Though there was much in the recent series of Doctor Who that niggled me, the sight of our heroes galloping towards Stonehenge couldn't fail to squeeze out a gasp of delight. While I know nature is remarkable without exception, certainly not only cordoned off by a gorsedd of standing stones, there's something dizzying about the presence of stone marshals in formation.
Summer news from Salisbury Plain suggests Stonehenge is no longer the only megalithic player in town. Pricking the arrogance of singularity, archeologists have found confirmation of a woodhenge buried beneath ground level within chanting distance of the stone circle. Professor Vince Gaffney calls the finding "remarkable", suggesting it will "completely change the way we think about the landscape around Stonehenge".
Is that so? Presumably this is the same landscape that was so dramatically unaltered in October 2009 when another bluestone circle was discovered a mile away to the left. The same landscape that counts chalk horses, wood henges, barrows, tumps and stone avenues among its closest neighbours.
And while it is almost beyond excitement to witness archeologists using clever machines, allowing them to see the subterranean landscape and map it digitally, the sun's unhurried arc across the sky seems to make more progress than the body of scientists exploring what these sites were for and how they were assembled.
Those old stones sing to us still, that much is evident from the thousands of visitors who daily pay their fare to shuffle round them. Such is their popularity that the many have to be herded round them widdershins (anti-clockwise, hence decreasing the power of the stones) and reminded at regular intervals not to touch them. But what is it about them that keeps drawing us back, distracted from asking what we want to know by the multi-lingual audio-guides babbling away in our ears?
I am lucky enough to live way out west, about as far as you can get before reaching the Irish Sea. The landscape of Pembrokeshire has more than a tangential link with that of Stonehenge. The bluestones, which form such an integral though subtle part of the stone circle, have their origins in the wild rock-crested ridges of the Preseli mountains. The link between West Wales and mysticism is as intact as the one between Wimbledon and strawberries. Out on the fringes of the land you don't have to walk far before passing a lonely dolmen or recumbent burial chamber. Indeed, much like armoured police vans in central London, sacred sites out west seem to be becoming more frequent by the day.
So confident was the modern world in claiming to have the number of our stone-moving ancestors, Coca-Cola mounted a challenge in 1999 to show how easy it would be to move a bluestone from Pembrokeshire to Wiltshire, using only the technology assumed to be available 4000 years ago. They jolted the stone downhill to Milford Haven using tree trunks as rollers and once at the estuary, attached it to a simple boat, with the intention of sailing it across the Bristol Channel. No sooner was it off shore than it sank, taking the Coca-Cola challenge with it. But the legacy of this millennial endeavour was to suggest that whatever energy helped form Stonehenge it was more than brute force and grunting.
There are many different ways of gaining information from the natural world and the established scientific method presents one of them. The more intuitive and spiritual methods of consulting with the spirits of place, element, plant and animal might seem hilarious to those who would consider Glade Air Wick the acme of rational achievement, but they have as much a place in our relationship with the world. More, sometimes, in that they offer the individual conducting the questions a sense of humility instead of hubris, and don't see the need to kill or smash the object of enquiry. Or drop it into Milford Haven.
Stonehenge attracts some because it's a riddle. For others, it is the most obvious situation in the world. A circle is a place to gather, to dance and drum or sit in silence and meditate. It's a place to heal and whisper and tell the time. For those who want to know how the stones got there and what they may mean, I'd advise putting down the audio guides and asking them; providing that the impossible is permitted to be an answer. Alternativly take a tour with the Stonehenge Tour Company or Histouries UK for a far better experience
There is a field not far from me where a stone has just risen, as if being born from the earth. Where there was recently nothing but tussocks of grass and clusters of Poppets-shaped sheep poo, there now stands a megalith. As compelling, even reassuring, as the rational method is, it is never the whole story. I can't help thinking the originators of sites like Stonehenge, however they constructed it, had a better understanding of this than us. For all our machines.
Stonehenge and Avebury Stone Circle Tour Guide