UK Trip 2012, Day 6: Stonehenge and Salisbury

Today we woke up very early, in order to catch a taxi out to a personal visit with Stonehenge. We then got a chance to explore more of Salisbury before heading back to London by train. The full gallery of the day’s photos is here, or you can read on for more exciting details!

We had purchased special “inner circle access” tickets for Stonehenge several months prior, and so we were all quite ready to make our way there– an enthusiasm improved by our excellent cabbie, who was a local and was quite happy to give us a run down of the area, point out good spots to see the Henge, and generally provide a pleasant ride out through the country. It’s interesting that, by and large, the cab drivers in the UK are clean, chipper, talkative, knowledgeable, and seem to enjoy their work. This is quite a contrast to our usual US experiences with taxis, where the driver often won’t (or can’t) speak with you, seem surly and depressed, or are just rude.

We arrived at Stonehenge after making great time… Too great, as it turns out, since we arrived at 6:15 am and our special tour (and the site in general) wasn’t supposed to open until 6:45 am. So we huddled in the cold, looking out at Stonehenge a block away.

Eventually, though, the tour got underway (just about 20 of us), and we found out that our special tickets were even better than we had expected. I thought that they just allowed us to get closer to the monument, but in fact they let us go walk right up to the stones and walk through the stone archways — we just couldn’t touch them (although they did have a sample sarsen stone and blue stone that you were allowed to touch). The stones are bigger than we thought they would be (they tower over you), and also more jumbled than we thought they would be. Really, it’s hard to tell how they were originally arranged just by casually looking at them, but if you look for a while you can see that some of them were probably standing this or that way. Historians think that Stonehenge was largely used as a calendar, to show when the summer solstice was, but beyond that it’s unclear what it was used for; there are also over 500 burial mounds within 3 miles of it, so it was likely important as a cemetery or early crematorium. It’s thought that rulers were buried in the mounds (and radar and sonar studies of the mounds have found a whole ship buried with one!). And these mounds must have been much, much bigger if they’re still visible after 5000 years of erosion… There’s a lot of clay in the ground so that may have helped, too.

To me, the most amazing thing is to think about how it was built — some of the blue stones came from over 200 miles away, but we don’t know why they used these particular stones rather than locally quarried stones (the tall stones most people associate with Stonehenge are local– if 20 miles away is local). They were probably brought to the location by rolling them on logs and floating them down rivers on primitive rafts.

The mysticism associated with Stonehenge has always been kind of interesting, and there’s certainly a feeling of stillness and age at the place. That said, once the initial reaction wears off, it’s just some rocks in a field, and by the end of the hour tour, we were cold and ready to go home. We had a chance to talk with one of the guards/guides about the strange people who come visit (especially for the solstice, where they’ve had crowds of over eight thousand people), trying to use diving rods, talking about ley lines, and all sorts of other superstitious hooey. I don’t envy him trying to hold that at bay.

After Stonehenge, we returned to the Spire House in Salisbury and had a nice invigorating English breakfast. Since we still had a few hours until our train back to London, we took a chance to explore the town; visiting the Cathedral (and it’s interior), as well as Old George’s Mall, an open walking mall reminiscent of Pearl St in Boulder.

The train ride back to London was uneventful and pleasant, and we got back with time to make a quick visit to the National Gallery. To get there, we had our first experience with London ubiquitous bright red, double-decker buses. It’s nice that they take the same pass as the Tube, and it was fun to see all the scenery whizzing by. The National Gallery itself was a bit disappointing, at least for Teisha and Andrew, who had seen far more impressive collections at the Louvre and the Vatican. (They don’t allow photos in the gallery.)

After another bus ride back to our new hotel, the Luna Simone, we met up with an old friend of Meg’s. Meg briefly went to college at Harvard (studying biochemistry) and used to trade lessons in Chemistry with a fellow student, Liz Campbell, who was studying Chinese. They both went their separate ways, but kept in touch over the last 30 odd years, and finally got a chance to reunite again after many years! That was a neat experience, and we had a lot of fun visiting with Liz, walking up Wilton St near our hotel, and eating at a Chinese restaurant. Liz knows fluent Mandarin, and ended up trying to talk to our off-putting waitress. Amazingly, once she felt “included”, our waitress opened the floodgates on her life story– even though they couldn’t speak Chinese, since the waitress spoke Cantonese. It was interesting to hear the difference between the US and Britain– she was having financial troubles, but wasn’t worried about providing for her children: Britain’s social welfare (“the Dole”) would provide for her, and she took that for granted. She just felt like she’d have no pride if she didn’t work for herself. Kind of made us feel sad about the state of America. Nevertheless, it was a great evening, and we went to bed planning our next day’s activity, meeting up with Liz at Portobello Road.

Thanks for reading!

One Response to “UK Trip 2012, Day 6: Stonehenge and Salisbury”

[…] Portobello road market, we visited a college friend of my mother’s, Liz, who lives in London (we’d had dinner with her the night before). It was interesting seeing a London flat – it was pretty similar to a flat you’d see in the […]

Paradoxdruid’s Rants » Blog Archive » UK Trip 2012, Day 7: Portobello Road Market in London and York - May 28th, 2012 at 8:59 am

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