The above is a photo of Harrowdown Hill in Oxfordshire. As you might be able to tell from the image quality, it’s taken from a film, Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Ruins (for some reason I can’t take screenshots of DVDs on my laptop, no doubt for copyright reasons – I should probably make clear at this point that the copyright to the above image is not mine and ya da ya da…). The film is the third in a series but, given I haven’t seen the other two, I’m not going to launch into anything that has the air of a review about it. I do, however, recommend the film to anyone reading this who has an interest in psychogeography and alternative ways of reading and recording landscapes – it’s a rich, deeply-researched piece that has sown a few seeds in my mind as to new ways of presenting the products of research.
I reproduce the image here because it constitutes another view of a prominent hearg-named hill with which to compare the pictures of Harrow on the Hill and Warren Hill I have posted previously. Even without that crown of trees, the hill would still stand out in the landscape (its proximity to the Thames, not discernible from the above, bears further comparison with Warren Hill and the Wey). In a way it’s ironic that I should have found its profile so striking since for a brief, unhappy period in July 2003 Harrowdown Hill was at the centre of national (if not international) consciousness, as the site of the suicide of Dr David Kelly. Keiller’s film dwells upon this tragic story (which some may know was also the underlying subject matter of Thom Yorke’s stunning 2006 single ‘Harrowdown Hill’) and in doing so overlooks its pre-historical numinous past. Far from this being an excuse for pedantic onomastic finger-pointing, to me this is excellent demonstration of the multitudinous and multifarious ways in which people see and understand the landscape before them, and acts as a caution that just as we should not seek to place hearg-names at the top of some pantheon of pagan place-names, so we should always remain alive to the way other “sacred” hilltops may have lost their related names (if they ever boasted one in the first place) but not their significance in the minds of some – or many.