20 March 2013

stonehenge, old sarum, and salisbury

Here is the beauty of this next course we're taking here in Oxford...we get to go see the landscape that we're learning about. After a fascinating lecture on the newest research into the history of Stonehenge, we hopped on the bus and saw it for ourselves. 

Walking up to a place that has been significant for approximately 10,000 years was a daunting experience. The whole site is filled with burial mounds as well as other henges. 

I find it a shame that so many people travel from all over the world to see this place and then stand to take a picture of themselves in front of it, smile at their camera for a second, and then get back in their cars. Some people didn't even bother to walk all the way around it. I understand that it is far easier that way, and that I am so very privileged to be living in an academic community that encourages us to look deeper into everything. However, my goal for this trip was to really see Stonehenge. I decided to draw it. I was told later that I was simply beaming as I stood there sketching away. The whole time I couldn't believe I was drawing Stonehenge from life. Even now I have to go back and look at my sketch every once in awhile to convince myself that I actually did.

Now, after I've said that, I will say that I took the opportunity to photograph all of our guys making "manhenge." I don't know how many more opportunities I'll have to get them all in one photograph and they're difficult to catch so there you have it. Simon, our lecturer, guide, and tea-faerie, joined them soon after.

Next we traveled to Old Sarum, which is an ancient earthwork fortress which was then improved by the Norse people who created another inner bailey and erected a castle on it. That castle now only exists in crumbled walls and bare outlines. The rock was robbed once the castle was abandoned. The town of Salisbury below has several buildings with castle rock. Some of the city's walls also have decorative stones in it that once resided on the formidable castle. They also built two cathedrals next to the castle. The first was struck by lightning and burned to the ground within a month of being completed. They took it as a sign that it was too small and built another much larger.

Some years later, the relationship between the church and state was under stress and the cathedral decided to move down into the valley below. There they built the still-standing Salisbury Cathedral. It is Britain's tallest spire at four hundred and four feet. We got to climb to just below the top and stand out in the rain on all four sides, looking out over the countryside and back to Old Sarum.

Such wonders waited for us inside as well with the world's oldest mechanical working clock and one of the original four copies of the Magna Carta. I do not say such things lightly. You can bet I was standing in front of them with my eyes bugged out and my head spinning at a hundred thoughts a minute. Photographs could never capture the details like the guide lines on the Magna Carta so the calligrapher could write straight across or the steady clicking of the clock. I am quite contented with my sketches and scribbled writing.


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