Simon Calder: So, did the earth move for you?

The Man Who Pays His Way

"Ommm". To see if it works for you, recruit half a dozen pals, hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, find a sacred rock, hold hands, press your torso against the stone, and go "Ommm".

"Ommm". To see if it works for you, recruit half a dozen pals, hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, find a sacred rock, hold hands, press your torso against the stone, and go "Ommm".

I hope the earth moves for you, or at least gives a faint, echoing hum in response. That'll be better than the stony silence that I experienced, while my six friends (who I had met only minutes earlier, and happened to be visiting the Peruvian altiplano from California) entered various stages of ommm-induced trance.

Each Saturday during the month of August, this travel section will focus on one of the ancient elements: earth, wind, fire and water, in successive weeks. Of these universal essentials, the one I find hardest to get to grips with is earth – easy to travel across, tricky to regard as more than a handy way to deal with gravity.

To try to delve more deeply, I set off along the A44. As a thoroughfare, the road from Oxford to Evesham is not quite in the same scenic league as the Inca Trail. But it has the advantage of allowing a crew from BBC 1's Heaven and Earth Show, with whom I was working, to turn up in a van to film events at the Rollright Stones.

If you are unacquainted with this 5,000-year-old circle of boulders, and the related adjacent monoliths, make it a priority for this summer. It's nearer than Machu Picchu; admission, at 50p, is a lot cheaper than most ancient sites; and the spectacle is more entertaining than those equally timeworn neolithic wonders, the Rolling Stones.

The Venue is significant: it lies where ley lines converge, astride the border between Oxfordshire and Warwickshire. The boundary is marked by the ancient ridgeway track known as the Jurassic Way, which runs along the line of a ridge of Jurassic limestone and forms the watershed between the Thames and Severn basins.

Some of the uncountable stones possess chillingly human shapes, and all kinds of powers and purposes have been ascribed to them, from a landing place for extra-terrestrials to "gathering and distribution points for Mother Earth's wisdom and energy".

On Lonely Planet's website, a recent visitor reports a strange experience: "I took my video camera into the circle and found that the tape stopped running and my batteries all went dead," writes Peter Kerr from Australia. "When I arrived home and tried to play the tape, it had been completely erased. A lady who was also there had terrible trouble with her hearing aid."

For a cameraman or a sound recordist, such phenomena might prompt a more profane utterance than "Ommm". But they didn't cuss, and neither did I. I said "Hello, Veronica".

Veronica Hammond is Arch-Druid of the Cotswold Order of Druids. She had arrived on the back of a motorcycle for an interview about the forces harboured by the Rollrights. She talked with passion about the energy she feels in the stones.

Each, apparently, is predominantly positive or negative, and polarities change six days after the new moon. And then we ran off to the warden's hut to escape the rain – only to meet another spiritual figure, a witch called Cassandra Latham.

Where's your cat? How do you pilot a broomstick? Cast any good spells lately? These were among the questions I failed to ask. Instead, the conversation with Cassandra embarked on the relative merits of Golden Virginia and Old Holborn as hand-rolling tobaccos (she's Golden Virginia, if that is not a blasphemous term in pagan circles).

As the rain outside bucketted down on five millennia of history, we turned to her professional life. "Rites of passage £30 (plus expenses)", promises her price list. Other services include psychic house cleansings, exorcisms and "removing curses, warts and negative energies". Happily, "works of magic are only performed with the recipient's full knowledge and permission".

Just as I was about to start on the cat/broomstick/spell line of questioning, and probably earn a well-deserved turning-to-stone, the director yelled from beneath her umbrella that the rain had abated enough to carry on filming.

A miracle – and the videotape apparently survived too, though it is unwise to rule out subterranean forces disrupting the transmission of The Heaven and Earth Show (BBC 1, 10am, tomorrow).

People who regard cold lumps of granite as inanimate may find it easy to mock those who believe that the earth has more going for it than mere gravity . But perhaps, as Shakespeare maintained, "The Earth has music for those who listen."

The Rollright Stones site (01295 277244, www.rollrightstones.co.uk) opens daily, sunrise to sunset. 'The Heaven and Earth Show' will feature sacred sites in Britain each Sunday in August; visit www.bbc.co.uk/religion/tv_radio/hande

Simon.Calder@independent.co.uk

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