We’re on tour, a chance to take a trip in the new car and test it, test the sat-nav and ultimately test our patience when we won’t find anywhere. So we’ve gone south towards Stonehenge in what we’re calling by the very catchy name of the nerdy neolithic Monster Megalithic Monument tour. Checking the weather forecast before we go for the time we are due to arrive, it states light rain shower, 66% humidity and visibility as very good. Which means that we will be able to see the rain perfectly.
Now, the only reason to visit these stones on the Monster Megalithic Monument tour is because in some fit of middle-aged madness, at the grand age of 44, we decided to purchase membership for National Heritage. Finding them is easy, the rubbernecker drivers gave us a clue. On arrival, the queue is horrendous. Merely glancing at it will suck the very soul from humanity and slaughter your sanity for nothing is sacred here. For once, I’m quite happy to have paid a premium and only have my wallet sacrificed. We booked online in advance and because we were members, ushered straight to the front, no queue, no hassle, no selfie sticks snapped in anger and the rain has held off.
Shipped off to the stones by shuttle bus, we arrive at Stonehenge to see a bunch of stones assembled together like a drunken giants jenga game. Somebody obviously got bored and knocked ’em down. Sozzled stones would be a great alternative name for Stonehenge. Actually, its pretty cool here and I’ve always harboured a suspicion that the allure of the stones owed their looks to the magic of photography. They certainly look different as you walk around. They’d look even better in the sun, except its August and the sun is yet to make an appearance. How on earth our ancestors aligned these stones I’ll never know but I’m pretty sure the sun always aligns to something. Maybe that’s why it took years to build Stonehenge.
Quite why they built Stonehenge, I may also never know, maybe those neolithic nincompoops just thought it would be a great talking point for years to come, you know let’s get some dead heavy bluestone from Wales, move them 160 miles, knock up some sarsen stones and voilà, instant tourist attraction. People will be talking about it for years to come wondering why we built it. I’m pretty sure that life 5000 years ago was hard enough as it was, so lugging 30 ton rocks must have some meaning. Being free from the shackles of religion, I didn’t feel the need to hug a hippy or practice any trumpery idolatry. Some people certainly did, most just felt the need for a photograph. I’m not sure that sacrificing virgins on the slaughter stone would appease any malevolent powers. When you start looking at the landscape, there are barrows and burial mounds everywhere you turn. This is one giant ceremonial graveyard.
Moving on with the next stop in the Monster Megalithic Monument tour is Silbury Hill. You can’t miss it, it’s staggering at 40 metres high and half a million tons of chalk, it’s the tallest prehistoric human made mound in Europe. Built around 2400 BC, its purpose remains unknown.
Next on the Monster Megalithic Monument tour is West Kennet Long Barrow. This is a neolithic tomb over 100 metres in length and at least 400 years older (3600 BC) than Stonehenge. It’s constructed from sarsen stone and limestone topped with chalked that today is covered in grass. Inside there are 5 burial chambers where at least 46 people over 1000 years were buried. It has some impressive sized stones at the entrance before you go inside. It’s worth the trek up the hill to West Kennet Long Barrow from the A4 roadside where when you are at the top, you can also see Silbury Hill. On the other side of the hill, we saw excavation work being completed at West Kennet Avenue by the National Trust archaeological team.
At this point I’m having to drag Sam away from the tomb, mainly because I’m in distinct danger of being buried myself so off we trot on the next step of our Monster Megalithic Monument tour to the Avebury stone circle for more monolithic madness. What is complete madness is that there is a main road running right through Avebury stone circle. While the stones themselves are pretty big, the henge itself, the circular bank and ditch is huge, over 28 acres. Inside there is an outer circle of tall standing stones at 331 metres and a further two stone circles enclosed. Constructed during the neolithic new stone age 2600 BC, its purpose and the rituals contained within remain unknown. Its current purpose is to bring in lots of visitors to a very pretty village.
Continuing on to the penultimate step on our Monster Megalithic Monument tour is Wayland’s Smithy Long Barrow on Britain’s oldest road, The Ridgeway. Tucked out-of-the-way and hidden in a wooded area, its dead quiet here and certainly atmospheric. Quite handy considering this is another neolithic burial chamber built around 3590 BC where the remains of 14 people were found in earlier excavations. Wayland’s Smithy Long Barrow is actually two tombs, with excavations showing that the monument we see today covers an earlier barrow. At 56 metres long and 13 metres wide, that’s a pretty impressive resting place. The site is important as it illustrates a transition from a timber-chambered barrow to a stone-chamber over a short period of time, perhaps as little as 50 years. The name is linked to the Germanic smith-god Wolund of Wayland given to the site by Saxons who settled here and with the first documented use of the the name in 955 AD. legend has it that a traveler whose horse has lost a shoe can leave the animal and silver coin on the capstone overnight and when he returns the next morning, will find the horse re-shod and the money gone.
As we are on the ancient road, we trot along to the Uffington White Horse, the final stop on our Monster Megalithic Monument tour. This bronze age stylised hill figure of a horse is made from chalk and is best viewed from the air. Our legs are tired and we can’t jump that high to see, it has after all been a mega tour. Truth is, there are lots to see around here, the Avebury World Heritage site has plenty of walks to keep you entertained, as do Stonehenge and the Vale of White Horse. Worth coming back for more.