The dew was accumulating faster the more we stood there, and my feet were pretty wet, yet I didn’t 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 from the midsummer’s moon. Around us within 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 might have been an occult gathering, the 5 of us drawn magically to discuss a prehistoric ritual on one of the high times of the Pagan calendar. In reality, my spouse, our cab driver, and I just happened to run into the two musicians when we chose we wanted to view the stones at night. True, I was riveted to that damp spot. Was it the songs, the rhythm of wind and primal instrument? Or could it happen to be an excellent disclosure, as some long-buried memory surfaced? It was neither; I was transfixed, as have been many others before and after me, by the mystery of the stones.
England is loaded with these Interesting Legends, put into deliberate patterns, generally circles, and left around the plains from one end from the island to the other. They are generally in serene, isolated places, and rarely attract crowds of tourists. These locals, along with the ongoing mysterious atmosphere caused from the stones, ensures they are wonderful places to visit when getting out of the noise of civilization is foremost inside your plans. On my first holiday to England in 1989, I needed a vague understanding of Stonehenge, and even 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 come to do historical research for any novel set in 1807, but we soon became fascinated by a far older story.
Subsequently, we have joined the ranks in the countless people that have visited Neolithic stones throughout western England, and remain more fascinated than ever before. Better still, coming from a tourist standpoint, many of these sites are freely available. Many are on private property, so that as landowners might not alter historic sites, it is actually customary to question permission from your landlords before trodding onto examine their charges. Stonehenge remains one from the few sites in which one must pay an admission fee; it is also one in the few sites that one may not approach closely.
The first question asked by visitors or armchair Indiana Joneses is either “who built these structures,” or “what are they for?” Archaeologists have many different techniques available that permit them to give us a number of clues. For example, the most famous prehistoric monument of those all, Stonehenge, is found atop a chalk formation. Experts tell us that when you haul heavy objects, including, say, twelve-ton stones, across chalk, it will shatter. Based on their examinations in the chalk round 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 are certainly not local, but originate from 35 or more miles away. They needed to be cut carefully, shaped, and moved, all at considerable effort, suggesting both aesthetic sense and careful engineering. (I should also think “strong backs” goes on the list, but since we really don’t recognize how the stones were cut or transported…)
Stonehenge have been abandoned a long time before the Roman conquest of Britain, and lay unknown until rediscovered in 1130 A.D. With every passing century, hypotheses about its use and builders reflected much more about the ideological biases in the questioners compared to identity from the architects. A pervasive and popular explanation held that this circle was built by Druids, and utilized for human sacrifices. Alas, this explanation is another case of exaggerated anachronism (as it is Robin Hood’s Friar Tuck, a Franciscan in England about 150 years prior to the founding in the Order), for that Druids came along many thousands of years after Stonehenge was built. This may 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 was actually a terminal building for UFOs, or perhaps the tomb of a truly great leader.
Smaller stones have many different forms. Some, called quoits, are now considered to be burial places. But others remain enigmatic despite all attempts to have them to show their secrets. One, the Men-el-Tor in Cornwall is unique, the only hollowed-out, round stone known in Europe. Nearby is an upright spire. Legend has it that by passing with the circle 3 x, you could be healed from a variety of ills. I will vouch which it fails to work for all ills. My favourite explanation for this particular structure (and in addition, my own, personal hypothesis) is the fact, 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 little, shrugged, and tossed the prototype inside 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 suggest that these paired stones were used in fertility rights. In fact, no one knows without a doubt.
If you value unknown, you can hardly do a lot better than make an effort to fathom the stones. I had no desire for them until we actually arrived at a circle in 1989. The Merry Maidens, where my feet became dew-soaked, is really a circle where my partner and i also spent a lot of time, mainly because it is so accessible. It is additionally surrounded by a very casual attitude through the locals, who don’t seem thinking about commercializing the ruins. Our cab driver, a native of Penzance, was loaded with lore about these prehistoric relics. My favourite was the tale regarding the farmer who, around World War I, attempted to take away the stones from his field. He hitched strong ropes around a stone, thence his plow horse.
Because the stone began to move, the horse dropped dead from the cardiac arrest. Fascinating because this sounds, it is actually, like so many legends, unsubstantiated by facts. On my first visit, I noticed a set of stones outside of the circle that were not mentioned within the guidebook. They arranged using a stone within the circle to point almost exactly north-northeast. I do not know what significance which has, but I used a compass to ensure the direction. Entering the circle, my compass spun slowly in most directions, a phenomenon observed by my wife and our guide. Outside the circle, it worked fine. Once we tried an improved compass 2 yrs later, the results were different, the needle pointing just a couple degrees east of magnetic north. So far, that is the most mysterious thing we’ve encountered at a stone site.
Over the road along with a short walk from the Merry Maidens are the standing Pipers. Legend has it that the Maidens danced to the Piper’s music in the Sabbath, in which indiscretion they were struck into stone. Vengeful gods notwithstanding, one approaches the Pipers with great care; every once in awhile a bull is grazing inside their field. While the Maidens form a well-defined circle (with two outer boulders building a “gun-sight”), the tall, rectangular Pipers are in a straight row, bandsmen eternally at attention. As though ttknrn early Briton had engaged in a prehistoric version of urban planning (“boy, five thousand years from now the tourists are gonna eat this up!”), additionally there is an ancient burial chamber just to the west in the Maiden’s circle, and easily viewed from the center of the circle. Face for the east, and you view the Pipers. Were they erected from the same people? Were their functions related?