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Adventures Abroad

29 August, Friday

UNITED KINGDOM | Friday, 29 August 2008 | Views [642]

Chris was off today, so we all (Chris, Jean, Alex, Ron and I) decided it was high time we visited Stonehenge, about an hour and a quarter's drive away. The drive was very picturesque and Wiltshire is a really beautiful county, famous for crop circles and Neolithic sites.

At first sight, Stonehenge was a bit of a disappointment as it wasn't nearly as big as I had imagined although the others had been before (including Ron, in 1980) and knew its size. However, after walking around the henge, and listening to the audio, its mystique became apparent. Whilst there is now a rope barrier preventing people from getting too close to the stones, it's still possible to feel quite close and they really are an amazing phenomenon. It is apparently the most outstanding prehistoric monument in the British Isles and is a World Heritage Site. In the area surrounding it are several burial mounds and it is the centre of one of the world's earliest cultures. The larger stones are Sarsens, which were brought from the Marlborough Downs 30km away and the smaller stones, known as the Bluestones, are from the mystical Preseli Mountains in Wales, 385km away. Also on site were three Druids, two dressed in the traditional white robes and on in red; however, the effect was spoilt somewhat as they were lounging in chairs, smoking cigarettes!

It's believed that the circular ditch and bank surrounding the henge was constructed 5,050 years ago, a wooden structure in the centre was consructed 4,600 years ago and the stone monument (what everyone knows as Stonehenge) 3,500-4,500 years ago.

Another interesting phenomenon was a hugh flock of thousands of starlings, that wheeled around in the air and then settled on top of the stones - apparently there are often many more of the birds and they always make a beeline for the top of Stonehenge!!

After walking around and listening to the commentary, we crossed back across the road and went to look at some archeological diggings in the field there - these are on the site of what is believed to be the road leading up to Stonehenge, and along which the stones were transported. All in all, it was well worth the visit.

From Stonehenge we made our way to Avebury, not as well known as Stonehenge but, in its own way, just as amazing. The entire village is surrounded by a ring of standing stones, some very tall and others smaller. The village itself exudes an air of tranquility and friendliness and was a really lovely place to visit. We had lunch at the Red Lion, a thatched roofed pub where a very gregarious young boy named Arthur came up to have a chat with us, asking if we were visiting the area and then proceeded to ask Alex if he wanted to play - he was all of 8 years old! His father came to see where he was but apparently deemed it safe to leave his son with us and the two boys had a good time together.

After lunch we walked around the circle of stones, then through the village and, after a coffee (very drinkable!) we went to visit St James' Church. There has been a Saxon stone church on the site since about 1000AD (before the Norman Conquest) and this was subsequently altered by the Normans. It is a lovely old church, altered over the years but stll containing the Norman Font, which is early 12th century.

After leaving Avebury, we drove to Silbury Hill - the largest man-made mound in England and a mystery as to why it was built in the first place. It is 30 metres high and 160 metres wide and was built about 4,400 years ago. Its construction is estimated to have involved roughly 4 million man-hours of work and 500,000 tonnes of material were used, mostly chalk which was quarried and cleared from the surrounding terraces and ditches. Myths and legends abound and, in one such legend Silbury is the burial mound of a mythical King Zel and his horse. The mound is also associated with pagan beliefs and earth mysteries. On 29 May 2000, a hole unexpectedly appeared on the top of the mound, opening a shaft to a depth of 14 metres and, despie attempts to safeguard it, in December 2000 the top collapsed, leaving a large crater and damaging important archeological deposits. This is being investigated at the moment.

After a really excellent day, we trundled home wearily and, just after we got in, Alex's parents, Laura and Rob arrived with their two dogs. Alex has to go back to school next Wednesday and so they will be taking him home on Sunday.

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