“Well, can ya die ‘appy now thet ya’ve seen Stonehenge?” he asked.
It was an interesting question, but if you had a chance to visit England, what would be at the top of your list of places to see? Buckingham Palace? Big Ben? Those were on my list, but the top line belonged to England’s most famous pile of rocks, Stonehenge.
Guy and I, along with 14-year-old son Dan, had a chance to visit England the summer of 1989, when Guy’s sister and her husband (Lois and David) lived there, two hours north of London in Kings Lynn. They’d already seen Stonehenge and didn’t think it was worth the extra hour out of our way into London to visit.
I was relieved that the ancient relic was still at the top of Dan’s list (along with Hard Rock Cafe and a Dr. Who exhibit). Somehow the two of us outvoted the other three!
Getting there wasn’t easy. Traffic on the London Orbital was stop-and-go. The car’s open windows gave no relief from the heat and humidity. It was a miserable ride. Guilt nagged. But when we finally headed west, anticipation set in. Without warning, we crested a hill and there, spread out in the distance, was Salisbury Plain.
That first glimpse of the great grey boulders on the lonely expanse reminded me of toy blocks left behind by a gigantic creature that had tired of them. Dark specks dotting the vast isolated pasture turned out to be cows.
What causes the desire to spend time and effort to see ancient haphazard ruins? The enigmatic monument is certainly not a place of beauty, but is strangely alluring. Some of the ungainly stones stood on end, some shared lintels with others, some had fallen over, and many had been hauled away. Since 1978, people have not been allowed to walk among the huge, dull sandstone sarsens and blue-stones, but we circled nearly all the way around them. A solemnity seemed to silence the dozen or so tourists there.
A jackdaw flapped to the top of a massive upright where the silhouette of its mate waited.
I pondered the history and mystery of the place. How did primitive men haul 81 of these giants from 25 miles away, other large stones from as far away as 300 miles?
That was no easier to grasp than this imposing carcass of rocks was a Stone Age astronomical observatory, that the dull grey stones aligned with other stones and spaces so that primitive men could predict the seasons and even eclipses of the sun and moon.
Maybe it’s what we don’t know about this mute place is what makes it magical.
A helicopter circled overhead, insisting on our attention to the modern world. It was the week of the Summer Solstice and the Stones, as they call it, were closed for two days to thwart an invasion of hippies.
Before leaving, we cooled off with colas in the shade of a hawthorn shrub. A cabbie, who had brought more tourists to see the famous relic, asked loudly, “Well, can ya die ‘appy now thet ya’ve seen Stonehenge?” We all laughed.
“As a matter of fact, yes!” I admitted.
When Lois and David visited us at home, after they moved back to the States, our front bushes had been removed. Dan made a mini-Stonehenge there to welcome back his aunt and uncle.
I’m sure they appreciated the welcome.
Salisbury Plain was the location of my uncle’s training during WWII before D-day. He never mentioned having seen Stonehenge, but, then again, he never talked about anything of his time in England or the war!
He may have considered it just a pile of rubble, as many people who lived there did. They even hauled off some of it for construction.
I visited Stonehenge in the 70s when tourists were still allowed to walk right up to the rocks and only a tour bus or two was there. My husband and son took a tour there in 1999 and said there were so many buses and people that it was worse than Disneyland. By then, everyone had to stay on the path, far away from the stones themselves. They were quite disappointed.
We were there with my mom and her sister in 1997, so had to stay on the path, but at least we got a great photo of the four of us (my husband and I were their “crew” when they traveled mainly to see where their brother Danny Wilson is buried in eastern France) under umbrellas with Stonehenge right behind us. Our 1989 photos were awful, but so were the heat and humidity that day.
I love Dan’s mini-Stonehenge!
He had fun building it! Thank you, Liz.
You’re welcome, Joy!
Our school’s tour visited there in 1983. As we were told, it is a place of witchcraft and spells, very spiritually dark. As our bus circled round, our guide observed a crow pecking another one to death on the ground. He said that was a bad omen for our trip. Sure enough, he was right. Our five-week tour through Europe was full of arguing and fighting among the adult sponsors. If I ever return to England, Stonehenge will not be on my itinerary, lol.
How fascinating! In 1997, my mother and her sister made a trip to an American cemetery in France (Lorraine, at St. Avold) to see where one of the three brothers they lost during WWII is buried). Because they were in their late 70s and this would probably be their only trip to Europe, the travel agent helped them decide what other places they’d like to see. So they visited Paris and London, among others. My mother chose Stonehenge, because her only grandson had been there and loved it. My husband and I went with them in 1997, so we’ve enjoyed it twice. We got a much better photo there, with the four of us under umbrellas!
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Thank you for including this story!