There is a stretch of old road within sight of Salisbury spire that, when the hour is right, is filled by a clamouring tumult of voices, howling, plaintive, agonised voices demanding to be heard but never understood.

The past is a lonely place.

Long centuries of urgent lives that could never slip from memory, buried deep, stone on stone, a jumbling of bones, gone to dust, mere shadows in the green, dark patches in the corn. Forgotten beyond record or knowing.

We stand on ancient ground here, tangled unwontedly with those before us. They reach for us, pleading to be seen, “remember us”. And there are fleeting moments when we glimpse them at the edge of vision, a flickering among the trees, voices on the wind.

Up on the hill the mist lifts, and in the shafts of slanting sunlight chambers of green, and some stark white, cluster the skyline like sentinels. Below, there is a palisade of hewn wood and huts with thatch steep and overflowing like uncut dough on a pie-dish. Alone, a young girl sits cross-legged under the fall of her long hair. There is a blue stone in her hand plump and smooth as a pigeon’s breast. She is pounding flints, some have shattered and scatter the ground around her, some few are good and lie on woven cloth. The girl’s fingers are bloody with false hits but this is the work she must do. The men are hunting today, her father is among them. They need the sharp flints, her weapons of prestige. The girl shivers and looks behind her, the light is fading. One day, perhaps soon, she will join those of whom tales are told, in the new chamber not the green.

The night comes, it is dark upon the hill and everywhere is dark. Famine ruins the land. Life narrows and fails. The girl, her father, her children, and their children are gone from the hill. Only their useful stones, careless in the tiny fields, remain.

The rivers shift and find new ways to the sea. The woods are forests and then woods again. The watchers in their nameless chambers, wait. The centuries forget.

There is a time of warriors, of blood and fire, of iron and ash, of fear and change.

There are new people on the hill, their heavy ploughs and their beasts break the chalk and tumble the blue stone among the thin soil and the seed. A boy is running at the crows, flinging stones and shouting. He sees the glinting light on the sheared planes of a blue stone and, reaching, thinks to kill. But he hears a whisper in the wind and does not to kill and does not fling the stone. The boy is afraid and lets the shining stone lie. It will lie below the old green chambers and among the fields of shadow until the boy is dust.

But the Roman is not afraid. He brings slaughter and calls it peace, he drives his cruel roads and fords through sacred places, groves, and chambers of bone. He tramples the spirits of marsh and river and defies the keening shades of multitudes. And the Roman must have stone for his building, for his marching road. It is taken like tribute from the hill and hammered home: the grave markers, the axes, the worked flint, the blue stone.

For a thousand years, two thousand, the road is the one immutable. The galloping road, the road of banners and lords of battle, of hedge priests and ranters, of noble men of wide renown, of pilgrims and the plagued, of outlaws and the condemned, of potters and ploughmen, of wedding feasts and funerals, of the broken, the lame, the starving and the sure to die. Age fell upon them all and oblivion was their common fate.

And the ford where the blue stone lies? A Domesday village, built on the debris of dark ages past, huddled in the meadow close by. Their whipped men carried a King’s bridge across the river and then another bridge and another, each familiar to long generations but they wore away just the same and vanished as if they had never been, like the village and all within. But, safe and easy in the valley, other villages grew along the road and gathered the ford-stones for their uncertain footings - but in their turn, faded too. Scraps of remembrance surround us: a stretch of roadside wall with the half-imagined outlines of doorways and windows, to show that a line of cottages stood here, where families lived crowded lives, their hay carts swaying in the lanes, their cattle drinking at the ford, but have gone to darkness now, faint smudges on the brick, voices on the road.

And here am I, with my brief time along the road below the hill. The watchers see as I dig a trench through the chaos of wire and rubble of those long-ago cottages, through the wet chalk beneath and, forking deeper, rattle the rough flints and lift them to the day. On the hill, a shaft of golden sunlight breaks through the winter clouds and shows the banks and hollows of tiny fields, the chambers white and gleaming once again, and a girl who is waiting, sees.

At my feet among the clods of earth and the miry chalk, a blue stone plump and smooth as a pigeon’s breast, shines.

David Lovibond