Avebury – prehistoric musings

I brushed up on human pre-history over a cheese and quince paste breakfast. We were going to visit the Avebury Henge and I wanted to be vaguely informed.  I went back about 500,000 years and started working my forward. The Henge was constructed in 3000 BC – making the site 5000 years old. The henge contained a number of nested circles made up of huge rocks – all running through a ‘modern’ village. The site was added to over a time period of 1000 years. An outer circle was added as well as a boulevard of huge stones acting as an entryway extending over a mile from the site. As a prehistoric person visiting this region, you knew early that ‘this was the place’! 

If you stood in the midst of the boulevard of stones on the crest overlooking the approach to the great nested circles of stones sitting in a huge earthworks henge and looked north you’d spot the enormous Uffington White Horse decorating the distant hillside. If you looked to the south you’d see the Silbury Hill – one of the tallest man-made hills.

Yep – this was the place. Some serious folk lived here!

I reflected on our visits to the cathedrals and thought about the time span in which they were created and the people of the times intention for creating them. People have been in the cathedral making business for about 600 years and how they have been used has altered significantly. The role and power of the church changed over time, plumbing and electric lights were added, and the community began using them in different ways – 12 step groups, community action committees now use them as much or more so than the worshippers. They still act as a place of religion, but they have become places of community culture as well.

I had thoughts about the evolution of the Avebury site along those same lines.

It’s conceivable that after 1000 years of building a gigantic religious site that everyone in the region would still be using it, but perhaps in different ways. Maybe it became more about the human sacrifice…or less. People may have gotten practical about allowing concession stands on-site. Seminar series and lectures in small outbuildings: “Making it in the new agrarian world: leaving the hunter/gatherer behind”?

The stones were pretty impressively large but what struck me equally impressive were the earth works around the circle. The builders moved staggering amounts of dirt…using deer antlers as a shovel. 

All of it an impressive feat – almost inconceivable in an era that had just invented ‘the planting stick’…although I had to pull on some first hand knowledge from having a lot of boys in my life. They can move a lot of huge rocks, dig enormous holes and move a staggering amount of toys over long distances in short order. People have always been good at moving things and being ridiculously over-the-top. 

We spent a better part of 2 hours wandering through the rocks and letting them talk to us. I regurgitated all the archeological facts I had gleaned over breakfast. Once we ran out of facts Kaety started pulling information from episodes of “Ancient Aliens’ she’d watched. 

When we asked Symone if she’d had a good time she rolled her eyes and said, “Yay, rocks!”

The English pub and the art of adult conversation

We got back to the village just in time for the pub to fire up the kitchen and the hearth. The fish and chips came with the ever notorious minted mashed peas. I kind of enjoyed it. Kinda. 

While we enjoyed our food we talked to Symone about conversational tennis, and how to get better at it. She has been trying hard to participate in conversations in an adult way and find her conversational groove but of course it’s a clunky process. I remember being this age and just never feeling like I was finding the right balance. 

Today’s lesson was: 1. Know your audience, and 2. If the joke didn’t hit the first time, it’s really not going to work to repeat it…three more times. 

She was open and interested and as the evening wore on we moved on to other topics like why people want to talk about the weather instead of what’s real, why anxiety and depression often go together, how to know when you are getting better at something, and what college is like. 

Good stuff. 

Hedgerow X-Wing Fighter

Our trip back from Sudeley was harrowing. Apparently the Cotswolds does have its very own rush hour which turns the single lane winding roads into a rich tapestry of near death experiences. 

Kaety and I were furiously ‘group thinking’ every move. At some point we fell in with a caravan of about ten fast moving locals launching their way down the narrow lanes at X-wing fighter like speeds. I realized our only hope of surviving the one lane road was to stay with the herd. I tried desperately to keep up. I knew that If I left a big enough hole the oncoming traffic would inject itself and trap us head-on.

At some point the whole caravan was stopped as a huge tractor pulling a cattle car entered the fray. As everyone folded space to make room where no room could possibly exist I was reminded of the capacity of Japanese trains. A miracle of physics. When we arrived back at our village my hands were weak from the death grip I’d had on the steering wheel. 

Sudeley Castle and the omnipresent history of Britain

We drove out to Sudeley Castle via a series of small roads that wound us through dozens of small villages and rolling farm lands bordered by stone fences and hedgerows. It was incredibly picturesque! At every turn we expected to see Emma and Mr. Knightly walking across the pastures. 

At many points along the road were access points to the hundreds of ‘public footpaths’ threading across the Cotswolds. They are not trails as we have in the US but paths that have been used by the locals for hundreds of years and simply formalized with a sign. The right of way rules here allow the public to cut across your property without challenge as long as you keep it cool. These people are avid walkers!

We were within 2 miles of Sudeley Castle and winding our way along a ridge overlooking a valley on a road the width of a bike path. The area didn’t seem right and I was wondering if we were lost. I glanced down into the valley and asked Kaety, “Do you see a castle down there anywhere? We’ve got to be close?!”

She looked and replied, “I do see one…wait I see more than one. I’m not sure if any of those are the castles we are going to”

I had to laugh. What a weird problem. 

A sharpe right turn between a narrow hedge row gap abruptly lead us to Sudeley Castle. 

Sudeley wasn’t technically a castle, but instead a ‘castlized manor’. I had no idea this subset of architecture existed. Sudeley was also the backdrop to a whole lot of historic drama. The last surviving wife of Henry the VIII, Catherine Parr lived and was later discovered to have been buried there. I guess if you are the last surviving wife, you lay low, even in death. The weirdest interpretive sign I’ve ever read described the discovery of the casket and the condition of her body as, “…still white and moist”. Nice detail – yikes!

As we wandered the manor and grounds we were reminded of the British civil war that balanced the power between parliament and the monarchy. 

Sudeley Castle featured significantly enough in the war that it was ordered ‘slighted’ as a consequence of being on the losing side of the conflict. Slighted is a polite euphemism for ‘totally destroyed’. 

The history was fascinating and more than slightly depressing but the gardens, where all the held women spent their time, were beautiful. 

The international adult eater

We spent a lot of time cautioning Symone to let go of her picky eating habits while we travelled.

We had some concerns that we’d have to be managing a non-eating sullen teen around meal times but she rose up and met the challenge! She’s charged forward and tried a lot of unfamiliar thing without complaint. 

She is doing so well that she was totally put out when the waitress at The Falcon handed her the largest, most obvious, children’s menu ever. IMG_7231 2

Gob Smacked – Gloucester Cathedral

As I was standing in the Cloisters at Gloucester Cathedral with my mouth hanging open, another visitor popped out of a side entrance and paused – his mouth hanging open just as wide as mine. He met my eye, grinned and said, “Well, my gob has totally been smacked!”

We wandered from area to area marveling at every detail and deeply feeling the age of everything around us. I noticed the wear patterns on the stone stairs from hundreds of years of human feet slowly walking a groove in them. I noticed the candles lit for those who had passed on…an intimate action in such a grand and over the top place. Then I noticed the older gentleman sitting quietly alone in the chapel obviously mourning. What a contract of human experiences and expression cast across hundreds of years! The deaths, the births, the politics, the lives, and the voices all bouncing around inside an artistic and engineering achievement that seemed to celebrate everything we strive to be…but can’t quit meet.