What’s buried in your backyard?

In a quiet suburban backyard of Saumur in the Loire, surrounded by cyclamen and neighbours with screaming kids, stands a 5,000 year old dolmen.

What’s a dolmen? Thanks for asking. It’s a prehistoric tomb, a megalith, with a large flat stone laid on upright stones. This one is one of the largest in France – or indeed Europe – and is impressive for more than just its size and age.

Bemused to discover it behind a tall timber fence and nestled alongside an unassuming house, I expected I’d spend five minutes and a few euros there, to justify the half hour it had taken me to find it.

Instead I was there nearly an hour, uninterrupted.

It feels ancient. It feels ageless. It feels like I imagined the atmosphere would feel like at Stonehenge (but didn’t). Perhaps it was because I was there alone, standing still long enough to imagine time and space moving.

The Bagneux Dolmen is neolithic, not Celtic, predating the druids most popularly associated with standing stones (thanks, Outlander), as well as anybody knowing how to make tools out of metal. Just over 19 metres long, its stones reach up to 7.5 metres in length with foundations 3 metres below the surface, posing the question of how they were quarried, transported and positioned.

Evidence of who was once buried there is long gone. But damned if I didn’t feel like there was an energy lingering there.

The owners of the backyard are justifiably proud of their dolmen, and have gone to quite some effort to prepare information about its history and importance. It can’t be easy having such a monument in your backyard, with the responsibility of caring for it and allowing curious travellers from far-flung corners of the planet through your front gate to look at it. I’m glad I stumbled upon it.

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