A stone circle is a stone circle. Or is it? Several reviews I read of Stonehenge, the most famous of them all, said the site had become such a tourist Mecca that it was not worth the time and money to see it; chain-link fences around the stones kept visitors at a sizable distance. One review even suggested bringing binoculars!
So when I read that Avebury, a nearby stone circle larger than Stonehenge, was so accessible you could touch the stones, I thought, We will swim against the current and visit Avebury instead.
Avebury was something of a disappointment. The stone circle was so big that the village of Avebury grew up in the middle of it. We could only view a quadrant at a time. And the stones were so irregular that they didn’t appear to have been placed there for any significant reason. They didn’t look like columns from a Neolithic temple; they looked like a Halloween prank.
I started thinking about Stonehenge, and I just had to see if it was the same. No comparison. First of all, your driving down a winding country road, you crest a hill, and there they are. Right out there on the Salisbury Plain for all the world to see. It caught me so much by surprise that I thought it must be an advertisement, but it was the real thing. As soon as you go through the entrance and up onto the plain, you are right in front of the stones, circling them on a path that is remarkably close. There is no chain-link fence, only a cord about a foot off the ground that quietly suggests you don’t approach the stones.
There is something about being out on that flat expanse of the greenest grass you will ever see with those amazing stones that is just unreal and impossible to describe. It is just like the photos you see, but nothing like them. You can see the texture of the stone and other details. Some of the lintels, the horizontal stones that lie on top the vertical ones, are still there, giving the stones more of the feel of a temple. On top of the solitary vertical stones, you can see a knob where a notch in the lintel had once fit so snugly, like Neolithic Legos. So intricately designed, planned, and carved. So fantastically built.
We may never know how this engineering feat was accomplished, or what the stone circles were for, but that doesn’t bother me. I was fascinated just to walk around them – 360° – to get a view from all angles. Every angle is different. And I timed our visit just right: we got there as late as we could (a half-hour before closing) so we could (almost) see the sun set behind the stones. It’s an experience I will never forget.