Thursday, December 27, 2012

The most famous of all the Henges

It was two days after I was invited to speak in London last June before it occurred to me that England is where Stonehenge lives. I have wanted to visit the stone circle since I saw pictures of it as a child, accompanied by fantastic stories of druids, human sacrifice, and stones levitated by magic. Of course, I know now that most all of that is crap made up by some posh Edwardian twit, but I still wanted to go.

Stonehenge on the Salsbury Plain. It's hard to see in this view, but this is
the only thing other than grass and sheep for about as far as one can see.

The great thing about being me is that I only have to mention that I want to see Stonehenge, and the Queen of Internet Research swings into action, unearthing the pertinent facts, culling through the options, and presenting me with a few simple choices. In this case they were, "You want to walk among the stones, right?", and "Sunrise or sunset tour?"* The answers were of course, "Of course", and "Sunset. No wait, sunrise."

The reason people can't walk freely among the stones anymore is that twits feel the need to carve their initials in them, like those on the left. Plus, there is some protective lichen that is killed by people touching it. Apparently graffiti is not a new phenomenon. Craftspeople (it is thought) shaping the stones originally carved marks in the shape of tools, like those  on the right. 

The only way to walk among the stones is on a bus tour, which turns out not to be too bad, because the old guide actually seemed to know his Stonehenge, and the jokes were decent by bus tour standards.

Our guide, Indiana Jones' older cousin.  Wizard's staff not shown.

After a two and a half hour drive from London, we ate breakfast at the George Inn in Lacock (apparently pronounced LAY-cock, unless that was just private joke between our guide and himself). The pub was licensed in 1362. I think the bathrooms were put in the next year.

I think every village in Britain has a 700 hundred year old stone church in it somewhere. 

Then it was off to the grand ditch itself. It was cold and just beginning to rain when we arrived in the middle of nowhere, which is apparently where the Neolithic Englanders liked to put these things. We spent about twenty minutes wandering among the stones. Somewhat like the space shuttle experience, a modern person needs to engage their mind a bit to be as amazed as they should be; amazed I was.

As I wandered among the stones, I heard a strange, high-pitched sort of ringing coming from the far side of a trilithon on the southern side of the enclosure.  I stepped between the standing stones and felt a queer sort of jolt -- as if my body were being stretched to great length and then compressed again. The next thing I knew it was the end of December, and the Mayan apocalypse had passed.

It's the one on the right. You would think they would at least have a sign or something.

It doesn't seem like I missed much while I was gone. Except for all of my internet friends. Hopefully we can all catch up in the coming months.

Happy Holidays!

* As we quickly realized -- unlike a couple of the people on the bus, a tour that starts or ends three hours form Stonehenge at a reasonable hour is going to see neither sunrise nor sunset in June. It's really more of a morning or afternoon choice.


  1. i've been to Britain a few times, but have yet to make the trek to Stonehenge. i need to do that - and it seems via tour bus is the proper way to get up close....

    1. You definitely need to see it in person. And the medieval village was good, too. E-mail if you're ever headed that way and I will get you the details on the tour company.

  2. Dear Chris,

    Thanks for posting this! I made me relive my own trip to Stonehenge, a couple of years ago now. I had been in England a number of times before, but the Salisbury Plain was ALWAYS a long bus trip away from whereever I was. This time I planted my feet and insisted that we were going to S and that was that! It was so brilliantly worth it and I didn't even get to walk among the stones.

    You should travel back in time and vist Avebury as well --it's nearby, less touristy and don't forget wear boots because the sheep shit will ruin your shoes. . .

    1. Thanks! I may have an opportunity to go back this year, and I will put Avebury on my list. There is just so much to see. And I don't worry about my shoes. I'm an academic; I'm usually at least ankle deep in some kind of shit.

  3. Wittiest comeback ever (hope it is a comeback). Happy new year ;-)

    1. I try to make fewer definitive plans with every passing year, but I intend to be around more. Happy new year to you, as well!

  4. I've also never made it to Stonehenge, and I'm afraid if I did I would start singing, "StoneHENGE! Where the demons dwell! Where the banshees live and they do live well! StoneHENGE! Where a man's a man and the children dance to the Pipes of Pan!"