adaeze: (Brodgar)
[personal profile] adaeze
Back from a long weekend in Wiltshire, where we've been celebrating the near-conjunction of my birthday (just passed) with Wellinghall's (soon to come).

We started off with the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes, which has a surprisingly good collection of artefacts from excavations around and associated with Stonehenge. I'm not entirely sure how they managed to keep all the loot from disappearing into the British Museum, but I'm willing to guess that the fact that much of the archaeology was done by Maud Cunnington, who just happened to be married to the curator of the museum, helped. Still, she must have been a pretty formidable woman to be able to ensure that the finds stayed local.

We then doubled back on ourselves to go to Avebury (having decided to leave it till the afternoon because the weather was forecast to be fine by then). Bad timing. Vast hordes of other people had had the same idea; we circled the car-park twice before admitting defeat. We were, however, able to squeeze into the last space left in the lay-by below West Kennet Long Barrow.

West Kennet, with Silbury Hill visible in the background.
DSC01722

We then jumped forward a few millenia, and spent Sunday in Salisbury (Cathedral, with Magna Carta) and Old Sarum (ruins including castle and previous cathedral). Evensong was held in the Seventeenth century, with Gibbons settings for anthem & canticles, accompanied by period instruments.

The main reason for the weekend away was to minimize the pain of getting to the Stonehenge carpark by 7:30 am, this being a necessary pre-condition for a proper look at Stonehenge. It was wet. It was windy. It was worth it.

I've avoided Stonehenge for many, many years (despite being an utter sucker for any other stone circle or henge monument going) mainly because of the crowds, and the consequent difficulty of getting access to the centre of the circle. But English Heritage do arrange some early-morning interior tours, and we managed to get tickets for this morning's. Far more atmospheric, of course, and it's possible to get a far better sense of the size and sheer solidness of the stones when in among them. It also becomes possible to see finer detail, such as these early bronze age carvings:
DSC01778

and this seventeenth century graffito:
DSC01786
allegedly left by Sir Christopher Wren, the vandal.

Most of the stones are so covered with grey-green lichens it's difficult to see them as any other colour, but up close you can find patches on the sarsens where you can still see the original white and gold. This bluestone was also clearly blue in places. Also, it's been shaped to work as a lintel, (hence the hollow near the middle of the picture), evidence for the bluestones having been rearranged at some point.
DSC01793

Have a more conventional shot.
DSC01791

After which, it was time for management to open up to the general public, and us to head back to the visitor centre for a hot sausage breakfast, and a coach to show us a bit more of the surrounding landscape. OMG OMG OMG Squee why did I not remember how magnificent Durrington Walls was? Why did I not remember it at all? I do have a fairly clear memory of visiting Woodhenge, and Durrington Walls is right behind it, just turn round and it's there. And there. And there. It's huge. Humungous. Massive. After which the coach took us on to the far end of the Cursus (which I hadn't seen before, but is huge, humungous, massive, and quite a bit older than the henges). And then we split the party, and Wellinghall went back on the coach, while I joined the group heading across the fields, past a whole bunch of barrows, and up the Avenue, the neolithic approach road / processional route, along the line of the midsummer sunrise / midwinter sunset. Most of the way, the stones are visible in the distance, but as you get close, you drop into a shallow valley and they disappear, only to re-appear quite suddenly and very much closer and larger.DSC01810

We stopped briefly in Avebury on the way home, but didn't stay very long, as by this time the atmosphere was getting positively meteorological. Home, warm and dry and full of tea.
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