Today was full of mysteries, marvel, and charm as we explored two ancient structures, Stonehenge and Avebury Stone Ciricle, and two villages tucked away in the valleys and countryside of England, Lacock and Castle Comb.
Our witty and knowledgable tour guide and driver from Mad Max Tours picked us up bright and early after breakfast at the YMCA (that finally consisted of the anticipated Weetabix, kind of like a granola bar, except eaten in milk like cereal). As we began our first jaunt though the picturesque countryside, our driver began pointing out important sites, pretty views and facts as we passed them by; though he was interesting and enjoyable to listen to, the ride lulled some of us to sleep. When next we opened our eyes we were at the famed Stonehenge! We looked around the flat and Stonehenge-less landscape and automatically sighed with disappointment–that is, until we realized their was another bus to take us up the road a ways. Excitement ensued as we grabbed walkie-talkie-like devices for a self-guided audio tour and boarded the bus. Gasps of awe and clicks of camera shutters started immediately as the massive structure came into view. We were finally able to see what has inspired people to study and admire for centuries.
Our focus had to be reigned in for our class discussion before we could take our fill of the site. Jessica Donahue gave a sparkling presentation highlighting the history of Stonehenge and it’s connection to the 66th plate of “Jerusalem,” a poem paying homage to the ancient structure written by William Blake, a poetic genius and jack-of-all-artistic-trades. Stonehenge stands in a large area of grasslands, surrounded by circular ditches and burial mounds, and was constructed over 5,000 years ago. The structure of stones–some small, broken or fallen, others towering above our heads, massive and intact–are shaped in a fragmented outer circle and horseshoe-like inner cluster. It was built as a temple, with the stone arranged in a sophisticated alignment to mark the passage of the sun and changing seasons, namely the winter and summer solstices in pagan rituals. Many mysteries still remain about the who and why of Stonehenge, as only half of the site as been studied archeologically; but our individualized audio tour was helpful in walking us through how it was built, archeological discoveries, and educated speculations on “the meaning of Stonehenge.”
Our next stop was another Neolithic wonder, the Avebury Stone Circle–look for that in the other blog entry for today!
Following another sleepy bus ride, we stopped in Lacock, a small (only four streets) village tucked away amomg the tree-cover hills, sheep-filled valleys and tiny, winding roads. Perfectly charming, rustic and whimsical, the homeowners and businesses of this little village have hidden their satellites and other 21st century clues carefully, as it is a frequent set for movies, and most important to us, the set of Harry Potter. After lunch in a small park with the sun shinning down on us, we got our unofficial Harry Potter tour, which consisted of our awesome tour guide/driver pointing out the spaces as we passed them and throwing fun-facts at us. First was the famed Church street, a.k.a Hogsmead–it looked just like the movie set! I kept looking at every store front in hopes of finding The Three Broomsticks and a warm butterbeer! Then hidden behind a couple houses, we spied the front entrance to Professor Slughorn’s summer home in the 6th movie. Down the street we spotted the fictional home of Harry’s parents, the scene where they faced Voldemort for the last time, sacrificing their lives and leaving Harry as “the boy who lived.” And last, but not least, we visited Lacock Abbey–the cloisters and rooms of which served a courtyard and classroom for the first two movies. Wishing we had more time, but ready to see what else Mad Max Tours had in store for us, we were soon on the road again.
To be continued…