The happy appearance of uninterrupted Sun last Sunday took me off to Stonehenge. It was my first visit – despite living here since 2015 – though I had glimpsed the stones on car journeys. An early ticket and an intriguing walk through woods and fields was a reminder of the glory of Salisbury Plain and the gift of horizons in Wiltshire.
I was not disappointed. Bathed in sunshine the scale of these stones and their context was awesome. Slowly the circle revealed itself on the horizon drawing this walker onwards and into their intrigue. Signposting offered some information and narrative.
Built over many hundreds of years with work beginning in the late around 3000 BC this stone circle has intrigued many with its meaning and purpose. Much remains hidden. Like all of our landscape there has been change, building and restoration. The energy and efforts of generations digging ditches, dragging stones, fashioning the with tools that were made of stone, wood and rope! And what we see today are only a few stones of the original are left standing today.
This tourist was intrigued by its mystery and its scale. The sun cast shadows and illuminated the weathered colours of the boulders and bluestones – some standing as high as a double decker bus. The walk took me round the circle to see its scale and design and power.
In the silence of the fields I wondered what on earth it was for. What inspired generations into such effort. What kind of religious ceremonies took place at a site that felt sacred? How did the geometry of the circle help people understand the movements of the Sun and Moon? Was it a place of storytelling and healing? How were the dead laid to rest and commemorated? We shall probably never know!
As I walked back to the Visitor Centre I felt the mystery and power of the place – enriched and lifted by its stillness and the shifting light of the morning sun. Intriguing, enlarging but also calming and reassuring in equal measure.
Back at Sarum College I confessed to colleagues my weekend adventure as a tourist. I was glad to be reminded that we human beings are in our very essence storytellers. We have a thirst to know and to understand. We need to glimpse a pattern, a meaning and a purpose in these fragile and unpredictable days. Our inner life needs as much care as our physical health. It is fed by mystery, beauty and imagination.
Religion names this dimension of living as the spiritual. It needs nourishing by history, beauty, mystery and an acknowledgement that there is so much in life that we neither know nor understand or even control. That is a gift to be cherished and nurtured.
So – thanks to English Heritage – for its stewardship of these famous stones. In time and beyond time they speak. Let our curiosity enliven the moments of awe, of deep silence in place and landscape.
First Published in the Salisbury Journal 15th October 2020