The old straight track: its mounds, beacons, moats, sites and mark stones

by Alfred Watkins

Paper Book, 1970



Call number

GN805 .W33 1970


London (59 Brompton Rd, S.W.3), Sago Press, 1970.


A beautiful new edition of a classic work of landscape history, in which Alfred Watkins introduced the idea of ancient 'ley lines' criss-crossing the English countryside. First published in 1925, THE OLD STRAIGHT TRACK described the author's theory of 'ley lines', pre-Roman pathways consisting of aligned stone circles and prehistoric mounds, used by our Neolithic ancestors. Watkins's ideas have intrigued and inspired generations of readers - from historians to hill walkers, and from amateur archaeologists to new-age occultists. This edition of THE OLD STRAIGHT TRACK, with a substantial introduction by Robert Macfarlane, will appeal to all who treasure the history, contours and mystery of Britain's ancient landscapes.

User reviews

LibraryThing member setnahkt
“Ley lines” are a particular variety of woo-woo which, like phrenology, have mostly disappeared after initial popularity. The Old Straight Track is the Bible of ley lines (and, in fact, cites the Bible as evidence). Author Alfred Watkins wandered all over England finding alignments of tumuli, standing stones, hill forts, and miscellaneous other Neolithic to Iron Age monuments, then expanded these to include castles, churches, crossroads, farmsteads (all of which he assumed were built on the sites of ancient predecessors), topographic features, and just about anything else he could find on an Ordnance Survey map that lined up with something else on that or some other Ordnance Survey map. Watkins, of course, was absolutely convinced of the reality of his “tracks”, repeatedly begging the question by asking “What are the chances that {some number} of these would be in an exactly straight line unless people had laid them out that way?” without ever approaching anyone with enough statistics to figure out exactly how good those chances would be in a country so littered with history and prehistory as the British Isles. To his credit, Watkins did not go completely over the top, suggesting that his lines marked trade routes or religious processional ways or something else more or less plausible (explaining why a religious processional way would go through a lake by armwaving, or by triumphantly proclaiming that the lake was part of the alignment). The over the top stuff was reserved for his successors, who decided that “ley lines” were not mundane tracks but lines of “geological energy” (or something) that had been tapped by ancient Britons (who obviously knew about this sort of thing) so they could build Stonehenge (or Avebury, or Callanish, or whatever other pile of rocks and dirt that struck their fancy). There are still a few ley line groups out there busily drawing ruler-straight lines through anything arguably ancient on their maps.

A classic for those interested in the history of woo-woo. Unfortunately this paperback edition doesn’t reproduce Watkins’ original photographs very well, reducing unequivocal proof of ley lines to indistinct blurred halftone blobs. The line drawings are all well depicted though, showing the alignments in various areas where the ancients had performed their geometrical wizardry, only requiring a little nudge now and then or the assumption that a particular stone or other feature had been moved slightly since its original exact placement. The amount of effort and scholarship that went into this is a little saddening.
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LibraryThing member ritaer
Couldn't really get interested in the very detailed descriptions of landscape features as I don't really know the geography. I am aware of the influence of this work and of what some see as a misinterpretation of the author's work.


Original publication date

1973 Ballentine by arrangement withGarnstone Press
1925-Meuthuen & Co., England

Physical description

xxii, 234 p.; 22 cm


0900391707 / 9780900391705


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