Rolling With The Sarsen Stones

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

I woke up this morning in London to a gentle rain, and was reminded of a comment by Mark Twain. When Twain was living in the UK, a couple of his friends from the US were out to his house to tea. A week later, he writes to someone else:

“We furnished them a bright day and comfortable weather—and they used it all up, in their extravagant American way. Since then we have sat by coal fires, evenings.”

So, hoping I hadn’t used up all the good weather, in a light rain we packed and stowed and jumped on the tube to Heathrow, where we rented a car and drove west to Salisbury.

And as always, there were surprises. The first surprise was how quickly the city was replaced by lovely green countryside. And not only countryside, but farms, large farms, growing wheat from the looks of it. I’d expected miles and miles of suburbs, but that didn’t happen at all.


(Click to enlarge) The second surprise was that the rain went away, and although the day was cloudy, it was lovely.

The very best part of the day, however, was being taken on a tour of both Stonehenge and Avebury by Tim Daw. It was great to finally meet Tim. Back in 2007, a couple of years before I started writing for WUWT, Tim was gracious enough to post an article of mine about the Central England Temperature (CET) record. At present, that blog is inactive, but he is still running his family farm … and in addition, he also  works at Stonehenge, and is an amateur archaeologist himself. So there could not have been a better guide.

So we all jumped into Tim’s car and he drove us from Salisbury to Stonehenge. I knew nothing about Stonehenge … and as it turns out … nobody does. Oh, that’s not quite accurate, we know that they made urns with collars around them, and that they built long barrows for their dead, not round barrows. We know that the blue stones came from Wales, and that the sarsen stones came from about twenty miles north of Stonehenge. We know that in the Middle Ages people thought Merlin built Stonehenge.

Other than that, however, I fear we know very little more than the people from the Middle Ages about who built Stonehenge, or why. But despite that lack of knowledge, or perhaps in part because of that, the place has an awesome and remote majesty that captures nearly everyone’s imagination. Here’s what it looked like today when we were there:


From there, we went to Avebury, which I’m told is another “henge”. My obviously over-valued estimate of my own knowledge of the oddities of the English language has taken a thrashing on this trip. I’ve found out a few things about British place names I never knew. One was that a “minster”, as in “Westminster”, means a big church. Next, a “stoke”, as in Greystoke, is a stockade. I found out that a “staple” or “stable” in a place-name means a market, and that “Bury”, as in Salisbury where I am now, means a fortified town. I learned that “sarsen” is a corruption of “Saracen”. My new bible on these matters is here.

I also now know that a “henge” is a circular earthen wall with a ditch inside it.

Now, all over the planet people dig circular earthen walls with ditches. Why? Well, for defense, of course. It’s a great plan. The attackers are all down in the ditch, and you stand up on top and shoot at them with whatever armament you might have. So, what’s wrong with this picture?

Well … the henges on Salisbury plain all have the ditches on the inside, not the outside. They would be totally useless for defense. So the obvious question arises … why were they built?

Bad news in that regard. Nobody knows. After asking Tim question after question about any and all aspects of the builders’ lives, I decided I could just record him saying “Sadly, no one knows”, and dispense with him altogether—I could just ask the question, and then play the recording. Not that he is ignorant on these matters, quite the contrary. It’s just that regarding why the henges were built … no one knows. Regarding the beliefs or origins of those who built them … no one knows. How did they move the stones? See the previous answer …

So with my ignorance doubly confirmed, and then reconfirmed, we left Stonehenge, and Tim took us onwards to Avebury. This is another famous nearby henge. It is much larger, encircling the entire village of Avebury. And the henge is much bigger as well, perhaps a thousand feet (300m) across, with a much higher wall and a much deeper ditch.

avebury 1

Again, like Stonehenge, Avebury is imbued with a sense of profound mystery—what is the purpose of the wall and the ditch? But this time the mystery is bizarrely juxtaposed with everyday life:

avebury 2

avebury 3

After we walked all the way around the circular earthen mound and came back down to the inside of the henge, the only thing I noticed was the sense of privacy, enclosure, and comfort that the surrounding earthen wall provided. Was that why they built the hedges? Mentally, I press the button on the tape recorder and hear Tim’s voice saying “No one knows …”.

From there, it was a lovely afternoon drive back to Salisbury. The clouds had built up. There were a few thunderstorms in the distance, and beneath a couple of them was “virga”, falling rain that evaporates before hitting the ground. The earth’s climate control system was back in operation, keeping the English countryside from overheating.

Back in Salisbury, we thanked Tim for his kindness. He was the very best of guides, knowledgeable and patient with rank novices like myself … a point of view for me to ponder on, indeed.

Then we walked into Salisbury town to see the Cathedral … and I’m here to tell you that it’s not any ordinary pile of stones. I’ve seem piles of stones in the form of cathedrals before … but this is a double-dyed, no holds barred cathedral.

We didn’t have much time to go in, it was late and just before closing, but it was open. The Salisbury Cathedral was built in the 13th century, and has been used continuously ever since. One of the four copies of the Magna Carta is kept there, but because of the late hour we didn’t see it. However, a service was going on, and the girl’s choir was singing when we entered the Cathedral. It was the perfect accompaniment to the structure, lovely voices echoing around the massive vaulted interior:

salisbury cathedral 2

Even in the Cathedral, however, my karma seems to be following me, no surprise there. In this case, I seem to have English clocks on the agenda. Here’s the clock from the Cathedral:

salisbury cathedral clock

And a closeup of the gear train:

salisbury cathedral clock gears

So what’s unique about this clock? Well, other than the bizarre nature of the gears, there’s nothing unique … other than the fact that it’s rumored to be the world’s oldest working clock, and it’s been running since 1386. It’s so old it never had hands to tell the time, just a bell that it rang when it was time for prayers. How curious, that the desire of humans to pray on a regular basis should set in train the long chain of clockish events that end up with John Harrison’s chronometer …

Anyhow, that’s all the news that’s fit to print from Salisbury. Tomorrow, we’re off to Bath. My thanks to all of the folks who have provided commentary, suggestions, and most importantly, offers of assistance. They are much appreciated even though they are not individually acknowledged. And my particular thanks to Tim for a most enjoyable and educational afternoon.

Regards to all,


PS—On the way back from Avebury, Tim stopped in the village next to his to show us a version of the British Library that he was involved in setting up. It looks like this:

british library

It’s a “Take One, Leave One” library, and despite plenty of nay-sayers, it has worked well both there and in Tim’s village. It seems that when Post and Telecom were taking out the phone booths, they offered to sell them to the villages for one pound. So in his village, Tim and some others said sure, we’ll take it, it’ll make a great library.

But of course, this being the UK, nothing goes so simply. The day before they were to take possession of it, some drunken yobbo hit the phone booth with his car and knocked it at an angle. Didn’t damage it much, just bent it over some.

“That’s no problem”, sez Tim and his mates, “we’ll take it anyhow.”

“Oh, no, no,”, say the P&T folks, “can’t do that. It’s all super-dangerous now, someone might get hurt, we can’t sell it to you”.

So Tim and the villagers say, “So what if it’s dangerous? I mean, we’ll just put a chain ’round it and tip it back to vertical.”

“Ooooh, you can’t do that!”, sez the P&T, “It’s not your property, it belongs to the UK Government”.

Hard to fault that logic …

So then the P&T sent out a big truck and a big crane, along with one man to work on the job, two men to direct him, three men to lean on shovels and explain things to the villagers, and an Obersturmbannführer to run the whole show. They stood the phone booth back up at great government expense, and said “OK, now it’s not a dangerous phone booth any more, so we can turn it over to you”. So Tim and the folks thanked them, and put in the books.

And to complete the story … the P&T never did come around to collect their pound. Government work at its finest, find someone doing something imaginative and useful, and get in their way. What strange animals we are indeed …

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September 6, 2013 3:27 pm

It was my complete pleasure – what an honour (with a U) to escort you round a small part of our green and pleasant. Thanks. I had a great day.

Curious George
September 6, 2013 3:31 pm

Times change. When my granddaughter sat a phone booth, she was amazed: Why would anybody put a phone in a booth?

Curious George
September 6, 2013 3:33 pm

Times change. When my granddaughter saw … of course .. a phone booth, she was amazed: Why would anybody put a phone in a booth?

September 6, 2013 3:38 pm

Lovely post which made me laugh with tears in my eyes knowing the places you visited. You are a star you old rogue.

September 6, 2013 3:40 pm

Read a book on the Stone Age religions on Briton. Lots of interesting artifacts and burials but the final conclusion was that nobody knows what the religions were.

P. Berkin
September 6, 2013 3:45 pm

Spinal Tap said it well in their song “Stonehenge” – “Nobody knows who they were or what they were doing.”
Looking forward to the next instalment, Mr E.

Jack Savage
September 6, 2013 3:46 pm

Those will be SarsEn stones.
P.S. Absolutely delighted you are enjoying your trip to Great Britain.

September 6, 2013 3:54 pm

Appreciated – again!
Lovely countryside thereabouts, as noted.
And the weather does vary.
It’s England.
‘Don’t like the weather? No problem. We can show you two more seasons in an hour.’
Many of those who live here rather like it – even if we go to ‘furrin’ parts sometimes.
Continue enjoying . . . .
We do.

View from the Solent
September 6, 2013 3:56 pm

Glad that you’re enjoying your early days here (and writing so eloquently of your experiences). There’s lots more to come. What do you think of our beer?

September 6, 2013 3:57 pm

As you say, people all over the world create circular earthen wall with ditches on the outside as fortifications to keep other people out.
Now what comes to my mind thinking about a circular earthen wall with a ditch on the inside is a prison (a fortification intended to keep someone on the inside). This seems the most obvious answer as to why someone would create a circular earthen wall with a ditch on the inside, which raises the question of who or what they were trying to contain?

September 6, 2013 4:01 pm

I got run over by a sheep stampede in Avebury. While in the area you should have also seen the West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill. A 6,000 year old burial chamber and a 5,000 year old artificial mountain.
A little perspective – Stonehenge is actually more recent that the Great Pyramid by a few hundred years.

September 6, 2013 4:04 pm

I got run over by a sheep stampede in Avebury. Close by are the West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill. A 6000 year old burial chamber and a 5000 year old artificial mountain. Impressive stuff.
Although, Stonehenge is a few hundred years newer than the Great Pyramid. I think the Egyptians knew about tin mines in Wales, so maybe Stonehenge had outside help.

September 6, 2013 4:10 pm

great travel report. Thanks

September 6, 2013 4:12 pm

The dragons of course.
September 6, 2013 4:14 pm

Stone circles are way older than the middle ages. For the middle ages think – after the Romans, and before Columbus, knights and Vikings, hundreds or years ago. This is thousands of years ago, before the Romans. Think Old Testment, Egypt, the pyramids.

September 6, 2013 4:15 pm

Glad you liked Salisbury Cathedral. Now you need to visit York Minster to be impressed.

Sam The First
September 6, 2013 4:22 pm

Wonderful – I love the library. Ours in the last village I lived in was (and still is) on a shelf in the village pub: you pay 50p into one of the charity boxes on the bar. In my current village, it’s on three shelves in the Committee Room of the Village Hall. You pay 50p for a book towards village funds, and most come back… over and over.
That part of Wiltshire is one of my old stamping gorunds, and I once spent a summer working on a book about Stonehenge and its significance and purpose. Our field trips, in an ancient black Bentley from London, were memorable.
The purpose of the stone circles was almost certainly ‘religion ritual related to astronomy’ since they are aligned with the solstices. But it’s a wide subject, and open to many interpretations

Ed, 'Mr Jones'
September 6, 2013 4:25 pm

If Cathedrals intrigue you, I recommend the book “Pillars of The Earth” – fiction, Ken Follet (sp?). A wonderful imagining of the Middle ages, and not pretty at all.

September 6, 2013 4:37 pm

Ireland next, Willis. When you set foot on the soil of the “Auld Country”, as we call it, we will wish you only a hundred thousand welcomes. That’s all we can afford! But welcome you would be, and our language bible is much bigger than the English one.

September 6, 2013 4:48 pm

So then the P&T sent out a big truck and a big crane,….

Health & Safety UK style. These are your jobsworths.

September 6, 2013 4:51 pm

Some truth in this ? (worth it for the song ).

September 6, 2013 4:56 pm

One thing this particular post and comments has taught me is …. that I need to get on a plane soon. Thanks Willis. I hope you had time for a quick pint in the pub in the middle of the Avebury stone circle.
This is one of my favourite parts of the planet, and is a quick drive from Heathrow – good idea to get the car there.
I don’t know if Tim told you, but this was also the area where the wave of crop circles started. At the time, that added another huge chunk of mystery to the area. I would have loved to have got your take on that in its early stages. For example:,%20Avebury,%20England.jpg

September 6, 2013 4:58 pm

Thanks for the brilliant post, Willis, I really enjoyed seeing the Village book exchange library in the phone booth.

September 6, 2013 5:07 pm

Sorry I missed you! I spent much of my day at Heathrow waiting for a flight to Boston (where I am tonight) – passing like the proverbial “ships in the night”. It would have been nice to have met you in person.

September 6, 2013 5:19 pm

We know that, the Romans, marching past Stonehenge shuddered – seeing them, the Stones were ancient and invoked a vague but tangible fear, great civilization though ‘Rome’ undoubtedly was – for they themselves were steeped in superstition and ignorance.
As Tim will have told you.
We are pretty short of real facts concerning the standing stones, at best some are educated guesses.
Writer’s poetic license……………..and some other help from myriad sources.
The most important date for ancient people’s, was the winter solstice, fathoming and comprehending the solar calendar, needed a grand monument dedicated thus. The shortest day was a feast day. A day of celebration, to welcome the new year, the new season and the Sun tarrying a little longer – each day until the summer solstice zenith.
Longer days, meant farmers could plan for and plant the summer crop and that was all about the stones, naturally they were also intertwined, doubled as sacred sites where surely solemn ritual was observed. In all, the science of prediction, the Sun and the celebration and worship of the dead.
4.500± years ago [maybe 3000bc], man had gotten pretty sophisticated, more so than they’re ever given credit for, these men traded all over the known world.
If only, these ancient peoples, they could have better pooled, then refined and related their gleaned expertise in; carving, sculpting, weaving, pottery, boat building, ore extraction, metallurgy, astronomy, science, horticulture and agricultural knowledge, sophisticated but not quite there. Though, we dismiss them and that’s down to modern mankind’s arrogance, we should not think of these guys – coloured with our overwhelming and ingrained bias – it is mankind’s biggest failing to dismiss his forbears.
England, a treasure trove of mystery and delight, the weather’s crap infelicitous but the history is rich. I am lucky enough, to live near Eboracum, you should try and see it and stop off in [some other favourites of mine]; Kent, Hampshire, Dorsetshire, Cornwall/ Devon, Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Warwickshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lancashire on the way.

Gail Combs
September 6, 2013 5:32 pm

Brings back memories of my visit. I did manage to get to see Stone Henge but spent the rest of my time underground (and in pubs) as a guest of a British caving club.
I would love to go back and see the historic sights now that I am a bit too arthritic to crawl around in the mud.

September 6, 2013 5:42 pm

Hi Willis,
No body knows indeed, a close examination done many years ago showed the entire English countryside was landscaped, rivers redirected, hills moved and all the sites you visit are connected by lines called lay lines. The geometry and distances are pretty special, but as you say nobody knows who or when.

September 6, 2013 5:47 pm

Britain’s new Stonehenges are the windmills, a brand new religious cult with Green Fascist High Priests and Priestesses praying for absolution from the imaginary Sky Dragon whilst the banks, hedge [henge?] funds and some big energy companies like the disgusting Shell Corporation prey on the poor with carbon taxes, compulsory donations to the new State Religion.
And then we have the equally disgusting hangers-on like the Climate Alchemists busily altering past data and the bureaucrats in local and national government using the Sky Dragon to become our new Brown Shirts, any excuse to oppress the people as this replacement for Nazism takes wings.

September 6, 2013 6:31 pm

In the absence of any actual facts I suppose that would leave……climate change.

September 6, 2013 6:32 pm

So you did not try to improve on JMW Turner by taking a photo of the Cathedral from a distance?

D Johnson
September 6, 2013 6:39 pm

I could imagine putting ditches on the inside of the henges if they were used to keep something in, rather than out. Perhaps they were dragon enclosures.

September 6, 2013 6:51 pm

Thank you, Willis! You brought back memories of my own stint in the UK (1993-5), when I lived in Exeter, Devon and did environmental consulting with a wool-spinning plant inside Dartmoor National Park.
My chappie Robert (local fellow) once took me on a trip & showed me neolithic monuments as old as Stonehenge, but largely unknown to all but locals. Stonehenge itself was not very impressive, as it was surrounded by an immense chain-link fence to keep the hippies, Druid wanna-bes etc. at distance.
I hope you will have the chance to travel through the hills and hedgerows of Devon, which is essentially the largest, oldest continuous garden in the world. Cheers, Charles

David Riser
September 6, 2013 6:56 pm

Awesome pictures, thanks!
Dave Riser

September 6, 2013 7:02 pm

Willis Eschenbach
Well … the hedges on Salisbury plain all have the ditches on the inside, not the outside.
Internal trenches; Keeping the congregants from exiting to learn about the outside. So the inner trenches were more likely than not to keep people in, rather than invader people/ideas out. Think of a prison. Think of an overwhelming belief system. Think of Climate Change prophecy.

September 6, 2013 7:11 pm

D Johnson says:
September 6, 2013 at 6:39 pm
I could imagine putting ditches on the inside of the henges if they were used to keep something in, rather than out. Perhaps they were dragon enclosures.
It doesn’t make much sense.
Although it might afford the only cover, and the defenders have the yardages calculated to rain down their weapons on the opposing force ?

September 6, 2013 7:11 pm

Inner ditch is reverse slope defense. Pretty standard. Another advantage of inner ditch is collection of runoff. Keeps inner area dry..

September 6, 2013 7:13 pm

Great read Willis! I sent the link to my friend from WA state who is visiting the UK soon. He used to live there long ago.
I really enjoy all your writings.

September 6, 2013 7:43 pm

Stonehenge Decoded, by Gerald Hawkins, has a good history of what is known, what is legend, what is guessed, and how they might have used the holes and posts as a perpetual calender for eclipses of the moon and sun.
Surprisingly, he doesn’t list the stones themselves as important to the calender of eclipses as the wood posts and holes inside the larger stones. (Then again, the large stones in the Pyramids were “for king and country” and just for looks too.” ) In that book, Hawkins sets the first construction about 1900 BC (maybe a bit later), about 1200 years after the plain was first settled. This would place it about 1000 years after the first pyramids, but a little before Troy fell to the Bronze Age Greeks. Stonehenge I was a circular ditch-and-bank system, open to the northeast, with the heelstone about 100 feet outside the circle to the northeast in line to the sunrise at midsummer. The inner bank of this first circle was large: about 320 feet in dia. . The first Aubrey holes (56) came in about this period as well, but they have been dug and refilled several times since 1900 BC.
Stonehenge II built the “avenue” pointing to the northeast heel stone, and the first circle of bluestones, but Hawkins indicates the twin blue stone circles were not finished to the southwest. Stonehenge IIIA was done by the Wessex people, who took down the bluestone circles, then erected 84 sarsen stones. (New archetect, eh? New king who didn’t like the old king? New queen who didn’t like the old designer?) About 1650 BC.
Stonehenge IIIB re-erected the blue stones, this time in their present oval. About 1600 BC it was finished. .

September 6, 2013 8:18 pm

Great picture of the cathedral …. now I know what the architecture of the Balrog scene in the first Lord of the Rings movie is based upon. Peter Jackman almost exactly replicated the Avebury design. Beautiful.

Max Hugoson
September 6, 2013 8:19 pm

Willis: Read this when I was a senior in High School …..still the best.
You have to realize that knowning when spring was coming, and not planting TOO EARLY and losing everything to a frost, was enough to give you Druid Priest status. Even, likewise on the “winter end” (knowing when to start getting read…and not being fooled by an “Indian summer” so to speak. The key here is that the “heel stone” has Tilted with time, and when corrected to “upright” the point on the heelstone is framed by a couple of the pilars..and precisely at the spring equinox, the sun rises right over the point of the heelstone. BINGO, the real first day of spring. As your comments on the man who made the first useable chronometers, and a generic comment on Issac Newton, there are a strange number of “eccentrics” in Jolly Old England, who are…also, quite the genius! I guess we don’t have to explain to you the significance of the TIME BALL and TIMES SQUARE in New York, do we?

September 6, 2013 8:22 pm

Willis, great to hear more about your travels.
Coincidentally, just this morning I was watching a NOVA program on some recent archaeology digs around Stonehenge. Indeed, we know very little about those people or those times. It is also interesting, however, how much has been learned just in the last few years. A decade or two ago there was kind of a popular impression that we knew everything that we ever would (little as it may have been). Since then there has been an explosion of new information revealed from archaeology.
As I tell my kids: Don’t ever think that the book has been completely written on a particular topic. In so many areas we are just beginning to scratch the surface. Exciting times of discovery yet await the inquiring mind . . .

Theo Goodwin
September 6, 2013 8:24 pm

If you are going to Scotland, I suggest you see some brochs. Brochs are stone structures that are about 2500 years old and they are unique to Scotland. My favorites are the two at Glenelg which are a stone’s throw from one another.
To imagine the architecture of a broch, take one egg, stand it on the broad end, and cut it horizontally in the middle. Take the top part and make another horizontal cut at the top and remove the top. Now get another egg that is 30% larger than the first, repeat the process, place the larger egg shell over the smaller, add walkways between the two shells at intervals of six feet to create three storage areas stacked vertically. The entrance is protected by huge stones and requires people to get on hands and knees and crawl into the structure.
Truly ingenious engineering and architecture. The most useful structure built with unshaped flat stones that I have seen. A marvel, really.
These buildings are so useful for defense, storage, and housing that it is obvious why they were built. There is some knowledge about the peoples who built them. But there is no knowledge as to the individuals who commanded that they be erected or who chose the locations.

September 6, 2013 8:26 pm

Ahh, Avebury, my favourite ancient temple.
Willis – here is some henge trivia for you.
if you ever forget what latitude Avebury is on, get a calculator and key “360 divided by 7”. The answer is 51.428571. Now pop that figure into Google Map (with Satellite) as a latitude – along with the longitude of -1.854167 and see where that puts the green arrow. (Google Maps allows you to just put in just the coordinates – nothing else.)
In cartographic terms, Avebury lies precisely on the latitude that is 1/7th of the Earth’s circumference – to the nearest two feet. Interesting, huh? Now how did that happen??

September 6, 2013 8:31 pm

>>They would be totally useless for defense. So the obvious
>>question arises … why were they built?
>>Bad news in that regard. Nobody knows.
Not quite true, Willis. Some of us still know – the knowledge WAS retained by a few.
But if I told you, you would not believe it, which is why the design has remained secret for so long.
(And yes, you are right, they were not built for defence, they were temples.)

September 6, 2013 8:44 pm

Hi Willis, welcome to my birthplace – sounds like you are having a great time! A lot OT, but I’ve been meaning to ask you about the polarity of water. Water, being a polar molecule, can be attracted or repelled by an electric charge (remember the old school experiment with a charged plastic rod deflecting a stream of water from a bucket?). Anyway, this being the case, and there being (a) a darned lot of water on earth, and (b) a heck of a lot of electric charge in the atmosphere due to various factors, what effect might these electrical charges have on say water levels, water flows, tides, etc? I haven’t seen many comments on this, despite being an avid reader of WUWT and other excellent skeptical blogs.
kind regards,

September 6, 2013 8:49 pm

Thanks for that really interesting perspective. My final trip to the UK begins on September 17 and I dread it. Each time I return to my homeland I am depressed to find that this once great nation continues to sink lower and lower.
Your writings will help me to maintain a more positive attitude no matter what.

Mike Borgelt
September 6, 2013 8:51 pm

The picture shows a nice day with fair weather cumulus over picturesque countryside. Cloudy?
More like soaring pilot heaven.

September 6, 2013 9:00 pm

Curious George says: “Times change. When my granddaughter sat a phone booth, she was amazed: Why would anybody put a phone in a booth?”
Personally, I wish they’d bring them back.

September 6, 2013 9:05 pm

Theo Goodwin says: September 6, 2013 at 8:24 pm
If you are going to Scotland, I suggest you see some brochs. Brochs are stone structures that are about 2500 years old and they are unique to Scotland.
Not true. These round-towers were also constructed all over the western Mediterranean, and all over Ireland too. And the oldest are Bronze Age – about 3,300 years old.
Here is a Minorcan round-tower, where they are called talayots.
Here a couple of Sardinian round-towers, where they are called nuraghi.
Sardinia has the most – there are some 7,000 brochs all across Sardinia. Some big, some small.
Here is the Irish Cathergall round-tower, where they are called ‘forts’.
Here is the Scottish Dun Beag round-tower, where they are called brochs.
And who built all these round towers? Ah, well, if your read Irish history of the Labor Gabala (c. AD 600) or the Scottish history of Scotichronicon (c. AD 1300), you will find that they were built by the descendants of Pharaoh Gaythelos and Queen Scota – the king and queen of Egypt who were forced into exile in Ireland in 1320 BC. Legend has it that it is from Pharaoh Gaythelos and Queen Scota that the Gailic and Scottish people were named.
And why build round towers? Well, they are not forts, that is for sure. They are temples, of course – temples to the venerable cult of the sacred tree, the tree of Genesis fame. In Ireland they are known as the sceach tree….
Now that’s a grand tour of legendary Irish and Scottish history for you….. 😉

Martin C
September 6, 2013 9:10 pm

you should try to see the Giant of Cerne Abbis (sp?), I believe south of Yeovil on the Dorchester Road, maybe a bit to the west ( . .I guess I should look it up, but I’ll let you if you want . . – and it is quite a ‘surprise’ to see . . ).
Ah, the memories, seeing your pictures and your article. I was in Yeovil in 1998 for a couple of months, working at Westland helicopters supporting the UK Apache. Went sight-seeing around that part of the country on the weekends, a really beautiful part of England. Visiting Bath, and doing the tour of the roman baths, thinking about the history, was great. I’m sure you will love it.
Was there again about 6 years ago on travel, stayed in a lovely, quaint hotel called the Helyar Arms, in East Coker (south of Yeovil a few miles . .). The rooms had names, such as ‘the foxhole’. Even played skittle in the skittle alley. Recommend visiting this area if you the chance . . . OR, I could be your ‘tour guide if you go again someday . .. ! 🙂 🙂

Jean Parisot
September 6, 2013 9:24 pm

“what is the purpose of the wall and the ditch? ”
To corral your cattle, sheep, pigs, and horses – which were your wealth?

September 6, 2013 9:40 pm

ralfellis says:
September 6, 2013 at 8:31 pm
“But if I told you, you would not believe it, which is why the design has remained secret for so long.”
You just told the NSA you know, you might as well tell us.
They hate secrets 🙂

Geoff Sherrington
September 6, 2013 9:49 pm

Too late now, but down Wiltshire way is Lacock Abbey, modernised by Sir John Sherrington (Sharington) ca 1550+. A descendent named Fox Talbot took the world’s first photo negative here, 1835. He’s credited as being one of the 3 main inventors of photography.
That’s what we love about trips to Britain. Most people discover something to which they can relate in person. Seeing it in the actual is better than reading abut it, by far. Except for the beer.

September 6, 2013 9:59 pm

Well, obviously. Ya gotta dig the ditch to make the wall. 8<)
And, any foreman can tell you, the deeper the ditch, the higher the wall looks.
After all, the pyramids were designed when the pharaoh said he wanted a monument "And make it "that high" "that wide" and "that tall." And, you understand, the pharaoh was thinking he had described a cube.
But the contractor was thinking "How can I make that tall with as few as bricks in as short a time as possible?"

September 6, 2013 10:01 pm

Thanks for that interesting info. Reading it at first I thought, “Those aren’t forts!”
I agree with your analysis that they were temples. Anyway, thank you for the fascinating bit of history — of which I can never get enough!

September 6, 2013 10:06 pm

Nice story! Most americans bypass central uk, eg manchester, leeds, york. However in this m62 corridor you find the birth of the industrial revolution. I realised only a few weeks ago that the the world’s first canal, which i live a few feet from, has a river running under it. Culverted over 200 years ago

kadaka (KD Knoebel)
September 6, 2013 10:14 pm

A “henge” appears to be what current usage, per Wikipedia, calls a berm. From the “Military Use” section:

In medieval military engineering, a berm (or berme) was a level space between a parapet or defensive wall and an adjacent steep-walled ditch or moat.[1] It was intended to reduce soil pressure on the walls of the excavated part to prevent its collapse. It also meant that debris dislodged from fortifications would not fall into (and fill) a ditch or moat.
In the trench warfare of World War I, the name was applied to a similar feature at the lip of a trench, which served mainly as an elbow-rest for riflemen.
Modern usage
In modern military engineering, berm has come to mean the earthen or sod wall or parapet itself. The term especially refers to a low earthen wall adjacent to a ditch. The digging of the ditch (often by a bulldozer or military engineering vehicle) can provide the soil from which the berm is constructed. Walls constructed in this manner are an effective obstacle to vehicles, including most armoured fighting vehicles, but are easily crossed by infantry. Because of the ease of construction, such walls can be made hundreds or thousands of kilometres long.

Thus they are a good defense against Roman chariots and armored wagons.
The ditch would be on the inside of the circular wall, because the people wanting the defense would be gathered inside of where the wall goes, and the ditch is where the dirt they shoveled to make the wall came from.
Also as a construction detail, you’d want the outside to be steep to deter attackers, vertical would be good. When getting the dirt from the inside, you can ramp the inside and easily pack ground on top of the outer edge of the wall. If you got dirt from the outside, well, you can only throw a a shovelful of dirt so high up a wall, with getting it to land right at the top of the wall being a really good trick.

September 6, 2013 10:24 pm

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.
George S. Patton

Mike McMillan
September 6, 2013 10:59 pm

Flying home from Gatwick, our course often went past Salisbury. I tried to spot Stonehenge, but never did.
On google Earth, the area around Stonehenge ( 51.178872° -1.826219°) for 5 to 10 miles has many circular features, often just darker areas in cultivated fields.

September 6, 2013 11:08 pm

What’s the meaning of Stonehenge? – the NSFW video we all love at the henge…..
WARNING – contains a rude word.

Steve Garcia
September 6, 2013 11:08 pm

Willis and Anthony –
Willis, you got it right 3 times in the post text, but you misspelled “sarsen” in the title.

September 6, 2013 11:13 pm

Here’s a link about the Stonehenge Archer, the Amesbury Archer & the Boscombe Bowmen.

September 6, 2013 11:15 pm

RACookPE1978 says:
September 6, 2013 at 9:59 pm
Well, obviously. Ya gotta dig the ditch to make the wall. 8<)
I think you just nailed it.
The walls have been eroded over the years.
Although I might disagree with your contractors thinking, death at the point of a sword might focus the mind towards structural integrity 🙂

Man Bearpig
September 6, 2013 11:23 pm

If you get a chance go to Cheddar Gorge, that is also stunning.
Stonehenge was close to my neck of the woods and it is still somewhere I drive past every now and again, its like an urge to drive past it whenever I am out that way visiting friends.

J Martin
September 6, 2013 11:24 pm

If you visit York, you might also like to take the opportunity to visit a stately home which is 15 miles outside York.
Unusual names the next generation of curators have, Merlin and Octavia.

James Bull
September 6, 2013 11:26 pm

As you say there are many theories as to why Stone Henge was build.
I like the idea that they were sitting around one day in prehistory having their version of a pint and thought lets build a great stone ring, that should keep them guessing why we did it.
James Bull

September 6, 2013 11:28 pm

Great holiday description and thanks . But I had a chuckle when you mentioned the word,
“Obersturmbahnfhurher”. A Long time ago someone told me a similar name.
I have always wondered who had the seniority?

Doug UK
September 6, 2013 11:33 pm

I write this from my home in Fordingbridge Hampshire UK – which is 20 min drive down the A338 from Salisbury. Thank you for writing so fantastically well about things I take for granted.
When i drive past Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral or walk my dogs in the New Forest I simply accept these things as “normal” – seeing these things through a visitors eyes is a bit of a revelation.
Try this – google maps UK – put in SP6 2JZ – then zoom out a bit and look to the East. The B3078 twists to the North a bit and is called Roger Penny way after a local policeman killed on this road. Look for a large white circle in the New Forest just NE of “Pitts Wood Enclosure” and West of “Studley Wood”.
If you zoom in you will see various markings and circles fanning out from the centre.
This was the secret target area where bombs were tested by the RAF in WW2. In fact the largest bomb ever to be dropped on the UK in WW2 was dropped here by the RAF from a Lancaster. It was the Barnes Wallis Earthquake bomb. I find it amazing that on the ground, walking my dogs, you can only just about see the markings – they are 70 years old now after all – but Google Maps have enabled us to see “back in time”.
It is not exactly Area 51 :0) – but we are quite proud of it. Very pleased you enjoyed Salisbury. You will enjoy Bath. And DO visit the Roman Baths that give that wonderful city its name.

September 6, 2013 11:33 pm


September 6, 2013 11:41 pm

In 1947 I was living in Larkhill. Us children used to play around the stones. No restrictions in those days. We used to collect beech nuts in the wood nearby. Gone now. I did read once long ago that the big stones that originated from Wales were brought there by one of the previous ice ages. Seemed reasonable to me.

M Courtney
September 6, 2013 11:42 pm

Personally, I think henges are agricultural.
Not only can they be used in the winter for sheltering livestock form the wind (and so fertilising the soil inside) but in the summer they catch the rain in the ditch…. good for crops.
It occurred to me because the main industry at the time was agriculture and henges would work like that.
But I have no evidence. A test would be in their were elevated nitrate levels inside the henge relative to outside.
Alternatively, if it was a jail then the occupants were probably slaves – another old industry..

kadaka (KD Knoebel)
September 6, 2013 11:53 pm

Obersturmbannführer was a paramilitary Nazi Party rank used by both the SA and the SS. It was created in May 1933 to fill the need for an additional field grade officer rank above Sturmbannführer as the SA expanded. It became an SS rank at the same time.[1] Translated as “senior assault (or storm) unit leader”[2], Obersturmbannführer was junior to Standartenführer and was the equivalent to Oberstleutnant (lieutenant colonel) in the German Army.[3]

The overseer was a Nazi?

September 6, 2013 11:57 pm

When we started farming we where stuck on that land and no longer could just follow the climate and food.
But farming gives you a surplus trade and eventually people living on that surplus and trade, politicians and religion etc.
Stonehenge simply means that they had good life’s and a surplus to build these political and religious monuments?

September 7, 2013 12:04 am

Willis, you are traveling around my most favourite part of the world. There is so much to see and do. There’s plenty of geology too if you take time to visit Wookey Hole and Cheddar Gorge.
I am an archaeologist, or was once upon a time. Your friend Tim is correct. There are lots of theories but the truth is that we just don’t know and, unless someone invents a time machine, we never really will know for sure. That what makes it so exciting.
Enjoy your trip.

September 7, 2013 12:23 am

Willis, now you have seen a cathedral have a look at a really old parish church, Deerhurst between Gloucester and Tewkesbury if you are in that area. The original parts of this church were built in about 700 AD. Twice as old as Salisbury

Mr Green Genes
September 7, 2013 12:44 am

M Courtney says:
September 6, 2013 at 11:42 pm
Personally, I think henges are agricultural.
Not only can they be used in the winter for sheltering livestock form the wind (and so fertilising the soil inside) but in the summer they catch the rain in the ditch…. good for crops.

I live a few miles away from Stonehenge; nearer to Avebury and Silbury Hill. Popular rumour is that Stonehenge used to be a pub. One night a fight broke out and wrecked the place.
Anyway, Willis, I’m glad you enjoyed your day out in Wiltshire (and took my advice to avoid Swindon). You can now tell people you’ve been in the county of the Moonrakers.
What are they?
Legend has it that Wiltshire was on a major smuggling route from the coast to the centre of the country. The contraband was regularly stored in village ponds en route. One clear, bright, moonlit night, when some villagers were fishing out some of the illicit goods using their farming implements, the Excisemen, suspecting dodgy behaviour, jumped out on them and demanded to know what was going on. The locals, being canny souls and noticing the moon’s reflection on the pond, said “We’m raking the moon out of the water”.
The Excisemen, convinced that the locals were, in the best tradition of the countryside, a collection of village idiots, laughed and moved on and proceeded to spread the story of the ‘ignorant’ Wiltshire folk. Many people have, over the years, sought to prove that it was their village which featured in this story; there is no proof for any of them, although Devizes (no longer a village nowadays, but with a large pond by the side of the A361) is a slightly more convincing candidate than many.

September 7, 2013 12:57 am

As a native of Salisbury I must admit it’s a beautiful place to live. I’m glad you enjoyed your visit.

September 7, 2013 1:05 am

Martin C:
At September 6, 2013 at 9:10 pm you suggest that Willis may like to see the upstanding giant cut through the grass into the chalk at Cerne Abbas.
The ladies in his party may be shocked or amused. Willis knows his ladies, but Americans tend to be very prudish.
Anyway, here is a picture and info. about the giant

September 7, 2013 1:13 am

“Overall, the role of electricity in shaping the climate is very poorly understood. The most obvious effects are up in the thunderstorms, but as you point out, that is unlikely to be the only effects. I push the button on my tape recorder … “Sadly, no one knows”.”
The thunderstorms are important to charge the upper atmosphere and that is very important for life on Earth?

September 7, 2013 1:17 am

“Thunderstorms also help keep the Earth in electrical balance. The Earth’s surface and the atmosphere conduct electricity easily – the Earth is charged negatively and the atmosphere, positively. There is always a steady current of electrons flowing upwards from the entire surface of the earth. Thunderstorms help transfer the negative charges back to earth (lightning is generally negatively charged). Without thunderstorms and lightning, the earth-atmosphere electrical balance would disappear in five minutes! We aren’t really sure what would happen if this balance wasn’t maintained. But thunderstorms are not the only way the atmosphere conducts electricity – the solar wind and ionospheric wind play a role too.”

September 7, 2013 1:32 am

The British telephone box was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, architect who designed several major British landmarks of the early 20th century, including Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, Battersea Power Station and Bankside Power Station (later the Tate Modern).

September 7, 2013 1:44 am

Hi Willis – pedantry alert.
A Minster is not merely a big church. It is one of the names for a church which was originally part of a monastic foundation. An Abbey has a similar origin.
A Minster may be a cathedral, or not. Wimborne has a Minster which is not a cathedral. York has a Minster which is also a cathedral. Salisbury has a Cathedral ever since the Normans moved the city down the hill from (the henge) at Old Sarum.
If you visit Cambridge on your travels, be sure to take in the wonderful cathedral at Ely. The lantern is a miracle of Middle Ages engineering.
Finally, Westminster Abbey is not a cathedral. It isn’t even part of the ordinary hierarchy of Church of England establishments. It is a Royal Peculiar.
Enjoy our confusing little island.

September 7, 2013 1:48 am

I used to know a couple of archaeologists who tipped me off about the phrase “ritual purposes”. If you hear it in the context “this building/field/clay pot/collection of tools was used for ritual purposes” it means the archaeologists haven’t got a clue.
Great article, btw.

Philip Mulholland
September 7, 2013 1:50 am

Doug UK @ September 6, 2013 at 11:33 pm
Thanks Doug, That is one for the text books!
Barnes Wallis Earthquake bomb crater

September 7, 2013 1:53 am

Doug UK : Ditto! Almost the same postcode – Amazing how close we are, I have dogs too, walk in New Forest. My office is in Salisbury, walk dogs on river overlooking water meadows to Salisbury Cathedral.
Willis: glad you stayed in Salisbury, got to see the cathedral and Avebury. Sounds like you may have got closer to stonehenge than usual visitors do and had a great guide.
Silbury Hill would have been worthwhile, as would Maiden Castle by Dorchester, but Bath is great too and you cannot do everything.

September 7, 2013 1:54 am

What I tell visitors about our weather is, “if you don’t like the weather, come back in five minutes”

The Ol' Seadog.
September 7, 2013 2:15 am

Stonehenge was a factory where they made malt vinegar. It’s still made today…comment

September 7, 2013 2:18 am

If you’re in the Bristol area, it’s worth seeing the Clifton suspension bridge, built across the Avon gorge. It was quite a feat of engineering when it was built 150 years ago.
Another notable suspension bridge in the area is the one spanning the Severn. It can be seen on the top right-hand corner of Bob Dylan’s “No direction home” album cover – the dock he’s standing on is the one for the ferry, now long-defunct, which was the only way across the river before the bridge was built. The latter bridge is a five-minute drive from where I live.

September 7, 2013 2:19 am

dbstealey says: September 6, 2013 at 10:01 pm
Thanks for that interesting info. Reading it at first I thought, “Those aren’t forts!”
I agree with your analysis that they were temples.
Yes, they were not forts. The illustration at the site in Ireland has this huge ring, with three thatched mud huts in the middle. Yeah, like one family could afford to build this huge great thing. The other give-away, is that the doorway is too small to get a cow through – and there ain’t much point building a protective coral for your house and family, if you cannot protect your wealth (livestock).
And yet that is what mainstream archaeology thinks! Mad.
So what were these great so-called ‘forts’?
The answer is that the inside of the Irish brochs have a series of terraces accessed by steps, about 50cm wide. In other words, the enclosure was an amphitheater that could hold perhaps 1,000 people. But that rather changes the history of Ireland, somewhat. Out goes the image of a fearful family in a huge fortress, and in comes the image of a massive theatre, for the open entertainment of an entire town.
And what were they looking at? Well, it was not a play, as such, because the center of the amphitheater contained a smaller round-tower or broch. So that was the focus of attention. And it you look at the Minoan equivalents of these towers, all of these brochs contained a sacred tree – a sceach.
Take a look at the Minos Ring from Crete – circa 3,500 years old. You will see it has an image of two round-towers containing sacred trees attended by goddesses, picking the sacred fruits – i.e.: Eve picking the fruit in Genesis 3:3:
These are very ancient traditions, that were widespread across Egypt and the eastern Med, before they spread to the west.

September 7, 2013 2:29 am

u.k.(us) says: September 6, 2013 at 11:15 pm
RACookPE1978 says: September 6, 2013 at 9:59 pm
Well, obviously. Ya gotta dig the ditch to make the wall. 8<)
I think you just nailed it.
The walls have been eroded over the years.
Yeah, but if you look at a castle, the wall is on the inside of the moat, not the outside, and for a good reason.
Avebury was not a fortress, just as Stonehenge was not a fortress – they were both temples. (They are quite close to each other in Wiltshire.) Which just goes to show how powerful the Stone Age priesthood were. This was an organisation that could command huge workforces and plan vast temples, which were built way back in the Stone Age before civilisation had really begun.
And their god was stellar, as you might imagine – the veneration of the cosmos and the workings of that cosmos (i.e.: tracking the Sun, Moon and stars). That might give you a clue.

September 7, 2013 2:38 am

Here is a typical Irish amphitheater (I think it is Cahergall).
Note the steps up to each terrace. There is actually a symmetric set of steps to the one you can see, forming a V shape of steps. The terraces are exactly 50 cm wide (one royal cubit), and are perfectly suited to sitting on. Although modern health and safety would have a fit about the precipitous design of the amphitheater.
Note that the center of the amphitheater does not have some mud huts, it contains a smaller broch or round-tower. Another thing you cannot see from a picture, is the protective nature of the amphitheater – protection from the elements, that is. Outside, it can be blowing a gale and drizzling, but inside it is wonderfully calm and dry with fantastic acoustics.
I recon you could get 1,500 people in this amphitheater, so it must have been quite a spectacle at night, lit by flaming brands, as the priesthood enacted their rituals.

Armagh Observatory
September 7, 2013 2:54 am

On the subject of Avebury- in the mid 70s I remember watching a seriously gripping and spaced out children’s TV series called Children of the Stones. Twas filmed in and around Avebury.
One of the many psychedelic and mystical sci/fi shows that were on British TV at the time.
Still creeps me out, watched it on you tube a while back.

September 7, 2013 2:58 am

Our towns and cities are largely prevented from straggling out into endless patchy suburbs by regulation. An old and largely valid form of environmentalism that is still of benefit. The Britsh care about their environment. How it looks and feels. You can’t just build what and where you want. We have stringent planning regulations. If you live in a listed building you cannot just change it as you please but must maintain it pretty much as it was when you took possesion.
This expression of environmentalism is now culturally deep rooted and makes life living on a crowded island more asthetically pleasing. There are lots of examples:
The publically owned Forestry Commision used to be responsible for much of Brtitains forrest plantations. It planted large monotonous blocks of monoculture and aimed to maximise profit with no thought for the sightliness or any amenity value these plantations might have.
They were not popular. Protests were held, barbed wire was cut down, plantations were invaded by people who wanted to explore the woods and forrests that they in part owned. The police were called and people got arrested. The politicians got involved. They could see the validity of the protesters arguments as did elements within the Forrestry Commision. Low key legislation was passed. The Forrestry Commission inspected its own naval and the culture changed.
A forrestry worker in the UK doesn’t just plant trees and cut down tress anymore. He is part of a new culture in which the amenity value of forrestry and its appearance is as important as the price of timber. Much of the forrests have been opened up to the public. Monoculture has given way to diversity with deciduous hardwood having been introduced to break up the monotonous appearance of softwood plantations. Forrests are also seen as being important habitats for wildlife which are protected. Today in most areas in England plantations are painted on computer screens in electrons to see how they will apear from all angles before virtual is turned into real. The cutting of timber is arranged around appearance, access and wildlife habitat. Forrestry has become artistry.
British Waterways which maintained all of Britains canals and much of its navigable rivers was letting the canals fall into disrepair. They were not needed anymore as canal transport of goods was all but obsolete in the Fifties and Sixites. In effect they were managing the canals destruction. But then some enthusiasts who liked the ammenity value fo canals took issue. They started to repair and maintain sections of canal themselves at their expense. British Waterways didn’t like this too much and eventually were themselves forced back into doing the jobs they were actually paid to do. Britains canals have gone from strength to strength and now support more narrow boats than they did during their operational peak during the industrial revolution. Most boats are leisure boats these days. It is a great way to see the countryside. And many people retire to a life on the water with no local taxes.
Steam trains came to the end on the line during the 1960s but again enthustiast groups took over old unused lines and began to operate their own steam train passanger services. There are now hundreds and perhaps a thousand or two steam locomtives rescued from scrap yards finding a new lease of life on Britains private railways. From time to time even the big railways companies run mainline steam services for enthusiasts and at least one new steam locomotive has been built as part of our cultural obsession with keeping the best of the past alive.
Our collective sense of what is important dominates the slow evolution of culture in this country. Our towns cities and countryside are planned and painted on a cultural landscape of the mind.
I once met a Japanese tourist walking around Buttermere in the Lake District on a warm summers day. He realised what was going on and was in awe. The Japanese sculpture trees we sculpture our countryside. Rarely do we walk in nature but in the designs of our collective imaginations.

richard verney
September 7, 2013 3:09 am

Stonehenge is a good illustration of why a warm climate is better than a cold climate.
Stonehenge was build somewhere around 3000BC to 2000BC. The date is not accurately known and, of course, it is a monument that evolved. There is a ditch surrounding it that may have been dug as early as ~3100BC. The older stones (the blue stones) may have been erected as early as 3000BC but radio carbon dating of the holes in which they were placed suggests that it was more like 2400 to 2200BC. Anyway lets say stonehenge was erected around 2500BC.
Now at the same time (ie, circa 2500BC) the Egyptians were building the Great Pyramid at Giza and wonderful temples.
Why is that? The simple answer is warmth. Egypt was a warm country where people did not have to struggle most of the day simply to survive. They did not have to shelter in caves and sit around fires for most of the day merely to survive and protect themselves from the elements as did stoneage man in England. The warm benevolent climate enabled them to farm as build up plentiful [stores] of food and not needing to spend all day just surviving they were able to free themselves and better educate themselves and hone skills which were passed down the generations.
When one looks at the history of civilization, the history of the spread of the iron and bronze age, it will be seen that warm climates are more advanced than cold climates. Warm climates acquire technology/technical advances at an earlier date than cold climates. And the reason for that is simple, namely that the climate in most parts of the globe is not condusive for man, and man needs to adapt either himself or his environment merely to survive. However, less adaption is required in warm climates and more in cold climates. Food is more bountiful in warm climates than in cold climates. In warm climates man is relieved of the shackle of survival and being free of this has time on his hand to advance.
The same of course applies to life in general. Bio-diversity is at its greatest in warm and wet environments (eg., tropical rain forests) and at its least in cold arid climates (eg., Antarctica and Arctic regions).
If the world were to warm by several degrees it would be good for both man and other living organisms. The only down side to a warmer globe is possible sea level rise in that this would be inconvenient given that man has build many of the most important cities [near] the ocean and at relatively low [elevation]. However, sea level rise would be gradual happening over centuries and most buildings 9especially modern ones) are not built like the Great Pyramid to survive, and most modern buildings won’t be around in 100 years, let alone say 300 years. If there is sea level rise, the city will simply adapt to the changing shore line. No big problem.
It is a fundamental failing of climate science to postulate that a warmer globe of 3 or 4 or even 5 degrees would be a bad thing. To the contrary, it would be benefiicial for man and for other life on Earth.

richard verney
September 7, 2013 3:15 am

Further to my post above, in the penultimarte paragraph the second sentence should read
“The only down side to a warmer globe is possible sea level rise in that this would be inconvenient given that man has build many of the most important cities near the ocean and at relatively low altitude above sea level”
We have not yet built cities in the ocean!
There are a few other minor typos but I am sure that even with these, the meaning/comment is clear.

September 7, 2013 3:20 am

Britain also takes on what it see as good ideas from other cultures. Take for example the evolution of Anglo-Indian cuisine which I understand now has a following in the United States.
One cultural form we adopted during the 1930s was the Outdoors Movement. This was a direct import from Nazi Gernmany and really was a good idea. Going out into the coutryside and walking for pleasure, camping, cycling etc. Not quite on the military lines of the Third Reich’s mass excercises but much less formal in the main With time the outdoors movement evolved into the environmental movement and then into the Green movement by which time it had far exceeded its usefulness.
The point is of course that the Green political movements of today can trace their roots back to the early heady days of Nazi Germany and the Third Reich. They are of the same stock and the same intent.

September 7, 2013 3:52 am

Willis, a little bit of ‘henge’ trivia for you.
The origin of the word henge seems to be that it is what “Stonehenge” is – a henge of stone. There is no known use of the word henge prior to it being a part of the name Stonehenge.

Tim Crome
September 7, 2013 4:06 am

When you get further round I would recommend a drive along the North Norfolk coast, it’s very beautiful and nit on the way to anywhere so is relatively undeveloped. There’s an active fishing industry and has been for hundreds of years. Visit Brancaster Staithe and watch the 8 or more m high tides cover and uncover the salt marshes, Burnham Market (sometimes Chelse by the Sea) has a fantastic open green in the centre with a stream running through it when it rains enough. In Overy staithe and Blackney watch out for the marks high up ob the houses showing where the last great flood in 1953 got to (60 years ago!) and in Wells you can see an old harbour that, at the height of the wool trade, wa the 3rd largest in the UK, you wohldn’t think so now but it has seen a new lease of life as the maintenance and operation centre for offshore wind in the are
Living in Norway the last 30 years it’s the bit of Britain I miss most.
Enjoy it while you can.

September 7, 2013 4:10 am

@eco-greek. So the UK country side is all man made and man maintained. Even our wild animals are maintained by man. It is not natural anymore. It’s all designed to look good in the eyes of the public not necessarily for the best interests of actual nature. And all done in a very overbearing overly bureaucratic manner when in reality very little planning and control is actually necessary. 90% of the UK is green but the environmentalists make it seem like even a small housing estate is concreting over the whole landscape so the aims and needs of humans come second to that of “nature”.

dave ward
September 7, 2013 4:45 am

Another interesting reminder that people rarely explore their “own back yard”, so to speak. I’ve travelled all over Australia and New Zealand, but large parts of Blighty are still a mystery to me!
I must make amends…
By the way, the “Post & Telephones” as you called them would have been BT (formerly British Telecoms) by the time that phone box was sold off. So It wasn’t “government property” after all, but a private, stock market listed company, trying to divest itself of anything not making a profit!

September 7, 2013 5:16 am

re your post at September 7, 2013 at 4:10 am.
Clearly, you have not understood the excellent post by eco-geek at September 7, 2013 at 2:58 am
There is no square inch of the UK which is not affected – directly or indirectly – by the hand of man. This has been true for many centuries, and much we take for granted is not ‘natural’: for example, our downlands only exist because we introduced rabbits many centuries ago.
And as eco-geek says, we now have the wealth to deliberately decide how we want our environment to be. We live in a garden of our own making, and we tend that garden.
Willis will understand much more of what he sees in England if he reads the post from eco-geek.
For example, Willis would not have been surprised at the distinction between urban development and ‘countryside’ which is fixed by areas of Green Belt.
And if Americans understood these things in the same way we British do then they would not be building over the Kona coast on Hawaii so they would not be destroying my favourite piece of our planet.

Nick Mearing-Smith
September 7, 2013 5:18 am

There is an excellent book that considers megalithic structures in the UK, including Stonehenge, and their original purpose. It is called Uriel’s Machine: Reconstructing the Disaster Behind Human History by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas. Their hypothesis, that such structures were astronomical devices, has more credibility to me than archaeological theories about religious purposes, since they correlate physical evidence with written evidence.

kadaka (KD Knoebel)
September 7, 2013 5:55 am

The “public library” apparently has a fire extinguisher inside. So if the outside was on fire, you’d enter a burning structure to get it. If the books inside caught fire, then the “best practice” is to leave the door closed anyway.
Since you’re already trusting the public to respect the books and the “building”, why not leave the extinguisher outside, either mounted to the side or in its own enclosure?
People, I am very surprised by you all. This many comments, and you haven’t asked something of Willis that’s very important.
Willis, when you were in Salisbury, did you stop for a steak? I’ve heard they’re very good.

September 7, 2013 6:15 am

Dear Willis
I am glad you enjoyed the scenery around Stonhenge. A lot of this is due to the fact that large areas of Salisbury Plain area a military training ground and have been for over a hundred years. Just a couple of miles to the north of Stonehenge are Upavon and Larkhill where British miltary aviation have their origins. Larkhill was the first RFC ( predecessor of the RAF) airfield and Upavon provided training for many of the pilots for WW1.
If you enjoy fishing try some of the chalk rivers ( espacially) the River Test. You will need a licence and landowners permission ( and pay a fee).
Hope you enjoy Bath.

September 7, 2013 6:18 am

Coming from a family which includes archeologists, I have always understood that Stonehenge marked the winter solstice and lunar positions more than the summer solstice. The rationale is that Neolithic farmers needed to be pretty precise about when to sow crops and carry out various time related activities. In the absence of clocks the stones are pretty useful for that purpose. Marking midsummer would not have been much use to early farmers. It must also have had a ‘ceremonial’ use, otherwise why did neolithic people visit from as far away as the Alps, and why go the the trouble of obtaining high quality blue stone from the Prescelli Mountains in Wales? I suspect it may have also generated models on climate related issues. 🙂

September 7, 2013 6:35 am

A beautiful photo of Salisbury cathedral. With the girls choir this must indeed have lifted ones spirit. Folks sometimes attack Christianity for trampling on older pagan religions but its good to see inspiring symbols of both beliefs peacefully coexisting. Some “religions” one can think of would never tolerance this. Freedom, tolerance and the preserving of ancient beauty are worth fighting for.

Ian Austin
September 7, 2013 7:02 am

No were in the UK is very far from the coast. Try to see (or is it sea!) some of it. Some of the best scenery in the British Isles and Ireland is at the coast.

September 7, 2013 7:03 am

In the car park at Stonehenge there are said to be the remnants of pine post holes, the oldest of which is approximately 10,000 years old, twice the age of the henge itself. At that time, Britain would not have been an island but would still have been attached to the rest of Europe.

Ian Austin
September 7, 2013 7:03 am

…See: plenty of guides on line.

September 7, 2013 7:04 am

If you like cathedrals then here is a list on your trip round the UK.
York Minster
All worth a look. All different. Lincoln also has a copy of Magna Carta.
Stonehenge is much older than Middle Ages, about 4500 years old and used by Druids, we are told. It is aligned with the Summer Solstice sunrise.

September 7, 2013 7:07 am

Silbury Hill. As a somewhat wild 20 year old. I took Mescaline on Silbury Hill on Midsummer’s Night of 1972. A fine night 🙂

September 7, 2013 7:40 am

Willis: ‘I expected miles and miles of suburbs…’
The reason, Willis, is because of our Green Belt policies – which ensure that towns and cities do not spread ever outwards..
EXCEPT of course that our present government is in the process of dismantling this bastion of town planning policy – or at best allowing developers to ‘bend the rules’…
‘Follow the money’, eh..?

September 7, 2013 7:42 am

One interesting point about Stonehenge is that, although it is the origin of the term ‘henge’, strictly speaking it isn’t a true henge (as you mention in your piece, true henges have the ditch inside the bank – like Arbor Low, for instance – while Stonehenge’s ditch is actually *outside* the bank). Technically, in that sense, Stonehenge is more akin to early neolithic causewayed camps rather than other henges. Fun, eh.
If you want to delve further, the most recent attempt to try and understand Stonehenge is the Stonehenge Riverside Project (2003-2009) – an integrated programme of landscape study and excavation involving co-operation between specialists from five universities (Sheffield, Manchester, Bristol, Bournemouth and UCL). They concluded that Stonehenge had been associated with cremation burial right from the start, and that it had been built as a unifying project to bring people of east and west stone age Britain together. Details and book reference (21012) here:

Theo Goodwin
September 7, 2013 7:50 am

ralfellis says:
September 6, 2013 at 9:05 pm
I am pleased to have my knowledge expanded. Thank You.
What I see as distinctive about brochs is the double-wall construction and the egg shell shape of the walls. The walls are not vertical. Somewhat less distinctive is the flat-stone engineering. The brochs in Scotland that I have visited have a flat-stone construction that could have been erected by one man working over a long period of time.
The double wall encloses a space about four feet in width and there are several floors in that space. At Glenelg, there are three floors, I believe.
Brochs in Scotland have a living space that is about 30 feet in diameter at the base of the broch. For the elite among a small community, a broch would serve nicely as a safe place during a raid. The very fact that these structures are not forts that might survive a siege is another aspect of their distinctiveness.

Theo Goodwin
September 7, 2013 8:00 am

ralfellis says:
September 6, 2013 at 9:05 pm
Please specify your criteria for what counts as a broch. Best as I can tell, any round, walled stone structure built within the last 5500 years will do. Notice that I have been rather specific in describing the brochs in Scotland. What I have emphasized is the double-wall construction and the egg shell shape of both walls. I continue to believe that such structures are unique to Scotland. Do you have examples of double-walled egg shaped structures outside of Scotland?

September 7, 2013 8:04 am

Tim Daw says:
September 6, 2013 at 11:08 pm
If I were to build a “perpetual monument” today in England, I’d go to the other side of the crossroad parking lot at Stonehenge. And build two more Henges.
The first, a copy of the original of course, but as complete as we know it. Accurate to the stars and moons as they are today, 3000 years after the first circles and stones. Build it of stainless steel perhaps, or, more iconically, of poured concrete with stainless steel reinforcements and pins. Do not duplicate the original stones, but make them the same size but squarely cut and perfectly edged – build them as the shapes the orignal rock would have been if the original were not made of hand-hewn boulders with wooden mallets.
So, we would be telling the next 90,000 years: We know and respect what was done here 3000 years ago, and this is when we built the second stone henge, and how we built the second henge to honor the original. This is how we think it was used, and this how we make “stone” today.
But the third henge is to show the future witnesses that we are thinking of them: Build it next to the second, but align it to show the stars and sun 3000 years in the future. Like the “Modern” henge, build the Third Henge as complete as we know, with all posts and columns and lintels and circles complete and full.
Build that third henge of cut marble and granite foundations and granite walkways, (the hardest stone we know of) but make the new monoliths and posts from the original quarries, cut exactly to shape as they were from the original quarries. Anchor the third henge in rock and stone as best we can so it can last without falling, and so it will become the future, when all else built today has fallen.

September 7, 2013 9:00 am

I’m so glad you are enjoying your visit Willis. I love Salisbury Cathedral…it is such a light and airy place. Did you notice the amazing altar frontals there? And the glass by Lawrence Whistler? And so on and so on…too much to take in on one visit. What always stuns me is the consideration that the cathedral was built in only 52 years. Nowadays, with computers and modern cranes, we produce hideous square glass, concrete and metal monstrosities!
Stonehenge is amazing in a completely different way.
BTW, Salisbury is a city, not just a town!

September 7, 2013 9:28 am

You seem to be a bit of an island person let me recommend Orkney.
If you like neolithic and such like remains Orkney is particularly well endowed. Maeshowe, Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae (pre-dates the pyramids in Egypt, Broch of Gurness and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Then there is the shortest scheduled airline flight between Westray and Papa Westray all 1.7 imperial miles. I can’t remember i you’re into diving but there is some interesting stuff in Scapa Flow.

September 7, 2013 9:29 am

Annie says:
September 7, 2013 at 9:00 am
BTW, Salisbury is a city, not just a town!
Indeed. However small the place, if you have a cathedral, it is a city. Wells is the smallest English city – and has yet another beautiful cathedral. Indeed, Willis, you could do a cathedral tour of the UK – Ely Cathedral is a fine sight as it hoves into view above the fens
Ely Cathedral (in full, The Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Ely) is the principal church of the Diocese of Ely, in Cambridgeshire, England, and is the seat of the Bishop of Ely and a suffragan bishop, the Bishop of Huntingdon. It is known locally as “the ship of the Fens”, because of its prominent shape that towers above the surrounding flat and watery landscape

David Ball
September 7, 2013 11:11 am

Bath is definitely worth seeing. The technology the Romans implemented is impressive.
Stonehenge seems to be a “hippie magnet”. Works quite well, especially during solstices.

Scottish Sceptic
September 7, 2013 11:19 am

steveta_uk: “The origin of the word henge seems to be that it is what “Stonehenge” is – a henge of stone.”
The origin of Henge is most likely derived from an Anglo-Saxon root from which we also get “hanging” and “hinge. The exact meaning is unclear but the essential ingredient would be the lintels.
As for their origin:
About 5000 years ago the kingdom which included the land we know as Wales and the Kingdom of the land to the East fort a long war. Tired of the war, the two kings agreed to meet to agree a truce at the 2nd full moon after the summer solstice.
First the easterly king arrived … and waited, and waited and after a few days the moon had clearly turned and it was clear the other king was not coming. Insulted by the lack of attendance of the other king, the Easterly king sent his warriors to invade the kingdom of the west and the war resumed.
After a few more years of bloodshed, the two kings eventually met to agree a truce and it emerged that both kings had wished to attend … but because the full moon had been very close to the solstice, one group of “scientists” had said that moon had turned before the solstice and the other had said it was after … so they were both willing to meet … but that year their calendar had been 28 days out of sync.
Well the kings duly sacrificed their chief scientists and promoted an underling and said: “now build me a way to precisely predict the solstice”. Not willing to be held accountable in the same way the scientists stalled for time and said: “such a prediction would require a supercomputer the like of which has never been seen before”. But the kings were not daunted and both agreed to build this massive supercomputer.
Eventually … the scientists worked out that it was easier just to meet about the solstice and agree the date than to measure it in the fog and cloud of the English countryside … but like certain other scientists we know they continued to fake their results – exaggerate their ability to predict anything, whilst simultaneously asking for more and more resources to build bigger and bigger computers.
And of course, the only people who “knew” how to use Stonehenge to do anything was the scientists.

September 7, 2013 1:15 pm

I am thoroughly enjoying your travelogue, Willis! Such fun for those of us stuck at home Thanks for posting.

Paul Deacon
September 7, 2013 1:52 pm

Willis – you absolutely must get to watch a cricked match while you are in England.
All the best.

Paul Deacon
September 7, 2013 1:53 pm

I mean cricket, of course.

September 7, 2013 2:27 pm

You may wish to consult the works of M. Flanders and D. Swann, particularly the monologue entitled ‘Built-Up Area’. It also appears that Mr Daw received a visit by ‘The Men from the Ministry’.
Enjoy the rest of your trip.

Armagh Observatory
September 7, 2013 2:58 pm

Best be quick if you want to watch a game of cricket, the season is nearly over.
In Ireland too a city is a city if it has a cathedral, not because it is a large spraling metropolis.
Armagh is in reality, a large county town but because it has a cathedral, it is referred to as a city.
It has two in fact.
The oldest is built on the site of a church founded by St Patrick on land at the top of Market street, donated by the local pagan king in the fifth century

Luther Wu
September 7, 2013 3:59 pm

RACookPE1978 says:
September 7, 2013 at 8:04 am
Wow. Just, Wow.

Martin C
September 7, 2013 9:34 pm

richardscourtney says:
September 7, 2013 at 1:05 am
. I know Richard, maybe I shouldn’t have suggested it – I was just trying to inject something ‘quite different’ in WIllis’ travels . . . maybe trying to be too ‘silly’ . . . figured he would probably look it up first, and may not go . . .
It was ‘surprising’ to me – the first time I in England, my colleagues I was traveling with ( . .all guys . .) took 3 of us who hadn’t been there before to see it – so I was just recalling my own experience, and in fun wanted to ‘share’ it with Willis . . .
Cheers !

Richard of Binegar
September 8, 2013 1:32 am

Delighted you’re delighted!
If you go in another cathedral, don’t miss the ROOF TOUR. The tour at Salisbury is breathtaking – not so much for the views as for witnessing the construction. Stonehenge may be a marvel (though some rate Newgrange, Meath, Ireland more highly) but so is the medieval wood and stone working in the cathedrals.
I liked your glossary of place names. We in England tend to know of Norse or Anglo-Saxon names but it’s the Celtic ones that have stuck that I find amazing. So, the River Avon ;is simply the RIver River from the Celtic Avon=River. You’ll find the names of many of the features of our landscape have survived wave after wave of ancient and modern immigration with their Celtic names unchanged all the while.
Thanks for the post.

September 8, 2013 1:51 am
September 8, 2013 3:27 am

Theo Goodwin says: September 7, 2013 at 8:00 am
Please specify your criteria for what counts as a broch. What I have emphasized is the double-wall construction and the egg shell shape of both walls.
A broch is a massive circular construction (ie: a great deal of effort to make) whose function is very difficult explain – other than it being a temple or perhaps a tomb.
They say brochs are defensive. But some are much too small, some are filled with rock, most have no lookout windows, and many are stuck in places that are not defensive. In addition, there is often no possibility of getting your livestock inside (your wealth), while the doors are often located several meters up. They are often built too close together too. Do you really think that Sardinia was so lawless, that it needed 7,000 ‘castles’? Were the remote Shetlands and Orkneys so lawless they need so many ‘castles’? Or did they need this number of churches (temples) ?
They also say that brochs are habitations. But they are windowless caves, and some are infilled with rock. Would you live in a Scottish broch? Could a single family build such a construction? No, they way beyond the wealth of a single family. No, these are community projects. But what would the community really need – ah yes, a church. What was always the biggest construction in any Medieval town or village? Ah, yes, the church.
And the reason for the flat stones in Scottish brochs, is that western UK is blessed with a great deal of shale and slate – rocks that naturally fissure into flat stones. There is not that option in the Mediterranean, you have to carve the limestone yourself.
So the best explanation is that all of these round towers are temples/tombs (big ones are temples, small ones a tombs). And the reason for the double-walled construction of the Scottish temples, is because the weather there is so awful. The first instance of double-brick construction, just like modern houses in the wild and windy UK.
Here is another broch for you, this time from the 1st century in Syria. It is, of course, not defensive nor is it habitable – it is a tomb (because it is small, it is a tomb, not a temple).
And here is the more recent manifestation of the brooch – the Irish and Scottish round-tower. There are hundreds of these all across this region.×500.jpg
Note again the door half way up, which is what we see on many brochs and round towers all over the Med – exactly the same design. These were always associated with monasteries, but they were not bell towers, as many have no windows at the top. So what are they? In reality, they are a continuation of the Egyptian veneration of the obelisk – a phallic symbol.

September 8, 2013 4:13 am

We had a great archaeology TV series in the UK called Time Team. It ran for about 20 years and sadly ended last year. One episode reported on a six year excavation around the whole Stonehenge site for miles around. This is the blurb from the Channel 4 TV web site:
Stonehenge is the nation’s most famous monument. For centuries, its age and purpose have been subject to speculation, excavation and fantasy. But over the last six years, a huge new team of archaeologists have been digging not just the monument but the entire prehistoric landscape that focuses on Stonehenge, to reveal the truth about this near-mythical place and crack its secrets.
Time Team’s cameras have been with the dig through those six summers. During their excavations the team discovered the biggest Neolithic settlement in Northern Europe, which suggests they have found the place where the people who built Stonehenge were based. But the digs also reveal that Stonehenge was just part of a vast ritualistic landscape where ancient peoples celebrated life and death in great man-made structures.
The archaeologists believe that the landscape was turned into a huge and complex special ceremonial route for the remains of the departed as they pass into the afterworld. But these theories are only proved in their last summer of digging in 2008, as the team start to dig in the stone circle itself. The results surpass their wildest dreams and this pivotal excavation finally enables the team to reveal not only when Stonehenge was built and how it was built but, perhaps most importantly, why it was built.

I saw the program and it was pretty convincing. The thing that stood out for me was that the stones represent the ancestors. It is rather like a tribal meeting with all the elders gathered in a circle. Apparently there is evidence of huge gatherings, ritual and feasting in the area. It was clearly a place of great importance. What is more they have found evidence of burials under the stones – which helps confirm their thoughts. Many Time Team programs are still available to stream over the internet. If I can find a link I will post it here.

September 8, 2013 4:24 am
September 8, 2013 4:40 am

Re the cathedral/city confusion – it’s not exactly an urban myth, it’s a change of tradition. From the sixteenth to the twentieth century, it was the case that the two were correlated. These days, that correlation no longer applies, but it has passed many by that – after four hundred years – things have changed.
“In the twentieth century, it was explicitly recognised that the status of city in England and Wales would no longer be bound to the presence of a cathedral, and grants made since have been awarded to communities on a variety of criteria, including population size.”
Shows how long our tribal memories are 😉

Brian H
September 8, 2013 8:24 pm

Your orthography is often puzzling and bizarre! The word “Forrest” is a name. A bunch of trees is a “forest”. Not interchangeable.

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