Stonehenge one of the greatest and most mysterious of mankinds ancient monuments lies at the heart of the Salisbury Plain a chalk plateau that is 300 square miles in area and at the heart of Wiltshire.
Stonehenge place of mystery and legend
Much of the area is today used by the military as it is one of the largest grassland plains in northwest Europe and ideal for driving tanks and buzzing around in aircraft.
It is also steeped in legends and one of the most famous locations in the world for ancient archaeology.There are hundreds of ancient burial mounds known as Barrows, the family tombs of ancient tribal Chieftains and members of the tribal heirarchy dotted around.
The whole area with its wide panoramic sky line leaves you overwhelmed by the sense of a place of awesome mystery and perhaps( if you believe in it) ancient power.It lies at the center of what some believe is an ancient ley line vortex and its no surprise that its a UFO hotspot and crop circle center.
Even driving through the area with the wind blowing through open windows as the sun descends over a glowing landscape is exhilarating and yet oddly calming at the same time.
Strangely meteors are quite often attracted to the area and many of the locals apparently have considerable collections . It is a great place to watch the skies for a bit of astronomy but take a steel helmet of course!!!
And for any birdwatchers there are apparently Great Bustards in the area after they were released in the area in 2003 .
I recently visited the area on a fantastic walking trip on a magnificent sunny day and followed a route from the town of Amesbury famous as the last haunt of Queen Guinevere from the legends of king Arthur.The route is known as walking route ID 4755 and i will give a brief guide to the walk with some pictures.
St Mary and St Melor Parish Church
The Walk starts in a car park at the rear of St Mary and St Melor Parish Church where you can stock up on supplies at the nearby shops.I would pick up a map enroute so you can visualise the ancient pathways.
I took a Nikon D200 with a 17-35mm f2.8 set at 100 iso a light weight kit as it was a stunning sunny day and stashed a few bottles of water to compliment a hearty English Breakfast. The walk takes about 3-4 hours and covers about 7 miles so bear that in mind.
On leaving the church car Park turn right and head passed the church and over the bridge with its River Avon sign.
River Avon Bridge Amesbury
Before we go further it is necessary to pull aside the veil of modern history and peer back into time to get a feel for the Mythic and Legendary place that Ancient Britain once was.
There are many theories about how the Blue stones were brought here,some suspect an ancient glacial freeze over which allowed ancient people to sled them across the Bristol Channel from Wales and up the river paths to their Salisbury resting place,others suggest that the Stones that form part of Stonehenge were originally transferred by an ancient people by boat or barge across the Bristol Channel from Presceli West Wales,then along the Avon and Frome rivers,back on land near frome then overland to Warminster then into the river wylye to Salisbury and finally back up the river Avon to Amesbury. It is thought that the river bank on your left hand side was the location where they were brought onto land and moved into their current location,others were thought to have come from the Avebury area.In fact a recent sensational discovery seems to confirm a link with this river bank , another Bluestone henge site has been discovered and is being excavated by Sheffield University fueling speculation that the second one may have acted as a kind of reception site for the dead,a kind of last stop in a ritual multi stage river journey with stop off points with a few mythic hillside chalk murals to break up the Journey and take a break from all the rowing up or down river!!! Ceremonial funeral longboats may have brought the Royal or legendary dead on their way to the after life. Maybe there was a brief stop off for ritual preparation at the water surrounded Glastonbury Tor known as the ancient mythic celtic gateway to the underworld and also a place of healing. The flotilla would then head up or down the river ,depending on its starting point, to Stonehenge or Avebury via the ancient white horse engraved lands of Wiltshire or Devon. These Monumental hillside images may Perhaps have been a graphic ancient reminder of the celtic legend of the wild hunt of Gwynn Ap Nudd the gatherer of souls,a shape changing character also linked to the god Nodens and the Inspiration for Hern in England, who tales tell commanded fairy folk that legends assert reside in Glastonbury Tor. According to myths that reach as far as ancient Europe it is said Gwynn Ap Nudd and his many international Incarnations that thundered through the landscape and the Stormy night sky along with a retinue and hunting party of legendary white horses and hell hounds with red tipped ears ,on a fearsome hunt to gather the souls of the dead for a journey into the Abyss of the Underworld. The Naked club wielding Cerne Abbas man in Dorset near the River Cerne seems originally to have been an actual portrayal that of Nudd or Herne the hunter,Mythic characters well known to pre Christian and pre Roman people that would have been the subject of many a scary fireside Childrens tale,an interpretation now largely forgotten in the dusty corridors of ancient history.Cerne Abbas in its current form is dated to the 17th century but was thought to have replaced a more ancient version in the same spot that has been slightly modified and reinterpreted by Celts and Romans alike.
These Ancient lands have interesting names that are suggestive of their ancient pagan or celtic past.
Avebury and Avalon for example share “Ave” or possibly “Ava” thought originally to be an ancient word for river or in ancient Welsh a word for apple.Interpretation in this context knowing this connection may more correctly suggest a land of the blessed.Perhaps it may have been locals asserting Somersets reputation for rather good cider!! The reference to Ava turns up a lot in this area in town names etc along with the word Bury for example Avebury,Amesbury etc .Maybe over the centuries Avalon became linked to Avon,a suggestion perhaps to the Avon river as a route to the land or Isle of the blessed.
Interestingly Scholars and local Monks frequently like to link Arthurian myths of Avalon to Glastonbury thought to have been a water bound inland island at the time and said to be the true resting place of King Arthur.
In early Christian times Glastonbury was known as a place of monks and later an Abbey and once the home of a hermit.The Monks of Glastonbury were quite active during the centuries both here and across the country trying to stamp out ancient beliefs by creating their own brand of Myths which they variously attached to local places that already had their own Legends quite often using the essence of the local tradition and smoothing it over after incorporating it into the christian tradition.
A kind of rewriting or updating of history and the reincorporation of ancient ideas took place during the struggle between pro and anti Christian Roman Emperors who took rule with the intention of filtering out ancient beliefs and blending the pagan history with their own version along with the renaming of local Deities.
After many conquests and emperors the saying “History is written by the victors” invariably held true but if you look closely,every now and then, the veil of what became the accepted belief blows to one side and once again and you see its true historic source.
The reasons and motivations for dreaming up and applying such legends at places such as Glastonbury with its King Arthur burial legends and also Looe Island,another of the Monks of Glastonburys ventures,involving a legend of a visit by Christ and Joseph of Arimathea and the renaming of the island as St Georges Island,we can only speculate at but I suspect it was quite a lucrative industry at the time.
Back to the subject of Stonehenge ,It does seem that many stones form the second Blue Henge site recently discovered probably were moved over the centuries and became part of the frequently rebuilt Stonehenge site we see today.
Interestingly and of note ,both of the sites at the Stonehenge including the new Bluestone Henge seem to have revealed the existence of stashes of Red Deer Antlers.Archaeologists suggest their use as tools during construction but could it have been that ancient Shamans wore Antlers during rites of Pagan commune with the spirits of nature they believed in, perhaps with echoes of the wild hunt of legend and Nudd or Herne the Hunter often portrayed with antlers,in fact it is probably more than a little coincidental that in its attempt to subvert the indigenous pagans to the newly arrived christian religion that accompanied the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine in 312 AD ,the Pan like character known as the Devil with his very own set of pagan like horns or antlers became the villain.
Everything Changed again with the reign of pro pagan Emperor Julian who tried to abolish Christianity in 359AD and then arrived Emperor Arbogastes 391AD who reinstated it,confusing times!!!
With regard to the Arthurian legends and most notably those of another local monk Geoffrey of Monmouth, the construction of Stonehenge is attributed to Merlin and Aurelius king of Britain in the 5th century with help from King Arthurs father Uther Pendragon and 15000 knights who captured the Stones from Ireland(originally however thought to be from Africa), where locally it became known as “the giants Dance” and with Merlins “technical” wizardry,spirited them over and set them up as a monument to those killed in battles with the Saxons and also because of their alledged healing powers.
One thing various academics seem to believe however is that some but not all stones were erected at a later date and are not from the local area so it seems the Stonehenge project has been an ongoing work in progress through the centuries.
In May 2002 a body that became known as the Amesbury Archer was found 3 miles from Stonehenge.The body was found with gold arm bracelets and various arrowheads ,some inside the body suggesting a violent death and pottery offerings.It was one of the greatest finds in the area and has been the source of many theories.
Alongside the body was another skeleton believed to be the mans son.
One of the objects ,a boars tusk also seems to reflect back on the ancient Pagan beliefs where Boars tusks were regarded as sacred objects.
There are many suggestions about his past but is it possible this man was perhaps a Shaman or Chief priest in the Stonehenge and met his death during a non democratic regime change and persecution of the old ways?
Carbon dating suggests a date at about 2500BC but this isnt always very accurate.
Speculatively could this possible Shaman character and his son have been slain by a new incoming belief, the persecution of the Druids Perhaps? who knows? What we do know,even in current times, is that history shows that regime change is rarely non violent.
Back to the walk.
Once passed the bridge follow the road up hill until you meet a dual carriageway (the A303)keeping on the pavement all the way until you see a large cottage on your right at which point you cross the road and enter a National Trust area through a gate and enter the Kings Barrow area.
The Kings Barrow Area Gate
The Kings Barrow Area is the Location of some of the largest Barrow burial mounds in the area surrounded by gnarly(quite spooky) white trees, these are the final resting place of very important people dating back to 3000-4000Bc . The area at the end of a large processional area 3km long known as the Cursus that subject to what you believe may have been used as a final route to bury the dead after preparation at the Stonehenge monument.
Kings Barrow Burial Mounds
Following the path further on passing alongside a wooded area you pass fields filled with sheep and can enjoy the view of the Stonehenge in the distance.
Following the Kings Barrow Ridge Pathway you eventually come to a sign that is marked Cursus and Larkhill,take the cursus Direction.
The Cursus Signpost
After a pleasant walk you pass through fields staying on the path and heading for a national trust Stile that will take you into an area known as the Cursus.
Sheep sheltering from the midday sun at Kings Barrow ridge.
Views on the Kings Barrow ridge
Cornfields off the Kings Barrow Ridge
The area of the Cursus is thought to have been a bit like a 3km long race track several feet high and made of chalk.It was there when the Romans were here but now continual ploughing has not left any trace of it.
Its true purpose like everything in this mysterious place is hard to fathom as we peer back in the mists of time however it appears to have been important in some way from the Neolithic to the Bronze age.
Was it perhaps the area in which the stones were stored and prepared for the grand design of Stonehenge,a kind of ancient building site storage area and camp in which stoneworkers chipped away and shaped their handywork before finally hauling it with help from oxen over to the planned location on the nearby flat slope?
This seems Likely!
Did it later on become a funeral procession route to the area near the Kings Barrows nearby?
Its even suggested it was a kind of race course,perhaps for chariots,this I suspect not.
With its close proximity to the Henge I Suspect It probably did get used as a gathering point at a later date though and may have provided a camp for the funeral processions.
Our course now leads across the cursus and onwards towards another series of national trust stiles and we can but wonder at what this place may have looked like thousands of years ago and the events that took place here.
Across the cursus
The Center view of the Cursus
Walking across the Cursus you Eventually reach a path that veers to the left and heads in the direction of the Stonehenge itself .We now follow this while viewing more barrows off to the right.
Burial mounds off to the right of Stonehenge
After a short distance we approach the rear of the car park to the Stonehenge monument itself no doubt swarming with tourists.
There are plenty of facilities here and its a good place for a break and to refuel yourself.
While there I met a local chap and his partner who makes a living as a Druid campaigning for better access for people to the stones.In recent years the public haven’t been able to walk among them and he thinks this should change.
Recently he has been protesting that scientists should return the ancestors back to their home after several were taken as samples for research.
His name no less King Arthur Pendragon.
King Arthur Pendragon.
And Queen Guinevere i Presume!
Clock?Temple?mortuary?Round table? i suspect all at one point or other!
Stonehenge We can but wonder!
Turning a 17-35mm f2.8 and underexposing a little gave this deep blue effect.
Tourists fighting for space!
The Stones are an amazing sight to behold I do wonder however that in this digital camera age are people starting to view picture taking as a disposable activity and losing a few manners along the way.In the old days courtesy was observed when someone was holding a camera with 36 frames of film to work with but now its a free for all ah! its called progress,Civilization!!!?
Interestingly I found it hard finding camera film enroute to the area (I often use film and digital) however the gift shop at Stonehenge does stock it.
Heading away from the stonehenge the agricultural landscape.
After refreshments (ice cream and a delicious strawberry slush drink served at a kiosk) we start heading away from the throng and soon we find ourselves back on the country path outside the gates next to the toilets at Stonehenge.
Following the path through agricultural fields the light is starting to get that gorgeous late afternoon hue.
At a sign for Amesbury we turn left walking parallel to the A303 before heading back in across some fields at the next boundary point down.
It takes us across a green track passing some odd hay formations almost Henge like themselves.
The Path heading back towards Amesbury,Stonehenge behind us.
Barrows backlit by the sun.
Heading past more Barrows spectacularly back lit by the low sun we head left bearing left on a national trust Marker and walk along a fenceline that follows a plantation until entering some recently ploughed fields (one eye of course on the ground looking for buried treasure!) with spectacular gradations well lit by the sun.
Poppies along the path to Amesbury.
The Sunkissed landscape.
The Nikon 17-35mm f2.8 lens is outstanding when it comes down to bright detailed landscapes.
Bright red berries glistening in the sun.
As we followed the hedge line the landscape seemed to come alive as the sun raked across the area ,quite spectacular!
Salisbury summer Ecstasy.
Stunning solar contours.
We follow the hedge line along the National Trust route and descent a hill beside cottages and a farm overlooking the town of Amesbury as we amble by and rejoin our original route back into the town passing harvester machines at work filling the air with dust our legs aching from the well spent day.
A sight from times past ,Amesbury cottages.
Swans at the bridge.
Descending the hill before climbing back into town we pass the Avon bridge again to be greeted by two Swans before heading off in search of a great British Sunday Lunch and a well needed rest.
I have recently started a website of images mostly travel related on the link below so please feel free to take a look and hopefully you will enjoy looking at them as much as I enjoyed taking them.Its part of an ongoing project that I will be adding to regularly.
All the best.
Pictures copyright:Kerry Davies WWW.WABISABIPIX.COM