Just a few miles to the west of our hotel is Stonehenge. As you drive along the road, it appears magically on the hillside – a collection of easily identifiable rocks, arranged in a circle and standing out against the bright green grass of the hillside. They looked grey as we drove past but they change colour depending on the direction of the sunlight.
When I last visited here , perhaps eight years ago, the parking area was right next to the road and you just walked from there into the circle of stones. Now, there is a new visitors centre which is located a couple of miles away and you take a shuttle bus from there to Stonehenge. I think this is a better arrangement as it doesn’t feel so cluttered and you can now walk some distance away from the rocks and get more of a feeling of the context in which they sit.
Stonehenge’s ring of standing stones are set within earthworks in the middle of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds that can be seen across the landscape.The word ‘henge’ refers to a particular type of earthwork of the Neolithic period, typically consisting of a roughly circular or oval-shaped bank with an internal ditch surrounding a central flat area. The stones appear to have been dragged from a site 18 miles away.
Archaeologists believe Stonehenge was constructed as long ago as 3000 BC to 2000 BC. The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC. It appears to have changed some shape and structure over the millennia. There are many myths and legends about its use and purpose, but it seems to have originally been a burial ground. Some academics seem to think that it may also have been a place of healing – hence the large number of bones found in the area. (This also suggests that the healing was not always successful).
Further north, in the little town of Avebury, is another monument made from a large circle of stones. Like Stonehenge, this ring of stones was constructed over several hundred years in the 3rd millennium BC during the Neolithic, or ‘New Stone Age’ period. The monument comprises a large henge with a large outer stone circle and two separate smaller stone circles situated inside the centre of the monument. Its original purpose is unknown, although archaeologists believe that it was most likely used for some form of ritual or ceremony. These stones are not as high as Stonehenge and some have been lost over time, but here, you can walk right among them. We found an avenue of stones beside the road leading to Avebury and these appear to have been an entrance way to the circle itself. The town is actually built in a part of the stone circle.
We had lunch in the Red Lion hotel in the town. It had good pub food and some nice local beer. It also enabled us to park close to the stone circle. The pub was built in 1802, so I guess that the builders warranty should be just about to expire! I’m sure that the roof has been re-thatched many times over the decades. On the other end of the age spectrum, it did offer Apple Pay. I thought it was a bit of fun to be able to use my phone to pay for lunch in such an old building. It bills itself as being ‘the only pub in the world with a stone circle’.
After lunch, we headed towards the town of Devizes. Like oher English county towns, it was full of old buildings and also had a set of barracks for the local regiment. We saw a sign that led us to a place that I remember my friend Tony telling me about, but we actually came across it by accident. Just outside Devizes, near the village of Rowde. there is Caen Hill which is famous for its multiple lock system on the Kennet and Avon Canal.
There are a total number of 29 locks on this canal and they have a rise of 237 feet in 2 miles or a 1 in 44 gradient. The sixteen locks in the section that transverses Caen Hill form a steep flight in a straight line. It takes over six hours for a boat to pass through them. They were designed by the engineer, John Rennie.
Ready to head back to our hotel after a good day of sight seeing, I noticed the name ‘Cherhill’ on my notes as a potential place to visit while we were in this area to the north of Salisbury. I couldn’t remember why I had included it, and because it wasn’t too late in the day, we decided to investigate.
It turned out the Cherhill is the location of one of the white horses carved into the chalk hillsides of Wiltshire. This is apparently one of the oldest of these seven remaining horses in the county. Near the horse is an obelisk called the Lansdowne Monument. This is a 38-metre stone structure, erected in 1845 by the 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne to commemorate his ancestor Sir William Petty.