Friday, March 11, 2011

Stonehenge

Hotel charges 10p a MINUTE for internet access (there’s a per day maximum, thank goodness). But this means that I’m back to typing the journal entry before hopping online real quick to post. And it also means you don’t get the awesome Stonehenge pictures until I get back.

And, yes, they are truly awesome. Largely because, for quite a few minutes today, I was the Only Human Being standing inside the stone circle. (I momentarily considered spinning round like Julie Andrews – but although I was the only person in the stone circle, there were some folks watching from outside.)

See, if you plan in advance with the nice people in the English Heritage office, and give them a not-at-all excessive amount of money, you can get “Stone Circle Access” in a group not to exceed 26 people. Either just before, or just after, public viewing closes. (And in public viewing, you’re stuck on the footpath outside the circle, and can’t get near the stones.)

So, I booked for this afternoon at 4:30, hired a driver to pick me up from the Salisbury train station that morning, tour me all around the area, and take me to Stonehenge. When we pulled into the lot at Stonehenge, the security guy leaned in my car window and said, “You must be [my full name here].”

I was surprised at the personal identification. This was later explained when I learned, at about 4:27, that the bookings for Stone Circle Access this afternoon consisted of me and a tour group – so the solo traveller was pretty easy to spot. And then he said, “The group isn’t here yet, but I could let you up by yourself now, if you’d like.”

Um, yes, please. I’d very much like.

And that was pretty much it. Walked up the path, and when I got to the point where the path comes closest to the Circle, another security dude had pulled aside the rope and said, “Welcome.”

There followed about 10 minutes of me silently wandering around the stones. Now, the last time I’d gone to Stonehenge, I was on that outer path with several hundred other folks, and I’d wanted to try to, y’know, RELATE to the stones, which was hard to do with all the talking around me, so I’d cranked up the music on my Walkman (really, YEARS ago) and tried to tune out the others while having my own personal moment with the several-thousand-year-old monument.

This time, the only sound was the wind whipping round (and through) the stones. It was actually pretty noisy, but it seemed fitting. So, I took my time walking around – I could get as close to the stones as I wanted, but had promised not to touch. Security was very cool about this – I came very very close to touching the stones (generally to line up a photo), and nobody shouted out a warning or anything.

So – did I “hear” anything? Did I feel the magnetic pull? Did I (as my driver asked) get beamed up? No. I gotta say, there was no real spiritual connection here. Perhaps it was just the effect of the wind and the overcast sky, but the real feeling I got from the place was that it was a cold and dead shell – as though whatever spirits might’ve inhabited the place have long since died or fled, leaving this empty place behind.

(Come to think of it, I guess that’s something. I mean, I didn’t think, “Just a bunch of stones.”)

The group eventually arrived, with their tour guide. I decided to make a point of keeping my distance from them, so they didn’t think I was trying to “free ride” off their guide when I hadn’t paid for their group. So, I put in my earphones, cranked up my mp3 player …

… and the Rolling Stones come blasting on. (“Sympathy for the Devil.”) Now, there may be something more inappropriate for Stonehenge, but Mick Jagger was high enough on the inappropriate list that I started laughing, and quickly paged through my “album” list to find something that seemed a better fit.

(And thank you, Michael Flatley. For some reason, I had the soundtrack of “Lord of the Dance” with me. Starts with a number called “Cry of the Celts,” which was whole orders of magnitude better for the moment.)

I did shoot a ton of photos. I started going for some unusual angles, figuring that I might as well take advantage of my location, but I realized, pretty early on, that there is probably not an angle on Stonehenge that nobody has shot before. At one point, one of the nice security guys came in and offered to take a pic of me in front of the stones, so I do, in fact, have photographic evidence of my presence inside the Stone Circle. (I also got what I’d thought was a reasonably decent shot of the sun breaking through the clouds in the background – until Security Guy told me that yesterday they’d had an actual SUNSET, and when that happens, it apparently lines up really cool with the stones.) Still, it was pretty darned impressive just being there.

The rest of the day was spent travelling. A lot. We started off in Bath, and came back stopping at … oh hell, let’s just say about 8 different locations along the way. Some medieval stuff and some neolithic stuff. Actually, quite dug the neolithic stuff. There was an excavated burial mound which we could walk into. (It was on top of a little hill – about a ten minute hike to get to the top. I put on my mp3 player for that and it immediately clicked on U2 singing the lyric, “It’s not a hill, it’s a mountain, as you start out the climb...” Sometimes, it just knows.) Inside, I could see stones piled in the same unique way stones were piled in those Stone Age sites I’d seen in Ireland. Apparently, Stone Age Tech was fairly uniform. There was also a small museum (in Avebury) displaying relics (and bones – animal and human) they’d dug up around there. Totally dug the artifacts. I mean, stone age TOOLS – the way these people modified the limited stuff they had (wood, stones, and animal bones, mostly) to be able to use it – to build, to cook, to even DECORATE. That’s astonishing to me. I mean, I think about life in the stone age as being incredibly harsh and difficult – but the fact that people living then made the effort to make utilitarian things PRETTY is just terrific.

1 comment:

~~Kath~~ said...

When we lived in England every time someone from the states came to visit they wanted to go to Stonehenge ... the boys (only 4 and 5) would mumble every time we got in the car with company "Are we going to see those stupid rocks again?" Haha I wish they had been a bit older so they could have better appreciated "Those stupid rocks." We also discovered Woodhenge on our many trips to Stonehenge. Such interesting history in the UK!

I rarely comment, but I always enjoy reading your posts. Have a great trip!
~~K~~