BEVARS in a Sacred Landscape
On Sunday 25 January 2009, defying atrocious weather forecasts, 17 members of BEVARS assembled at Stonehenge at the early hour of 8 a.m. for a specially-arranged tour of the monument. Our purpose was to make a closer examination of the stones than is permitted to the normal visitor, and then to explore the surrounding landscape.
We spent the first hour examining the stones, speculating about purpose and building techniques, finding Bronze Age daggers carved into the stones, identifying misplaced sockets on a fallen lintel, discussing the latest theories and excavations and, of course, taking photographs. Even after many visits, the grandeur of the structure, even in its present state, still induces awe and respect for its builders, especially when one has the chance to get so close to the stones.
Our next objective was the larger of the two cursus monuments to the north of Stonehenge. Crossing the field to its nearside low embankment and ditch we walked to the western end terminated by a long barrow. From here, we could survey and then process along the total length of the cursus stretching for about one and a half miles. In the east it ends in woodland which may conceal a barrow, if it still exists. (On this occasion at least it defeated even Mick’s endeavours to locate it!)
Continuing in an easterly direction we reached Woodhenge. Its concentric rings, or rather, ovals of concrete blocks, newly painted with colour-coding since my last visit, do not really evoke any sense of what the structure may have looked like.
The tallest remaining section of Durrington Walls, our next objective, is clearly visible from Woodhenge. It is quite difficult to take in the enormous size of this henge, as it extends over steeply sloping terrain and is cut by two modern roads. Recent excavations by teams from Sheffield University have revealed many house platforms and much evidence of feasting, supporting current ideas about adjacent landscapes for the living and the dead which are also being put forward in relation to sites on Orkney's Mainland.
We returned to Stonehenge for a walk along the Stonehenge Avenue. Having followed it into the valley it dips down to, we turned back and ascended along the 30m wide "processional way" towards Stonehenge in order to see the megaliths suddenly appear on the skyline – an impressive moment, even in grey weather with rather flat lighting. At sunrise or sunset, especially during the solstices, the sight of the monument in its original state must have been truly awe-inspiring.
Food, beer and artefacts
We rounded off the tour with lunch at the Bear Hotel in Devizes, enjoying some tasty, quickly served and very reasonably priced food.
After lunch we had enough time left for a visit to Devizes Museum. Even though some of the galleries (including the Neolithic) were closed for re-organisation, the remaining collection of the many artefacts found in the region was well-planned and informative – the ‘build your own henge with bouncy bricks’ exhibit in particular attracting the glances of some of our members. A fitting end to a most enjoyable day out!