Stupid to explore Britain with Google Maps when I’m, like, in Britain, but Dave in Texas reminded me of Stonehenge and I got to Googling. First time I saw Stonehenge, I didn’t know that was where we were going. I had no idea where we were. We topped a rise or came around a corner or something, and I was like, “fucking hell! It’s…it’s Stonehenge.” From the photos, you’d think Salisbury Plain is a solitary, windswept field somewhere, but — see photo above — it’s actually at the confluence of three busy roads. The heelstone is right on the shoulder of the road.
What with the stones roped off and the trucks rattling by carrying meat pies to supermarkets and everything, the magic was kind of sucked out of it for me. Stonehedge is like a big prehistoric Texaco station, squatting on the highway. Check this out, though: if you open the Google map and pan around, the whole area is pocked with dozens of little mounds and rings. (Look a little NW and a little SW of the henge, for example). You can also see the remnants of, presumably, old roads and paths and earthworks. Much of this stuff has never been excavated, but the mounds are assumed to be Stone Age burials. This whole area is very, very ancient and very deeply cool.
Eight miles due North of Stonehenge is the huge Avebury circle (above). You can walk up to the stones on this one. They’re big and irregular and weird, but naturally shaped. The ancients apparently got a kick out of funny stones — enough to haul they heavy asses overland with ropes. Even though the ring is very incomplete and runs through the village, I thought this one was really special. Maybe it was all the sheep. Or maybe it’s the proximity to this amazing object:
A couple thousand feet South is Silbury Hill. The largest man-made structure in Europe, built nearly 5,000 years ago. Sucker is big — over 5 acres at the base and 420 feet high. They estimate it took 18 million man hours to pile 8 and three quarter million cubic feet of dirt into this giant green tit rising from the plains. If every man, woman and child in modern Britain dumped a bucket of earth in a pile, it would make another Silbury Hill (is that true? Certainly. I read it just now on the Internet).
So what is it? The official explanation is, “fucked if we know.” Several holes have been drilled right through it without finding any trace of a burial or any significant artifacts. The leading explanation is that it is, in fact, a giant green tit rising from the plains.
Nearby is the beginning of the Ridgeway. I’d hoped to use Google Earth to sightsee along the whole length of it, but most of the path is in one of those mystery areas where the Google maps go all furry and retarded. That’s a damn shame, because it’s one long ribbon of astonishing stuff. The Ridgeway proper is eighty some miles of public footpath that has been called (and may, in fact, be) the oldest road in the world. You can make that a walk of several hundred miles by continuing up several other ancient foothpaths, and it’s burial mound after chalk horse all the way up.
I’d love to walk the whole thing some day, but I’ve only been up a little ways, as far as Wayland’s Smithy. This thing may even be older than Silbury Hill. It’s a small burial mound right off the path. Uh huh. It’s an open door in the side of an ancient tomb in the middle of nowhere.
You can walk in a little way, but I sure as shit wasn’t going in any maze of twisty passage without red dragon scale mail and a +3 Mace of Undead Limey Smiting.
You know, the Brits had a pretty snazzy society going for themselves, like, a millenium before the Egyptians and that whole pyramid thing. Cradle of Civilization, my ass.