In the summer of 2008, I found myself standing in front of a monument so symbolic, so ancient, it’s very name suggests power, mystery, and defiance against the crushing force of time…and all I could think of were dwarfs jumping around in bright green tights.
Thank you, Spinal Tap.
I had spent the morning going down quaint English highways (yes, quaint) out of London with a few new friends.
Along the way we stopped to take pictures of lovely thatched roofs like the unabashed tourists we were for the day. As my compatriots were marveling over a particular specimen, another had discovered something interesting:
We stared at it for a while. In a quiet, darling little English country town, how could this be? Why was it there? Where did it come from? It wasn’t until later that I was told that sometimes to people in other countries ( the UK and Sweden among these), the Confederate flag can stand for rebellion and independence, be a symbol of the American “country” culture, or represent the freedom of the open road…
This makes me sad.
Anyway, the destinations of our merry band that day were Stonehenge and a little town called Avebury. Why a place with a silly name like Avebury you ask? Because Avebury is badass, that’s why. If you haven’t heard of it, then prepare yourself: Avebury is a giant Stonehenge. By giant I don’t mean taller, but wider and more spread out. It’s big and ancient and epic and in the middle of prime farm country, so of course the English built a town right in the middle of it.
But the best part of Avebury is that not a lot of people know about it, so it doesn’t get many visitors, or at least not as many as Stonehenge. Which means two things:
1) the locals don’t care if you walk inside of it (they live inside of it after all) and
2) you can walk right up and touch those stones if you want.
To my knowledge, there are several “henges” and Neolithic structures on the British Isles, but Avebury is the largest circle, and happens to have one of the most haunted inns in England inside of it: the Red Lion. They also have good chips (fries to you American readers).
But driving up to Stonehenge, rather than a trench, you can see several small hills. Stonehenge is at the center of the most dense concentration of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in Britain, and many experts believe it was used by the ancient Druids, and that it has served as a burial ground since it’s construction. The hills are burial mounds, or barrows.
While at first I was disappointed by the inevitable market-ization Stonehenge has gone through – how land that could have been excavated is instead covered by a parking lot and gift shop that sit only a few yards from the monument itself – I was eventually won over.
Stonehenge may be smaller than I imagined it would be (as are so many things) but if you just stand and look and listen, it really does feel like it has a power. By being so close to something that has seen countless lives pass beneath it, had so much human emotion and belief invested in it over so many thousands of years – even now you can feel it – the emotion and the people – through the stones. If you listen to the wind blowing over the hills and through the arches, you can almost hear the stones humming.
It also has bunnies running on the lawn:
On our way out, I felt a very strong urge. Irresistible. I NEEDED to go run around on a barrow. So, going against anyone’s better judgment, I hopped the barbed wire fence and got to one. (By the way, don’t do this. Be respectful of monuments and natural wonders – they belong to posterity….)
I ran on it, skipped on it, had a great time.
But down underneath my feet, I should have felt the anger awakening. Even as I made my merry way back down the side of the hill, ancient forces were stirring up against me…
The souls of the ancient dead had been disrespected – and I would not go unpunished. Tired and sluggish, they welled up all the power left in their dry white bones, all the primal magic that sat as dark mist on their long-forgotten treasure and at the bottom of their dank, eternal tomb…
Just as I jumped over the fence again, just as I was leaving the very edge of their grasp, the wave of their fury hit me…
And with that, they retreated back to their quiet slumber, only to fade further into inevitable non-being. Because they, and Stonehenge, know better than I – nothing lasts forever.
Thanks for the wait folks! Next time: my personal experience with the Queensland Floods…