Visiting Prehistoric England: Uffington and Avebury
On an impromptu road trip around England, I first visited the Chatsworth House in the Peak District to see a home that's so impressive in opulence that Jane Austen mentions it as a place to visit in Pride and Prejudice (plus, they had a fashion exhibit I wanted to see). From there, I decided to explore sites that predate English estates and country balls by a few thousand years—sites that are so old, people can only guess as to their meaning and original purposes.
Uffington White Horse
I drove three hours from the Peak District to my first stop—a prehistoric carving of a white horse into a hillside in Uffington.
If you follow Google to the White Horse, you will end up in the middle of a road on the hillside, so close to the horse that you can't see it angling away from you. However, if you continue along, you'll eventually find the parking lot. After parking and entering the field, the only signage is two arrows pointing in slightly different directions—one for the Uffington Castle and one for White Horse Hill.
Neither ended up being remarkable to me. The horse does look cool from a distance, but at this site you are right next to it so you can't see it in its entirety. And the Uffington Castle turned out to be a rectangular grassy ridge, I suppose the foundation of a castle that once stood there. No, what was remarkable about this site to me were the lovely interactions that I had there.
When I first walked up the hill and came over the ridge, there suddenly opened in front of me a view of the vast countryside. Three men stood below me, also enjoying the view, and one turned and saw me taking photos and gestured an offer to take my photo. He helped me down the hill and took my photo, and then he asked if he could have a photo with me on his phone.* They walked away, but a minute later I saw my photographer coming back to me. He took off a rubber bracelet that he was wearing and offered it to me as a token of friendship (The bracelet said "Search Army Jobs" on it). He's from Armenia and had just arrived a week before to study English at the local university. He was looking for new friends in the area, and I said (because naturally he didn't know my accent is American) unfortunately I'm just passing through and we continued chatting for a bit. It was one of those lovely, unexpected encounters one sometimes has when traveling in which you're happy that you made a new friend, even though you know that you will never see each other again.
I then went up to the Uffington Castle ridge and a very friendly senior dog ran up to me, followed by his very friendly owner. She told me many stories on different subjects, my favorite being a local farmer who had recently razed all of his land because he was tired of people coming to ogle the crop circles that had appeared one day. Again, it was just a really lovely interaction that stays with you after you part ways.
Avebury Stone Circles
A 45-minute drive then took me to Avebury. My first destination was the West Kennet Long Barrow, a neolithic gravesite. But once again Google led me down a dirt road in the middle of fields—this time with deep potholes and nothing else in sight and suddenly no cellular service. It took me about two seconds to decide that not all sites can be seen, and I turned around and headed to the next stop.
Driving to the town center, I was surprised to see a large upright boulder simply next to the road. Could that be a boulder raised to the heavens thousands of years ago? I assumed that it couldn't be, but as I drove along I saw another, and yet another! These were, in fact, part of the Avebury Stone Circles—three circles of upright boulders from the neolithic era, whose exact purpose is unknown. They have been left in place, with farmers raising herds of sheep and cows around them. When visiting, you go in and out of gated pastures, walking amongst the livestock (and avoiding their dung) to get up close to the towering rocks.
The closest field to the town center is filled with sheep. I decided to go a little further afield to the cow pasture. Alone with the cows, I slowly moved closer towards them and the stones, stopping for photographs at varying distances. The cows moved so little that they themselves seemed like statues; the whole scene was oddly still yet alive.
At one point I had the sensation of being watched. I looked behind and there was a cow about ten feet behind me, looking directly at me. "Okay, well, cows do that," I reckoned, "and otherwise I'm still alone in the field." I returned forward and took another photo, but again I had the unsettled feeling. When I looked back, the cow was closer, maybe six feet. I only looked forward briefly the next time as by now I was feeling nervous. The third time I turned the same cow was only three feet away. Time to go! I slowly, then quickly, walked out of the crowd and back to the town.
It was too late to go to Stonehenge; I had spent enough of a windswept day outside, and it is a 45-minute drive away. I decided to rest up to prepare for another neolithic day in the morrow.
*This behavior isn't odd to me as I've traveled to places where people ask for photos before. Normally it's because they haven't been away from their home much and are excited to meet someone new and different.