canton, Director of Wild Writing in the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex has spent years exploring natural and manmade sacred spaces to understand how we can better connect with the landscapes around us.

Grounded features religious sites such as churches, temples and shrines where people have gone for centuries to find individual prayer and solace as well as natural sites which hold special significance or elicit spiritual feelings such as caves and mountain tops.

Dr Canton, whose previous book The Oak Papers was featured as Book of the Week by BBC Radio 4, explained: “A sacred space is one where an atmosphere is felt, where for some at any rate, there is an emotional charge to simply being in that environment.

“I wanted to dive into the nature of those places, of who was there before us and how they saw the lands we now walk so that we can learn from our ancestors and perhaps rediscover the sacredness in our landscape so we might better protect it.

“Lindsey in Suffolk is where the book Grounded really begins – in the cold silence of the little-known or visited St James’s Chapel. In that so still, so sacred space, I felt a calm and a peace.”

Speaking about Warham in Norfolk he said: “Down a track out from the small village of Warham, lies the best-preserved Iron Age fort in East Anglia – once home to the Iceni people, who under their legendary leader Boudicca rose up against the oppression of Roman rule in 61 AD and burnt down the towns of Colchester, London and St Albans.”

Speaking about the significance of Alphamstone in Essex he said: “This is one of the truly ancient sites of Essex. Around St Barnabas Church are a dozen or so sarsen stones, huge glacial erratics, apparently gathered on the site by our Neolithic ancestors, some say to form a stone circle. This is a place where a series of Bronze Age burial urns show people have seen the site as sacred for at least 4,000 years.”

“My hope is that in this frenzy of the modern world, people will find in Grounded spaces of quiet reflection that can help them learn to slow down,” Dr Canton added.

Grounded has been illustrated by Suffolk-based artist Lara Kinsey.

Other sacred places featured in Grounded include Stonehenge, Skara Brae in Orkney, the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire and West Kennet in Wiltshire as well as overseas sites such as Dharamshala in northern India and Ötztal in the Alps.

Grounded has been described as “intensely alive to the landscape” by Robert Macfarlane, author of Underland and The Lost Words, and “a vivid exploration…brimming with warmth and gentleness” by Keggie Carew, author of Dadland and Beastly.

Grounded is published by Canongate.