Silly Saturday – Stonehenge’s Stones

A good news item this week was that ‘a new scientific breakthrough has, for the first time, allowed geologists to pinpoint almost exactly where Stonehenge’s giant stone uprights and lintels came from. Scientists from the University of Brighton have traced the stones to a small very specific two square mile patch of woodland just south of the village of Lockeridge, Wiltshire. Builders of Stonehenge probably chose it as their source of stone because of the exceptional sizes and relative flatness of many of its sarsen boulders.

So no one has ever noticed before that in a little wood nearby, there are huge stones lying around that just happen to look like the ones at Stonehenge? Did no one ever trip over them or fall down the holes left when the Stonehenge Sarsens were extracted?

Warning, photo taken before Covid 19 social distancing

The other ‘exciting revelation was this… ‘Professor Nash was able to analyse the Stonehenge sarsens because a core extracted from one of the monument’s giant stones during repair work in the 1950s (and taken to America by one of the engineers involved in that work) was returned to English Heritage last year.’

What! Some chap is tidying up his office and suddenly thinks ‘Now where did I put that bit of Stonehenge sixty years ago…’ Was he embarrassed to return it after all this time?

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/archaeology/stonehenge-stones-sarsen-archaeology-a9644436.html

October Outing – Stourhead

Last week we went on what could be the ultimate autumnal outing, certainly for those of us who haven’t been to New England in the fall. Thanks to modern weather forecasting the predicted blue skies and sunshine made the gardens of Stourhead picture perfect. It was a little early for nature and photography experts, the trees had not reached their full colour potential, but when a gentle breeze sends golden beech leaves floating to the ground it is like pennies from heaven and perhaps this is the closest to heaven on earth most of us will get.

DSCN0797

Like most National Trust properties and other great houses and castles that you pay to enter, you are sealed off from real life. There is no traffic except the gardeners’ tractor and trailer, no traffic noise, no building work going on, no homeless people to remind you of the darker side of life and little likelihood of being mugged or caught up in a street riot. Your children can safely run around, as long as they don’t fall into the lake…  Everybody is there to enjoy nature or a healthy walk. I guess there is always the chance a fight will erupt between photographers spoiling each other’s view, perhaps the loser rolling down the manicured lawns into the lake; that would make a good story, but it didn’t happen on our visit.

Fortunately patience prevailed at the archway to the house. Two Japanese ladies left behind by their party were admiring the masses of red leaves of the Virginia Creeper that smothered the stone arch. They kept rearranging themselves to photograph each other and also seemed to examine each leaf in detail. Meanwhile on one side was Cyberspouse with his camera and on the bank opposite a couple of photographers waiting for the ladies to move out of the way. I like taking pictures with people in, but I guess the others had to wait until next autumn.

dscn0760.jpg

Inside the house, phones were to be switched off, bags left in lockers and no flash photography. My point and shoot compact has a habit of switching its flash back on so I only managed one quick picture of the library before one of the volunteers started telling me how they cleaned the books with pony hair brushes, then suck the dust away with a mini vacuum cleaner. But I did ask the important questions readers and writers would want to know. Did the family of old read all these books? Yes, this was their learning and entertainment centre and only a few books have been found with the pages still uncut at the edges. Does anyone still read them? Yes you can apply. What is the oldest book? ‘Oh dear, I never remember’ said the lady, then called up to an elderly gentleman perched precariously on top of a ladder – one of the hazards of having book shelves that go up to the ceiling. He wobbled down to tell me the answer, a German manuscript of 1591.

dscn0781.jpg

The Hoare family who created the house and beautiful gardens were bankers. Henry ‘the good’ bought Stourton Manor and medieval buildings were replaced by a Palladian villa, but he died in 1724, a year before the house was completed. Henry the Magnificent’s nickname was earned by the landscape vision he created in his garden. With hills, water and classical architecture overlaid by a fabulous collection of trees and shrubs, Stourhead was described as ‘a living work of art’ when it first opened in the 1740s. Henry died in 1785, but like all altruistic planters of trees he could not know how his gardens would look over two centuries later.

You can walk all round the lake, created by damming the River Stour which flows sixty miles to Christchurch harbour. Stop to admire follies, temples and the grotto as well as the views, then return to the Spread Eagle Inn to enjoy refreshments.

DSCN0810

 

Friday Flash Fiction – The Stones

 So Lar looked over the plains; how many had passed this way over the years? Weary bodies, bent limbs and always murmurings of revolt, lives lost as well and for what? Tomorrow would demonstrate what this had all been for and So Lar would be proved right. A new age of enlightenment would begin on the longest day as the Sun bestowed His blessing. Of course it was hard for the workers to see what they and their fathers and forebears had been labouring towards, what So Lar’s father and grandfather had dreamed of, knowing they would never see the day when it was complete.

The old pagan beliefs would be buried for good and they would look towards the one true God, the Sun God. But as the long warm evening began to fade into twilight So Lar had the first misgivings, dark clouds rolled over the indigo sky. When night had fully set over the plains the moon could not be seen, not one single star could be seen. Without clouds there would be no rain, man and beast needed rain, but not tomorrow…

There was no sleep for him that short night; most souls in the camp were sound asleep, trusting the night watch to wake them in good time for the revelation So Lar had promised at dawn. If the blanket of cloud was not drawn back then they would not see the first rays shine through the entrance of the temple of knowledge.

Blackness turned to grey, dawn had arrived, but not a glimmer of gold could penetrate the dark clouds. They surrounded So Lar now, angry and afraid. Rab the trouble maker spoke.

‘So much for your Sun God, we have angered our gods, desecrated their sacred plains, your stone temple is a terrible scar on the landscape that should be torn down. The gods will not let your weak sun god shine until they are appeased.’

41489466_2277742345588876_4579338519482204160_o

 

So Lar lay bound inside his precious circle. These people would never be enlightened, would never understand how the heavens and earth worked without the need for human intervention. They still thought blood needed to be spilled, that he must be sacrificed if the sun was to shine again.

 

 

Stonehenge – September Staycation Part Three

41489466_2277742345588876_4579338519482204160_o

 When you are on Staycation you will visit places after breakfast that others have crossed the world to see. We had not been to Stonehenge since the new visitors’ centre was built, out of sight of the World Heritage Site. The A344 which previously enabled motorists to ‘come across’ Stonehenge, but also intruded on the peace of the past, is now used solely by the fleet of buses with destination The Stones on the front.

If you belong to English Heritage or the National Trust entry is free. You can hop on the bus or walk; divert off the road through chalky fields to enjoy the peaceful scenery of Salisbury Plain. There is nothing at the stones now so make sure you avail yourself of the visitor centre toilets and take a bottle of water.

dscn0457.jpg

On a Monday morning, with school holidays over and the website stating timed tickets were not needed, we thought it would be quiet. The lady at the booth issuing our free tickets said it was very busy as several cruise ships had come in; this presented a strange vision.

It was almost a pilgrimage, Pilgrimage Lite perhaps. We set off at a brisk pace, overtaking lots of people and hearing various languages, we’re British, we can walk fast…

DSCN0460

We started to anticipate the moment when Stonehenge would be revealed; round the next copse or over the next brow? Alas, the first view was partially blocked by the ubiquitous buses and queues of people. Queues waiting to have their tickets checked and file between the ropes to the stones, even longer queues waiting to get back on the shuttle bus.

dscn0473.jpg

Only a low rope separated us from the stones, creating enough space inside the circle to imagine how they were when they stood alone. A young Canadian tourist asks to have his photo taken, with the toy penguin that is to accompany him on his trip round Britain.

We ask a tour guide where she’s from.

Portland

USA?

No, Dorset…

She had come to meet passengers who had left their ship at Dover and been coached to Wiltshire.

But the tourists that morning were not rushing and ticking off another place visited, they were in genuine awe that they were really there looking at an ancient construction no one can explain for sure.

dscn0477.jpg

 

This year marks one hundred years since Stonehenge was given to the nation.

 On 26 October 1918, Stonehenge was offered by Cecil and Mary Chubb as a gift for the nation. Cecil Chubb had bought Stonehenge for £6600 at a local auction three years previously. Prior to 1918, the monument was propped up with wooden poles and some of the stones were in danger of collapse. Increasing numbers of visitors through the late 19th century had led to damage, with people regularly chipping the stones for souvenirs and scratching their names on the monument.

http://blog.english-heritage.org.uk/30-things-you-might-not-know-about-stonehenge

The first guidebook in 1823 claimed Stonehenge survived Noah’s flood. We do know the stones came from South Wales, that is part of the mystery, how they got there. Stonehenge was built between about 3,000 BC and 1,600 BC and its purpose remains under study. What is certain, if you stand in just the right place inside the monument at the summer solstice, facing northeast through the entrance towards a rough-hewn stone outside the circle, known as the Heel Stone, you will see the sun rise above the Heel Stone.

http://earthsky.org/earth/gallery-the-summer-solstice-as-seen-from-stonehenge

A few days later visitors came round and asked how the staycation was going and where we’d been.

‘Oh, that heap of old stones’ was their reply.

 

 

DSCN0489

See more pictures at my Beachwriter’s Blog

https://www.ccsidewriter.co.uk/chapter-five-beach-writer-s-blog

Look out for Friday Flash Fiction as the Stones theme continues…

 

 

Secret Salisbury – September Staycation – Part One

Salisbury is a small city where we used to think not much happened. It lies in the county of Wiltshire, where you might think not much has happened since Stonehenge was built. Salisbury is a city because it has a cathedral. It is not large, but it is busy with a hospital, university and many places of interest to historians and tourists.

Since March this year it has been in the international news with the poisoning by novichok nerve agent of two Russians and a local policeman. Just when Salisbury was getting back to some normality there was the bizarre tragedy when two locals were taken ill and one became the first fatality. Two Russian suspects have been named and even appeared on Russian television to explain they visited Salisbury merely as tourists to see the cathedral with its famous spire and the oldest clock in the world.

DSCN0516

You couldn’t make this story up; if these two men were ‘secret agents’ they certainly bungled the whole mission, their target was not killed, though he and his daughter only survived thanks to the National Health Service and skilled care. Before leaving Salisbury they dumped the novichok in a rubbish skip.  Through all these months, parts of Salisbury have been closed off and scoured for any trace of the nerve agent, a nightmare for businesses expecting a busy tourist summer.

We quite often go to Salisbury and went there last week after our morning at Stonehenge. Everywhere seemed busy, but perhaps they were locals.

DSCN0506

I can believe the two suspects didn’t find the cathedral; though the famous spire can be seen for miles around, the first time we visited we stood in the main square and could not see it, we had no idea which way to go.

Through an arch you will find yourself looking at the cathedral green; fine weather shows the scene at its best. This area is full of interesting houses and museums and the expanse of grass is ideal for children to run and play and school parties to let off steam. There is too much for one visit, but whatever your plans just stand by yourself and look up at the spire.

The refectory, cloisters and smart toilets are free to wander in. Do you pay to go in the cathedral? There is a suggested donation. On our visit, late in the afternoon, I was just trying to read what we might ‘kindly be asked’ to pay when I realised Cyberspouse was already inside. We may have accidentally followed a coach party in. The house of God should be free to enter, but cathedrals need constant loving and expensive care. We always buy our refreshments at the refectory and there is a nice shop for tourists.

DSCN0535

Cathedrals can be overwhelming, I guarantee most of us do not remember all the saintly and royal details in the leaflets. Take in the ambience and spend time with what takes your eye. Highlights include the clock, perhaps the Russians wanted to steal our cutting edge technology! Look carefully down the nave and see if you can spot the columns bowed at the centre of the cathedral under the weight of the spire. A model of the spire shows the original wooden scaffold still there. Another  model shows the cathedral being built; I had a nice chat with an American lady as we admired the model and the original builders. The biggest miracle of ancient buildings is the fact they are still standing and I love to wonder if those who built it could have imagined how far into the future their creation would be admired.

DSCN0530

Cathedrals are living places and new art is added. I love the font, sculptor William Pye, consecrated in 2008.

DSCN0537

On our brief stroll around the cathedral Cyberspouse met a woman from Iceland, tourists are still coming to Salisbury.

https://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/salisbury/things-to-do

My Brief Encounters trilogy is partly set in rural Wiltshire and Salisbury also features, especially in Lives of Anna Alsop.

 

 

 

Covert Coves and Continuity

P1090778

We once stayed for a week at a secluded Scottish cove where I was glad to discover there was no reception for mobile phones, nor was there a landline in the cottage. At the very top of the cliff, if you held your phone high in the air you could be lucky and get reception. A peaceful place for a holiday and proof for authors that there are still settings where mobile phones cannot be used; where characters can escape without being traced or where persons in peril cannot call for help.

P1090785

 

The plots of crime fiction, spy thrillers and romances changed for ever when mobile phones became ubiquitous. No running along dark lonely roads or knocking on strange doors to fetch help, a quick call on your mobile and an air ambulance or armed response unit could be with you in minutes. No wonder authors enjoy putting their heroes and villains in spots where there is no mobile reception.

P1090774

But you can’t always trust your characters. Reading through the third draft of one of the novels in the Brief Encounters Trilogy  I realised several of my leading characters, in several scenes, had casually used their mobile phones when they knew perfectly well there was no mobile phone reception at Holly Tree Farm. Some minor plot changes were needed for the fourth draft.

Proof reading and editing the manuscript of a novel is not just about lost commas, the wrong ‘their, there and they’re’ and ‘from’ turning to ‘form’ when you’re not looking. Continuity is just as important as on a film set.

Holly Tree Farm nestles in the quiet Wiltshire countryside; when Nathanial inherits the house it offers a refuge for his new friends and their secrets, but they never could have guessed the rambling old farm house had secrets of its own.

Read the first book in the trilogy for 99 pence.