Today we went with our friends Teresa, Deigo, Catalina, and Guillermo to visit a couple of amazing Neolithic sites: Stonehenge and the Uffington White Horse.
Stonehenge is justifiably famous, with more than a million people visiting the 4000-year-old monument each year. We started our time at Stonehenge at the visitor’s center, where we grabbed a bite to eat and checked out some of the exhibits, including one that used to the miracle of modern technology to convince you that you couldn’t make Stonehenge all by yourself. Scientifically speaking, it takes at least four kids to move one of the stones.
From the visitor’s center, we walked across the Salisbury plain to the stones themselves. It was a long walk from the center to the stones, taking us about forty minutes.
This was not my first trip to Stonehenge. I visited in in 1987 when I was a boy, and at that time, I was annoyed that I couldn’t climb the stones, as ropes keep visitors well away from the site. With more than a million visitors each year, I understand why we can’t get closer, and had warned the kids. Fortunately, the kids (both US and Spanish) took it very well. Even at a distance, Stonehenge is amazing.
Nevertheless, with no stones to climb on, the kids got a little rambunctious. (One of the adults might have been encouraging a little tomfoolery.)
We finished our loop of the stones and started the walk back to the visitor’s center, including a side trip along the way to some man-made conical hills that are related to Stonehenge. Less than half way back to the center, it started to rain. Hard. By the time we made it back to shelter, the rain had stopped, but the damage was done. We were soaked. To warm up, the kids got hot chocolate.
You can see how wet Lydie was despite having a rain coat on top of her sweatshirt. The kids drinking hot chocolate warmed my heart. You see, when I visited Stonehenge in 1987 it was a cold and damp day. After we finished looking at the stones, my brother Josh and I were likewise cold, so my parents bought us hot chocolate. I have never been a fan of hot chocolate, so after a few sips, I offered mine to Josh. Thrilled to have two hot chocolates we got into our car. As we pulled out of the parking lot — Bam! — car accident. Hot chocolate spilled all over Josh. Being the bad person that I am, this has always amused me greatly. As we drove away from Stonehenge without getting into a car accident, I also announced loudly that I was officially a better driver than my father. But see infra. It must be something about Stonehenge that brings out the worst in me.
With a wet but still upbeat crowd, we drove through the English countryside to the Uffington White Horse. The land in this part of the UK is chalky, so that digging exposes a white soil. About 3000 years ago, Britons carved a massive minimalist figure that is generally called a horse, despite having a bird-like head. The figure is massive — over 350 feet long. The size makes it impressive, but also makes the horse extremely hard to see. I’ve had to resort to finding a picture online.
The horse was extremely hard to see in person, but the kids were good sports about it. After about thirty minutes of exploration, we hopped back in the cars and went back to Woodstock for pizza and dry clothes.
P.S. I can’t in good conscience claim to be a better driver than my father just because I didn’t get into a car accident at Stonehenge. There are at least three reasons, why it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. First, I was driving a car better suited to driving on the left side of the road. My father was driving a Volvo that my parents purchased for their time in the UK. Because my parents planned to ship the Volvo back home to the US, however, they bought a car with the steering wheel on the left side. This made driving difficult at times. In contrast, I was driving a rental car with the steering wheel on the right side, which makes it easier to see where you are going. Second, the Stonehenge visitors center was also poorly designed in 1987, being located on a narrow highway right next to the stones. The stones are a major distraction to drivers, as we discovered this year when we encountered minor traffic jams on the three occasions we drove past Stonehenge. Today, the stones are not visible from the entrance to the visitors center. Finally, the entrance of the visitors center has been redesigned to be safer. In 1987, the center was a “T” intersection with the highway, so that visitors who want to turn right when leaving have to cut across fast-moving, distracted, on-coming traffic. Today, there is a separate round about for the visitors center. So there you have it. But don’t tell my dad.