Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Mystics & Healing: Stonehenge, Bath & Avebury

Like many an Antipodean in London it’s taken me a while to get out of the city and visit the UK’s sights.

I’ve travelled to the Continent many a time, but until now have failed to explore my own backyard.

Three of my new favourite spots are Bath, Stonehenge and Avebury in Somerset, South West England.

Our friends Jo and Tim were in town after spending two months travelling around Europe and wanted to make the most of their time in the UK so we hired a car and took to the countryside.

Near Salisbury in the Wiltshire countryside, Stonehenge is found in the most unlike of locations

Driving up the A303 motorway I caught my first glimpse of the famous landmark, standing in a large paddock surrounded by rolling green pastures filled with grazing sheep.

Despite the masses of tourists, Stonehenge remains a spooky and impressive sight - you can forget ever finding me there at night time!

This ancient monument dates from 3,700 to 1,600 BC. The tallest stone is 7.3m high and weighs over 45 tonnes! That sure is some heaving lifting!

The origins of Stonehenge are shrouded in mystery. The significance of its alignment with the rising and setting of the sun has puzzled many a scholar -was it a temple for sun worship, a healing centre, a burial site or a ancient calendar?

An even more fundamental, but no less intriguing question is how exactly did the prehistoric Britons move the massive bluestones across land and sea from West Wales to their current resting place in the West of England?

The Roman Baths is a well-preserved Roman site once used as a public bathing house and now a key tourist attraction at the centre of the town it gives its name to - Bath.

The thermal pools and a fascinating museum are housed within a beautiful Victorian reception hall.

At the heart of the building is the Sacred Spring. The 46°C water rises here at the rate of 1,170,000 litres every day and has been doing this for thousands of years.

In Roman times a great Temple was built next to the spring in 60-70 AD dedicated to the goddess Sulis Minerva, a deity with healing powers.

However, it was the Celts who first discovered the scared site, building a shrine to the goddess Sulis before the Roman temple was constructed.

In Roman times, visitors would throw offerings to the gods or curses into the thermal waters - about 130 curse tablets have been found many related to thieves who stole of clothes while visitors were bathing.

Aside from worship, people came to the baths to relax and treat a variety of ailments.

Sadly you can’t take a dip in the water these days because of high lead levels (thanks to the original working pipes) and the risk of infections.

Oh, and the lovely green colour is caused by algae that grows in sunlight.

Now it’s time to head further back in history to a strange and mystical past.

Heading back to London we stopped in at the weird little village of Avebury home to the largest stone circle in Europe.

It has a completely different vibe to Stonehenge.
With significantly less tourists, you can go right up to the stones set in lush green grass with sheep keeping them company.

Making our way from the car park to the first paddock of stones we came across several colourful characters that can best be described as a mix between hippies and new age witches complete with walking sticks that looked like wizard staffs.

Each stone is around 3 metres tall and together they create giant circles that stretch for several hundred metres.

The area is an important site for Pagans and one tree we came to ribbons, notes and little bags were tied to the branches.

We also saw this guy (or girl) walking around the stones. Yikes. 

Whatever your spiritual beliefs, it’s hard not to get a slight chill down the spine while you’re walking around ancient stones through windswept fields.

I think anyone who goes to Stonehenge should make the journey to Avebury to get an understanding of what the area would have been like before the hordes of tourists arrived.

And make sure you get out of London and see the rest of England.

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