Where the demons dwell. And the banshees live. And they do live well.*
Yes, last week I went to Stonehenge. I know the Solstice celebrations aren't till the 21st but I like to be early. Beat the traffic and all that.
Inevitably, I took a bazillion photos. Well, of course. It's a spectacular place, even more so on a glorious early morning in June. We were fortunate to have been invited to go along as part of a small group by the English Heritage team with whom (posh grammar eh?) Mr WithaY has been working recently. So at 0730, bright and breezy, we rocked up in the car park and met the rest of the group.
It immediately became apparent that we had dressed over-optimistically for the trip, as a stiff wind was blowing, but being British we gritted our teeth and ignored it. Take that, weather.
There are some semi-tame rooks living in the monument, some of which were interested enough to come and watch us.
This one is called Gerontius and is trained to peck out your eyes if you fail to return your audio tour.
We were given strict instruction not to touch the stones because the acids in our skin would damage the lichen, apparently. Perhaps they had a bad experience with a visiting group of Geiger aliens. We were also warned not to climb on the stones, deface them, lick them or try to push them over, or they'd set the rooks on us.
I've always thought Stonehenge was a tad unimpressive, to be honest. I know it's a world heritage site and all that jazz, but when viewed at 50mph from the A303, it seems underwhelming. Even when I've paid to get in, and walked around the outside with the audio tour (which I was careful to return, for fear of Gerontius) it's felt a bit, well, commercial and dull. Plus you're always surrounded by massive crowds of tourists, probably all feeling as disappointed as yourself.
Last week, though, it was very different. The stones are HUGE. Really, really big. And when you stand next to them, you appreciate how incredibly hard it must have been to move them from where they were found, organise them into the correct alignment, and then stand them up. And then, incredibly, somehow hoist the equally-massive lintels onto the tops of them.
The guide, bless him, tried to explain all about Stonehenge, but was hampered by the fact that he did not have answers to the burning questions we all wanted to ask, viz:
1) What's it for?
2) How was it built?
He gamely explained various theories, backed up by the archaeological evidence, but basically had to reply to many of our questions with a smiling "We're not sure..."
Here's one of the rooks, keeping a wary eye on the group:
We were there a few hours too late for sunrise, but it was still lovely to see the long shadows crossing the centre of the circle.
That's a view of the Heelstone between the central pillars, thankfully without any traffic passing by on the road behind it to ruin the atmosphere.
This is one of my favourite pictures which gives a sense of the circular-ness** of the monument from the inside.
And this is the view off to the north west, across Salisbury Plain. Usually there would be a thick crowd of people in an unbroken line around the path, so it's gorgeous to just see the stones and the big sky.
When the new visitors centre is opened, it will be a very different experience, and I am looking forward to seeing the changes.
Mr WithaY and I amused ourselves as we walked around by quietly exchanging comments in the "Neolithic Accent" as seen on Armstrong and Miller's TV show.
One careers option I was made aware of that day, and never offered at school, is "Astro-archaeologist." I demand to know why not. Is it because it sounds like a load of made-up bollocks? Or just that the people who write horoscopes AND have a keen interest in digging holes want to keep it secret from the rest of us?
The truth will out.
In other news, the catering business is making slow but steady growth, and I am selling more of my home-made chutneys to people. Mr WithaY has been carving some beautiful wooden bowls recently, and I am trying to persuade him to sell them online.
We've been making the most of the last week of fabulous weather to get stuff done outside and have replaced the roof of the shed, planted more fruit bushes, cleared a huge (and I mean HUGE) amount of assorted shite out of the garden, and planted a lot of mixed wildflower seeds. I have high hopes that in a few weeks we will have more flowers.
This of course, is a celestial cue for torrential rain until September.
*I still adore Spinal Tap.
**Yes, it's a word. Shut up.