Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England

This morning, July 14th., we departed our lodgings in Plymouth, Devon and drove east into Wiltshire where we focused on two sites, namely Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral.

Stonehenge

The imposing and mysterious structure dominates the Wiltshire landscape. However, Stonehenge should not be viewed in isolation but as an integral part of the local landscape which is well populated with prehistoric burial mounds, standing stones and henges which include Windmill HillWoodhenge, Avebury, Durrington Walls  and Silbury Hill. These structures would infer a prosperous farming and trading population with social hierarchies.

The basic Stonehenge structure visible today dates from around 2500 BC but was not the result of a single, one-off project. The structure on the site evolved over a long period of time. In fact, analysis of post holes located underneath the current car park (parking lot) indicate human occupation dating back to about 8000 BC.  Here is an approximate chronological progression:

♦Phase 1, 3200 BC: A spacious earthen ring with a central timber setting and an outlying stone. Such earthen rings are known as ‘henges’.

♦Phase 2, 2200 BC: Two unfinished circles of Welsh bluestones replaced the posts and an earthen avenue was laid out.

♦Phase 3, 2000 BC: The two circles were removed and replaced by the lintelled sarsen ring and internal horseshoe of five trilithons.

♦Phase 4, 1600 BC: The bluestones were returned. Outlines of a bronze dagger, axes and stylised images were carved at cardinal points on the stones.

Clearly, over a very long period of time, the Stonehenge site was deemed very special and treated with reverence and activity. Over the years people have speculated on the purpose of the structure with suggestions including: a druid temple, fertility rights, a primitive astronomical computer and sun worship. A large number of cremation burials have been found on the site.  Latest thinking is that Stonehenge, like similar structures, represents a transition from this world into the next and a representation of how the other world creates life in a never ending circle. In the latter theory, the stones not only represent the dead but physically are the dead. Alignment of Stonehenge to the summer and winter solstices is evident, a feature which may have been important to the builders and users of Stonehenge.

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England

Recreated Neolithic era huts at Stonehenge

Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral ranks as one of Britain’s most beautiful and important ecclesiastical buildings. The Cathedral dates from 1220 when foundation stones were first laid. Thereafter, construction progressed using limestone from Tisbury, 18 miles away, and  Purbeck stone from Isle of Purbeck. Other key facts:

  • For 25 years construction was supervised by Elias of Dereham, a canon who may also have been the building’s architect.
  • The Cathedral canons built their own houses in the vicinity resulting in the largest cathedral close in England.
  • Construction was fast by standards of the day with quire, transepts and nave completed in 1258- just 38 years.
  • The ornate west front was finished in 1265.
  • The present tower and spire were added in the 14th century.
  • Constructed uniformly in the Early English Gothic style.
  • The octagonal spire is the tallest (404 ft. above ground) in Britain. May also rank as the most elegant.

Within the Cathedral’s Chapter House can be found one of the four original copies of the Magna Carta, an early ‘bill of rights’ dating from 1215 which guarantees personal liberties.

Salisbury and its cathedral have inspired various writers and authors including Thomas Hardy, Anthony Trollope, Susan Howatch and William Golding.

Summer flowers at Salisbury, England.

Inside Salisbury Cathedral, England

Inside Salisbury Cathedral, England

Reflections inside Salisbury Cathedral, England

Spire of Salisbury Cathedral, England

Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire, England

After concluding our visits as described above, we drove north to the university city of Oxford where we checked into our lodgings for the night. Tomorrow we visit the Cotswolds.

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