Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.
Read More Articles:
Disney World Reflections Jane Austen Seashore Tour Japan Journey Kishanda Fulford Newsletter Posts by Fay Sampson Regency World Short Stories The Celtic Cross Series The Power of Story The Writing Life Trans-Canada Adventure Uncategorized Writers in France Then and Now
Follow This Blog Subscribe to Newsletter
Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History
A traveling researcher engages people and places from Britain's past and present, drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today's reader.
By Fay Sampson ~ October 25, 2015
I’m having a great year for prehistory. I celebrated my 80th birthday at the spine-tingling stone circle of Avebury (see post of July 8), We followed this up with a weekend at Stonehenge, led by archaeologist Mike Stone.
What is great about both Avebury and Stonehenge is that it is not just a single site, impressive though that is. Both are surrounded by a whole sacred landscape.
So in the chill of early morning we were at Woodhenge, where rings of concrete pillars now show where once the wooden posts stood more than 4000 years ago.
I hadn’t realised that you only had to cross the road and a field to reach the enormous circular bank and ditch of Durrington Walls. It’s more than 500 yd across. Archaelogists were getting excited about the remains of a large Neolithic village recently found within the enclosure. Then they made an even more spectacular discovery. Using technology which I am tempted to describe as “ground breaking”, except that they haven’t dug a single spadeful of earth, they found that buried under this bank is a circle of stones big enough to rival Avebury. Each stone would have stood about 15 ft tall.
We got to stand on this bank, knowing that under our feet were these stones which no one has seen for four and a half thousand years.
The speculation is that people came to Woodhenge to perform ceremonies and stayed at the specially constructed village within Durrington Walls. The archaeologists have not found the usual detritus of an everyday village.
Then on to Stonehenge, where we were one of first coaches to arrive, to beat the crowds. I’m lucky enough to have been to the site with my husband and children back in the days when you could wander freely between the stones. Now the crowds have massively increased and we understand more about the fragile evidence on the surface of the stones. So a roped-off walkway takes you around the megaliths. As you drive past on the road it looks rather pathetic, seeing these lines of people trudging around the monument but unable to go inside. But in reality, as the path curves around the back of the circle, you get very close to the stones.
But it’s rather like the Pyramids. You’ve seen so many pictures of it that it’s hard to feel the awe and amazement you really should when you reach the reality. What helped to bring it to life was the display at the new Visitor Centre. They had a facsimile of one giant stone on the sort of sledge which would have transported it and a reconstruction of a Neolithic village, with all the artefacts they would have used inside. For an author, it’s the minutiae of everyday life which count as much as the more iconic sights.
All around, the skyline is ringed with burial barrows, so that people could spend eternity in sight of Stonehenge. We walked across to one such barrow. From its top we could see down to the Cursus, an elongated ellipse which looks like a race track. Everywhere you walk around Avebury and Stonehenge it feels like sacred territory to our ancestors.
We also had privileged access to the museums at Devizes and Salisbury to see the stunning finds from these sites. At Salisbury the actual remains of the Avebury Archer are laid out with the grave goods around his skeleton. Devizes is more respectful. Here, they display a facsimile of the burial of the Bush Barrow Archer. Both still have the wrist-guard which gives them their name. There are objects of finely-fashioned gold, which give the lie to any idea that our Stone Age ancestors were mindless savages.
We have a treat in store to round off the year. The British Museum is staging an exhibition of Celtic Treasures, with priceless finds from Britain, Ireland and continental Europe. Many years ago I saw the Gundestrup Cauldron in Copenhagen. In spite of all the photographs I’d seen in research for my books set in Celtic times, nothing prepared me for the impact of the real thing. It was quite a different reaction from that to the Pyramids and Stonehenge. It’s both beautiful and awe-inspiring. The magical imagery surrounding it could fire a host of evocative stories. It will be a great treat for after Christmas.
And now I am getting ready to host a party to celebrate paperback publication of my 50th book, The Wounded Thorn. More about that soon.
Fay Sampson (UK) is a writer of adult and children's fiction and non-fiction, including A MALIGNANT HOUSE, #2 in the Susie Fewings series, a British Crime Club Pick. http://www.faysampson.co.uk
Read More: Posts by Fay Sampson
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.