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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Stonehenge, Another Place


Stonehenge is one of those places on everybody's list of 100 places to see you die. Ever since I first heard about it at the age of about 10, the idea of it has fascinated me. As you can see from the above picture, the sun shone and despite a good breeze, it was not unpleasant. What surprised me was that it was smaller than I imagined it to be. It is possible that the reason for this is the distance the public is kept away from the stones. You can't really tell how big or small they are. It is possible to take a tour before and after hours at 15 pounds each, but we were not able to arrange for this in time -- though if the opportunity arises I would try to do it. I don't think it can be appreciated fully without being able to 'get up close and personal'.

Last night it occurred to me that it would help just to have some life-size figures standing nearby to give some idea of the scale of the place when I had a brilliant idea. Can you imagine, a display of the iron men, by Antony Gormley in and around Stonehenge? The thing is the figures are life-size and just eerie enough to pull it off and could work really well to give an idea of the scale and mystery of the whole area.

Crosby Beach, Another Place
(Photo, theartsyn.com)
I expect it's blasphemous to even think of desecrating the site in such a way -- the pre-historic Mecca of the  British tourism. Nevertheless, the idea appeals... I am not thinking such a thing would even be possible  -- but imagination can go where it likes!

Here is the thing about Stonehenge: I can see more of its mystique in photographs and television documentaries -- on film -- that I did in person. I had already bought a small tourist guide at Salisbury Cathedral and looking at it a few days later I was more entranced than I was while standing before it!

27 comments:

  1. I think Gormley figures would be agreat idea. Crosby beach is one of my favourite places. My one and only visit to Stonehenge was as an 11 year old school girl. In those days visitors were allowed to wander among the stones. There was no visitor centre, and coaches and cars just pulled up and parked on a cleared patch of land nearby. Somehere I have some old black and white photos of my school friends adopting silly poses alongside those towering stones.I must try to find them . J.

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    1. It must have been wonderful to have such access to this site. I would love to see your old black and white photos -- I bet they are a real treasure trove...

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  2. I think the Gormless figures would be a very bad idea indeed. Not so long ago, it was possible to see real people standing amongst the stones, until English Heritage decided they may break them... Go to Avebury instead - much more impressive, and it even has a whole village inside it, just to give you an idea of scale.

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    1. Real people standing among the stones -- the way it was meant to be. I really would like English Heritage to explain exactly how we might 'break' those stones. Now it's a sterile rather boring experience. As my husband says, the truth is it's all about the money, methinks.

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  3. Hello Katherine:
    We are of an age to remember Stonehenge when it was simply that. There was no visitor centre, fenced off areas or anything of that kind. In fact we still have photographs when it was possible to be pictured either standing against the stones or, heaven forbid, actually on them. In those day it did have a mystique, sadly long since departed.

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    1. Sad, isn't it? Makes you realize how important 'people' are to time and place...

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  4. Hi Broad! I remember when I was at Southampton University, back in the late '50s/early '60s, my then boy-friend and I, along with a crowd of other students, got up before dawn on mid-summer's day and went to Stonehenge on our motorbikes to see the Druid ceremonies. Back then everybody could wander at will among the stones - indeed, some of the more adventurous and philistine-ish students climbed up and sat on the lintel stones in order to mock the participants. It was quite eerie, being there in the pre-dawn and waiting for the procession to arrive. It was slightly spoilt by the barracking from some of the guys, but fairly impressive in some ways (although I strongly suspect that it bore no resemblance whatever to the ceremonies of the original Druids - definitely no 'Wicker Men' or human sacrifices, thank goodness!) Sad, though, that you can't get to see the stones close up - they're very impressive. But I wouldn't pay £15 for a tour - not good value for money, and just a tourist trap, I think. Mind you, I also object strongly to paying to go into cathedrals (Salisbury being one of them) - places of worship should be available to all freely at all times. Voluntary contributions are a different matter altogether.
    Where else in the South are you planning to visit? It's my home territory, and there are many lovely places to see (noteably Exbury Gardens in the New Forest at this time of year - Azaleas, Rhododendrons etc in thousands). Not to mention the ships at Portsmouth (Victory, Warrior, Mary Rose, etc,) and the D-Day museum just along the way in Southsea, and the Spinnaker Tower by Portsmouth Harbour. And many other places all over the South Coast area and Hampshire. Hope you manage to get to at least some of them, sometime!
    Greetings & good wishes.

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    1. Thank you so much for your wonderful and detailed comment. Wonderful to hear of your experience back in the 'olden' days when we were young!

      In defence of Salisbury Cathedral and their charges: from other comments I think they may have changed their policy as now the fee is a 'requested donation' which I feel is far more appropriate. Like you I believe these wonderful buildings should be open to everyone, whether they can pay or not. It's a 'leap of faith' that cathedrals should be prepared to put paid to.

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  5. I too visited Stonehenge when you could walk about among the stones without hindrance...but I agree with Tom Stephenson, Avebury gives much more of a sense of place.

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    1. I am so envious of you all. I wonder when the barriers were went up -- Avebury is on that 'list' of mine. I am ashamed to admit that I'd never heard of the place until I bought the little book on 'Stonehenge and Avebury'.

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  6. We too visited Stonehenge before it was fenced off and although we did enjoy wandering about agree with Tom and Fly Avebury gives a better sense of place.
    I'm with Helva re charges at cathedrals and objected strongly to the fee and the bullying tone we encountered at Salisbury when we visited several years ago. Wells is a much more civilised affair and I give gladly if asked nicely--we know first hand how much restoration is required just to keep going let alone the cost of more preventative work having been up close and personal as it were with York Minster in during our time at the Centre for Medieval Studies there.

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    1. As I said in my 'reply' above, I believe Salisbury must have changed it's policy from 'required' to 'requested'. Wells is one of those cathedrals still on my list!

      I was in York Minster last week -- not for the first time. They are now restoring the huge window behind the altar -- I find the details of this kind of thing very interesting and realized that if I were young again I would embark on that kind of work. And after that it was tea at Bettys -- the little one just down the road from the Minster in the Shambles. It was yum!

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  7. Sonehenge is on my "would like to see" list, Broad, but having read your reactions to it and seen images of it almost ad nauseam, I'm guessing I might be a bit disappointed.

    As I wrote in my recent posts on Orkney I loved visiting the Ring of Brodgar, where visitors can still get up as close and personal as they like. The stones are smaller and more spread-out than at Stonehenge but the mystery and atmosphere are almost tangible.

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    1. Now the Ring of Brodgar sounds right up my alley!

      I would definitely suggest you see Stonehenge and follow it quickly with a visit to Avebury! Oh, well it's nice to have an excuse to go back -- and maybe also get to Bath!!

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  8. The comments add so much. I may never see any of this, but know a great deal more than at the beginning.

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    1. I hope you do get to see it all one day, Joanne -- but I have to say the comments have been just great!

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  9. Reminds me a bit of Easter Island...does make you wonder about who put the stones there and why doesn't it? I read somewhere that at one time Stonehenge was considered to be a giant sun dial...is that anywhere in the literature you have? Very interesting post, Broad.

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    1. I've not read anything about it being a sundial. Just the astronomical venue that celebrated the winter and summer solstice -- as well as predicting eclipses of the moon in the circle of stone holes surrounding the area of the stones.

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  10. I think that Stonehenge has been spoilt with all the fencing and publicity. I saw it again last year and it has lost its interest to me. Avebury is a wonderful place, I agree with all above, Diane

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    1. Avebury it is! Hopefully next year!

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  11. When I visited Stonehenge years ago (yes, I can die now ;)), I couldn't BELIEVE how many other tourists were there. It was a sea of yellow and green raincoats, and lined up buses. Why I thought, even for a instant, that I would be the only human standing there marveling at it's ancient-ness -- well, I guess I was just young and naive. Have you ever heard of "Long Meg and her Daughters?" Saw that one, too. I liked it even better--maybe because no one was there ;)

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    1. Hi, Elizabeth, it's so nice to see you here. I do so enjoy your blog and congratulations again on the new book!

      Not familiar with Long Meg and her Daughters -- but will shortly be 'googling' it! We were lucky to be visiting Stonehenge in May, pre-tourist season and before the mid-term break -- there were plenty of tourists, but not too 'plenty'!

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  12. I have never been to Stonehenge, and now that it is kept at a distance, if I ever do go, I'll be sure to pay for a tour. But as you say, perhaps it can be explored at an even greater distance via books and TV.

    I'm sorry to hear you've been sick, and I hope you are quite well now. Thanks so much for responding so enthusiastically to the post about Roethke and Morrill Hall. That means a lot to me.

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    1. And make sure you include Avebury when you go!

      You are very welcome Ruth. Your blog is such a pleasure to read that I am often struck with awe!

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  13. Dear Broad, when I visited Salisbury in 1976, I also saw Stonehenge. At that time, tourists were allowed to walk among the stones. Believe me, when one towers over you, you truly appreciate the magnitude of the henge and what effort it much have taken for the laborers to get the stones there and up and standing. I remembering feeling that I was in the presence of Mystery. Thank you for reminding me of all this in your last posting and this one. Peace.

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    1. Dee, you have described exactly what I thought it would be like!

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  14. I've just remembered something else about Stonehenge which you (or your other readers) may not have come across. It's thought that the stones originated in the Preseli mountains in South-West Wales (geologically they're identical)- but nobody has any idea (although there are many hypotheses!) as to how the ancients got them to Salisbury Plain. However, one of the hypotheses was tested out a few years ago - the one that postulates that the stones were taken most of the way by sea. Unfortunately, as far as I remember, the boat, plus stone, sank!! It'a a bit like the Pyramids construction problem. Incidentally, have you seen the standing stones at Carnac in Southern Brittany? They're amazing - miles of them in lines - and what for? Well worth a trip, if you can get there (or a virtual trip if not).

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Receiving comments is a joy and I thank you all for taking the trouble and showing your interest. Makes me feel all gooey and stuff!