By Michael Raffety 12-30-13
When my son was 14 and my daughter in junior college we took them on a trip to Europe. In London we visited the Tower of London and Trafalgar Square, among other things. On our way to Trafalgar Square we realized we had come upon a gay parade — and this one was way bigger than the one in San Francisco. It was huge. Afterward parade participants scattered around the city and we caught site of one with a hoop skirt as big as the Mother Goose character in the Nutcracker Ballet.
England remains perennially cute. Cute includes a municipal band that entertains patrons at Paddington Station. Paddington is where we caught the train to Bath. From the train station in Bath we walked about a block to the Best Western Motel, which seemed more American than British — a very comfortable surprise.
My wife stayed behind in Bath and caught a performance of the boys choir at the Anglican church next to the old Roman bath. I rented a car and the kids and I were off to the Salisbury Plain. Right-hand drive was no problem for me. I had spent a summer in New Zealand while in the Navy and bought and rebuilt a 1947 English Ford, which I drove all over the place. Right-hand-drive and circles were a snap. The only real problem is being a pedestrian who still naturally looks left first instead of right first.
Arriving at Stonehenge, I was surprised to find it near the fork of two highways. It was still impressive, though.
Now, the Associated Press reported that the road right next Stonehenge is being closed and grassed over. The visitors center has been totally redone and includes a diorama of Stonehenge and bus service to the collection of BC blue stones hauled in from 175 mile in 3000 BC. Or one can walk the 1.5-mile path to get there. Either way the tickets are now going to cost you $24 each to help pay the $44 million spent on relocating the highway and building the fancy-schmancy center with a diorama and a metal model of Stonehenge. Maybe that price will discourage modern-day Druids who gather there for winter and summer solstices by the thousands.
Equally fascinating for me is the Avebury Circle. At 28 acres it is the largest stone circle in the world. The circle of stones goes right through the middle of the little village of Avebury. There are actually two circles inside of the large outer circle. Only the outer ring is apparent to anyone but an archeologist. And visible from Avebury is a large chalk mound (131 feet high) called Silbury Hill. No one is buried there. It is just another mystery monument, shaped somewhat like the mound of dirt piled on the south side of the Ray Lawyer Driver overpass. No one is buried there either. So far that is a mystery monument as well.
Avebury has no admission fee. It is open to anyone who can find a place to park. The Avebury henge attracts people who stand, sit and crouch under the rocks or hug them as though they absorb some mystic empowerment from the stones that date back to about 2600 BC.
Who am I to say they can’t? Though the rock huggers look a little dopey. The Avebury Circle was so much larger in diameter than Stonehenge, but less dramatic. When we drove on to Salisbury Cathedral I found that pretty impressive and somewhat mystical, though the rock huggers might have regarded me as dopey. My son didn’t wake up from his sleep in the back of the Austin Minor and never saw the cathedral. Not sure how a 6-foot-5-inch 14-year-old managed to curl up in the back of the Austin. It was mystical, for sure.