Salisbury to Stonehenge

On The Road Travel Essays

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Salisbury to Stonehenge

(COURIER: It takes only a half hour to drive, so you don't have much time to waste. Get started with your road commentary right away.)

Wilton  You can just make out this town on your left as you leave Salisbury. Wilton is a great carpet-making town, carrying the age-old tradition of wool rugs which are shipped all over England and exported around the globe. Wilton is the third oldest borough in the whole of England! The county we're now in — Wiltshire — is named after Wilton. "Shire" means country; hence, Wilton a contraction of Wilton-shire. The town is famous also for an old 17th-century mansion, Wilton House, seat of the Earl of Pembroke; it contains a famous gallery of paintings, old armor, etc.

Salisbury Plain  We're proceeding from the southern rim to the interior of the vast Salisbury Plain — a rather sparsely populated flatland, with few trees and only low, rounded hills. The plain is 20 miles wide and 10 miles deep. Something eerie about the landscape: miles of flat, grassy expanse. This must have affected prehistoric settlers, who saw something supernatural in the terrain. Also, the flatness of the land made it easy to make astronomical calculations, since the sun and moon could be easily seen rising from the flat horizon. Sun and moon worship played a prominent part of pagan religiosity — hence the importance of this area. The area is dotted with pagan burial mounds (known as "barrows") — hundreds of them, making it an archaeologist's paradise. Stonehenge is the most prominent pagan edifice, but there are many other lesser ones. Archaeologists haven't even begun to dig up some of the remains, including "henges" much larger than Stonehenge. The monuments of the Salisbury Plain are still largely "untapped": much more work remains to be done. In modern times, the flat terrain has been used for military maneuvers: R.A.F. and army camps around, jets flying overhead.

(COURIER: Proceed immediately to your Introduction to Stonehenge.)

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