Not everything will go according to plan, sometimes plans will fail, other times new plans will spring up spontaneously. In this case, it was the latter.
Having spent the second night of my three day mini-break in the New Forest, it was time for Sarah – my partner – and I to drive back to London. Since the Salisbury Plains were roughly on the way back (a mere 40 minute detour), we thought now was the ideal moment to grasp the opportunity to tick of an item on my ever-expanding travel wishlist for the first time.
My travel research is still in its early stages, and will continue for several months, and yet there I stood, in the presence of one of the most iconic structures in the world.
My first impression regards the size of this mysterious structure – it’s a lot smaller than I thought from the many times I’ve seen it depicted in TV, film and various reading materials. Granted, one is not allowed to actually walk amongst the stones in order to prevent erosion, damage and vandalism, so a view from a distance is as good as you’re realistically going to get. Even so, Stonehenge’s somewhat modest size was unexpected, although the same couldn’t be said for the volume of tourists meandering around the designated path that circles the henge from several metres away.
Still, once you find a space amongst the audio guides and selfie sticks, the charm and mystery doesn’t take long to set in. Despite many theories, nobody really knows why it was built, but when you stand back and admire the skill and intellect needed to construct such a thing ~4,500 years ago, you don’t really care.
These days, everything has to be created with a purpose, with social and financial pressures condemning projects that go ahead just for the sake of it. I’m probably wrong here, but I like to think that Stonehenge was built just because the people at the time wanted to show off that they could – in an age when they didn’t have to worry about health & safety, world debt, political budgets, or the G20.
My ancient daydreamings were then interrupted by a couple who had hopped over the rope and made their way into the middle of the stones. Waiting for several alarmed-looking, middle-aged, high-vis jacket-wearing men with questionable facial hair to come bounding after them and usher them back to the quiet humdrum of the masses, I was greeted instead by the sight of the man dropping to one knee and proposing. Luckily, she said yes, and after many smiles and multi-lingual murmurs of appreciation, Sarah and I were on the shuttle bus heading back to the car park.
Deciding against fighting through swathes of overexcited children in order to buy an overpriced umbrella and a rather bland looking £4.75 sandwich, we got in the car and drove to the nearby village of Cholderton, for a very tasty pub lunch at the highly-recommended Crown Inn.
To look at, Stonehenge is not the most impressive structure I’m going to see in my travels, but its ability to give me a mysterious glimpse of an ancient civilisation in a world filling up with skyscrapers and future technology gives a unique feeling that made it a worthwhile visit.