The dew was collecting faster the more we stood there, and my feet were quite wet, yet I did not care. The cold June air was pierced by the sounds of a wind from the channel and a pair of didgeridoo players under a dim spotlight through the midsummer’s moon. Around us within the wet, ankle-deep grass, stood the oblong shapes of the Merry Maidens, a circle of stones placed here who-knows-when by who-knows-who. This could have been an occult gathering, the five of us drawn magically to talk about a prehistoric ritual on one of the high days of the Pagan calendar. In fact, my spouse, our cab driver, and I just happened to run in to the two musicians when we decided we wished to see the stones at night. True, I was riveted to that damp spot. Was it the songs, the rhythm of wind and primal instrument? Or could it happen to be an excellent disclosure, as some long-buried memory surfaced? It was neither; I was transfixed, as had been many others before and after me, by the mystery of the stones.
England is filled with these Interesting Legends, placed in deliberate patterns, most often circles, and left around the plains from one end of the island for the other. They are generally in serene, isolated places, and rarely attract crowds of tourists. These locals, in conjunction with the ongoing mysterious atmosphere caused from the stones, makes them wonderful places to visit when getting away from the noise of civilization is foremost in your plans. On my own first trip to England in 1989, I had a vague knowledge about Stonehenge, as well as less desire for it. But our visit began in Cornwall where lives, my novelist wife informed me, the soul of mystery and romance. She had arrived at do historical research for a novel occur 1807, but we soon became captivated by a far older story.
Subsequently, we now have joined the ranks of the thousands of people who have visited Neolithic stones throughout western England, and remain more fascinated than in the past. Better yet, from the tourist standpoint, the majority of these sites are freely available. Most are on private property, so that as landowners may not alter historic sites, it is actually customary to question permission through the landlords before trodding to examine their charges. Stonehenge remains one from the few sites in which one must pay an admission fee; it is also one of the few sites that one may well not approach closely.
The first question asked by visitors or armchair Indiana Joneses is either “who built these structures,” or “what exactly are they for?” Archaeologists have a variety of techniques available that permit them to give us a number of clues. As an example, the most famous prehistoric monument of them all, Stonehenge, is found atop a chalk formation. Experts tell us that if you haul heavy objects, including, say, twelve-ton stones, across chalk, it can shatter. According to their examinations of the chalk round the monument, these archaeologists tell us that all the stones were hauled in from one direction, along the same path, which was called “the avenue.” The stones are not local, but originate from 35 or even more miles away. They had to be cut carefully, shaped, and moved, all at considerable effort, suggesting both aesthetic sense and careful engineering. (I ought to also think “strong backs” goes on the list, but as we really don’t understand how the stones were cut or transported…)
Stonehenge was abandoned well before the Roman conquest of Britain, and lay unknown until rediscovered in 1130 A.D. With each passing century, hypotheses about its use and builders reflected more about the ideological biases from the questioners compared to the identity from the architects. A pervasive and popular explanation held the circle was built by Druids, and used for human sacrifices. Alas, this explanation is another case of exaggerated anachronism (as is also Robin Hood’s Friar Tuck, a Franciscan in England about 150 years before the founding of the Order), for the Druids came along thousands of years after Stonehenge was built. This will not, however, mean they could not have access to used the ruins long after their creators had disappeared. Other colourful ideas suggest the circle was a terminal building for UFOs, or perhaps the tomb of any truly great leader.
Smaller stones have a variety of forms. Some, called quoits, are now considered to be burial places. But others remain enigmatic despite all tries to buy them to disclose their secrets. One, the Men-el-Tor in Cornwall is exclusive, the only hollowed-out, round stone known in Europe. Nearby is surely an upright spire. Legend has it that by passing with the circle 3 times, you may be healed from many different ills. I can vouch it will not work for all ills. My favourite explanation with this structure (and in addition, my very own hypothesis) is the fact, back around 7333 B.C., Grog invented the wheel. He showed it to his brother in law, who replied, “exactly what are you gonna use that?” Grog thought a bit, shrugged, and tossed the prototype within the trash, alongside another aborted invention, the axel (ah, had he but built two wheels first, how different might history be). More scholarly thinkers advise that these paired stones were utilized in fertility rights. In reality, no one knows for certain.
If you value unknown, you are able to hardly do a lot better than attempt to fathom the stones. I had no desire for them until we actually arrived at a circle in 1989. The Merry Maidens, where my feet became dew-soaked, is really a circle where my spouse and i also spent considerable time, mainly because it is so accessible. Additionally it is surrounded by a really casual attitude through the locals, who don’t seem thinking about commercializing the ruins. Our cab driver, a native of Penzance, was loaded with lore about these prehistoric relics. My favourite was the history about the farmer who, around World War I, made an effort to eliminate the stones from his field. He hitched strong ropes around a stone, thence his plow horse.
As the stone began to move, the horse dropped dead from the cardiac event. Fascinating since this sounds, it is, like so many legends, unsubstantiated by facts. On my first visit, I noticed a pair of stones away from circle that were not mentioned inside the guidebook. They lined up using a stone in the circle to point almost exactly north-northeast. I do not know what significance that has, however i used a compass to verify the direction. Entering the circle, my compass spun slowly in every directions, a phenomenon observed by my partner and our guide. Outside of the circle, it worked fine. Once we tried an improved compass 2 yrs later, the results were different, the needle pointing just a couple degrees east of magnetic north. To date, that is the most mysterious thing we’ve encountered at a stone site.
Throughout the road along with a short walk from the Merry Maidens are the standing Pipers. Legend has it the Maidens danced to the Piper’s music around the Sabbath, that indiscretion these were struck into stone. Vengeful gods notwithstanding, one approaches the Pipers with great care; every once in awhile a bull is grazing within their field. Whilst the Maidens form a properly-defined circle (with two outer boulders making a “gun-sight”), the tall, rectangular Pipers will be in a straight row, bandsmen eternally at attention. As if ttknrn early Briton had involved in a prehistoric version of urban planning (“boy, five thousand years from the tourists are gonna eat this up!”), additionally there is an ancient burial chamber just to the west in the Maiden’s circle, and easily viewed from the center of the circle. Face towards the east, and you see the Pipers. Were they erected by the same people? Were their functions related?