Stonehenge, 5000 Years & Still Kicking…


Dear Friends,

Taken with my iPhone 4S. You can see the “blood” stone in the foreground… ewww!

On this past soggy Saturday here on the south-coast of England my mother, Peter and I loaded up our Volvo with umbrellas, welly boots, and rain jackets.  We were set for adventure two and a half hours away on the plains sitting just outside Salisbury… and given the weather recently we needed to be prepared for the worst.

We were set on a path for Stonehenge, Salisbury, UK, a majestic collection of enormous blue and sandstone sarcens corralled in an ancient enclosure that started being built upon back in 3000BC.  As it is today this area was perhaps also an open clearing while much of the English countryside was covered with thick forest.  You can imagine just stepping from the woods… seeing in the distance this divine spot on the coast… almost as if God himself had swept the landscape clean just for this to be built upon.

Our drive took us a little under three hours… a quick stop at Kelly’s Sandwich Bar for a 4 rasher on a baguette were in order before we got too invested in our journey. From there we trailed after our dueling GPSs (the Waze app on my iPhone and my mum’s trusty Garmin) meandering through the English countryside on our way to our destination.  It was perhaps not the ideal day for adventure as the rain periodically stomped out the blue sky and sun but nonetheless we persevered steadily closer.  The traffic ebbed and flowed until finally we found ourselves upon our prize… well… a few miles back and stuck in gridlock traffic were our initial indications we had reached Stonehenge!  We navigated the impossible parking situation and as luck would have it found ourselves a sweet little spot just a stone’s through from the complex.

We hopped out of the car, pulled up our welly boots and donned our jackets. I was perhaps the least brave extending a huge red and white umbrella to keep me dry while my mum and Peter made do with their little rain hats on their jackets… I maintain I looked cooler :)! Entrance tickets bought, hot chocolates secured and audio guide headsets equipped, now we were ready!  We trudged through the little tunnel under the road from the park office and parking lot to the main site and I couldn’t help but feel chuffed at our supreme preparation techniques. All around silly tourists were splashing about in flip flops and shorts… it was maybe 50 degrees and raining… clearly we were either chicken or they missed the weather for the past 30 days here in England!

Out from the tunnel, up the stairs to the enclosure… and there it was.  I popped open my umbrella and gazed upon the stones sitting there proudly.  It was somehow perfect that it was drizzling with the sky gray and the wind zipping about furiously for here upon this plain for nearly 5000 years these stones have guarded the secret of their builders… one that today we don’t really quite understand.  There is very little I can tell you about Stonehenge that you can’t quickly learn from a quick search on the Internet but like so many of these great monuments to engineering ingenuity nothing can adequately prepare you to stand before it yourself and look upon it with your own eyes.  If pictures can tell a thousand words then our own eyes must surely tell a million.

Unlike the majestic pictures I had seen in books and online Stonehenge looked somehow lonely.  No perfect sunset to frame it’s giant rocks or aerial photography to frame its stature… it was just here in front of me… ancient… silent… the last bastion of the vision of its builders.  Standing there you could imagine it in times immoral before the throngs of us tourists came to visit every day, sip our hot chocolate and snap endless photos of it with our phones and cameras.  I can imagine it standing quietly before the sunrise and sunset… proud and defiant against the passage of time… forever watching guard over it’s secrets.

The audio guide was superb, navigating us around the enclosure in six brief but insightful explanations of its history, the myths surrounding its construction and the many fantastical stories to be dreamed up by the historians of the past.  My boots squished through the wet grass and mud and as I looked at those short clad tourists I was thankful for my mum’s prudent suggestion for packing our welly boots.  I continued on… constantly amazed at how from different angles it showed a completely different face… as if the henge wanted to keep me guessing who and what it really was.  At times it was just a pile of big rocks and yet at others it hinted at being an impenetrable wall.  Angles and light are everything and so much of what we look at in Stonehenge is missed as we look upon the 25 ton sarcens.  In front and behind us were the ditches meticulously dug out by hand with the simplest of tools.   On the ground we drudged across must have been the relics and burial remains of countless souls winging their way from this world to the next on this very spot.  If not for the stones standing tall it might all very well be overlooked and forgotten… but maybe that is their true purpose… to stand guard over the past… for the last few remaining in line to remind us not to forget what has come before.

This picture I took as I crossed over the bridge toward the end of our tour was when I first really saw Stonehenge as you do popularized in pictures.  I almost missed it… but there it was.  I pulled out my trusty iPhone and a few snaps later here you have it.  It was raining properly just then and for reasons unknown the thick throng of tourists massing about with the three of us suddenly seemed to mostly disperse.  If you look closely you can see what looks like little black dots atop the stones.  These were birds, sometimes hundreds of them, dropping in to chill out before carrying on about their journeys.

If you’ve been following me for a while you will know I have been what I call temple hunting as of late.  I’ve crawled over Thai and Burmese pagodas, great western churches and most recently a few ancient monuments like Angkor Wat and now Stonehenge.  At first it didn’t occur to me to drop Stonehenge in my temple hunting album but rushing back for one last look before setting off for lunch it occurred to me that indeed it should.  Why do we go to places of worship, be they Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or anything in-between?  As I stand in these places I wonder myself why others come… what do they do, what do they say, do they find what they came looking for?

In the end I always wonder if being there will somehow bring me peace… as if the thousands that have stood and prayed before will wash over me and for a moment or two hold me up, whisper in my ear that I will be okay and in the words of my great British countrymen to “keep calm and carry on”.  And so just before I left I found a quiet spot by myself and looked out at the plain and stones standing proudly before me.  I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and cleared my mind.  Did any feeling wash over me, where there any whispers in the winds floating into my ears, did I find that peace I was looking for?

Make the journey and judge for yourself…  Oh and don’t forget to bring your welly boots and umbrella ;).

Happy travels,
Ben

Travel Notes:

  • Date: Saturday, July 14th, 2012
  • Location: Stonehenge, Salisbury, United Kingdom
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4 Responses to “Stonehenge, 5000 Years & Still Kicking…”

  1. I was there and as I read this I can’t help wondering “what did Imiss”. Somehow life is so colourful seen through the eyes of my wonderful son.

  2. will you please write a book?!? I’m glad that you are always able to take so much from these experiences… and share! 🙂

  3. I agree with both comments above. You have a wonderful way of expressing yourself, and you should write a book! Another great post 🙂

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