Our time in South Wales, unfortunately, was brief. Early this morning we crossed the Prince of Wales Bridge over the Severn River and were back in England once again. We had a new driver, Geoff, at the wheel, as Gary’s driving hours over the past couple of weeks required him to take a two-day break. Geoff took us on a route where tour buses may not travel too often, down country lanes lined with hedges and through quaint rural villages where cottages still have thatched roofs and canal barges are still visible in the waterways. Nearing Stonehenge, we entered Salisbury Plain with its green pastures and gently sloping hills. We passed quite a few barrows, the burial mounds of the ancient Beaker people of the Bronze Age. Pig farms and poppy fields too.
I guess the first time I became interested in Stonehenge was in my final year of high school, when Tess of the D’Urbervilles was easily the best English text of the year in my opinion. Marg read it in her final year two years after I did, and she too loved the book. We both really liked the character of Tess and this definitely influenced our choice of name when our own Tess was born. Towards the end of the book, Tess made her way across Salisbury Plain to Stonehenge, where she declared her love for Angel Clare, the man who had wronged her. Not wanting to spoil the ending any further for any of you wanting to read the book, I’ll stop there. But needless to say, the Stonehenge episode was a key part of the story and left an impression on me.
Several years ago, tourists could walk right up to the standing stones and wander in amongst them. Apparently this was damaging to this historic site and particularly to the fragile archaeology below ground, where thousands of tramping feet on muddy soil might have the potential to topple some of the huge stones. Today, sensibly, tourists can only enter the site via the visitor’s centre entrance and are either bused to the stones or must walk up to a mile through the fields to reach them. Stonehenge is roped off some distance from the circle of stones and no visitors, with the exception of special occasions, can approach or wander through the stones themselves. One of the advantages of this, apart from conserving the site for future generations to enjoy, is that it must be one of the few tourist sites in all of Europe where you can take photos of a structure without thousands of tourists also appearing in your images.
One of the first things we noticed as we entered the site was that preparations were underway for the summer solstice later in the week, which will bring thousands of people from near and far. We could see cars queued up on roads leading into the site, not going anywhere fast. I imagine it could get rather chaotic as the solstice approaches. There were a few strangely attired people at the site today. I’m sure there will be many, many more by Friday.
We liked Stonehenge. It’s a wild place out in the green fields of Salisbury Plain, exposed to the weather, no buildings in sight. Although we don’t really understand too much about what happened there or even how it was built, it’s not difficult to imagine it once being a very important spiritual place for the people who lived there over 2,500 years ago. And, as much as I would like to know more about it, perhaps it is good that I still don’t really understand much about Stonehenge, ensuring that it will always remain a place of mystery for me.