Stonehenge Leylines – Alignments of Mystery.

22 02 2021

When commercial traveller, photographic inventor, and amateur antiquarian Alfred Watkins wrote up his lecture expounding his theory about ancient routemarkers in Early British Trackways (1922), delivered to the Woolhope Club of Hereford only five months previously, he started a movement, some would say a craze, which shows no signs of diminishing even in the cold light of the 21st century.

            From his business peregrinations up and down the Welsh Marches Watkins deduced that prehistoric travellers must have created a system of routes and landmarks to aid navigation, and upon realising this  he felt he ‘held in [his] hand the key plan of a long-lost fact’. When he glimpsed in an epiphanic flash ‘the original sighting pegs used by the earliest track makers in marking out their travel ways’, it seemed as though a secret map of Britain had been revealed to him. Such a claim met with ‘violent opposition’, but he fine-tuned his controversial theorem in The Old Straight Track: its mounds, beacons, moats, sites and mark stones, his influential monograph published in 1925. Watkins drew upon archaeological, topographical, and etymological evidence, tested by exhaustive field research. He postulated that alignments had developed over a long period of time – beginning in the Palaeolithic – and that navigational aids were placed along them, starting with simple piles of stones (walkers’ cairns, such as can be found on many summits and popular walking routes across Britain), which were sometimes developed into megalithic monuments, churches, towers, follies, and so forth, through the ages, the initial purpose fading in the mists of time: ‘The straight track became an organised possession of the community for all to use, but mystery and reverence for a superior knowledge grew round its making and its mark-points’. Critically, Watkins did not perceive these ‘leys’, as he called them (from the Anglo-Saxon word for a clearing, and linked to ‘sight’) as in any way supernatural. He emphasised the practical application: ‘Utility was the primary object’. Only later, Watkins suggested, did such sites become co-opted for religious purposes, such as the predominance of churches dedicated to the Michael on hill-tops – the archangel who is commonly depicted as slaying the dragon with his spear, or ‘fixing the point’, focalising the serpent energy of the land in geomantic terms.

Yet Watkins’ revolutionary idea was tantalising enough to inspire generations of ‘ley-hunters’, and it is hard not to be caught up in his vision when he, in a rare moment of lyricism, waxes about his grand vision: ‘imagine a fairy chain stretched from mountain peak to mountain peak, as far as the eye could reach, and paid out until it touched the “high places” of the earth at a number of ridges, banks, and knowls.’ Watkins envisioned ponds and streams being deliberately enhanced to reflect beacon fires lit upon the high places. Anyone who has stood upon Glastonbury Tor on a sunny day would have witnessed this phenomenon, as the sunlight reflects off the dykes that thread the Somerset Levels, creating chains of light across the land.

            And Watkins’ vision was to act like a beacon fire to many who followed. His work was taken up in the late Sixties by antiquarian and occult author John Michel, in The View Over Atlantis (1969), who took Watkins’ ideas, and run with them – reconceptualising his ‘leys’ as ‘leylines’, a matrix of energy stretching across not only Britain, but the world, and connecting ancient sites such as the Pyramids of Giza, Uluru (Ayers Rock), Machu Piccu in Peru, and Stonehenge. These energy lines were seen as the meridians of the planet, to use the analogy from Chinese acupuncture, with sacred sites acting as ‘needles of stone’ (an idea crystallised by Tom Graves in his 1978 book). Leylines had gone viral, a meme that the Counter Culture adopted as their own. Some have tried to adopt a scientific approach to their study, most notably Paul Deveraux, who has undertaken extensive field research at sacred sites, (the Dragon Project of the late Seventies), yet the leyline theory is largely discredited by archaeologists. It is argued that you could draw a random line on a map and the probability is that it will intersect ‘sacred’ or historic sites; also, that the sites offered as evidence of a ley vary so widely over time and usage that no single, coherent purpose can be applied to them. And yet humans, the pattern-making creature, love to see patterns. We are biologically hard-wired to respond to simulacra – from our mother’s face, to human forms in nature. We seek meaning in what is otherwise a random, meaningless universe. It is no wonder we fashion lines of narrative, or song, to guide us – internally and externally – across life’s journey.  It is something we have been doing for at least fifty thousand years, as the complex system of the Aboriginal dreamtime, with its songlines, attests. It seems unlikely that such an intuitive (and useful) way of mapping only developed in a single place on Earth. Enigmatic monuments like the Nazca lines in Peru, and the cursus in England, suggest otherwise. Deveraux suggests these could be ‘spirit roads’, and are a macrocosmic version of the countless ‘corpse paths’ found in many cultures. Certainly, there is more to such routes than the prosaically utilitarian. Some historic routes, such Roman roads, droveways, saltways, the ‘herepaths’ (or military track) of Alfred the Great, General Wade’s roads across Scotland, and so forth, clearly did have a primarily practical purpose – and although sometimes these overlap with other, older routes or usages, there are too many obscurer routes, ‘hidden paths that run towards the moon, or to the sun’ (as Tolkien put it), to be simply ignored. And the fact is (perplexing as it may be to an empirical, rationalist paradigm) that many of them can be dowsed. They are discernible, and anyone with a pendant, rod, or sensitive persuasion, can detect them. Many converge at Stonehenge – the Spaghetti Junction of leylines (or Mother Node, if you prefer) – and cross the land and beyond, as Hamish Miller and Paul Broadhurst have pointed out. Something is there, and what that signifies – Palaeolithic navigational aids, geomagnetic earth energies, the meridians of Mother Earth, ghost paths, extraterrestrial guidance beacons – who can rightly say?  Perhaps the true nature of such alignments depends on the awareness and paradigm of the one seeking them – we find the road we wish to walk; the evidence to support the theory we wish to believe. It seems ley/lines are to be experienced, more than understood – and they add a little bit of mystery to a world suffering from a dearth of the imagination. They provide a counter-narrative, of other ways of experiencing reality, one that opens up, rather than shuts down possibility. It turns the prose of the everyday into a poem, even a song. They offer another way of being in the landscape. Choosing to follow these invisible paths is an act of faith – like The Fool in the tarot, the seeker steps off the precipice of reason and hopes their vision will sustain them. It certainly sustained Watkins.  So, it feels right and fitting to give the man who started it all the last word: ‘Such alignments are either facts beyond the possibility of accidental coincidence or they are not’.

Guest Blogger: Dr Kevan Manwaring is an author, lecturer, and specialist tour-guide. His books include The Long Woman (a novel which features Stonehenge and Avebury), Lost Islands, Turning the Wheel: seasonal Britain on two wheels, Desiring Dragons, Oxfordshire Folk Tales, Northamptonshire Folk Tales, and Herepath: a Wiltshire songline. He is a keen walker and loves exploring the ancient landscape of the Marlborough Downs (where he lives) and beyond.  www.kevanmanwaring.co.uk

Further Reading:
Watkins, Alfred, The Old Straight Track, London: Abacus, 1974
Deveraux, Paul, Spirit Roads: an exploration of otherworldly routes, London: Collins & Brown
Hippisley-Cox, R. The Green Roads of England, London: Metheun & Co., 1914
Macfarlane, Robert, The Old Ways: a journey on foot, London: Hamish Hamilton, 2012
Rudd-Jones, N., & David Stewart, Pathways: journeys along Britain’s historic byways, from pilgrimage routes to smuggler’s trails, London: Guardian Books

Stonehenge and Ley Line online link resource:
Healing Energies of Stonehenge – Ancient Origins
Stonehenge Ley Lines and Earth Energies – Why Does it Attract ‘New Agers’? – Stonehenge News Blog
Stonehenge New Age Tours – Stonehenge Tour Company
Ley lines and earth energies of Avebury Henge – Visit Avebury
The Lore and Lure of Ley Lines – Live Science
Moonraking: Spooky Stuff: Ley lines – BBC Website
Cross Roads of ‘Power’- Stonehenge – Pagan Potions
The Definition of a Ley-line – Ancient Wisdom
Stonehenge, Glastonbury and Avebury Tours – Stonehenge Guided Tours
Ley Lines and the Earths Magnetic Field – UK Ley Lines Website

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Stonehenge: Did the stone circle originally stand in Wales? Find backs theory that monument was dismantled and dragged over 140 miles to Wiltshire.

12 02 2021

One of Britain’s biggest and oldest stone circles has been found in Wales – and could be the original building blocks of Stonehenge. Stonehenge will be the focus of a new BBC documentary, airing for the first time on Friday (February 12th).

Archaeological investigations as part of the ‘Stones of Stonehenge’ research project, led by Professor Mike Parker Pearson of University College London, previously excavated two bluestone quarries in the Preseli Hills
  • They believe it was dismantled and rebuilt as the first stage of Stonehenge
  • It has an identical diameter to the ditch surrounding Stonehenge, they found 
  • Waun Mawn is close to the quarries the Stonehenge bluestones were made from
    Archaeologists have unearthed Britain’s third largest stone circle in Wales

Archaeologists uncovered the remains of the Waun Mawn site in Pembrokeshire’s Preseli Hills.

They believe the stones could have been dismantled and rebuilt 150 miles (240 km) away on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire.

The discovery was made during filming for BBC Two’s Stonehenge: The Lost Circle Revealed.

The Welsh circle, believed to be the third biggest in Britain, has a diameter of 360ft (110m), the same as the ditch that encloses Stonehenge, and both are aligned on the midsummer solstice sunrise.

Several of the monoliths at the World Heritage Site are of the same rock type as those that still remain at the Welsh site.

And one of the bluestones at Stonehenge has an unusual cross-section which matches one of the holes left at Waun Mawn, suggesting the monolith began its life as part of the stone circle in the Preseli Hills before being moved.

What is Stonehenge: The Lost Circle Revealed?

During a one-hour documentary, questions about the stones will be answered including – where the stones probably came from, how they were moved from Wales to England and who dragged them all of the way.

Using cutting-edge research, a dedicated team of archaeologists, led by Professor Mike Parker Pearson, has been compiling evidence to fill in a 400-year gap in our knowledge of the bluestones, and to show that the original stones of one of Britain’s most iconic monuments had a previous life.

Viewers will be able to watch and learn how researchers discovered these secrets of Stonehenge.

LINKS BETWEEN STONEHENGE AND WAUN MAWN 
There were significant links between the neolithic sites of Stonehenge and Waun Mawn that led researchers to conclude a link between them.
The Welsh site was likely disassembled, moved to Wiltshire and used in the building of Stonehenge. The Welsh circle has a diameter of 360ft (110m), the same as the ditch that encloses Stonehenge.
Both are aligned on the midsummer solstice sunrise.
Several of the monoliths at the World Heritage Site on Salisbury Plain are of the same rock type as those that still remain at the Welsh site.
And one of the bluestones at Stonehenge has an unusual cross-section which matches one of the holes left at Waun Mawn.
This suggests the monolith began its life as part of the stone circle in the Preseli Hills before being moved.

Stonehenge references:
Stonehenge: Did the stone circle originally stand in Wales? – BBC
Stonehenge and Wales connection revealed in BBC2 Lost Circle – Salisbury Journal
Was Stonehenge originally built in Wales? Archaeologists unearth remains of Britain’s third largest stone circle and claim it was ‘dismantled and MOVED to Wiltshire’ – The Daily Mail
Ancient Welsh circle at Waun Mawn is brother of Stonehenge – The Times
How Stonehenge could have evolved from an earlier Welsh stone circle – The Telegraph
Stonehenge: The Lost Circle Revealed – what you need to know – Salisbury Journal
Guided Tours of Stonehenge with megalitic experts – Stonehenge Guided Tours
Dramatic discovery links Stonehenge to its original site – in Wales – The Guardian

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Archaeologists unearth Bronze Age artefacts and Neolithic graves at proposed Stonehenge tunnel site.

7 02 2021

All kinds of ancient artefacts have been found at the A303 site. Recent excavation has uncovered late Neolithic and Bronze Age artefacts and human remains

The Guardian reports that archaeologists have examined some 1,800 test pits and more than 400 trial trenches along the path of the proposed controversial two-mile A303 tunnel at Stonehenge. The A303 road, which currently runs close to Stonehenge, will in future enter a 3km long dual-carriageway tunnel that passes through part of the ancient site, removing any vehicles from the view of visitors.

Archaeologists unearth bronze age graves at Stonehenge tunnel site

A Neolithic burial site, a mysterious Bronze Age C-shaped enclosure and ancient tools and pottery have been found by archaeologists carrying out work at the proposed new road tunnel at Stonehenge.

Wessex Archaeology’s investigations uncovered evidence of human activity dating back more than 7,000 years at the planned A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down Scheme sites.

Archaeologists have put in a huge amount of work into preliminary investigations, including more than 462 hectares of geophysical survey and 440 evaluation trenches.

One of the two Beaker-period burials found near the site of the proposed Stonehenge road tunnel. (Image: Wessex Archaeology)

One of the most fascinating discoveries is a small shale object – found in the grave of a female in her 20s or early 30s.

The burial dates to the Beaker period, around 4,500 years ago, when new types of pottery and other objects appear in Britain. This period also saw the building of some of the bluestone circles at Stonehenge.

“It’s a unique object: we have never seen one before,” says Dr Matt Leivers, A303 consultant archaeologist at Wessex Archaeology.

“Although not hugely significant, we can only speculate about what it was – it may have been a ceremonial cup purposefully damaged before it was laid in the grave, or it may be the cap off the end of a staff or club.”

Nearby pits from the same period were found to contain other traces of human activity, including fragments of pottery, worked flint for tools, and animal bones.

Archaeologists also discovered tiny ear bones from a young infant in one of the pits, buried alongside a plain Beaker.

Elsewhere, a C-shaped enclosure dating to the late Bronze Age is thought to have been an area for industrial working, due to the density of burned flint contained in the soil around it.

The investigations have informed the main archaeological fieldwork, due to begin on site in late spring this year. The main phase of fieldwork will involve around 100-150 archaeologists and last approximately 18 months ahead of construction starting on site in 2023.

Andy Crockett, A303 Project Director at Wessex Archaeology says:

“We’ve done a huge amount of initial work which has been extremely thorough – more so than any site I’ve worked on in my 40-year career – reflecting the sensitivity of this site. We now have a very clear idea of what we expect to find in the upcoming main fieldworks. Everything we find will be processed, conserved and analysed by the specialists in our Research department. We’ll also be drawing on the expertise of our partners in the archaeological sector, so that we make sure that the best possible outcomes are achieved for the archaeology.”

Ultimately, all finds will be delivered to Salisbury Museum to be displayed to the public.

David Bullock, A303 Project Manager, Highways England, says:

“It is a scheme objective to conserve and enhance the World Heritage Site and this is being achieved through close collaborative working with heritage groups, the independent A303 Scientific Committee, and our archaeology contractors Wessex Archaeology, who have an extensive track record of work in connection with the Stonehenge landscape.

“The route itself has been designed to ensure there are no direct impacts on scheduled monuments and the amount of archaeological survey and mitigation work is unprecedented because, in recognition of the significance of the WHS, the surveys are over and above what would have usually been done at this stage of a highway project.

“As part of the extensive archaeological surveys to date, we have uncovered some interesting but not unexpected finds, and we are now preparing plans with Wessex to start further archaeological excavation work later this year. This will be monitored on site by Wiltshire Council Archaeology Service, and members of the independent A303 Scientific Committee and A303 Heritage Monitoring and Advisory Group.”

Stonehenge References:
Archaeologists unearth bronze age graves at Stonehenge tunnel site – The Guardian
A303 Stonehenge evaluation works uncover glimpses of prehistoric life – Wessex Archaeology
Archaeologists unearth Neolithic graves at Stonehenge tunnel site – Somerset Live
Bronze Age graves and Neolithic pottery discovered near proposed new road tunnel could shed light on makers of the stone circle – The Daily Mail
Discoveries at Stonehenge highlight controversial new tunnel’s threat to heritage – The Art Newspaper
Stonehenge tunnel discovery: Ancient civilisation evidence found under A303 – The Express
Bronze Age Graves Uncovered At Stonehenge During Tunnel Excavations – Ancient Origins
Stonehenge Archaeology Guided Tours – Stonehenge Tour Company
Lost Bronze Age graves discovered at Stonehenge tunnel site after 4,000 years – The Sun
Scrap Stonehenge road tunnel plans, say archaeologists after neolithic discovery – The Guardian
Stonehenge Walking Tours – Stonehenge Guided Tours

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Wiltshire people share thoughts on A303 Stonehenge tunnel benefits.

28 01 2021

The video’s been released on social media, with the strapline ‘transforming the landscape and transforming lives‘ to suggest how that part of South Wiltshire will benefit from the project.

They’ve featured in a new video from Highways England.

Those in favour of the tunnel has long said that it would prevent rat-running through villages to avoid heavy traffic on the A303, particularly at summer time.

Archaeologist Mike Pitts speaks about what the project means to him.
“Opening up the World Heritage Site will open up new understandings, a new appreciation of this landscape for all of us”

Archaeologist Mike Pitts on what #A303Stonehenge means to him.

B&B owner Jane Singleton talks to Highways England about what the A303 Stonehenge will do for her business and the local community. Read her Stonehenge story here

Highways England and English Heritage support the scheme, which is expected to begin in 2023 and take five years to complete.

Stonehenge A303 Tunnel References:
South Wiltshire people share thoughts on A303 Stonehenge tunnel benefits – PLANET RADIO
The Stonehenge Tunnel Debate – the good, the bad, and the ugly – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Stonehenge Alliance. The battle to save Stonehenge WHS is on – SAVE STONEHENGE CAMPAIGN
A303 Stonehenge Tunnel explained: Plans, route design and more – THE SALISBURY JOURNAL
The Stonehenge tunnel: ‘A monstrous act of desecration is brewing’ – THE GUARDIAN
Stonehenge tunnel ‘would destroy 500,000 artefacts’ – THE TIMES
A303 Stonehenge DCO granted – A sad day for our archaeological heritage – RESCUE ARCHAELOGICAL TRUST
The proposed name of the Stonehenge tunnel has been announced. THE HERITAGE TRUST
Why a Newly Approved Plan to Build a Tunnel Beneath Stonehenge Is So Controversial – THE SMITHSONIAN
Controversial $2 Billion Tunnel Near Stonehenge Approved, Causing Backlash – HYPERALLERGIC
Rival factions battle for soul of Stonehenge – THE TIMES
STONEHENGE & A303 – ENGLISH HERITAGE
Stonehenge tunnel could bring £4bn boost to South West economy – BUSINESS LIVE
The Conservative Case for the Stonehenge Tunnel | Henry Dixon-Clegg – THE MALLARD
The Knotty Problem of the A303 and Stonehenge. – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG

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Winter Solstice: A Small Group Gathered at Stonehenge for a Soggy Solstice.

21 12 2020

Despite English Heritage cancelling the Winter Solstice celebraions this year in the interests of public health, a small group gathered at the heel Stone on National Trust property to mark the winter solstice and witness the sunrise after the longest night of the year.

About 5000 people usually gather at the Wiltshire monument, on or around 21 December, to mark the Winter Solstice. The solstice is one of the rare occasions that English Heritage opens up the stones for public access.

English Heritage did a live stream of the solstice sunrise and this can be viewed on their website

Stonehenge Winter Solstice Links:
The Rebirth of the Sun: the Winter Solstice at Stonehenge – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Watch the winter solstice LIVE from Stonehenge, wherever you are in the world! ENGLISH HERITAGE FACEBOOK
Stonehenge Winter Solstice ban criticised by senior druid – BBC NEWS
The Sun Stones: The Story of the Winter Solstice at Stonehenge – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Winter Solstice: Wild tales of slaughtered bulls, human sacrifice and much merriment – THE SCOTSMAN
Winter solstice: Why do pagans celebrate the shortest day of the year? THE TELEGRAPH
Solstice at Stonehenge. From Past to Present. – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
What has Stonehenge got to do with the winter solstice? – METRO NEWS
Solstice and Equinox Experience Tours – SOLSTICE EVENTS UK
The Stonehenge Sostice Pilgrims – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Stonehenge, the Winter Solstice, and the Druids – INTERESTRING ENGINEERING
Respecting the Stones.  Managed Open Access –STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Stonehenge Winter Solstice Tours – STONEHENGE GUIDED TOURS

The Stonehenge News Blog
Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest Stonehenge News
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The Sun Stones: The Story of the Winter Solstice at Stonehenge

20 12 2020

It was dark, darker than Glynneth could remember. In all of her eleven years she hadn’t known a night like it. It seemed to go on forever. She pondered this as she sat hunched nursing the small fire, huddled in her hand-me-down cloak that always dragged in the mud when she collected kindling or got caught on brambles during the berry moon. With a stick she nudged the unburnt section of log closer to the flames. The embers stirred, glowing and spitting sparks up into the vast night sky, where the gods sat gathered around their own fires.

As a sudden icy gust whipped the flames, Glynneth shuddered and tried to shut out its freezing touch, as cold as her baby brother’s toes as he wriggled into the bed they were humiliatingly forced to share, top-to-toe, within the family hut. He always tried to snuggle close, to steal her warmth – and no matter how she shoved him back she’d always awake to find him curled around her like a dog. Yet even their hound stank less than him at times.

Still, they were family. And as her mother always told her – they had to look after each other. It was a big, hard world out there – and nobody beyond your tribe would give a cowpat about you.

They all irritated her at times, but life was so frail – like the flames she nursed on the longest night of the year – as they all knew. Everyday they were reminded by their father how lucky they were to survive; how lucky they were to still have their mother who recovered from bringing them into this world. There were many families in the tribe who weren’t so lucky.

Yet ‘lucky’ was relative – as their father also reminded them. As it meant more mouths to feed, more chores to do. They all had to pull their weight.

And so Glynneth found herself tending one of the watch-fires burning that night. She could see them like a constellation, glowing in the dark across the stark winter landscape – grass and scrub glittering with a hard frost. And dominating the plain – the Sun Stones. Their negative presence – a deeper darkness against the night – unmistakable.

There, the priests gathered to perform their secret rites. She could hear the throb of their deer-skin drums. They would be at it all night, building to a crescendo by dawn.

Before sunrise she and the other watchers would take a burning brand and process into the stern presence of the stones, crossing over the white ring of chalk into the sacred place. There they would dowse their flames in the frost and greet the rekindled sun.

This is the first time Glynneth has been allowed to tend a watch-fire by herself. It was drummed into her what a great responsibility it was, lighting the way – collectively creating an avenue of golden light to guide the power of the reborn sun into the crucible of the stones, channelling its life-saving energy into the land. Once again tribes from far and wide had gathered.

Once again Glynneth was unnerved by their strange accents and impenetrable tongues. But for the first time she had noticed a boy from one of the seafaring tribes who had travelled down from some remote island in the unimaginable north – a boy with an unruly shock of black hair from beneath which glinted eyes of sky smiling at her as he too prepared his watchfire in the gathering gloom of the previous afternoon. She could not see him now, beyond the small star of his fire, but the memory of that smile made her cheeks burn.

Was he looking across to her fire at that moment? And what was he thinking? What strange land had he come from? And would his lips taste of the sea? She blushed at the thought, and quickly doused such nonsense. She had a job to do!

Impatiently, she poked at the fire – wishing the endless night would end, and she could join in the great dance that always followed the sun’s rebirth. Maybe then she would start to feel warm again.

And maybe she would even bump into the boy.

Every year new fires were made from the stray embers of the old – friendships, marriages, alliances … interlocking like the sun stones, becoming stronger together. Over the next three days there would be much feasting and oath-taking. News of the year would be shared – wry assessments of good or bad seasons, skirmishes and feuds, over a few too many horns of mead or ale. And with sore heads, full bellies, and promises pledged, the tribes would make their farewells and begin their long trek home, scattering to the obscurest groves, vales, and coves of the land.

And with each new sunrise, the sun will linger a little bit longer in the sky and life will slowly return to the slumbering earth.

Glynneth rubbed her arms and exhaled a frozen cloud of breath. That time could not come soon enough, but for now … she could swear that the sky was starting to get a fraction brighter. Now she was able to start making out the lay of the land – the long line of the Avenue, sweeping down to the slowly winding river. The watchfires still glowed, but it would not be long before their light would be overwhelmed by the rekindled sun. She could see the figures huddled over them, blowing on hands, or stretching and stamping feet.

And opposite her, on the other side of the flickering divide of parallel fires, the eyes of a dark boy from a distant isle shone.

Dr Kevan Manwaring is an author, lecturer, and specialist tour-guide. His books include The Long Woman (a novel which features Stonehenge and Avebury), Lost Islands, Turning the Wheel: seasonal Britain on two wheels, Desiring Dragons, Oxfordshire Folk Tales, Northamptonshire Folk Tales, and Herepath: a Wiltshire songline. He is a keen walker and loves exploring the ancient landscape of the Marlborough Downs (where he lives) and beyond.  www.kevanmanwaring.co.uk

Stonehenge Winter Solstice Links:
The Rebirth of the Sun: the Winter Solstice at Stonehenge – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Watch the winter solstice LIVEfrom Stonehenge, wherever you are in the world! ENGLISH HERITAGE FACEBOOK
Winter Solstice: Wild tales of slaughtered bulls, human sacrifice and much merriment – THE SCOTSMAN
Winter solstice: Why do pagans celebrate the shortest day of the year? THE TELEGRAPH
Solstice at Stonehenge. From Past to Present. – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
What has Stonehenge got to do with the winter solstice? – METRO NEWS
Celebrate Winter Solstice at Stonehenge – HOLIDAY EXTRAS
Solstice and Equinox Experience Tours – SOLSTICE EVENTS UK
The Stonehenge Sostice Pilgrims – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Stonehenge, the Winter Solstice, and the Druids – INTERESTRING ENGINEERING
Respecting the Stones.  Managed Open Access –STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Stonehenge Winter Solstice Tours – STONEHENGE GUIDED TOURS

The Stonehenge News Blog
Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest Stonehenge News
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The Rebirth of the Sun: the Winter Solstice at Stonehenge

11 12 2020

The Winter Solstice sunset at Stonehenge is, alongside the Summer Solstice sunrise, its defining alignment. For thousands of years it has been witnessed and celebrated by the countless pilgrims who have trekked to the unique monument. The story of Stonehenge is part of the vaster epic of the sun.

Stonehenge Winter Solstice with and without the pilgrims

4.63 billion years ago our sun burst into life – a nuclear reactor fusing 500 million tonnes of hydrogen each second. Its parentage was grand and mysterious – a dense cloud of interstellar gas and dust experiencing the passing shockwave of a supernova. From this immaculate conception the solar system was born. The resulting nebula eventually coalesced into our glorious sun, father of the planets in our solar system family and bestower of fortune on his favourite offspring: Earth. Here conditions in the Goldilocks zone between the extremes of intense heat and cold proved favourable for another explosion – this one of biodiversity. A perpetual work in progress, the natural selection of evolution eventually produced homo sapiens, a hominid that was the best of many drafts.

Enter, a mere 200,000 years ago, humankind.  

            For a long time our ancestors scratched a living – although some no doubt proved excellent hunters, expert gatherers. Some were even good at art. But then the Ice Age came – the ultimate lockdown. When the survivors emerged, stiff-jointed and blinking at the sunlight, the land had changed – scoured and shaped by the retreating glaciers. Strange stones were left upon the chalk in the south of the (now) island that became the ‘British Isles’, a chip off the proto-continental blocks, Laurentia and Gondwana: the wayward offspring of the Old and New Worlds, as they became.

            Around 6000 years ago our restless hunter-gatherer ancestors started to settle down and began to grow crops and husband livestock. Some of them eventually decided a particular spot on Salisbury Plain would be perfect for a big white circle of packed chalk, glowing in the moonlight amid the scrubland. The bank and ditch enclosure of the henge was formed with antler picks and oxen-shoulder blades, and lots of sore backs and elbow grease. Just as they were catching their breath from a serious bit of landscaping, some irritating priest decided it would be rather nice to have a timbered circle (of which the Aubrey Holes remain). Then another bright spark, perhaps trying to outdo the first decided that some strange blue stones from 250 miles away would be even better. With much to do the eighty stones, each weighing a backbreaking 4 tonnes each, were transported from the Preseli Mountains in Wales to the sacred plain of Salisbury. These were placed within the henge, with an entrance way pointing towards the midsummer sunrise.

            At the mirror sight of Durrington the south circle was aligned to the midwinter sunrise. Both sights – the henge of the living, the henge of the dead – defined by their relationship to the mighty sun.

In the third phase of Stonehenge’s 1500 year construction the mighty sarsens, or ‘grey wethers’, scattered over the Wiltshire Downs but clustered in a particularly attractive clump in what is now West Woods were transported the ‘workers’ camp’ at Durrington, before being dressed and dragged to the ring on the plain. Here 60 were place in an ingeniously interlocking outer ring of trilithons, with an inner horse-shoe of 15 more. These were aligned to catch the ball of the sun like a gigantic baseball mitt as it rose over the outlier Heel Stone at the time of the summer solstice sunrise – the longest day of the year, when the northern hemisphere is tilted (at 23 degrees – approximately the angle created between an outspread index finger and thumb) closest to that fiery nuclear fusion reactor, 147.35 million km away. The photons generated there take 8 seconds to reach Earth – golden strings pulled taught to the plain, guided by the Avenue, as though to the bridge of a vast violin. Each year two major chords are played upon it – the summer and winter solstice, each note lingering for precisely half the year. Minor chords are played upon it as well, modulated by the respective ‘bridges’ of the trilithons and surrounding monuments – the equinoxes and various lunar and celestial cycles. The deeper chord of the winter solstice is drowned out annually by the sometimes vast numbers who converge to the summer solstice glorious crescendo – but those who are wiser know the quieter, stronger power of the midwinter music. And the ancestors knew too – for they made sure to align Stonehenge to it in an alignment of equal importance to the midsummer one.
            The winter solstice sunset, framed by the inner trilithons, is a breathtaking cosmic drama, re-enacted every year – the ultimate mystery play. And not wishing to miss out on a good party, the people of the Neolithic came from far and wide (as the large quantities of charred animal bones left over from midwinter feasts at Durrington attest) to witness and celebrate the rebirth of the sun, when after three days of  apparent stillness upon the horizon it begins its six month journey back to its northernmost point. From generations of observation the stone-builders knew that the solstitium, the still point, marked the turning in the sun’s annual migration (or rather our migration around the sun): from this nadir the days will start to get longer. The light and warmth will return. This was of huge significance to the ancestors, and it is no less so for dwellers of the northern hemisphere, affected as we are by the cold and dark in all kinds of ways. Our planetary sun lamp is the antidote to our collective seasonally adjusted disorder. We bask in it. Even if we cannot feel its warmth on a chill day, we can feel uplifted by its presence. It reminds us that however dark it gets the light will vanquish it – our solar hero will save the day.

Winter Solstice Ceremony at Stonehenge led by senior druid, Arthur Pendragon.

            And so witnessing the winter solstice at Stonehenge – whether at sunrise or sunset – is to commune with those who designed and raised the stones, and who have been bearing witness for millennia. It is a humbling and inspiring experience, one that puts our lives into perspective, and realigns us to a vaster cycle – allowing us to all dance to the music of the spheres

Dr Kevan Manwaring (Copyright © Kevan Manwaring 2020) is an author, lecturer, and specialist tour-guide. His books include The Long Woman (a novel which features Stonehenge and Avebury), Lost Islands, Turning the Wheel: seasonal Britain on two wheels, Desiring Dragons, Oxfordshire Folk Tales, Northamptonshire Folk Tales, and more. He is a keen walker and loves exploring the ancient landscape of Wiltshire, where he lives with his archaeologist partner.  www.kevanmanwaring.co.uk

For everyone’s safety and wellbeing, this year’s winter solstice celebrations at Stonehenge have been cancelled. English Heritage will be live streaming the event for free online.

Stonehenge Winter Solstice Links:
Watch the winter solstice LIVE from Stonehenge, wherever you are in the world! ENGLISH HERITAGE FACEBOOK
Winter solstice: Why do pagans celebrate the shortest day of the year? THE TELEGRAPH
Solstice at Stonehenge. From Past to Present. – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
What has Stonehenge got to do with the winter solstice? – METRO NEWS
Celebrate Winter Solstice at Stonehenge – HOLIDAY EXTRAS
Solstice and Equinox Experience Tours – SOLSTICE EVENTS UK
The Stonehenge Sostice Pilgrims – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Stonehenge, the Winter Solstice, and the Druids – INTERESTRING ENGINEERING
Respecting the Stones.  Managed Open Access –STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Stonehenge Winter Solstice Tours – STONEHENGE GUIDED TOURS

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ONLINE LECTURE: Stonehenge: new light on its origins. 9th December 2020

5 12 2020

The lecture is due to start at 7.30pm. ONLINE using Zoom Webinars. Attendees will be emailed the link shortly before the lecture is due to begin.

By Mike Parker Pearson, Professor of British Later Prehistory, Institute of Archaeology

Fundraising Event: A talk by Mike Parker Pearson . Stonehenge: new light on its origins

Recent excavations in the Preseli hills of west Wales have revealed new insights into the sources of the famous bluestones that were brought 180 miles to be erected at Stonehenge. Together with new evidence that these were among the first stones to be erected at Stonehenge, a break-through in scientific analysis of the cremated remains of people buried at the monument is casting new light on this important if mysterious link with the far west. Recovery of DNA from human remains is also changing our understanding of Neolithic people at this significant time in British prehistory. The lecture will also update on the circle of substantial pits found during geophysical surveys surrounding Durrington Walls published earlier this year. These recent discoveries from fieldwork and archaeological science are producing new and exciting insights into who built Stonehenge and why.

A fundraising lecture for Wiltshire Museum.

Tickets – £15 (£12 for WANHS members)
BOOK ONLINE HERE

Wiltshire Museum
*Wiltshire Museum is now open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 10am to 4pm (closed 1-1.30pm)*

See gold from the time of Stonehenge! Wiltshire Museum is home to the best Bronze Age archaeology collection in Britain. Explore the galleries, see the outstanding collections and find out more about the fascinating history of Wiltshire and its people over the last 6,000 years.

Our brand new Prehistoric Wiltshire Galleries tell the story of the people who built and used the world renowned monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury. Unique gold and amber objects date back over 4,000 years to the Bronze Age – the time of shamans and priests, learning and culture across Europe. Later periods, including the Iron Age, Romans and Saxons, are also featured, together with the story of Devizes and the surrounding area. There are fun activities for all the family throughout the Museum.

Special exhibitions are held throughout the year – displaying the work of renowned artists, the Wiltshire landscape or highlighting more of our vast collection. Visit our website for details of current exhibitions and events. We have an extensive archive and library, which is open to visitors and researchers. Our collections are Designated by the government as being of national importance.

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Stonehenge versus Avebury

4 12 2020

The world-famous Neolithic monument of Stonehenge is on everyone’s bucket-list, or seems to be – going by the droves who visit it every year – but many miss out on its sister UNESCO World Heritage Site at Avebury, only 17 miles away. What are they missing out on, and is it even better? Does it out-henge Stonehenge?

When in Wiltshire, one should most certainly visit Stonehenge, which is undoubtedly the world’s most famous stone circle. But one should also make time to visit Wiltshire’s “other” stone circle, Avebury — which holds the distinction of being the largest in the world.

Stonehenge has long been a must-see for any visiting England and venturing beyond the capital – and rightly so. The iconic stone circle, standing proud on Salisbury Plain, is one of the seven ‘modern’ wonders of the world (as opposed to the classical ones, of which only the Great Pyramid of Giza survive), and in 2019 1.6 million people visited it.  Let us first consider its attractions before looking at its great ‘rival’, Avebury.

To its deficit are: the hordes of tourists, queues, pricey entrance fee, and the fact you cannot walk amongst the stones unless you’re on a special private access tour, such as Stonehenge Tours run).

Right, so that’s Stonehenge. Now, let’s travel north (17 miles by crow) to Avebury and consider its attractions…

  • The largest stone circle in Britain at 1,088 feet across, comprising (originally) 98 sarsens configured as one large circle containing two smaller ones.
  • The henge of Avebury is deeper, wider, and far more tangible than the slight dip of Stonehenge. If it is ‘henge’ you want – Avebury is the place to experience it.
  • The only stone circle with a pub in the middle of it (The Red Lion!).
  • Free to enter (except for parking).
  • You can walk amongst the stones.
  • The Avebury landscape (all part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site) contains incredible, unique monuments, including Silbury Hill, the largest man-made mound in Europe; West Kennet long barrow (the best preserved example of a Cotswold-Severn transepted barrow tomb); the Sanctuary; Seven Barrows; the Ridgeway; Fyfield Down sarsen field; and Windmill Hill early Neolithic enclosure and Bronze Age barrow cemetery.
  • A selection of small businesses selling local produce, art and crafts.

To its deficit, the visitor facilities are pretty basic (a small car-park that is often at capacity in the summer; the National Trust tea rooms are currently only offering takeaway; and service in The Red Lion is glacial). The post office/grocery store is probably the best option for a quick snack.

Nevertheless, I think it is clear that Avebury offers so much and any visitor to the area is missing out on something very special if they don’t include it in their itinerary. While access to Stonehenge remains restricted during current ‘lockdown’ rules (and closed for the Winter Solstice) Avebury provides an excellent alternative that will not disappoint.

GUEST BLOGGER: Dr Kevan Manwaring is an author, lecturer, and specialist tour-guide. His books include The Long Woman (a novel which features Stonehenge and Avebury) He is a keen walker and loves exploring the ancient landscape of Wiltshire, where he lives with his archaeologist partner.

STONEHENGE AND AVEBURY LINKS:
Official website of Stonehenge & Avebury WHS (World Heritage Site). STONEHENGE & AVEBURY WHS
Award-winning museum displays featuring Gold from the Time of Stonehenge. THE WILSHIRE MUSEUM
Ancient stone circle, museum and manor house in the heart of the Avebury World Heritage Site. NATIONAL TRUST
Visit Stonehenge and Visitor centre. Book tickets ENGLISH HERITAGE
Avebury: Wiltshire’s “Other” Stone Circle. TIME TRAVEL BRITAIN
Stonehenge and Avebury Tour Specialist (depart from London) STONEHENGE GUIDED TOURS
Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Tours (depart from Salisbury). STONEHENGE TRAVEL COMPANY
Stonehenge and Avebury Tours (from Glastonbury) TORS TOURS
Stonehenge and Avebury Guided Walking Tours (depart from Bath). THE STONEHENGE TOUR COMPANY
Plan your visit to Wiltshire. Official Wiltshire Tourist Information Site. VISIT WILTSHIRE

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The Stonehenge Alliance Campaign Group Launch Legal Challenge over Stonehenge Road Tunnel.

30 11 2020

A campaign group is planning a legal challenge over the transport secretary’s decision to approve a £1.7bn tunnel near Stonehenge.

Historic England and the National Trust argue that diverting the road underground will enhance the site. Druids, green campaigners and archaeologists have opposed the plans.

The campaign group Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) has commissioned the law firm Leigh Day and barristers Victoria Hutton and David Wolfe QC to investigate the lawfulness of the decision.

The group said the plan to dig a two-mile (3.2km) tunnel alongside the A303 near the Unesco world heritage site was “wasteful and destructive”.

The BBC has approached the Department for Transport (DfT) for a comment.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps approved the project earlier this month against the recommendations of planning officials.

The Planning Inspectorate had recommended Mr Shapps withhold consent, but the DfT said that the benefits of the scheme outweighed the potential harm.

Unesco previously said the scheme would have an “adverse impact” on the surrounding landscape.

Campaigners are worried that the work will have a detrimental impact on the wider Stonehenge world heritage site – which the tunnel would go through.

Tom Holland, from the Stonehenge Alliance, said he was “stunned” that the government had decided to approve the plans.

Stonehenge Alliance is supporting the CrowdJustice appeal.

He said: “I fully back the move to test whether Grants Shapps acted legally in approving this highly wasteful and destructive road scheme.

“The government has ignored advice from both Unesco and the independent panel who presided over a six-month examination.”

Mr Holland added: “I urge everyone who cares about the Stonehenge world heritage site to support this legal action.

“There is still a chance to stop the bulldozers moving in and vandalising our most precious and iconic prehistoric landscape.”

Highways England and English Heritage support the scheme, which is expected to begin in 2023 and take five years to complete.

SSWHS, a new organisation set up by supporters of the Stonehenge Alliance, has begun a fundraising campaign to pay for the legal action. In its letter to Shapps, the organisation said the proposals were in breach of Unesco’s world heritage convention.

RELEVANT STONEHENGE NEWS:
Stonehenge tunnel: Legal challenge to ‘destructive’ plans. BBC NEWS
The Stonehenge Tunnel Debate – the good, the bad, and the ugly. STONEHENHGE NEWS BLOG
Stonehenge tunnel faces legal challenge as campaigners say minister wrongly overruled expert advice. THE TELEGRAPH
Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site. CROWDJUSTICE
Campaigners launch legal challenge over Stonehenge road tunnel. THE GUARDIAN
Stonehenge tunnel: Legal challenge to destructive plans. INSIGHT NEWS REPORT

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