Today I had another excuse to pull out my English countryside boots for our day trip to Stonehenge and Bath, both of which you have no doubt heard. It was rainy, cold, and windy, but we packed our brellies, tossed on thick sweaters, and shoved bags of sustaining trail mix and peanut butter sandwiches into our rucksacks, and headed out in the morning mist to board our bus.
As we entered Stonehenge, a worker told us to close our umbrellas. “It’s an umbrella graveyard out there,” she said warningly. Indeed, just as we stepped out onto the plain we witnessed an enormous gust of wind, and all those who refused to listen suffered the consequences.
We were all issued headphones through which to listen to our tour. On a regular day I probably would have been disappointed at this electronic, surrogate guide, but I could barely hear what the people next to me were saying, so it was probably for the best I had a gentle voice chatting away directly in my ear.
Unfortunately, it does interfere slightly with the solemnitude of the place, and one’s ability to remain thoughtful and introspective. Standing on the plain with the wind whistling in your ears, inside-out black umbrellas flapping along the grass like giant bats, and the rainy gray skies stretching out across the landscape certainly gave the experience an eerie vibe.
The taped guide didn’t take away from it entirely, however, as he did provide some interested background into the numerous theories and legends of aliens, magic, druids, giants, and ancient peoples that haunt Stonehenge.
My personal favourite is the Merlin theory based in Arthurian legend in Geoffrey of Monmouth‘s Historia Regum Britanniae, which we first encountered in Wales. This is the idea that Merlin sent Uther Pendragon (father of King Arthur) and several thousand knights to Ireland to retrieve the slabs of rock, believed to have healing properties. According to Monmouth, the stones were originally brought to Ireland from Africa by giants. Not having the brute strength of giants, however, Pendragon and his troops were unable to bring them back to England, and so Merlin used his magic powers to do so.
After his death, Monmouth believes Uther Pendragon was buried here. It gave me shivers to think on the vague possibility that Pendragon could be buried under the mounds, or barrows, scattered around the stone circle. WB, ever the cynic, has little to no patience for adamant belief in myth and fantasy. Of course, he knows such things had a place and a time in an era where scientific knowledge wasn’t so accessible, but he believes that time is securely in the past.
I, however, think that the imagination inspired by Stonehenge gives the site a kind of magic whether or not you believe in the myths of Merlin or alien life forms. Even if it was just a very crafty (and strong) tribe that dragged these stones from their home in Wales, that in itself is an incredible feat that must have been fuelled by some urgent belief or need. And if it was just a glacier who brought the bluestone to Salisbury and some simple but strong Neolithic technology that mounted them – it still goes to show that there are a lot of mysteries to our world.
We returned out of the tempest and into the bus soaked to the bone, feeling as though we had come through some sort of ritual re-birthing ceremony. Instead of feeling exhausted, grumpy, or desiring to go home, I felt refreshed (though the tea purchased at the busy little café and a peanut butter sandwich probably helped).
From the rough, ancient stones of Stonehenge steeped in mysticism, we rode on to quaint and regal-looking Bath, a spa town that had its heydey in Georgian times, giving rise to its fabulous Georgian buildings made out of Bath stone, such as the Royal Crescent.
We were basically given free rein over Bath, which was nice: it was a very hands-off tour basically just acting as transport, which is precisely what we needed. We did get a pass into the baths themselves included.
Fortunately, I had obeyed the staff at Stonehenge and not opened my umbrella on the plain, meaning it was preserved to shelter us through our Bath exploration. This did not, however, stop a twinge of temptation from striking as we leaned over the warm steam rising from the algae-ridden Roman Baths.
After a tour of the baths we hopped over to the Jane Austen museum, where in some sort of manic state we thought it’d be absolutely hilarious to drop a tenner on two painted portraits of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. We soon returned to our senses, however, and the ten pounds returned safely to our wallets. I have to admit though, I’m still haunted by a faint feeling of regret as I imagine how ridiculously out of place a framed portrait of Mr. Darcy would look in our one-room flat.
We spent the remainder of our time in Bath wandering about, huddled under my obnoxiously yellow umbrella, seeing the sights and searching desperately for a hot bowl of soup.
We would love to get back to Bath when warmer weather comes along; we think spending a lazy day among the beautiful houses and quaint shops would be lovelier when you aren’t dodging raindrops – but I suppose that’s what you get for living in England, isn’t it?
Oh, and HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY! ♥