As dusk approaches on the Salisbury Plains the sun begins to cast eerie shadows on the ancient monoliths. It appears as if the Druids are preparing to once again wander among the structure known to all of us as Stonehenge.
I recently had the opportunity of travelling from London to Salisbury and decided that a stop at Stonehenge was a necessity. The last time I visited the site was in 1983 in the midst of an all day rain storm and unfortunately I missed a lot of the history of the location.
Tourism has had an affect on the place, but I found the changes have greatly improved the historic site. I sat in the rear seat of the people mover (minivan, as we call it), alone and deep in thought about my last stop at Salisbury Cathedral. I looked up and suddenly, beside the road, saw the massive stones rise from the ground.
The driver veered into a parking lot across from the site and I asked him to join me for the tour, His name is Eric and he has been living in the Croydon area (about 2 hours from Stonehenge) for sixty-some-odd years. The last time he visited Stonehenge was forty years ago, so it was time.
I paid the entrance fee of £6.50 (about $13 CDN.) and was given a small device, which resembled a cell phone. I followed the path under the road and surfaced directly in front of the massive stones.
I had been told that access to the site was restricted and that it was no longer worth the visit, but I was pleasantly surprised, as I did not find that to be the case. A small, one metre wide, asphalt path had been built around the entire site. A yellow rope, about half a metre from the ground and suspended from black rods, acted as a deterrent to keep visitors from wandering too close.
Although there were only a handful of tourists, everyone respected the small barrier and stayed well within its boundaries. There were small, numerical plaques arranged along the route and by simply pressing the corresponding button on the phone-like device a narrative was played describing in detail the history of this strange and mysterious locale.
As I slowly made my way around the perimeter I became consumed by the history of the origin of Stonehenge. The 17 ‘Blue Stones’, each weighing in excess of twenty ton, came from Wales, about 380 kilometres away. Two theories about their transportation exist: one is the stones were rolled on logs in similar fashion to the Moai of Easter Island. The second uses flat boards covered in animal grease. The latter theory was successfully repeated in 1995 by a team of 100 workers using a 40 ton slab.
There are over 900 stone circles in Britain, but Stonehenge is certainly the most popular and easily accessible. Surrounded by acres of bright yellow Rapeseed, rolling hills and hundreds of sheep, there is little (other than the road), which appears to have changed since the construction of the site around 3,000 BC. (it took 1,600 years to build).
Was Stonehenge an astronomical observatory? Probably not. Was it a Druid temple, complete with sacrifices and blood-curdling ceremonies? Sorry, no, as the Druids (Celtic priests) were not due to the area for another 1,500 years. What was it then? Stonehenge was probably a multipurpose ceremonial centre relating to fertility, death and rebirth. One of the fascinations we have with the site is that we really do not know, but half the fun is the speculation.
I must admit the 9 metre stones seemed smaller than I recollected, but at 9 metres (30 feet) are quite overpowering and very mesmerising.
All in all I was glad I made the stop. The visit was very worthwhile and brought me closer to the history of the people of England. It also gave me a new respect for all the work Bill Lishman put into his ice reproduction of Stonehenge on Lake Scugog a few years ago. Perhaps he had help from the mystical Druids of Port Perry.