23.09.2011 - 23.09.2011 18 °C
I got happening early this morning as I was heading back towards London (Oxford today) to get going up to the Shetlands. My detour break today was to see the Avebury Standing Stones. The Avebury henge is much larger than Stonehenge and takes up at least square mile of the town of Avebury. Actually, the stones are set in a few sheep fields that surround the town in a wide arc.
The Avebury stones are thought to be the same age as Stonehenge (5000 or so years old). Apart from this fact and that they are stones and stand in a circle there isn’t much else that the two henge’s have in common. For one; Avebury is much less travelled than Stonehenge (today there would have been lucky to be 30 people looking at the stones). Two; the henge itself is much, much larger. Three; Avebury is just standing stones (vertical), there are no horizontal stones placed on top. Four; tourists can actually go up and touch the Avebury stones (no fences to keep away the dodgies!!)
I actually learnt a lot more about henges today because at Avebury you can actually join a historical tour and see the stones from a historian’s point of view. The good thing about talking to a person and not to a headset is you can ask questions to all of those burning questions!! Probably one of the most interesting things I learnt today about both henges, is that a ‘henge’ is actually the ditch that surrounds the stones, not the stones themselves! Based on this, Stonehenge isn’t really a henge at all!!! I was also surprised to discover that both Stonehenge and the Avebury stones have been concreted in the ground to prevent them falling over (I guess with all of the tourists walking past every day it would be pretty bad press if someone died because a stone fell on them!)
It was also the autumnal equinox today so Avebury also played host to some new age druids who were doing whatever it is that druids do at an equinox.. It appeared to be lots of dancing and singing around a big gong wearing lots of flowing clothing and no shoes.. I was a little preoccupied with the stone’s themselves to go and find out what they were doing but apparently it is quite common to see people gathered within the henge to celebrate at different times of the year. The Avebury stones don’t appear to align with any of the solstices or equinoxes but this doesn’t stop people from gathering.. I guess it is easier to get closer to the stones here so this is why they come here rather than Stonehenge?
I also learnt a bit about water dousing today! To be perfectly frank it is one of those ‘branches of science’ that I’ve always been pretty dubious about so the guide challenged me to learn how to douse.. I’m still sceptical but the rods did seem to move when we got near to a water course so maybe……………… Anyway the point of dousing is that apparently the type of stone that Avebury is made out of holds water so the archaeologists use dousing sticks (amongst other techniques) to see where underground other stones from the henge could be laid. The reason for this is that many of the Avebury stones remain buried under the ground (at some point in the past they toppled over and the grass etc has grown over them).
All in all I had a top couple of hours wandering around paddocks looking at big rocks…. Mmmm maybe I do need to get my head read one of these days!! From Avebury I continued along the motorway and into Oxford. Gosh driving in Oxford is a challenge.. not from a physical driving perspective but just because traffic is so bad that the car only moves 1 meter every 10mins or so! I actually gave up trying to drive to my hostel and parked outside of town at a park and ride and then walked the km or so into town to my hostel.. I’m certain that I walked to the hostel far quicker than I would have driven the same distance.. traffic here is just manic!
I had arrived well after 5pm and had organised to meet with Carmen and Pete (from the Trans Siberian trip) at 7pm for dinner so I knew that I didn’t have much time for site seeing. I did a quick tour of main street and some of the other streets that the lady from the hostel had recommended before it was time to meet Carmen and Pete for dinner.
We had a really great night! Carmen and Pete took me on a quick tour of some of the better looking buildings in town and explained to me that the campus of Oxford is not actually in one place but is spread throughout the city.. The whole town is the university! Most of the 'pretty' buildings are campus buildings and most were built sometime between the 16th and the 17th centuries. I think the highlights were probably St Mary Magdalene church and this building that has stone heads erected on the wall. If I have time tomorrow morning I’m going to make an effort to see Christchurch which is where some of Harry Potter was filmed! After our tour we settled in for some pretty tasty Indian and before we knew it we had talked away the evening and were heading back to the hostel (and home for P and C). I really had a great night out with some great friends. Thanks Pete and Carmen for an awesome evening, I’ll definitely reciprocate when you are next in Brissie!