stonehenge & salisbury england
Salisbury was ever bit as charming as it was nearly 30 years ago. The Cathedral itself was clad in scaffolding for one of the country's endless rehabs. Built in 1220 it escaped bombing in World War 2 and its spire remains one of the tallest in Europe. Inside was as amazing as I'd remembered.
And our guide, Rosamund Forester, made it even better. She's a Blue Badge Guide member of the Institute of Tourist Guides...reassuring for writers like me who depend on having accurate information for our whirlwind visits. Forester pointed out holes behind the angel statues on the front of the cathedral. "The choir sat there and sang through the holes so villagers would think they were hearing the songs of angels," she told us. Built originally as a Catholic cathedral, it switched to Church of England (Anglican there, Episcopal here) during the reign of Henry VIII, who abolished Catholicism so he could get a divorce.
Next came a quickie visit to Stonehenge, made all the quicker with the traffic jam encountered upon our approach. Legends and theories abound for the origins of the prehistoric stone monument on the Salisbury Plain. Begun more than 5,000 years ago, it consists of stone brought from 240 miles away before the wheel had been invented. Some think it was built by aliens, and supporters of that theory and others make themselves known to today's visitors. When I was last there, a tall chain link fence surrounded the stones and no one could approach closer than 50 yards. People on my coach who visited in the '70s said back then they were able to walk among the stones and actually touch them.
Now there is a low knee-high barrier strung around Stonehenge so people can't approach the stones but are able to take photos without having the fence in view. A free audio tour is included with admission to give background, but we had less than 40 minutes for our visit so there wasn't time.
Rosamund, however, told us that discoveries about Stonehenge continue to this day and now there's a plan in the works that would assemble visitors at a visitor center a mile or so away where they'd learn about the monument. They'll then be shuttled in small groups to the stones where they could take up-close tours with a guide. English people are generally displeased with this plan, she told us. But it's similar to what's in place at Newgrange in Northern Ireland which I visited last year and wrote about for the Dec. 21, 2008 travel section. (Enter Newgrange in the blank at the top of www.news-herald.com web site and you may be able to see it)
Newgrange was a simply amazing experience I'll remember the rest of my life. It was not diminished at all by the small group controls. I think the need to preserve these ancient sites dictates that we must put in place plans to minimize human impact on them so they'll be there for people to view in millenniums hence.