The Stonehenge prehistoric landscape. A Satellite view,

30 03 2012

I found this wonderful image on the stone-circles web site.  See it here:
http://www.stone-circles.org.uk/stone/stonehenge.htm
 Satellite image of the Stonehenge Landscape

It shows the “ritual” and non-ritual features in the Stonehenge area — with the features themselves overlaid onto a satellite image of the district.  Click to enlarge.

Links: http://brian-mountainman.blogspot.co.uk

Sponsored by ‘The Stonehenge Tour Company’ http://www.StonehenegTours.com

Merlin says “Stonehenge is so much more than a Stine Circle and I encourage you all to explore this prehistoric Landscape”

Merlin @ Stonehenge Stone Circle 





Archaeologists and pagans alike glory in the Brodgar complex

2 02 2012

Let’s not jump to conclusions about ritual significance, but this site is clearly immensely important to ancient British history

The Ring of Brodgar ancient standing stones in Orkney, Scotland, flank the Brodgar complex, now thought to be older than Stonehenge. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

The Ring of Brodgar ancient standing stones in Orkney, Scotland, flank the Brodgar complex, now thought to be older than Stonehenge. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

Archaeologists are notoriously nervous of attributing ritual significance to anything (the old joke used to be that if you found an artefact and couldn’t identify it, it had to have ritual significance), yet they still like to do so whenever possible. I used to work on a site in the mid-1980s – a hill fort in Gloucestershire – where items of potential religious note occasionally turned up (a horse skull buried at the entrance, for example) and this was always cause for some excitement, and also some gnashing of teeth at the prospect of other people who weren’t archaeologists getting excited about it (“And now I suppose we’ll have druids turning up”).

The Brodgar complex has, however, got everyone excited. It ticks all the boxes that make archaeologists, other academics, lay historians and pagans jump up and down. Its age is significant: it’s around 800 years older than Stonehenge (although lately, having had to do some research into ancient Britain, I’ve been exercised by just how widely dates for sites vary, so perhaps some caution is called for). Pottery found at Stonehenge apparently originated in Orkney, or was modelled on pottery that did.

The site at the Ness of Brodgar – a narrow strip of land between the existing Stone Age sites of Maeshowe and the Ring of Brodgar – is massive: the size of five football pitches and circled by a 10ft wall. Only a small percentage of it has been investigated; it is being called a “temple complex”, and researchers seem to think that it is a passage complex – for instance, one in which bones are carried through and successively stripped (there is a firepit across one of the doors, and various entrances, plus alcoves like those in a passage grave, which are being regarded as evidence for this theory – but it’s a bit tenuous at present). Obviously, at this relatively early stage, it’s difficult for either professional archaeologists or their followers to formulate too many firm theories.

When it comes to the pagan community, I don’t think that its sounder members will be leaping to too many conclusions too soon; as discussed in a previous column, some of us would prefer to rely on the actual evidence rather than rushing off at a tangent. I cannot help wondering whether the relatively muted response across the pagan scene to the Brodgar findings has to do with the fact that the central artefact discovered so far – the “Brodgar Boy” – is apparently male rather than female. I am cynical enough to wonder whether, if it had been a northern Venus, there would be much more in the way of rash speculation about ancient matriarchies. Will we see the pagan community flocking to Orkney at the solstices? I doubt it. Orkney is a long way off and rather difficult to get to, whereas Stonehenge and Avebury are with a reasonably easy drive if you happen to live in the south of the country. In the days when the site was at its peak, most traffic would have been coastal, and remained so for hundreds of years to come. (And to be fair, many modern pagans aren’t actually too keen on trampling over ancient sites, sacred or otherwise, due to awareness of their relative fragility).

With regard to the “boy” himself, and other ancient representations of the human form, we simply don’t know why people made them. Maybe they are gods, goddesses, spirits. Maybe they’re toys, or lampoons of particular individuals, or just someone doing some carving in an idle moment. It’s hardly a startling theory that, throughout history, people have made stuff for fun: I’ve always been very amused by Aztec pots made in the shape of comical animals, looking for all the world like the early precursor to Disney and somewhat at variance with the sombre bloodiness of other aspects of that culture.

 

As soon as the Bronze Age arrived, Brodgar was completely abandoned. There was apparently a mass slaughter of cattle, which would have fed as many as 20,000 people on the site; this is being taken by some experts as evidence of a complete and sudden cultural replacement. But whether it has ritual significance or not, the sheer size, age and numbers involved with the Orkney site make it of immense importance to the history of ancient Britain.

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk

Sponsored by ‘The Stonehenge Tour Compay’  www.StonehengeTours.com

Merlin @  Stonehenge 





Lugnhasadh – The Celtic harvest festival on August 1st

27 07 2011

Lugnhasadh, also known as Lammas, First Harvest

The name of this festival is Irish Gaelic for “Commemoration of Lugh”. Some authors give the meaning as marriage, gathering or feast (in the name of) of Lugh. The meaning remains basically the same: Lugh is the Deity of Lughnasadh, and there is a feast.

Although Lugh gives his name to this festival, it is also associated with Lugh’s foster mother Tailtiu, who is said to have cleared the way for the introduction of agriculture in Ireland, thus linking Lughnasadh to the land and the harvest.

The modern Irish Gaelic name for the month of August is Lúnasa. In Scottish Gaelic Lunasda means the 1st of August.

Silbury Hill

Silbury Hill -Wiltshire

One of several historic sources for the four Celtic fire festivals Imbolc, Bealtaine, Lughnasadh und Samhain is the early medieval Irish tale “Tochmarc Emire” (The Wooing of Emer), which is part of the Ulster Cycle. In the form we know it today it was written in the 10th or 11th century CE, but it is safe to assume that this tale – like so many others – contains a much older nucleus.

The tale narrates how the hero Cú Chulainn is courting Emer. He receives several tasks to fulfill, one of them being that he must go without sleep for one year. As Emer utters her challenge, she names the four major points of the Irish-Celtic year, as they are also mentioned in other Irish sources. Doing this, she does not use the solar festivals, nor Christian ones, which were certainly well known and established by the 10th century. Instead Emer choses the first days of each season.

One of these days is Lughnasadh, marking the beginning of fall. It takes place on the 1st of August, a date internationally agreed upon, or on the day of the full moon next to this date, if you want to celebrate when the ancient Celts probably did.

Since the Celtic day started with sunset, the celebration takes place on the evening before the calendaric date.

Lughnasadh marks the begin of the noticeable descent of the Sun into the darkness of winter. From the connection between the Earth (female principle) and the Sun (male principle), the marriage of the Sky Father (Sun God) with the Earth Mother we celebrated at Bealtaine, emerge the fruits of the first harvest of the year. Lughnasadh is a time of joy about the first fruits. It is also a time of tension, because the dark days of winter are coming nearer, and most of the harvest is not brought in and stored away yet.

The God of the harvest is the Green Man (also known as John Barleycorn). He sacrifices himself every year in order to enable human life on Earth. In some areas his death is mourned with wreaths decorated with poppies or cornflowers.

The grain is cut, part of it goes into bread and nutrition, another part is stored away and used as seeds next spring, to create new life. Looking at that, thoughts about sacrifice, transformation, death and rebirth are also part of Lughnasadh.

The celebration of Lughnasadh includes the ritual cutting of the first grain and an offering thereof, possibly the making of a first meal and the ritual eating of it, as well as dancing. Fires are mentioned, but fire or light do not play such a prominent role as with the other fire festivals. This is probably because August is a warm month in most of Europe, with still long daylight hours, where no fire is needed. Lughnasadh celebrations are reported from Ireland, Isle of Man, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall.

Another name used for Lughnasadh is “Lammas”, from the old-anglosaxon “hlaef-mass” (loaf mass, mass where the first loaf of bread is consecrated), which developed into the later medieval English and Scottish “Lammas”. As such it is first mentioned in old anglosaxon chronicles as early as 921 CE as “Feast of the First Fruits”. In an agricultural society the begin of the harvest was a natural occasion to celebrate and to give thanks to the Divine for Its gifts.

In Bavarian tradition, the most important festival in August is the “Ascension of Mary” on the 15th of August. On this day, numerous processions through the villages and along the fields are held. During these processions, decorated bundles of herbs, consisting of up to 77 different herbs, are carried along on wooden sticks. These herbs are specially consecrated and stored away then. They are used for ritual incense burning later in the year, e.g. during the “rough nights”, the time of the winter solstice. An older name for this festival is “Maria Kräuterweih”, meaning “Day of Mary and the Consecration of Herbs”.

The beginning of fall was marked by the day of St. Bartholomäus (Bartholomew) on August 24th.

The original Lughnasadh customs have obviously shifted to August 15th and additionally into numerous local and regional harvest celebrations. Lughnasadh is the therefore only one of the eight Celtic festivals which did not survive in Bavaria as a compact celebration ON or near the original date (August 1st). Harvest celebrations are instead dispersed over all of August. This might have to do with the geographical situation of Bavaria, where August tends to be a rather warm month, and harvest and fall are a bit later than elsewhere.

The Deities of Lughnasadh are Danu (Anu), the Mother of Gods and Men, and Lugh, the patron of scholars, craftsmen, warriors and magicians. Lugh is also known as Lugh Samildánach (the Many Skilled) and Lugh Lámhfada (Lugh with the Long Arm). It is disputed among authors whether this refers to Lugh’s magical spear or to the rays of the Sun. Lugh seems to have been worshipped, like his Greek and Roman correspondences Hermes and Mercury, mostly on elevations, hills or mountaintops.

The plant of Lughnasadh is any form of grain or corn, in a wider sense every fruit of field and garden.

The meaning of Lughnasadh on the inner planes is the start of the harvest of the fruits that we have sown in spring. Which things or projects are reaping in us in the moment? What would we like to finish, what to start anew? Do we have the insight that to every harvest there is a necessity of preparation?

The essence of Lughnasadh is the joy of life under the knowledge that darker times are moving in. We take in the warming rays of the Sun and store their power for the times coming. At the time we celebrate the next festival, Alban Elfed, it will be fall and the warm summer days will already be a memory.

Of course Lughnasadh is a very good time to express gratitude to the Gods and the Earth Spirits for their blessings and gifts that we are now receiving. In times of microwave and frozen pizza it may seem anachronistic to thank for the harvest. Many of our modern food stuffs make it hard to still recognize the waving grain on the field in them. And yet there is a way to connect with nature via the food that we eat. This is especially valid for self-harvested fruits. But also conscious eating, eating with focus on the food and not on TV or newspaper, is one way of expressing our thanks for the harvest – all year round, but especially at Lughnasadh.

Links:
http://www.mythinglinks.org/Lammas.html
http://www.chalicecentre.net/lughnasadh.htm

Sponsored by ‘The Stonehenge Tour Company’ – www.StonehengeTours.com

Merlin at Stonehenge (I will be at Avebury Stone Circle this year for Lammas)
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website





Druids celebrate summer solstice at Stonehenge for first time as mainstream faith

17 06 2011

When robed Druids gather at Stonehenge for the summer solstice in next week, they will be worshipping at the prehistoric stone-circle monument for the first time as members of an established religion under British charity law. The classification means members of the ancient pagan tradition, which some see as a curiosity of Britain’s ancient past, have mainstream status equal to the Church of England. The change of status, which is controversial, gives them tax advantages.
Stonehenge Druid

Opponents of the change of status regard it as a mistake made for the sake of political correctness by a government agency, the Charity Commission. The see it as the first step to recognition of Scientology, sorcery, witchcraft or even the Jedi as religions eligible for tax-exempt status. The 2001 census recorded the country as having some 390,127 Jedi, the fictional Star Wars religion, in England and Wales.

After a four-year campaign by the Druids, the Charity Commission says it accepts that they worship nature and believe in the spirits of places such as mountains and rivers, as well as in divine guides.

Druids are best known for the gathering at Stonehenge each year on Jun 21 to greet the dawn, but they hold festivals eight times a year to mark stages in the solar and lunar cycles. Encyclopedia Britannica describes the ancient Druids as members of the learned class among the Celts. They do not worship a single god or creator, but seek to cultivate a sacred relationship with the natural world. The earliest known records of the Druids come from the 3rd Century BC. 

RELATED READING:

Druids: Worshippers of nature who were said to sacrifice humans (Telegraph 2 Oct 2010)
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/8037258/Druids-Worshippers-of-nature-who-were-said-to-sacrifice-humans.html

MELANIE PHILIPS: Druids as an official religion? Stones of Praise here we come (Daily Mail 4 Oct 2010)
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1317490/Druids-official-religion-Stones-Praise-come.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

Stonehenge preperations
THOUSANDS of revellers are expected to descend upon Stonehenge for this year’s Summer Solstice.
Sunrise will occur at about 4.45am on June 21, which is the longest day of the year.
English Heritage is opening Stonehenge to the public from 7pm on Monday, June 20, to 8am the following day.
The Solstice car park, just off the A303, will open from 7pm on Monday, June 20, with last admission at 6am on Tuesday, June 21. Access to the stones and car park will be free of charge but organisers have advised people to use public transport where possible.
Wilts and Dorset bus company will be running a regular service from Salisbury railway station, via the bus station, from 6.30pm on the Monday evening through to 1.15am on Tuesday. A return service will operate frequently from 4am to 9.45am on Tuesday – with buses stopping at any recognised bus stop along the Amesbury route

Sponsored by ‘The Stonehenge Tour Company’  www.StonehengeTours.com

Merlin at Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle website





Druids celebrate summer solstice for first time as mainstream faith

8 06 2011

When robed Druids gather at Stonehenge for the summer solstice in 2011, they will be worshipping at the prehistoric stone-circle monument for the first time as members of an established religion under British charity law. The classification means members of the ancient pagan tradition, which some see as a curiosity of Britain’s ancient past, have mainstream status equal to the Church of England. The change of status, which is controversial, gives them tax advantages.
Stonehenge solstice druids

Opponents of the change of status regard it as a mistake made for the sake of political correctness by a government agency, the Charity Commission. The see it as the first step to recognition of Scientology, sorcery, witchcraft or even the Jedi as religions eligible for tax-exempt status. The 2001 census recorded the country as having some 390,127 Jedi, the fictional Star Wars religion, in England and Wales.

After a four-year campaign by the Druids, the Charity Commission says it accepts that they worship nature and believe in the spirits of places such as mountains and rivers, as well as in divine guides.

Druids are best known for the gathering at Stonehenge each year on Jun 21 to greet the dawn, but they hold festivals eight times a year to mark stages in the solar and lunar cycles. Encyclopedia Britannica describes the ancient Druids as members of the learned class among the Celts. They do not worship a single god or creator, but seek to cultivate a sacred relationship with the natural world. The earliest known records of the Druids come from the 3rd Century BC. 

RELATED READING:
Druids: Worshippers of nature who were said to sacrifice humans (Telegraph 2 Oct 2010)
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/8037258/Druids-Worshippers-of-nature-who-were-said-to-sacrifice-humans.html

MELANIE PHILIPS: Druids as an official religion? Stones of Praise here we come (Daily Mail 4 Oct 2010)
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1317490/Druids-official-religion-Stones-Praise-come.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

Sponsored by ‘The Stonehenge Tour Company’ www.StonehengeTours.com

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website
Follow me on twitter for all the Solsice news: http:/www.TWITTER.COM/ST0NEHENGE





Marlborough mound mystery solved – after 4,400 years

1 06 2011

Hill in Wiltshire school grounds nicknamed Silbury’s little sister revealed as important neolithic monument

Ancient mound in the grounds of Marlborough College, Wiltshire. Photograph: Steven Vaux /Marlborough College

For generations, it has been scrambled up with pride by students at Marlborough College. But the mysterious, pudding-shaped mound in the grounds of the Wiltshire public school now looks set to gain far wider acclaim as scientists have revealed it is a prehistoric monument of international importance.

After thorough excavations, the Marlborough mound is now thought to be around 4,400 years old, making it roughly contemporary with the nearby, and far more renowned, Silbury Hill.

 

The new evidence was described by one archeologist, an expert on ancient ritual sites in the area, as “an astonishing discovery”. Both neolithic structures are likely to have been constructed over many generations.

The Marlborough mound had been thought to date back to Norman times. It was believed to be the base of a castle built 50 years after the Norman invasion and later landscaped as a 17th-century garden feature. But it has now been dated to around 2400BC from four samples of charcoal taken from the core of the 19 metre-high hill.

The samples prove it was built at a time when British tribes were combining labour on ritual monuments in the chalk downlands of Wiltshire, including Stonehenge and the huge ditches and stone circle of Avebury.

History students at the college will now have the chance to study an extraordinary example just a stone’s throw from their classroom windows. Malborough’s Master Nicholas Sampson said: “We are thrilled at this discovery, which confirms the long and dramatic history of this beautiful site and offers opportunity for tremendous educational enrichment.”

The Marlborough mound has been called “Silbury’s little sister”, after the more famous artificial hill on the outskirts of Avebury, which is the largest manmade prehistoric hill in Europe.

Marlborough, at two-thirds the height of Silbury, now becomes the second largest prehistoric mound in Britain; it may yet be confirmed as the second largest in Europe.

Jim Leary, the English Heritage archeologist who led a recent excavation of Silbury, said: “This is an astonishing discovery. The Marlborough mound has been one of the biggest mysteries in the Wessex landscape. For centuries, people have wondered whether it is Silbury’s little sister, and now we have an answer. This is a very exciting time for British prehistory.”

 The dating was carried out as part of major conservation work amid concerns that tree roots could be destabilising the structure.

Sponsored by the The Stonehenge Tour Company – www.StonehengeTours.com

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website





Secrets of the Stones

30 05 2011

As the summer solstice will soon see thousands gather at Stonehenge, an archaeologist discusses his belief that the Wiltshire monument is evidence of a great civilisation which once thrived there

Sunrise at Stonehenge - June 21st

Sunrise at Stonehenge - June 21st

IN three weeks’ time, thousands of devotees will gather in the dark in a field in Wiltshire. They do this every year and each time their number grows.

They are there to celebrate the midsummer Solstice, the longest day of the year, and will wait until daybreak when the sun sends a piercing ray of light through Stonehenge, the ancient ruin they have come to venerate.

This primordial circle of stones, eight miles north of Salisbury in Wiltshire, exerts an extraordinary power over the people of Britain.

Some, like the Druids, claim it is the source of a mystical power while others, curious but sceptical, believe it to be the site of an ancient monument that has no relevance to the way we live today.

Whatever their conviction they are all missing the point according to one man who has studied the location for 30 years and believes he knows the real reason why Stonehenge is so special.

“Stonehenge is unique; it is already recognised as a World Heritage Site but it’s more than just an ancient curiosity, it is the place where civilisation began,” says writer and archaeologist Robert John Langdon.

“It’s simply the most amazing place in the world and we should all be celebrating the meaning of this incredible place.”

Robert fell under the spell of Stonehenge as a boy. He explored the massive stone monoliths and was intrigued by the official explanation of their origin. As the years passed and he learned more he was puzzled by contradictions in official explanation of its origins.

“The carbon dating of the stones is not consistent. I have discovered that stone post holes in what is now the car park for the site predate the accepted date for Stonehenge by 5,000 years. If this evidence is accepted, and it has been denied for years, it turns the conventional history of Stonehenge, and the rest of the world for that matter, on its head.”

If Robert is right, and he says he has the scientific evidence to prove he is, Stonehenge is the most important archaeological site in the world. It would mean Salisbury Plain is home to the first and most significant civilisation on earth. So how could this have happened?

“The geography and landscape of the site would have been very different. Britain would have been emerging from the last Ice Age, so much of the country we now recognise would have been under water. Stonehenge would have been on an estuary that led to the open sea. Too many important facts have been ignored,” says Robert.

“There is evidence that water was close, but that has been classified as a moat which I believe is wrong. It is also believed the stones were dragged over land from Wales which is misleading.

“The large sarsen stones came from an area close to Avebury which is not far from Stonehenge.  To have brought them overland all the way from Wales takes no account of the fact that according to the official time scale Salisbury Plain at that time would have been heavily forested which would have made that access all but impossible. The bluestones, which are the key to the secret of Stonehenge, were smaller and did come from Wales but they were brought there by boat.”

Robert’s hypothesis is based on his conviction that the men who built Stonehenge were much more skilled and sophisticated than is currently believed. In 10,000 BC, the Mesolithic period, he believes that men in ancient Britain developed the first recognisable civilisation and that Stonehenge was their greatest achievement.

“These were extremely capable people who found a way of drilling into stone and used sophisticated mortice and tenon joints to erect Stonehenge but most importantly they mastered the seas. These boat people, as we can call them, travelled widely and traded and these are the people I believe that Plato referred to in his writings on the origins of civilisation.”

So why did these people make such an effort to build Stonehenge? what was it intended to do?

“Stonehenge was accessible to boat people from  all over Europe and Mesolithic men and women came there to be cured of their ailments and to depart from this world. The alignment of the site to the sun and the moon is immensely significant but so is the presence of the bluestones in the circle.

“Bluestone turns blue in water, and was believed to have incredible powers of healing. Evidence from bones found close to Stonehenge suggests that the original inhabitants practised sophisticated medical procedures which included dentistry, limb removal and even brain surgery.

“These were not the fur-clad hunter gatherers living in mud huts that many mistakenly believe were the builders of Stonehenge. They were instead members of a great civilisation that moved out, leaving Stonehenge as the only surviving physical evidence of their genius.”

If Robert Langdon is right Stonehenge is much older than the Pyramids and there is a surprising connection between the two ancient stone monuments.

“Over the centuries the climate and landscape in Britain changed. Mesolithic men used their seafaring skills to move to a more sympathetic environment. They traded widely and sailed south to what is now the Mediterranean and moved in along the coast from Egypt to Greece and Italy. The ancient Egyptians’ skill at engineering and building with stone had its roots in the lessons learnt by the men who built Stonehenge.”

It is not only archaeologists with a theory about the significance of Stonehenge. The Druids regard it as a sacred place where they perform spiritual rituals.

Robert says: “I don’t have any disputes with the Druids and they don’t seem to mind me. I’ll be rubbing shoulders with lots of them at the midsummer solstice. The Druids may well have their beliefs but they came on the Stonehenge scene very late in the day.

“They would have discovered the site as an ancient and abandoned temple and taken it over but that’s all right. I get on pretty well with other archaeologists too although they do tend to dismiss my work, but that’s their loss. Stonehenge has a special hold on me and the more I learn about it the more fascinated I become. I’m already working on a new book which I think will ruffle quite a lot of feathers.

“In a sense what we know as Stonehenge is almost the foundations of a much bigger edifice. Stonehenge is, despite all the myths that have been fostered, a very special place. It is, I believe, the birthplace of civilisation and we all ought to give it the respect that it really deserves.”

Article from The Express Newspaper
Sponosred by ‘The Stonehenge Tour Compant’ www.StonehengeTours.com

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website





Magic circles: walking from Avebury to Stonehenge

14 05 2011

A new walking path links Britain’s two greatest prehistoric sites, Avebury and Stonehenge, and is as epic as the Inca Trail

The Great Stones Way is one of those ideas so obvious it seems amazing that no one has thought of it before: a 38-mile walking trail to link England’s two greatest prehistoric sites, Avebury and Stonehenge, crossing a landscape covered with Neolithic monuments.

But like any project involving the English countryside, it’s not as straightforward as it might seem. The steering group has had to secure permission from landowners and the MoD, who use much of Salisbury Plain for training. They hope to have the whole trail open within a year, but for now are trialling a 14-mile southern stretch, having secured agreement from the MoD and parish councils. The “Plain & Avon” section leads from the iron age hill fort of Casterley Camp on Salisbury Plain down the Avon valley to Stonehenge. Walkers are being encouraged to test the route, and detailed directions can be found on the Friends of the Ridgeway website.

It’s an area all but the boldest have avoided: negotiating the MoD areas needed careful planning. Few walkers come here and not a single garage or shop along the Avon valley sells local maps. The Great Stones Way should change that.

What makes the prospect of the Great Stones Way so exciting is the sense that for more than a millennium, between around 3000 and 2000BC, the area it crosses was the scene of frenzied Neolithic building activity, with henges, burial barrows and processional avenues criss-crossing the route.

Stones mapAt Casterley Camp, high on Salisbury Plain, it takes me a while to realise what is strange about the landscape, as wild and empty as anywhere in southern England, and with a large burial mound directly ahead. Then it hits me: this is perfect high grazing country, but there’s not a single sheep. Maybe they have read the MoD notice which points out that “‘projectile’ means any shot or shell or other missile or any portion thereof”, and that over much of what you can see you’re liable to be hit by one. You can also be arrested without a warrant. But the trail cleverly and legally threads its way past the firing ranges towards a delightful and ancient droving road that plunges down between cow parsley to an old farm.

Five minutes in we are passed by a lone woman wearing Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses and heading determinedly towards the shooting area, where the red flags are up to signify that it’s a “live” day. In a Kensington and Chelsea accent, she tells us that she regularly drives down from London as it’s one of the few places “where you don’t run the risk of meeting anybody else”. I murmur that this might be because they know they’ll get shot at. “Oh, I love all that. It gets my endorphins going. I got back to the car once and found it ringed by military police. When I told them that I just enjoyed the walking, they didn’t believe me. They said, ‘How can you claim to enjoy walking when you don’t have a dog?'”

One animal practising its duck-and-cover technique here is the remarkable great bustard, recently reintroduced to the UK after its local extinction two centuries ago. At 40lbs, the male bird is one of the largest flying animals in the world, so it’s unmistakable even for the most hesitant birdwatcher. As we reach an isolated farm building, we pass a Land Rover full of enthusiasts heading off to track some down.

The trail curves below to cross and then follow the Avon, a river that loomed large in the affairs of Neolithic man. It was along the Avon that the bluestones of the Preseli hills in Wales are thought to have been transported by boat to Stonehenge, after being moved an almost unimaginable distance around both the Pembrokeshire and Cornish peninsulas to the river mouth at Christchurch.

There are some pretty villages along the upper Avon: Enfold, with its flint and stone church, and old funeral wagon in the nave; Longstreet, with the Swan pub appearing at the right moment for a lunchtime reappraisal of the route; Coombe and Fittleton, with their judas trees, mill ponds and dovecotes. At Figheldean (pronounced “file-dean”), an allotment holder tells me he doesn’t grow courgettes “because they’re foreign food”.

Woodhenge, WiltshireWoodhenge, Wiltshire. Photograph: AlamyIt’s a peaceful valley to stroll along, with some beautiful stretches under beech trees and past bluebell woods. Which is why it comes as a shock to have to stop for a couple of tanks to trundle past at Brigmerston ford. The route follows the tank tracks back across the river and out onto the plain, so the last stretch again has wide-open vistas of the prehistoric landscape. At Durrington Walls, the trail cuts through a huge enclosed area where the builders of Stonehenge may have lived – the site is aligned to face sunset on the summer solstice – and on past Woodhenge, with its concentric circles of wooden posts (marked now by concrete posts).

As the walk gets into its finishing stride, you pass the King Barrows still sleeping along their ridge, some of the few sites that remain unexcavated (the local farmer didn’t want the trees cut down), and the mysterious Cursus group of Bronze Age barrows, so named because 18th-century antiquarian William Stukeley thought it must have been built by the Romans for chariot races. Across a meadow land of dandelions and buttercups, the familiar silhouette of the stone and lintel circle finally appears, at the end of the processional avenue that once led there from the river. In the distance, the stones themselves are a flat grey. What gleams all around them, like fish circling, is the traffic on the A303.

I can’t help thinking how much better it is to arrive at Stonehenge on foot. The comparison that comes to mind, and which I know well, is the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. The experience of trekking to both sites is immeasurably richer, not just because you’ve “earned it”, but because both sets of ruins are only properly understood in the context of the sacred landscape that surrounds them.

• For details of this 14-mile section of the walk, and accommodation and transport, see the Friends of the Ridgeway website: ridgewayfriends.org.uk/plainandavonwalk.html

Hugh Thomson’s The White Rock: An Exploration of the Inca Heartland (Phoenix, £10.99) has just been reissued to mark the centenary of the discovery of Machu Picchu. His most recent book is Tequila Oil(Phoenix, £8.99)

There are already ‘Crop Circles’ in Stonehenge and Avebury area well worth exploring.  If you do not have the time or require a guide try the excellent ‘Stonehenge Tour Company’
There is also a new ‘Henge Hopper service covering this area

Links:  http://www.guardian.co.uk
The Henge Hopper

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website





The Henge Hopper

3 04 2011

The Wiltshire Heritage Museum is planning to launch a bus service to link Stonehenge and Avebury. At the moment, it is extremely difficult to travel between the two, and the Museum hopes to be able to boost tourism in the Vale of Pewsey and the Avon Valley. They hope to launch a service in due course.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

The Community Bus Service will be operated by minibuses, and the route would take in a range of archaeological sites and monuments in the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site, including Silbury Hill, West Kennet Long Barrow and Woodhenge.

The ‘hop on, hop off’ service would include free entry to the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes, encouraging people to discover the collections excavated from the World Heritage Site.

The Henge Hopper enables you to visit:

Avebury
Britain’s largest stone circle, at the centre of a remarkable complex of monuments, including stone circles, burial mounds, two stone-lined avenues and Silbury Hill.

Alexander Keiler Museum, Avebury Manor
Explore the world famous stone circle. The bus starts from just outside the Museum, which features fascinating finds from Alexander Keiler’s excavations at Avebury, and, in the barn, interactive displays bring the Avebury landscape to life. Explore also Avebury Manor and its wonderful garden. Cafe, toilets and shop.

Silbury Hill
The largest man-made mound in Europe, mysterious Silbury Hill compares in height and volume to the roughly contemporary Egyptian pyramids.

West Kennet Long Barrow
One of the largest, most impressive and most accessible Neolithic chambered tombs in Britain. Built in around 3650 BC, it was used for a short time as a burial chamber, nearly 50 people being buried here before the chambers were blocked.

Wansdyke / White Horse Trail
Massive Saxon defensive ditch and bank running along the top of the North Wessex Downs. Walk along the Wansdyke, following the White Horse Trail, with stunning views over the Vale of Pewsey.

Marden Henge
Britain’s largest henge, Excavations in 2010 have revealed much about its fascinating story.

Alton Barnes White Horse
Dominates the landscape of the Vale of Pewsey.

Adam’s Grave / Wansdyke
Neolithic chambered tomb on the summit of the Downs. Walk along the Wansdyke, following the White Horse Trail.

Stonehenge

The most sophisticated stone circle in the world, at the centre of a remarkable sacred landscape. Includes the cursus, a 3km long earthwork and the Avenue, leading from the River Avon.

Winterbourne Stoke

The most impressive barrow cemetery – a Neolithic long barrow and a line of Bronze Age burial mounds.

Normanton Down
Cemetery of over 50 round barrows, including the famous Bush Barrow.

Amesbury

Amesbury is an attractive small town embraced by a loop of the River Avon as it cuts through the high plateau of Salisbury Plain. The town has served the needs of travellers for centuries. Highlights include the Amesbury is the closest settlement to Stonehenge.

Durrington Walls / Woodhenge
Durrington Walls is a massive henge, the site of the recent discovery of Neolithic houses, where the people who used Stonehenge may have lived. Nearby is Woodhenge, where excavations showed a series of concentric circles of wooden posts, enclosed by a bank and ditch.

Where to Stay
Local accomodation listed by VisitWiltshire.

Alternatvley you could join a guided sightseeing coach tour with ‘The Stonehenge Tour Company’ or a privat tour with ‘Histouries UK’ or ‘SalisburyGuidedTours‘ based is Salisbury

The Henge Hopper – http://www.stonehenge-avebury-bus.org.uk/
Stonehehenge Tour Companies – http://www.stonehenge-stone-circle.co.uk/stonehenge-tours.htm

However you get there, get there…………………….

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website





Wessex Audio Tour – Ancient Britain

3 03 2011

Start: Avebury |Finish: Old Sarum
Distance: Approximately 42 miles

Wiltshire is a county of history and mystery set in a dramatic landscape. The combination of heritage and scenery provides a truly memorable day out. So come with us on a journey through the countryside and across the ages as we go back to the time of our prehistoric ancestors. Hundreds of thousands of years may have passed but all over the county there’s evidence of human activity from the end of the Ice Age through the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages right up to the invasion of the Romans in AD43.

Click here for audio / visual tour

This driving tour will take you through the heart of Wiltshire. En route you’ll discover more about how our enigmatic and mysterious ancestors lived, worked, fought and died.

This tour can be undertaken in a variety of ways; as a day-long journey, in short sections or you can use the information as a guide to individual visits.

You might also consider embarking on the tour using public transport but keeping up to date with bus service and timetable changes will require plenty of preparation.

Before you set off make sure that you’re properly equipped. Nothing beats a really good Ordnance Survey map, marked with contours and ancient monuments. A compass and a torch would also be useful. Some of these historical gems are in fields and away from roads or footpaths, so good walking boots are a must. Some sites have few or no facilities and it’s also worth noting that mobile phone coverage can’t be guaranteed in parts of rural Wiltshire. For news of road works or route closures, check BBC Local Radio and bbc.co.uk/travelnews

This guide has been produced with the generous assistance of Phil Harding, Wessex Archaeology, English Heritage, Wiltshire Council Archaeology Service, Bob Clarke, Martin Kellett, David Dawson and the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes.
Sponsors:  The Stonehenge Tour Company

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website








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