Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Breaking it Gently to My Inner Druid

I read a rather hilarious article in the New Yorker a couple weeks ago regarding Stonehenge.  There's a paywall, but here's the intro if you are interested.  Anyway, she talks about how various spiritual groups who call themselves Druids have adapted Stonehenge as their own, and there's really no basis for this as Druidism as we know it is a Victorian-era invention.  Seriously!  The idea that the Druids created Stonehenge has been debunked a thousand times over, but this is the temple of their choice anyway.

What is this place?  A bronze age calender of sorts, a gathering spot, a grave yard.  This area of the Salisbury Plains is filled with ancient henges and circles and burial mounds, and evidence of great feasts in the area remain.  None of these are more iconic and recognizable and hold the mystique as Stonehenge.  It is somewhat magic, no matter what you choose to believe in.

They've changed the site around a few times recently- they have tried to keep this area free of development, despite having a highway going right past it.  A brand-new visitor center and a car park is about a mile from the site, with a countryside walk or a bus ride in store for those who want to see the henge.  Saying that, to actually get here from London takes a bit of work.  It's easiest by car as the nearest train station is about five miles off.  The only other way to get here is, sigh, joining a tour.

I'm sad to say that this is what I ended up doing- I hate tours, and I am loathe to join one, but in this case it was the cheapest and easiest option.  It also gets you expedited admission into the site (which can be quite a long line) and a really useful audio guide.  Still, it was a tour, and we were only allowed an hour and a half at the site, and I could have done another hour or two easily, and the flexibility to be here early or late in the day for better lighting would have been nice.

I did take roughly seven million pictures: the sky was brilliantly blue that morning, and I couldn't help myself.  I wish to come back in late afternoon to capture more shadows, and I think bringing a drone to fly around and get a nice view would be a brilliant idea.

Anyway, it was a lovely spring day.  Seeing Stonehenge was amazing, and I'm glad I did it.

Set outside the circle is the Heelstone, a great chunk of rock that the sun rises directly over during the solstices.  The arrow on the ground next to it points to the "avenue", a depression in the earth which was used as the pathway to access the monument by the ancients.


Unless you are here for an Equinox or a Solstice, you are confined to a pathway well outside of the circle.  Damage to the stones is the biggest concern- graffiti and people walking and climbing them has done a bit of damage over the years.   A few of the stones have fallen, some have been reinforced with concrete at the bases, and a few more have been righted.  Preservation at sites like these can be tricky.

The path swings you around wide, so you get good views of the surrounding countryside and chalky hills and mounds around the monument.

It's quite funny- the highway that runs by gives motorist a nice view of the site, so everyone is rubbernecking it and creating a 20-minute traffic jam as they drive by.

 You can also see a shallow bank and ditch circling the stones- this is the "henge", the original monument that was built thousands of years before the stones were erected here.  This site had been sacred for eons.

That's the heelstone way over to the right:

As you walked along the path, you got to see it a bit closer, and the inner circle of smaller stones appear.  Despite not being able to get kissing-close the the site, it was impressive regardless.  The stones, even from afar, are enormous, and the engineering required to place the stones on top of the standing stones must have taken immense energy.  The stones themselves were brought in from a quarry at least 25 miles away.

The general flatness of the Salisbury Plain contributed to this most impressive  collection of rocks.

The brilliant yellow in the nearby fields is rapeseed, the seed they make canola oil out of.  It is really in bloom right now, illuminating the landscape with brilliant mustard colors as more and more of it gets planted to feed the bio-fuel industry.

Colonies of rooks were on the prowl looking for easy meals.

I also spotted a kestrel, hunting mice in the field next to the monument.

You can walk back the mile to the car park via a chalky path through the sheep fields, across more burial mounds.  The visitors center is brand new and quite modern, with a recreated bronze age villa out front and artifacts and skeletons that have been found in the pits around Stonehenge.  Regrettably, I didn't really get a chance to see much of it as the tight schedule the tourmaster had given us.  He was serious about it too:  ten minutes after our scheduled departure time, he gave to order to leave despite the headcount was seven people less than what we started with.  I guess some people were really taken in by it all.  

I'm trying to figure out a good time to go back, as there are three other henges and sites close by that are much less visited and controlled, and free to see- Avebury, Woodhenge and Durrington Walls.  All slightly less than iconic, but if you are nerdily happy to visit circles and stones and posts into the ground left by the ancients, this area is pretty much your zen place.  


  1. We can go when I visit!! I'm always happy to visit circles and stones and posts!

    1. It's a thought. Salisbury is nearby and they supposedly have a grand cathedral there. I haven't been yet.

  2. Very cool!!! Love seeing your pics! If you're interested, there a priory in Bedfordshire called Chicksands Priory. It was the last Gilbertine priory in England. They do tours and there's supposed to be a ghost! I grew up on Chicksands (when it was a joint RAF and US Air Force Base).
    -Meghan :)

    1. I knew that about you! You were born here, or in Scotland, right? I kind of love it here, if only because I love wandering around the countryside. Also, I found a couple really good places to ride, and I have been taking advantage. Miss you!