Tag Archives: woodhenge

Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral

Rain was forecast for my second day in Salisbury, so I didn’t feel like trying to do Calleva and tramping an hour+ through Nomansland in search of what’s left of the Roman city, no matter how important it was during the period in which The Pendragon Chronicles are set.

So instead, I bought the bus ticket complete with entrance to Stonehenge and Old Sarum. I haven’t seen Stonehenge in over a dozen years, and while it isn’t part of my research, it is a part of the lay of the land in the region I’m writing about — and it’s pretty cool. 🙂

Stonehenge
Stonehenge, 2014

The last time I saw it, the visitor’s center was right next to the monument, and it got in the way of the experience a bit. Now, the visitor’s center isn’t even within sight of Stonehenge. They have not yet completed the process of renaturalizing the area where the old buildings stood, but even so, it’s more impressive now than it was then.

Stonehenge
Restoring Stonehenge

Of course, the very first time I was at Stonehenge at the tender age of 19, tourists could still wander around among the stones, and that was amazing in its own way — but I think I like this last visit best. With the monoliths constantly surrounded by tourists, they lose something of their majesty. When we the curious are forced to maintain a respectful distance, the magnificence is all the more obvious, even if you can’t experience it up close.

If you’re interested, you can see my pictures from my most recent visit to Stonehenge here.

It proved fortunate that I was at Woodhenge the day before. One of the things I learned on the audio tour while I was wandering around the big rocks is that a new theory postulates that Stonehenge is the “House of the Dead” to Woodhenge’s “House of the Living.” A number of things make this a very convincing theory. Woodhenge is near the large Pre-Roman settlement of Durrington Walls. The “avenue” which archeologists believe was the entrance to Stonehenge points in the direction of Woodhenge. And the landscape surrounding Stonehenge is littered with graveyards and burial mounds. The house of the dead built in stone, to last. The house of the living, built in wood, which will pass, just as life does.

Of course, that theory could be just as off-base as the medieval tale that Stonehenge was built by Merlin, or the Victorian theory that it was built by Druids. But it has a certain logic to it that appeals to me, given the evidence of the surrounding landscape.

When I got back from the bus trip to Stonehenge and Old Sarum, it was still early enough in the day for me to also visit the inside of Salisbury Cathedral again. I remembered it as one of the most impressive cathedrals I’ve ever visited, and I felt that way this time too.

Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral

The construction of the cathedral marked the beginning of the city of Salisbury. The church of the bishopric was originally in Sarum (now Old Sarum), but church authorities were interested in a new, bigger church that wasn’t on property owned by the Crown, so they started building a cathedral on church lands a little over a mile from Sarum.

During the course of the middle ages, the town followed the church, and by the fifteenth century, Sarum was basically a ghost town. Henry VIII finally gave permission for the remaining buildings to be dismantled and the valuable building materials be reused elsewhere. That’s why all that’s left of the once thriving town of Sarum, including its castle and its church, are the foundations.

Salisbury Cathedral also contains the original of the Magna Carta. The writing is miniscule, something I hadn’t expected at all. I thought such an important document would be big and flashy somehow. Instead, it’s about half the size of a movie poster, and the writing is so small, I would need a magnifying glass to decipher it, assuming I could even read the medieval script in the first place.

– You can read my first post about my trip here.

Indulging in a research trip to England: Salisbury and Amesbury

When I was invited to a wedding in England, I figured I might as well add a couple of days on to the trip to visit some of the sites where the novel I am currently working on, A Wasted Land, take place. I decided to base that part of the trip in Salisbury, because it was closest to two of the main places I wanted to see: Amesbury and the hillfort there (for the first time), and Old Sarum (for the second). It also isn’t far from two other sites I was particularly interested in visiting: Winchester (Venta) and Silchester (Calleva).

For the most part, the trip to Salisbury went smoothly, except for the very first leg. For some reason, my plane sat at the gate for about fifteen minutes. Since I only had 50 minutes to change flights in Frankfurt, I was already imagining how I would work things out when I finally got to England and where I would have to spend the night, since with a later flight I probably wouldn’t make it to Salisbury at anything approaching a decent time. But with no line at passport control and a lot of hurrying, I made it to my gate while they were still boarding.

The rest of the journey was a breeze. London City Airport is nice and small, the lines for customs were short, and the trip via DLR and Tube to Waterloo Station was easy. I got my Britrail pass validated in no time, and actually managed to get a train earlier to Salisbury than I had originally hoped, which gave me time to do some shopping on my way to my AirBnB rental.

My rental was in a quaint little house not far from the center of town and the cathedral. The first evening, I walked there and took some pictures of the cathedral from the outside, since it was already closed.

Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral

The next day, I rented a bike and rode to Amesbury, the site of “Vespasion’s Camp” — Caer Emrys in The Pendragon Chronicles. The theory goes that Amesbury got its name from Ambrosius (Aurelianus). In Welsh, a descendant of the old Britsh tongue, Ambrosius is “Emrys.” There are a number of place names in Britain that are derived from a combination of a Celtic name and a Germanic description which has replaced the original British. Thus Amesbury is “Emrys’ burg” — the fort of Emrys. Cadbury is another such name, most probably the “fort of Cador” (or Cadwy). In Yseult and Shadow of Stone, Cadbury is still Din Draithou, but in A Wasted Land, people are beginning to refer to it as Cador’s fort.

While I went to Cadbury many years ago when I was researching Yseult, I had not yet been to Amesbury. The site of Vespasian’s Camp or Caer Emrys is now private property and not accessible to the public. So I rode around it and took a couple of pictures from whatever vantage points I could find.

Caer Emrys
Vespasian’s Camp near Amesbury (Caer Emrys)

From there, I continued on my bike to Woodhenge, a prehistoric monument with much the same design as Stonehenge, only in wood. Of course, all that was left when archeologists found it were the post holes where the wooden columns had once stood. These have been filled with short wooden markers to give visitors a feel for the site.

Woodhenge
Woodhenge

My ride also took me past the back side of Old Sarum, but I will talk more about that in a later post, when I go into the site in more detail.

The ride back was slow. I haven’t been on that long of a bike ride in years. But at least I beat the rain. 🙂