Monday, June 17, 2013

Spring Scotland and England, Part 3

The Big Stones

On our trips to Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales we’ve visited scores of cairns, stone circles, and standing stones.  I’ve written articles on the “Stones of Isle Arran” for Historic Scotland Magazine (see the last chapter of Ten Years of Travel in Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales [shameless commercial plug]). But two of the most impressive sites we’ve seen are Stonehenge and Avebury stone circle, and we’ve seen them twice.

located a few miles from Amesbury village on the Salisbury Plains, is a World Heritage site.  The stone circle and henge (circular mound) are from the Neolithic period (New Stone Age) and date to between 3000 and 2000 BCE. 

The stones in the circle, some coming from as far as 250 miles away in Wales, are up to 30 feet tall and weigh 25 tons.  Built in phases, Stonehenge is associated with burials (cremated human remains were found) and astronomical alignments.  The circle was roped off to visitors in 1977 because of erosion and damage to the stones.  

The 16' Heel Stone leans towards the circle.
We noticed on this last visit that the ropes keep people even further back than a few years ago.  Even on a crowded mid-day, though, I could still get angles and views of the stones with no people in them--all it takes is a little patience.  Some people believe that Stonehenge loses some of its mysticism by not being able to get up close and personal.  I believe just the opposite.  Having to stay back from the circle allows visitors unobstructed views of the entire circle, and its elusiveness makes the stones even more mystical.  
Seventeen miles north of Stonehenge is Avebury village, Wiltshire, with its massive three-quarter mile around stone circle, 

the Avebury Stone Circle.  Also a World Heritage site, Avebury dates to about 2600 BCE but isn’t as sculpted as Stonehenge.  Probably used for ritualistic purposes, Avebury is far more spread out and visitors can get right up to the stones.  

People often believe that that these stone circles and others were the work of Druid priest for their rituals including human sacrifice.  Not true.  

The earliest account of Druids dates back to only 200 BCE.  By the time of the Druids both Stonehenge and Avebury circles would have long since been abandoned.  Certainly, Druid priests may have used the circles, but they were definitely not the creators.  
On this trip we also visited another set of stones we’d visited before.  This set of stones is quite different from Stonehenge or Avebury.  

The Aberlemno Pictish stones, located about six miles NE of Forfar in Angus, Scotland, are early Medieval (mid-9th century) standing stones with a  variety of carvings and designs on them.  The Picts, known to the Romans as barbarians or “Painted People,” were Caledonian tribes of people living north of Hadrian’s Wall. 

The Irish called them the Cruithi, “People of the Design,” for their art work, mostly carved on the stones.  The Aberlemno stones, a series of four stones all over 6 feet tall, are located in the local churchyard and along the road leading into the village of Aberlemno.  The stones, although in places quite weathered, 

show a variety of Pictish images and the stone in the churchyard depicts a famous Pictish battle.  More of the Pictish stones can be seen at the small Historic Scotland 

Pictish stones in the Meigle Museum.
run museum in Miegle a few miles away.
Ancient stone circles, standing stones, Pictish stones, and cairns are all grand reasons to visit the early sites maintained by Historic Scotland, English Heritage, and the Welsh counterpart, Cadw.

Trip Summary

Our spring 2013 trip to Scotland and England had highlights and lowlights.  Among the lowest of the lowlights was a brand new Garmin GPS (Sat Nav to the Scots) which half the time took us the strangest ways to our destinations--see the May 16 post.  A second lowlight was some of the worst weather we’ve had on our spring trips, including the coldest spring in the UK in the last 30 years. 
Mountains of Glencoe.

 Although those aspects of the trip will be good stories, it will be the highlights which we will remember.  Statistically the trip breaks down like this:

Car: VW Golf TSi driven 3500 miles, 30-35 miles/gallon
          £1.35 per litre = £5.40 gallon = with exchange rate ~ $9.00
         Do the maths.

16 rounds in five weeks, 236 holes, 63 miles walked on courses.

Stirling GC seen from Stirling Castle.
11 different courses, 3 links, 2 moorland, 6 parkland.
None of the courses were new to us..
In our competitions Anne won 6 matches, I won 5, and 2 were tied
Anne putting at Crail Balcombie, one of the few matches she lost.
Anne’s and my favorite course played was Crail Balcombie on Fife, with Carnoustie a close second.

13 pubs, 14 restaurants, 14 tearooms or coffee shops.
Latte in the Watermill Tearoom and Bakery, in Blair Atholl.

23 new to us.
We both agree that our favorite was dinner at the Greyhound Inn in Staple Fitzpaine 
The Greyhound Inn

with second going to The Old Stocks in Stow-on-the-Wold.  Probably beating everything, though, was the breakfasts put on by The Blue Seas Hotel in Penzance--unbelievable!
75% of what we did or saw was new to us.
13 villages, 
Mousehole (mowz-ole) Harbour

2 shopping venues, 
Just arrived in Scotland and she's already shopping in Linlithgow.

10 nature sites, 2 gardens, 
Himalayan Blue Poppies at Branklyn Garden in Perth.

9 religious sites (cathedrals, abbeys, churches), 
Truro Cathedral, Truro, Devon.

3 castles, 5 historic sites (for lack of other classification), 1 lighthouse, 1 industrial site, and 8 ancient sites.
In one of the houses at Carn Euny, a Neolithic village in Cornwall.

Anne’s favorites include St Michael’s Mount, 

Repair work at St Michael's.

Minack Theatre, Tintagel Castle, and Dartmoor.  For me the day on Dartmoor couldn’t be beat, although I liked all the other things we did.

No distilleries this trip, poor planning on my part.
2 drank on the trip: Glen Scotia 12 year old, Arran Machrie Moor.
2 brought home: Carn Mor Arran 15 year old, Mackinlay’s blended 1907 Antarctic. 

3 photos sold at Red Squirrel Gallery and Merlindale.
14 books sold at Red Squirrel Gallery, Merlindale, and out of our car boot.

Most Unique:
A 23 hour layover in Amsterdam which allowed us to at least explore a little of the city.
Amsterdam tour boat.

For more photos from the trip, go Flickr
where I've posted a new set

Next: There will be more to share about our spring visit to the UK, as well as some summer adventures, but I’m already starting to work on our fall visit to the UK.  Ah, the life of a traveller.