The secrets to Stonehenge and beyond

Trip Start May 31, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

I was lucky enough to be brought up in a family that has a passion for traveling. So when I was very young I remember flipping through the pages of my Dad's National Geographics (collecting since 1980), and although I didn't read the articles I was fascinated by the photography. This is how I came to learn of Stonehenge. Ever since it has been a dream of mine to visit the ancient site. I learned that Ed shared the same dream, so no questions asked, we knew what our next destination was.

For some reason I was always under the impression that Stonehenge was way up in northern England. I was delighted to find that is was actually about a 2.5 hour drive from London. So Saturday morning, we were about to cancel our road trip due to the BBC's disheartening weather forecast : rain, rain and more bloody rain. Since bad weather is already starting to get on my nerves, I refused to go but Ed dragged me out of the house and into the car.

He was right to do so, because as we were driving through the English rolling countryside, a break in the clouds illuminated the hills with the scattered herds of white cotton balls in the distance, and the damp bark of the bare trees, and the stacks of golden hay in the middle of a lime-green field. Yes, today we were being blessed with the presence of He who does not reign in these Nordic parts, but who would seem rather more of a guest: my friend the Sun.

We arrived to Stonehenge surprised to find hardly any people which was encouraging. Nothing worse than having to dodge other people while taking pictures of a landmark such as this one. Our first look upon the stones was breathtaking; they were much better than I had imagined them! The sun was glittering off the stones' surface and a bunch of black crows lazily hung around looking for worms, or just resting on the ancient rocks.

The audio tour said that Stonehenge literally means hanging stones and that the site is around 2,500 years old. Its strange to think about how humans lived in the Bronze Age, or even if the area looked the same then as it does now, with its wavy treeless landscape. The most accepted theory of Stonehenge's reason of being is the accurate alignment of the stones with the Summer and Winter solstices built with mathematical precision. Some scholars attribute them to the Druids while some others to the Romans, and some to aliens. There are many supernatural folktales written throughout the centuries starring Merlin the wizard, Uther Pendragon and the Devil himself, trying to explain their meaning too. Some say it has religious significance while others argue it's a scientific observatory. The only truth is that no one really knows and Stonehenge will remain being a secret. Some things are better kept this way.

I spotted a lonely man in a Druidic white robe contemplating the stones, as if for the first time, with his wooden staff and jeweled medallion. I chased him throughout the site and managed to get a picture with him to which he shyly agreed. He certainly added to the ancient mystic sense of the place. We couldn't tell if he was working for the site or not, but when we spotted him in the souvenir shop looking at trinkets, we decided he was your everyday Stonehenge New Age Druid, and how lucky were we to run across him!

Speaking of lucky, we also ran into our new stalkers: Lucy and David! They knew we were coming and David had mentioned that he wanted to come but needed to persuade Lucy. Glad he did cause they knew the area better, and although we wanted to go to Bath for the rest of the day, we decided to tour the ancient ruins of these parts together.

We followed Lucy and David into Avebury Circle just 20 miles away, which was yet another Neolithic stone site. What remains of the circle now is only a small proportion of what must have been an awe-inspiring place when it was in use over 4000 years ago. What was it used for? Again, no one truly knows. An even if they did know the reason, and just like in Stonehenge, we will probably never know how these technologically challenged primitive humans managed to stand the 50 tone stones upright and hold them there.

These circles were much larger than in Stonehenge, taking up the entire length of the town. That's why the site could be walked in through fields and dirt paths and little hills and over ancient trees, so it was free to see them and you could walk through the earthworks. It wasn't as interesting or as mysterious as Stonehenge but the old stones against the misty meadows were perfect. It was also very muddy which gave Ed the perfect opportunity to humiliate me with pictures while I carefully tip-toed through the squish, to the sound of David's and Lucy's giggles.

Next we headed towards West Kennet Long Barrow, a Neolithic burial site. By this time the sun was long gone and it had gotten gray and horrible, and even started raining. But that didn't stop us. Nor were we stopped by the flooded path we had to cross. Ed came up with the idea of putting plastic bags over our shoes and, wouldn't you know it, Lucy and David had a few plastic bags in the car trunk. It was bizarre when I saw that plastic bags was the ONLY things they had in their trunk. Crazy bag people.

We had a great laugh crossing the small river and a few bypassers stopped to look at our madness. Madness or not, we all got to the other side fairly dry. I can't really complain as I was carried across by Ed on piggy back. We finally started trekking up the long green hill that would take us to the graves. The landscape all around us was stunning and although it was raining, I suddenly saw what was so charming about the mist and rain and gray clouds in the English countryside. One wouldn't be the same without the other.

The graves were trapezoidal earth mounds believed to be collective tombs. The stones were all strategically placed in the entrance of the tombs and the chambers. It was great cause we could walk inside the dark caves, and since no one else was there, the only sound we could hear inside were the tiny droplets of rain falling into puddles. There were white chalk pathways up and over the mounds that looked like patches of snow from afar.

It finally it was lunch time and so after taking a quick glance at Salisbury Hill, which David wanted to illegally trespass and climb, we headed over to Malborough for a late lunch. The town was gorgeous, with the typical Gothic towers and high spires lurking above all the other black and white rooftops. We picked a simple brasserie and enjoyed simple hearty food over pints and more stories.

After the day was done we drove back home under the rain and the forthcoming twilight.  The Neolithic sites we had visited were probably the oldest man-made monuments I had ever seen or touched for that matter.  All the sites had an arcane feeling to them, of our ancient ancestors lingering on their old sacred grounds, probably wondering what the hell it is we are all doing in their old graves/temples/observatories.   They´re keeping their intents and designs secret, as we gaze depthlessly upon their works. 
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