What to do on New Year’s Day when a bit hungover and therefore not fit for much? The obvious answer is to spend the day dozing on the sofa; but I am seemingly made of sterner stuff these days and instead went off to look at a Neolithic landscape, armed only with a ‘Pathfinder Guide to Somerset, the Mendips and Wiltshire’ and a thermos of posh hot chocolate.
The day was overcast, chilly and with occasional sullen fits of drizzle and I was feeling a bit fuzzy round the edges. But after what has felt like weeks of sliding around on snow and ice, it was a blessed relief to stride out again and the walking guide offered some endearingly enthusiastic directions:
‘… Continue steadily uphill along a most attractive, tree lined path…’
‘… Ascend the hillside, aiming for a gap between two bursts of trees on the skyline…’
Bless. And indeed, as promised, Stonehenge did suddenly become visible over the crest of the Downs, looking far more imposing from a distance than it does from close up. Since the first sighting marked the halfway point of the walk, I had celebratory hot chocolate.
I haven’t been to any other World Heritage sites, but I bet the others aren’t as charmingly low key. There’s a fairly small carpark, and of course, a National Trust coffee shop. Stonehenge itself, sitting patiently alongside the A344 while tourists scurry around it, looks oddly insignificant. Yet the further away I travelled, walking along The Avenue, the more Stonehenge quietly reasserted itself, never appearing back into view quite where I looked for it. The whole approach from The Avenue, heading West, must be like a grand conceit.
It is impossible for me to understand what it must have been like to see Stonehenge as an addition to the landscape because it now seems so definitely of the landscape. Sky, rolling hills and standing stones are completed by each other to form a whole, wrought to this understanding by the passage of such a lot of time. The flicker of one year shifting to the next is nothing in comparison.