A few weeks ago we decided to visit Stonehenge. Although I’ve lived in this country for many years, I’d never actually been there, so when my sister came to stay and expressed an interest in going there, we hired a 9-seater monstrosity and piled two families into it.
People have told me not to bother with Stonehenge. “You can’t get near it”, they point out. “It’s full of tourists”, they add. All of it true. Sure, it is a tourist attraction, but by the time we arrived late on a Sunday afternoon, having visited Avebury and West Kennet Long Barrow (other Neolithic sites in Wiltshire) first, their numbers had dwindled to only the hardiest individuals. And yes, you can’t touch the stones or sit on them, but instead have to follow a walkway around it at distance of at least 10 meters in places.
None of that matters.
The sense of awe descends as soon as you see it in the distance. I won’t bore you with the history of the place – that’s what Wikipedia and other media are for – but merely recount how it affected me. The moment I set foot on that walkway, with a hand-held recording borrowed from the ticket office, I was transported back in time.
And it was clear I wasn’t the only person who felt that way. Despite the number of visitors present, no one was talking loudly, no one was running or shoving or littering. Not a single kid was screaming. People spoke in hushed tones as if the algae-covered sarsen stones were sleeping giants which might wake at any time. Even the whir from the many cameras was eerily subdued, swallowed up by the forbidding rock faces.
The most amazing feeling was how the stories just welled up in me, stories to bridge the huge gaps in history, and all the things we don’t know anything about, but can only guess at. It left my head spinning and cursing the fact that my fingers were far too cold to write any of it down. It also made me want to re-read a series of books I read when they were first published: the Earth’s Children series by Jean M Auel, of which The Clan of the Cave Bear is Book 1. They were hugely enjoyable and meticulously researched.