Monday, September 5, 2016

England, 2016, Part 14: A Sunday Drive to Avebury

After 5 amazing days and nights on the Isle of Avalon it was time to pack up and head ba - what? Oh. The boys in the truck tell me that in reality we only spent two nights and one day in Glastonbury. Huh.

You know, “Reality” and “Glastonbury” don’t often appear in the same sentence.

But we were firmly back in linear space on Sunday, with an itinerary that had us heading back to London, with a stop or two at local attractions.

Yes, driving again. We packed up our still unwashed clothes, gathered up our new magnets, had another tremendous breakfast, said our goodbyes to Adele and the Covenstead and trooped down to our perfectly square rental car, where, yep, sure enough - the steering wheel was still on the right.

Drat. English driving again. Remembering the unfair division of labor last time
Books, babes, boobs and skeletons. Mmm-Hmm.
(where I got all the easy stop-and-go traffic and Admiral Karen got all the go-and-go-and-go roundabouts), I took the first shift, to get us out of the bumpkins and into Avebury. 

Karen would then take over as we transitioned from the A roads to the M-class Dual-Carraigeways back to Gatwick, where we would drop off the car. It seemed like a good idea anyway….

In reality though what happened was that just one road (the A361) takes you from Avalon to the Stone Circle. 

Goodbye, Covenstead - you were....over-the-top.
There were roundabouts of course, can’t go a bleedin’ mile out in the middle of nowhere without a flurry of map reading and frantic instructions, but in general it was a fairly straight-forward shot in a vaguely Northeasterly direction across the rapturous countryside.

CANAL INTERLUDE

Our first stop was strictly an indulgence for me. 20 years ago I was part of an insane group of adventurers who piloted a canal barge across this countryside. It was like being on the Jungle Cruise for two weeks - and we traveled at about the same speed. So in the town of Devizes, when we were confronted with a series of 27 nearly consecutive canal locks - the infamous Caen Hill Flight - we balked, tied up our narrowboat and took a taxi the rest of the way. To Glastonbury, of course.
Catherine and Me on the canal in 1996. Yes,
thats a fanny pack. Don't judge.

I had had only a single glance at the lock flight back in 1996, before I was chased off the premises by an enraged goose. 

So this time, with much more amiable company, I was on the lookout as we approached Devizes. And we lucked out. England is a maddening mix of the overly-signed Nanny State and the “you-just-sort-of-have-to-know-its-there” laissez unfaireness, but this time there was a single, readable, sign, mercifully free from encroaching foliage, and it said: “Caen Hill Flight parking” and an arrow.

The main flight of Caen Hill: 16 locks in succession.
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons) 
We turned left, from the left hand lane, onto that most democratic and universal of roadways: A one lane road. Question: When an American driver meets a U.K. driver head-on on a one land road, which way do they pass? Left-to-left, or right-to-right?

Well, in this case, you invoke an even older statute: Our perfectly square Mini-Mercedes was smaller than the lorry, so I detoured into the field and let him have the roadway.

We parked next to the most British sign of alltime: “Please pay a pound for the car park at the tea shoppe”, and walked over to see State of the Art transportation technology from 1810. 

Narrowboats can be upwards of 70ft. long, but
must be less that 7ft. wide. Hence the name.
The day was sunny and cool, the fleecy clouds wandered overhead and the traffic was moderate on the canal, meaning everyone was hanging out and talking with each other while the locks either filled or emptied, and their gayly painted narrow boats either rose or fell. Everyone seemed to have a cuppa in hand. It was all achingly bucolic and exceedingly ENGLISH.

Admiral Karen’s smiling opinion: “Okay. I get it now.”

AVEBURY

The main entrance stones. Each one is 40 tons. Middle right
is one of the inner circles, and upper right is the center village.
Back in the car with empty bladders it was smooth sailing through Devizes and on upwards to Avebury, which is hard to miss, because its the largest stone circle in the world. 

How large? Big enough to have a village INSIDE of it. But thankfully the parking lot is located outside. Unthankfully it was full. So we drove on through the circle - the Highway runs right through it - with a chicane! And didn’t find anywhere to stash the rental car. 

Note the Christian Church photobombing on
the right. 
So we awkwardly turned around - where’s the freakin’ roundabout when you need one! - and backtracked through the henge again. We tried the parking lot again, were turned away again, But on the way out Karen got the Spidey Sense face on her face and told me to go - go go! There! Down that way!

And voila! A car began pulling out just as we approached. She’s Magick, I tell ya!

Avebury is 4 times bigger than any other stone circle. 130 Stonehenges would fit inside the earthworks, which take more than a mile to walk around. Which we did. The green grass next to the gray stone with the golden fields next door were all pastoral and calender-worthy. The sheep even matched the clouds. Damn but these places are beautiful. 

The ditch and bank, at about half of its Neolithic
depth. The higher bank is on the outside, keeping
the energy in. 
Also, the towering sarsen slabs each held a significant charge of energy and by the end of the hike we felt literally recharged.

Museums and lunch followed, featuring the best baked (jacket) potatoes ever. More stones were groped. Sheep were navigated. Magnets were purchased. But there is more to this place than just the mind-bendingly big stone circle. Avebury is the Disneyland of the Neolithic, and there are barrows and Sanctuaries and sacred springs and cause-wayed enclosures and stone Avenues and the like scattered all over the nearby chalklands.

All of which are fine and wonderful and we could have easily spent a week combing through this countryside, but the day was getting on and we had to get the car back and so I was feeling a bit rushed. 
Oh, and Silbury Hill, the tallest (130ft.) human-made mound
in Europe. Photo taken from the Long Barrow.

We headed back to the parking lot, passing, like an exceedingly British mirage, a Cricket Match. We stopped and watched. And after several minutes something happened. So we moved on.

But before we left the area there was one stop that was a must-feel. West Kennet Long Barrow is 6,000 years old, a full millennium older than Avebury. It is a tomb and charnel house that was in constant use for 1,000 years. There are 5 small rooms - from the entrance there is a pair to the left and right, then another pair to the left and right, and then a round room at the….. head. Hmmm.

Entrance to the Long Barrow. The two big (10ft. high) sarsens
here were added 1,000 years later, to seal up the tomb.
Karen was dubious - this is a place of epic, sustained Death after all - but I drug her inside and we had the place to ourselves. In the head room - literally - most of the final bodies that were found here after the tomb had been unsealed had been disarticulated - I felt exactly the same feeling I had had 20 years previously: Reverence. Overwhelming Respect. 

The echoes of the honoring of these beloved dead are still reverberating off of these underground sarsens 5,000 years after the barrow had been carefully sealed by the newcomers, who built the nearby henge.

I almost fainted from the Love and Sorrow that still dripped off of these stones. 
Come on in! Everybodies here.

To exit you leave the head, pass the arms and then the legs and as you emerge into the sunshine you are born again. And the wheel turns……

So that was West Kennet Long Barrow. Which begs the question: Is there an EAST Kennet Long Barrow? There is! Within sight even. It is easy to spot because it is also 110 freakin’ yards long, but this one is completely covered in mature trees, because it is on private land and the owners have never allowed it to be examined or opened. 
Heading out. Entrance to the 'right foot'
chamber is visible to the right.

Respect. 

FAREWELL TO ENGLISH DRIVING

Okay, back to the car, it was time to leave this place of the Dead and try not to join them during our trip back to London.

Karen was behind the wheel, ON THE LEFT, and again she got the short end of the cricket bat. Instead of safe and boring traffic, she got 4 hours of wild country roads and a blizzard of roundabouts. 

I also had my hands full, trying to navigate in real time, and not cringe at the trees, walls, bushes and curbs that were passing RIGHT NEXT to my side of the car. 

Sun Wheel crop circle, from a few weeks before
we visited. The Long Barrow is the green stripe
near the top. The circle was about 50 feet across
and had a gorgeous, complex lay - before the
farmer mowed it - and just it - away.
(Photo by Frank Laumen)
Our direction rhythm from Friday was again useful. Each roundabout was signaled by a large sign ahead of it, giving a schematic layout. Karen called out where we were, and I would answer where we should be going and how to get there:

“Arse Sodbury up ahead!”
“On it……3rd left, towards Great Fingering Grope.”

“Got it! Okay……Great Fingering Grope.”
“Cool. You want the 2nd left - Jolly Happy Hole.”

“And……we’re now in Jolly Happy Hole. Looks more hole than jolly.”
“Fifth left this time. The A339: To Stained Pump Knob.”

“Are we…..anywhere yet?”
“Don’t know. Curb!”’
“Sorry. Looks like……can’t read it. Trim your bloody bushes, you fooking twits!”
“I think we’re in Boggy Swelling-On-Toast.”
Nothing against the car. It was my first time driving
a Mercedes, and it is a fine machine.
“So?”
“So take the 4th left, towards Sandy Curry With-side-of-Potato.”
“Okay.”

At one point I missed a turn and we had to make an elaborate suburban detour in order to turn around. Because the one time you could actually USE a roundabout, they disappear.

And in this housing tract Karen just stopped the car. And she just quietly, didn’t do anything for a minute. The stress of driving in an unfamiliar country, on the other side of the road, slowly accumulates, and because there are no stop lights between London and……Ireland, there is no chance to rest and relax for a moment. No chance to out-gas (Petrol).

Back at the beginning of this day, 56 hours earlier.
So we took a break and just stared at nothing for awhile. It was the low point of an otherwise wonderful trip. 

Refreshed, kinda, we both took a look at the phone map, which showed that yes, we were indeed making progress. Pact renewed and hugs exchanged we merged back into the rural roller coaster and sailed through the last set of wacky village names.

Sodomy Wash?
2nd left!

Crunchy Dyke Diddler?
4th left!

Dicker Shank?
1st left!
How did our ancestors dig out a ditch 10 meters deep
and 1,000 meters around? They used antler picks, and
removed 165,000 tons of material. Dude.

Lumpy Scrotum?
3rd left……towards, yes! The Airplane sign! Gatwick! 3rd left!

We entered the Hertz parking lot, the wrong way, parked the car, in the wrong section, facing, the wrong way. Oh. Hey, we were supposed to put gas (Petrol!) (Shut Up!) in it. Sod it. Its stopped. Lets get the fook outta here.

We drug our luggage inside and handed over the keys while the nice man talked at us. When he stopped talking we drug our luggage out the other side and we were done with the driving thing.

We stumbled through the airport to the train platform, and once we were safely on the overground to Waterloo I fell asleep standing up.

There are no pictures from the latter part of the day -
too busy staying alive! - So here is another one of
the Wheel of the year glyph with Silbury Hill upper
right. (Photo from the Crop Circle Connector.)
The next memory I have is of Room Service arriving, so I guess we checked in at my hotel in Lambeth somehow.

Dinner was perfectly ordinary, and that was fine. (I had the boggy swelling-on-toast, and she had the sandy curry with-side-of-potato.) 

What made it 5 stars was the fact that we didn’t have to move at all in order to obtain it. 

I think we cleared the dishes off of the bed before we passed out, but I can’t be sure.

Next up: The BRITISH MUSEUM!

Angus McMahan
angusmcmahan@gmail.com
@AngusMcMahan

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