A Pile of Rocks In The Middle of a Field on the Side of the Road: The Dominos of Stonehenge
04.06.2004 - 04.06.2004 68 °F
A BIT OF CULTURE NEVER HURT ANYONE
June 4, 2004. There were only a few Must Sees for our England portion of our trip; quality time with Naomi was #1 on that list, anything else was just whipped cream on the banana split. London came in second, with Stonehenge (okay, and eat fish and chips, too) not far behind. As it turned out, we would get to see both places with Naomi, putting the cherry on top of the whipped cream on the banana split (and served with fish and chips).
I have often said that most people really don’t take advantage of what is at their backdoor. While that is not necessarily true for everyone, I have heard many people say that often tourists knew more about their city then they did, as more often than not, tourists do a bit of research on where they are going before they get there- I’m referring to educated tourists and not the Ugly American tourist who have given the rest of us a bad name. It seems to be that when you grow up surrounded by so much cultural heritage, that you become blind to it. Naomi had stressed to me that she was not much into culture/history the way I was; she was quite aware that I could be something of a history addict. Having been born and raised in a city less than 200 years old, it is really no wonder that I was starved to be wandering around a land which had thousands of years of history. I have wandered around ancient Mexico; I was ready for the Old World. I don’t expect others to share my enthusiasm for history, but it is a treasure when they humor me; Naomi was willing to go with us to Stonehenge and get a little cultured with us.
My brother Rob and his wife Julie had gone to England for their honeymoon; it was from them that I had learned 2 things: One, that the Big Dominos had been placed upright again after Chevy Chase knocked them down (National Lampoon’s European Vacation, if you have not seen it), and Two, that there is a roped off area that prohibits people from wandering off the sidewalk which surrounds it at a safe distance, about 20 feet from the nearest Domino (probably to prevent any other cars from knocking them down as Chevy Chase had). In my mad search for information for our Europe trip, I had somehow stumbled across a website which told me how to get ‘special permission’ to see Stonehenge up close and personal, through the English Heritage Organization, ‘Stone Circle Access’. Only a handful of people per chosen days of the month were allowed access, but your name had to be pulled lottery style from a lot of 5 billion names placed in a tall furry hat, or find a golden ticket inside a Wonka bar, or know the Queen herself. We on the other hand, knew Naomi, someone far more important, far more regal than good old QE2 herself. I had sent the info to Naomi, who had it faxed, stamped and approved by the Queen with the Royal Seal before we arrived. Naturally, as none of us were morning people, our entrance time would be at the crack of dawn.
ARE YOU STONED OR JUST STUPID?
Mike thought we had completely lost our minds when we told him we were going to see Stonehenge; I can still hear his classic lines in my head that to this day give me a good chuckle:
“It’s just a bloody pile of rocks! On the side of a road! In the middle of a bloody field! If that’s what you want to see, then I’ll save you some money, I’ll put some rocks in the middle of my garden and you can take bloody pictures and say you’ve been to bloody Stonehenge!”
Well, Mike may not have realized what he had in England's backyard, but he certainly knew what he had in his garden!
THE PILE OF ROCKS ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD IN THE MIDDLE OF A FIELD
The morning was gray and chilly with light rain. We devoured our included 6am room service of cereal, croissants, fruit, juice and tea… but no coffee. We were on the road by 7am for our 730am private access (hey, that’s crack of dawn for us non-morning folk!), arriving at 7:20am.
The parking lot was closed, but a security guard was there. We told them who we were, he asked for our permission sheet and note from our mothers, then let us in the car park with strict instructions to sit in our car until 7:30am. There were a couple other cars on the lot, but no people. Across the street, there it was: a big pile of rocks on the side of the road in the middle of a field.
All around, there was nothing but lovely rolling green hills, backdrop of gray skies and lots of wind- it was chilly! We got out to read a sign by the lot that gave information on the Stonehenge Bluestones, which were different from the Sarsen stones. It told us that the Bluestones, which weighed 4 tons each, came from the Carn Menyn mountain in Wales, over 240 miles away. Although gray, they turned blue when wet. The temperature of the Bluestones was also supposed to be cooler. We of course would put that to the test. At 7:30am, a few more people arrived; we were 8 total. No tour guide, we would be on our own. I had not been aware of that, I just assumed someone would go with us, which was why I had not brought any book with me- not wanting to seem the uneducated tourist- and discounting the Cracker Jack Stonehenge photo book I picked up in Salisbury for the pretty pictures. Naturally, the book store was closed. We followed the others around the corner through the tunnel under the road which led up and across, facing the great Stonehenge.
Mike had been wrong; Stonehenge is not just a pile of rocks on the side of the road in the middle of a field; it is a pile of MASSIVE rocks, most of them upright in a circle, looking majestic and lonely on the side of the road in the middle of a field.
A CIRCLE OF STONES
It was not the largest Neolithic stone circle in the world but it was the only one that has lintels around the top, making it unique.
Some of the stones were more than 13 ft tall and weighed in at a hefty 25 tons. Looking at the grandeur of Stonehenge, the mind wonders how it was built, and for what purpose. Since that could only be speculation, I won’t dwell on it. There are a few things that archaeologists seem to agree on: Stonehenge was built in different stages from about 3000 to 1800 B.C. The first stage was a circular earth formation; the second they added timber; the third they replaced timber with Bluestones.
The Sarsen stones, weighing between 6 and 60 tons each were hauled from Avebury, 20 miles away, 250 years later. For hundreds of years, the great stones gradually fell and were carried away to make bridges, houses and roads. In more recent history the demise of Stonehenge is due to the uneducated visitors, chipping away at the stones for souvenirs- the reason it’s been roped off since 1978 to everyone who does not bring a note from their mother.
YOU CAN LOOK, BUT WE CAN TOUCH!
I am a self proclaimed archeologist wannabe. I love ancient history and have jumped at the chance to climb ancient pyramids throughout Mexico and Guatemala. I have been to pyramids and squares, but this was my first circle, and it was a tad bit older than anything I had ever seen, by at least 3,000 years. While it would have been nice to have had a scholar tell us what we were looking at, I knew enough to know there wasn’t much written in stone on Stonehenge (sorry, I couldn’t resist!), and it was nice to be left alone with our imaginations (although in my case that is often dangerous). I have always been fascinated by Stonehenge, but no photo does it justice. There is just no way to describe it, standing next to these megaliths; imagination going nonstop: How did the Neolithic age people get these rocks here to this field? Surely that road did not exist, so Hertz Rent-a-Truck was out of the question-or did they have Rent-a-Wheel back then? Maybe Fred Flintstone had a hand in it? Up close, I could see where some stones were cut to fit into another. Some were perfectly straight, others had not stood the test of time so well and had rougher edges, almost as if someone had tried to sculpt something out of them. If I stared long enough, I could see people in some- a profile of David’s goliath, maybe? Or maybe Goliath’s dominos? We wondered and wandered, taking photos to remind ourselves later that yes, we really were there. The sun peeked out at 8am, but it remained cloudy. We did do the touch-test; there really was a difference in temperature between the 2 types of stones. Bizarre.
FUN FAQS WITHOUT FACTS: WHERE DID THE STONES COME FROM? WHY A CIRCLE? WHY NOT A SQUARE?
For the past few millennium, these are questions that have plagued man with, as of yet, no real answers. So, I did my own research, and found these fun folk tale answers to scientific questions.
FAQ: Where did the stones come from, really? Don’t give me this “a bunch of Stone-Age men dug them up with antlers out of a mountain in Wales” line, I’m not stupid. What gives?
ANSWER: The stones were originally owned by an old woman who lived in Ireland. The Devil bought the stones from her, wrapped them up, and brought them to the Salisbury Plain. One of the stones fell into the River Avon, the rest were carried to the plain. The Devil then cried out, "No-one will ever find out how these stones came here!" A friar replied, "That’s what you think!," whereupon the Devil threw one of the stones at him and struck him on the heel. The stone stuck in the ground and is still there.
FAQ: Why a circle? Why not a square? What does it mean?
ANSWER: It was believed that giants once existed, before human evolved. One day, the giants were dancing and circling around on the Salisbury Plain. Suddenly, they were frozen and turned into stones. This explains why Stonehenge consisted of a concentric circle... everyone knows giants NEVER square dance!
FAQ: Who put the stones back up after Chevy Chase backed into and knocked them down?
ANSWER: We did. I am stronger than I look.
EVEN KING ARTHUR TRIED TO CASH IN ON THE ACT
Maybe this one will fly- after all, King Arthur did have a round table (I have seen it!); why not a round circle, too? Stonehenge is mentioned within Arthurian legend. Geoffrey of Monmouth said that Merlin the wizard directed its removal from Ireland, where it had been constructed on Mount Killaraus by giants, who brought the stones from Africa.
AIM FOR AMESBURY
We headed out at 8:30am, in search of badly needed coffee- each of us having withdrawals. The bookstore did not open until 10am… (probably a blessing it was closed as the shop was large and I saw some really cool stuff, like puzzles and dinnerware), so we headed to nearby Amesbury for a 2nd breakfast; Naomi suggested we take the road to the historical town Winchester before heading back home. As the 4300 yr old Amesbury Archer- discovered in 2002- had been moved to a Salisbury museum, pretty much nothing in Amesbury was open and more importantly I knew a few lines of the song ‘Winchester Cathedral’, we moved on…
Stonehenge inside access (look for stone circle access): http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.877
Stonehenge general: http://www.stonehenge.co.uk/
Stonehenge Bluestones: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/tm_objectid=15661198&method=full&siteid=50082&headline=archaeologists-figure-out-mystery-of--stonehenge--Bluestones-name_page.html
Stonehenge legends: http://www.math.nus.edu.sg/aslaksen/gem-projects/hm/0102-1-stonehenge/legends.htm