And yet, ley lines continue to weave their allure. Perhaps it’s not surprising. “Humans have always searched for inner and outer maps or frameworks to help them navigate the world,” reflects Jake Farr, coaching psychologist, psychotherapist, and co-founder of Leading Through Storms, a community-interest company supporting meaningful adaptation into the future. “The need to belong is also a primary human driver,” she tells BBC Culture. “Where do we belong, who do we belong with, what’s our place? Contrary to this, the modern western world pivots towards individualism, capitalism’s bed fellow, leaving many feeling lonely and lacking connection to place and community. Ley lines may provide people with a way to map felt connections to place and, on a deeper level, may speak to the interconnectedness of all life; reaching for harmony and balance which, of course, buying the latest product simply can’t touch.”
Thus, the Irish have their fairy paths, now mainly tourist attractions dotted with picnic sites, and make believe grottoes, but many Chinese people still believe in “dragon lines” and feng shui. The Incas used “spirit-lines” or ceques with the Inca temple of the sun in Cuzco as their hub, marking the routes with wak’as, stone monuments that represent something revered. For the Aboriginal people of Australia, songlines, also called “dreaming tracks”, are paths across land and sky, which mark the routes followed by localised “creator beings”. The paths are recorded in traditional songs, stories, dance and painting; by singing these songs in sequences, indigenous people can navigate the deserts of Australia’s interior.
Even hardened sceptics may be floored by the route of the UK’s most famous ley line, St Michael’s. First discussed by Michell in A View over Atlantis, the ley line runs 350 miles across numerous sites dedicated to the archangel, from St Michael’s Mount, to the Norfolk Coast, all the while oriented towards sunrise on 8 May, when the Latin liturgy celebrates the Apparition of St Michael. Or, as Michell wrote: “The St Michael Line of traditional dragons sites in south-west England… appears to be set between two prominent Somerset hills, both dedicated to St Michael with ruined churches on their summit. These two hills are Glastonbury Tor and ‘The Mump’ at Burrowbridge some 10 miles to the South-West. Both these hills appear to have been artificially shaped so that their axes align with each other, and their orientation, 27 degrees North-East can be read off a large Ordnance Survey sheet.”
Now a new generation, including bones tan jones, are harking back to myth to explain the world around them; this time, in the context of a planet on the brink of collapse and a natural world, mourned as it disappears. And they are creating their own myths in return. Tan jones eschewed the laboriously intricate mappings of earlier ley line-hunters, and instead followed their instinct. “All I knew was I had a start and a finish, and maybe a few stop-offs,” they say. “I took it serendipitously and found my next location by talking to people.” They visited the site of the now-abandoned Heathrow action camp, Grow Heathrow, a former hub for activists, creatives, and local residents; encountered the 2,500 year old Anckerwyke Yew, and the grounds opposite, where it is said the Magna Carta was signed in 1215; explored Chobham Common nature reserve, originally created by prehistoric farmers, in Surrey. Still, the Harrow Way, running East-West across southern England, remains a highlight.