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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.