The dew was accumulating 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 in 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 share a prehistoric ritual on one of the high times of the Pagan calendar. In fact, my spouse, our cab driver, and I just happened to run into the two musicians when we chose we wished to see the stones at night. True, I was riveted to that moist spot. Was it the tunes, the rhythm of wind and primal instrument? Or could it happen to be a great disclosure, as some long-buried memory surfaced? It was neither; I was transfixed, as had been numerous others before and after me, by the mystery of the stones.
England is full of these Interesting Legends, placed in deliberate patterns, usually circles, and left in the plains from one end of the island to the other. They are usually in serene, isolated places, and rarely attract crowds of tourists. These locals, coupled with the ongoing mysterious atmosphere posed by the stones, ensures they are wonderful places to travel when getting from the noise of civilization is foremost in your plans. On my first holiday 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 any novel placed in 1807, but we soon became captivated by a far older story.
Subsequently, we now have joined the ranks of the countless people that have visited Neolithic stones throughout western England, and remain more fascinated than ever. Better yet, coming from a tourist standpoint, the majority of these sites are freely available. The majority are on private property, so when landowners might not alter historic sites, it is actually customary to ask permission from your landlords before trodding on to examine their charges. Stonehenge remains one of the few sites that one must pay an admission fee; additionally it is one in the few sites that one may not approach closely.
The initial question asked by visitors or armchair Indiana Joneses is either “who built these structures,” or “exactly what are they for?” Archaeologists have a variety of techniques available that let them give us a variety of clues. For instance, the favourite prehistoric monument of these all, Stonehenge, is found atop a chalk formation. Experts tell us that if you haul heavy objects, like, say, twelve-ton stones, across chalk, it can shatter. Based on their examinations from the chalk across the monument, these archaeologists tell us that most the stones were hauled in from one direction, along the same path, that has been called “the avenue.” The stones usually are not local, but come from 35 or even more miles away. They must be cut carefully, shaped, and moved, all at considerable effort, suggesting both aesthetic sense and careful engineering. (I would also think “strong backs” goes listed, but while we really don’t recognize how the stones were cut or transported…)
Stonehenge was abandoned long 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 a little more about the ideological biases from the questioners than the identity in the architects. A pervasive and popular explanation held the circle was built by Druids, and used for human sacrifices. Alas, this explanation is an additional case of exaggerated anachronism (as it is Robin Hood’s Friar Tuck, a Franciscan in England about 150 years ahead of the founding from the Order), for that Druids emerged thousands of years after Stonehenge was built. This does not, however, mean they might not have access to used the ruins a long time after their creators had disappeared. Other colourful ideas suggest the circle had been a terminal building for UFOs, or perhaps the tomb of the truly great leader.
Smaller stones have many different forms. Some, called quoits, are known to be burial places. But others remain enigmatic despite all efforts to buy them to disclose their secrets. One, the Men-el-Tor in Cornwall is unique, the only real hollowed-out, round stone known in Europe. Nearby is surely an upright spire. Legend has it that by passing with the circle three 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 also, my own, personal hypothesis) is that, 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 in the trash, next to 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 used 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 fascination with them until we actually came to a circle in 1989. The Merry Maidens, where my feet became dew-soaked, is actually a circle where my spouse and I spent lots of time, mainly because it is so accessible. It is also in the middle of an extremely casual attitude from your locals, who don’t seem interested in commercializing the ruins. Our cab driver, a local of Penzance, was loaded with lore about these prehistoric relics. My favourite was the story regarding the farmer who, around World War I, made an effort to remove the stones from his field. He hitched strong ropes around a stone, thence his plow horse.
As the stone begun to move, the horse dropped dead from a cardiac event. Fascinating since this sounds, it is actually, like numerous legends, unsubstantiated by facts. On my own first visit, I noticed a set of stones away from circle that were not mentioned in the guidebook. They arranged using a stone in the circle to point almost exactly north-northeast. I do not know what significance which has, but I used a compass to verify the direction. Entering the circle, my compass spun slowly in most directions, a phenomenon observed by my spouse and our guide. Outside the circle, it worked fine. Once we tried a better compass a couple of years later, the outcomes were different, the needle pointing only a few degrees east of magnetic north. Up to now, that is the most mysterious thing we’ve encountered in a stone site.
Over the road and a short walk from the Merry Maidens are definitely the standing Pipers. Legend has it that the Maidens danced to the Piper’s music in the Sabbath, in which indiscretion these people were struck into stone. Vengeful gods notwithstanding, one approaches the Pipers with great care; every once in awhile a bull is grazing in their field. Whilst the Maidens form a properly-defined circle (with two outer boulders making a “gun-sight”), the tall, rectangular Pipers have been in a straight row, bandsmen eternally at attention. As though ttknrn early Briton had involved in a prehistoric version of urban planning (“boy, five thousand years from now the tourists are gonna eat this up!”), additionally there is a medieval burial chamber just to the west of the Maiden’s circle, and easily viewed from the center of the circle. Face to the east, and you also view the Pipers. Were they erected by the same people? Were their functions related?