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Queen of the Silver Camps, haunted hotels and Las Vegas – 8 to 10 December 2016

Part 3 – California/Nevada Road Trip – December 2016 

Tonopah, Nevada, was just an overnight stop on the way from Reno to Las Vegas on our road trip last December, but it has some fascinating history and is close to fabulous scenery and lots of ghost towns and other curiosities.

Tonopah is itself a historic mining town once known as the Queen of the Silver Camps. It was the site of one of the richest booms in the West, which took place on May 19, 1900. [1]

But there was more to see along the way before we even rolled into town on the evening of 8 December 2016, including a rest and refreshment stop at Churchill Springs Casino, and then a scenic pull-off to take a look at Walker Lake.

Walker Lake is a natural lake about 75 miles (120 km) southeast of Reno on US Route 95.  The area around the lake has long been inhabited by the Paiute Indians. However, the diversion of water from the Walker River and its tributaries for irrigation purposes has resulted in a severe drop in the level of the lake impacting the lake’s fishery which in turn is having a dramatic effect on the species of birds using the lake.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has been acquiring water rights to benefit the lake and has submitted applications to the Nevada State Engineer to transfer the water downstream to benefit the lake.  The Walker River Paiute Reservation touches the lake at one point, and you briefly drive through it on US 95 en-route from Reno to Tonopah.

15384520_10208082830163684_2878654508088646073_oTonopah looks exactly what it is – an old mining town with a colourful history.  Originally an Indian campground known as Tonopah Springs, it became the site of one of the richest silver booms in the West.  It was discovered by a local rancher named Jim Butler on 19 May 1900, when Butler’s mule wandered away and fell down a hole 15370009_10208082829563669_6492627037675288896_owhich, Butler discovered, contained an outcrop heavily laced with silver.  Or so the local legend goes.  It’s a good story, anyway.

In 1901 mines around the town produced almost $750,000 in gold and silver and for the next 40 years, the Tonopah mines were consistent producers until the Depression brought a slowdown.  Not much in the way of mining has happened since the Tonopah and Goldfield Railroad shut down and its rails torn up in 1947. [2]

I was staying the night at the Best Western Hi Desert Inn which sits immediately below the Tonopah Historic Mining Park on the hillside behind it (see photo above).  Less tired legs might have impelled me to explore the parts of the site that were open, but the day was drawing to its close, and I was looking to sit down for a nice meal.

The Best Western staff pointed to the joint opposite – the Tonopah Brewing Co’s Tap Room, which is famous for its BBQ.  I had the chicken – a huge plate of it, with salad and chips, at a modest price, and then hurried back to my room across the road, huddled against the chill of the descending desert night.

15391308_10208076211078211_4951149377376545090_oNext day we were off to Vegas – not a long drive, but there were some interesting places to see along the way. In particular, the semi deserted town of Goldfield was worth a stop and a chat with the lady in the gift shop who was enamoured of my travel buddy, little MJ. Afterwards I drove around town looking at Goldfield’s abandoned civic buildings and the somewhat infamous ‘haunted’ Goldfield Hotel which has been the site of some paranormal investigations, in particular by the television program “Ghost Adventures”.  When completed in 1908 it was said to be the most spectacular hotel in Nevada. Today it’s listed on the Nevada State Register of Historic Places and forms part of the Goldfield Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. [3]

15418584_10208076322400994_4945323313521946672_oAfter that it was onward to Beatty, and about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas on the 95 there is a view (and a turnoff, which I didn’t take) to the Amargosa Dunes, a.k.a. Big Dune – a 1.5 square mile area popular with dune buggy enthusiasts.  The name is self-evident given that it is, indeed, a big heap of sand sitting between the desert highway and the mountains, with its highest point topping 500 feet. [4]

15369066_10208076247199114_5241266489953603044_oNext stop was (don’t laugh!) at the Area 51 Alien Centre – in reality a big convenience store/truck stop with an extraterrestrial theme.  Worth a stop to look around.  (Just be aware there is a brothel out back!) [5]  After our Area 51 stop and shop, there was quick visit to a petrol station in Indian Springs.  One of the tyres on the rental car had started to go down, so I had to stop for air before tackling the last stretch into Vegas.

The GPS had done itself proud up until this last leg to Vegas, where it took me to Las Vegas Blvd North rather than South – and I didn’t twig until it had turned me around on the freeway a couple of times… what the??? Now, even though I usually drive in to Vegas from the direction of LA, I’ve been here often enough to know when I’m near the south end of The Strip, and this sure wasn’t it… nor was it anywhere near downtown.

Finally I just read the signs and used my knowledge of the place to find my way into Excalibur – at last! I guess after all the driving over recent days, it was bound to end with some tiredness and frustration – but in terms of the GPS, I learned a valuable lesson.  Of course, the day wasn’t over yet – there was the inevitable queue and seemingly interminable wait to check in to Excalibur (not uncommon at the popular hotels in Vegas around check-in time each afternoon) before finally I could head up to our room.

But one look at the view (pictured below) from our castle tower made the drive with a leaking tyre, the wrestle with the GPS – and the queue at check-in – all worthwhile.  It was, in Vegas parlance, a WINNER.

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Story and photos (c) Kerry Hennigan
October 2017

Sources:

[1] For more info and a terrific promotional video, visit: http://tonopahnevada.com/

[2] History of Tonopah: http://www.tonopahnevada.com/history.html

[3] Goldfield Hotel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldfield_Hotel

[4] Amargosa Big Dune: https://travelnevada.com/discover/26019/amargosa-big-dune

[5] Area 51 Alien Centre: https://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/40442

 

 

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Old Sacramento, Lake Tahoe and the Road to Reno – 5 to 8 December 2016

Part 3 – California/Nevada Road Trip – December 2016

Old Sacramento dressed for Christmas is a delightful place to wander and explore on foot, which I did at length while visiting the California State Capital last December.  The car had been valet-parked for me on arrival at my accommodation the night before, and it stayed parked throughout my stay aboard the Delta King.  I went everywhere on foot except for when taking a scenic buggy ride behind “Thunder” the horse.

Next day I drove out of town through morning mist, which gradually dissipated the further I climbed towards the California-Neveda border and my first stopping point, Lake Tahoe – the largest freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which sits at an elevation of 1,897 m (6,223 ft).

15326121_10208053155501836_8645723358546327089_oI pulled in at Emerald Bay for photographs, and managed to slip on the ice laying around the carpark and viewing platform.  Fortunately, no harm was done, and there was no need for a bruised ego given that almost everyone else was attempting to avoid the same fate – not always successfully!

Emerald Bay is a California State Park as well as a National Landmark.  It is also the location of the Vikingsholm mansion which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Vikingsholm is considered one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the United States, having been designed by a Swedish architect for Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight, who wanted to build a summer home that would compliment the magnificent natural surroundings that reminded her of the fjords she had seen on numerous travels to Scandinavia.  Vikingsholm was completed in the fall of 1929.  Following her death the property changed hands a couple of times before being acquired by the State in 1953. [1]

Unfortunately given the ice underfoot, and the steep trail leading down to the house and lake shore, I did all my sightseeing from the roadside lookout – but the sight of the Vikingsholm summer house on rocky Fannette island in the lake was stunning, and worth the slip on the ice to photograph.

Beyond Emerald Bay the road hugged the lake shore for a while before swinging north to Truckee, California with its picturesque old downtown area.  According to the town’s official website: “Recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Truckee proudly retains its historic roots. Named for a Paiute Indian chief who helped guide thousands of emigrants in their westward journey through 40-mile desert.” [2]

To be honest, I wish I’d had the time to stay and explore more of the town, but the highway beckoned us on to Reno, offering views of some incredible mountain scenery (see main photo above).

15384533_10208048987957650_5386400313856282361_oIt had been many years since I’d been to Reno, and it seemed to me that it had been a lot busier and noisier then.  Perhaps arriving in winter made the difference, but the streets were quiet in the vicinity of my hotel, Circus Circus, and its neighbors, and the picturesque Riverwalk along the Truckee River that flows through the centre of town (as pictured above), was practically deserted but for the occasional tourist or dog walker.

My main reason for allowing time in Reno was to view the portrait of Michael Jackson at the Whitney Peak Hotel, which sits directly adjacent to the famous Reno Arch landmark.  I was directed to the meeting space (The Third Floor) upstairs and to Michael’s portrait (pictured below), which shared a wall with Prince and Madonna.  The portait was created by Scotty Roller and is acrylic on canvas (with a ‘for sale’ price of $1500).  An obliging staff member took photos for me while I posed with the portrait.  One more item to tick off my ‘Michaeling’ wish list. [3]

I had a bit of fun in the casinos in Reno, where the slots are more generous than Vegas, and then the following day (after an overnight snow fall) drove on towards our next stop – another historic town (as most are in this part of the country) called Tonopah – once known as ‘Queen of the Silver Camps’ and our mid-way stop-over on the trail to Las Vegas.

Both California’s Mother Lode (i.e. Gold Rush) country and Reno with the Truckee running through it, has a particular nostalgia that strongly appeals to me.  A favourite song recorded by John Denver, titled “Darcy Farrow” kept playing in my head throughout this part of my journey.

The country is also very beautiful, and as a resident of a beachside suburb on a flat coastal plain back home in Australia (with the highest peak in the local hills topping out at a modest 727 m) I find the scenery of high mountains, tall pines and rushing rivers in this part of the American West quite breath-taking.

If I didn’t have other places to be, and things to do when I got there, I would have happily dwelt a little longer in the vicinity of the Sierra Nevada mountains and perhaps even struck gold!  (Except it would have been in a casino!)

15326123_10208066378272397_7949080281025646874_o

Story and photos by Kerry Hennigan
© October 2017

Sources and additional reading:

[1] http://vikingsholm.com/

[2] http://www.truckee.com/explore/downtown/history/

[3] http://whitneypeakhotel.com/

and http://www.reno.gov/about-reno/things-to-do

Previous posts in this series:

Part 1: https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2017/04/04/californianevada-road-trip-december-2016/

Part 2: https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2017/07/10/pyramid-lake-fort-tejon-old-sacramento-and-cirque-du-soleil-4-december-2016/

 

 

 

Pyramid Lake, Fort Tejon, Old Sacramento and Cirque du Soleil – 4 December 2016

Part 2 – California/Nevada Road Trip – December 2016

It was always going to be a long drive – from Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley to Sacramento, the state capital of California.  And I had a deadline – I had to arrive at my destination in time to check into my hotel, refresh and change before heading off to a Cirque du Soleil matinée show downtown.  It was the last performance of the show in Sacramento, so there was no room for tardiness.

But I certainly wasn’t going to rush the trip; it was a route I hadn’t driven before with locations I might never get the chance to see again, so there would be sightseeing stops along the way in addition to the usual highway rest breaks.

pyramid lakeThe first stop was at Pyramid Lake and the Vista Del largo Visitors Centre.

Not to be confused with its better-known name-sake in Nevada, California’s Pyramid Lake at Gorman is a reservoir formed by Pyramid Dam on Piru Creek in the eastern San Emigdio Mountains.  It is part of the California State Water Project and is the deepest lake in the system.

Gold was discovered in the area in 1843 just south of where the dam is located today.  The reservoir wasn’t created until 1972-73 and was named for the pyramid-shaped rock carved out by engineers building US route 99 which is located directly in front of the dam.

The view from the visitor centre lookout is spectacular, and on such a clear December day, the water of the lake reflected the deep blue of the California sky.

There were no recreational activities happening at the lake when I was there, just a few sightseers pulling up in their vehicles, making the most of the scenery to stretch their legs after miles of highway.

A little further north on the I-5 was Fort Tejon State Historic Park.  This is a 1850s fort that now offers static and living history exhibits.  One of the rangers on duty suggested I don a handsome military jacket and accompanying head-gear – part of a large collection of costumes used for the living history experiences.  On reflection I probably could have done without the hat – but I loved the jacket!

fort tejonUnfortunately, since this stop was unplanned, my little travel buddy did not have a matching MJ-style military jacket to wear for our photo shoot.  (But he does have one in his rather extensive wardrobe at home!)

The parade ground and its attendant restored buildings and museum, combined with some 400-year-old oak trees, made this another very scenic break in my journey.  The fort is located in Grapevine Canyon, the main route between California’s Central Valley and Southern California.

According to the State Parks website:

The fort was established to protect and control the Indians who were living on the Sebastian Indian Reservation, and to protect both the Indians and white settlers from raids by the Paiutes, Chemeheui, Mojave, and other Indian groups of the desert regions to the south-east. Fort Tejon was first garrisoned by the United States Army on August 10, 1854 and was abandoned ten years later on September 11, 1864.”

After fuel, food and rest stops, we eventually rolled into Sacramento in the golden light of early evening.  The timing was perfect!  And our accommodation – well, that was really special.  The Delta King is a former paddle steamer that has been magnificently restored as a boutique hotel, moored at the wharf in Old Sacramento (the historic part of the capital).

Because of the season, Christmas decorations adorned all the stores and there was a giant Christmas tree on the wharf which was dressed with coloured lights that came on at dusk.  Some places you just know you are going to love as soon as you arrive – and this was certainly true of Old Sacramento.

Still, there was no time for exploring before we were due at the Golden 1 Centre for our Cirque show, Toruk: The First Flight, based on the Avatar movie.  I am a committed Cirque du Soleil fan, a member of the Cirque Club, and go to every show I can – including when travelling.

Originally my journey north from the greater Los Angeles area was to be via Fresno, where I have stayed on at least two occasions previously.  But then I discovered that Cirque’s new show based on the Avatar movie would be in Sacramento at the time of my trip, so I changed my route accordingly.  Besides, I’d never been to the state capital, despite my many trips to California over five decades!

toruk cirqueFortunately the Golden 1 Centre in downtown Sacramento is a short walk from the Old Sacramento waterfront, so I headed off happily to enjoy Cirque’s spectacular show Toruk: The First Flight.

And it WAS spectacular – boasting less acrobatics but more visually stunning light, colour, costume and prop displays than any other Cirque show I’ve seen (which is quite a few of them by now).

I’m used to all photography being banned at Cirque shows, but in this instance we were encouraged to use our mobile phones to download the show app which we were subsequently prompted to use throughout the course of the show.  I could also snap a few non-flash photos, as permitted, including one of the spectacular finale (pictured).

The Christmas lights were flashing in multiple colours as I walked back through the old town to the Delta King which was a welcoming sight, bedecked in her night lights.  After an eagerly anticipated dinner in the Pilot House bistro on board, it was time for us weary travelers to ‘hit the hay’ and happily look forward to exploring our surroundings the following day.

delta king2

Kerry Hennigan
July 2017

Further information:

15267826_10208027200612980_484552269868132657_nPyramid Lake and Visitor Centre: http://www.water.ca.gov/recreation/locations/pyramid/pyramidvisitors.cfm

Fort Tejon State History Park: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=585

Old Sacramento: http://oldsacramento.com/

Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk – The First Flight:  https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/toruk

 

 

 

Britain’s ancient landscape as painter’s muse at Salisbury Museum – Museum Crush

Source: Britain’s ancient landscape as painter’s muse at Salisbury Museum – Museum Crush

Forest Lawn, the Rose Bowl, Shambala, Vasquez Rocks and Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana – 2 & 3 December 2016

Part 1 – California/Nevada Road Trip – December 2016

In 2016 I undertook a three-week solo road trip covering parts of Southern and Central California and Nevada in the pre-Christmas weeks of December.  The route was planned for the usual ‘Michaeling’ (i.e. Michael Jackson-related) opportunities and to take in new or seldom-visited locales.  The result was a holiday that was both exhausting and incredibly satisfying.

15259499_10208012343641565_3165428888215488673_oIt began with a visit to Forest Lawn, fresh from LAX after I’d collected my rental car. Here I ordered flowers for Michael for Christmas, and bought a small bouquet to leave by the entrance of Holly Terrace with the tributes of other visiting fans.  I took photos, paid my respects at Michael’s earthly resting place and spent some minutes in quiet meditation and contemplation before taking in an exhibition at the Forest Lawn Museum.

The exhibition featured some artworks – paintings and sculpture – by Eyvind Earle who provided the concept art for Disney’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ animated feature, which I had been enamoured of as a child.  I still have a copy of the vinyl soundtrack LP, and the movie has only recently been reissued on DVD.  Thank goodness – because my VHS copy is unplayable due to many years of viewing!

I was surprised – and pleased – to discover that photography with a mobile phone was permitted in the museum, whereas previously there had been a total prohibition on picture-taking.  So, I tucked my big camera away in my bag and happily snapped away guilt-free with my phone.

15289063_10208011160411985_2176085410641540710_oFrom Forest Lawn it was a relatively short hop to the Rose Bowl Stadium, which, as all Michael Jackson fans will know, was the location for the Super Bowl XXVII game where Michael performed his landmark half-time show.

The date was 31 January 1993 and the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Buffalo Bills 52-17, not that many people remember that.  The stat that made the history books was for the TV ratings of the half time show, when Michael’s mini concert boasted more viewers than either half of the actual game.  He also started the trend for the appearance of big name artists at the Super Bowl and set a performance standard that others have been attempting to top ever since. (1)

Although no appearance fees are paid to Super Bowl halftime performers, in 1993 the NFL and sponsor Frito-Lay agreed to donate $100,000 to Michael’s Heal the World Foundation, as well as providing airtime promoting an appeal for the foundation’s Heal L.A. campaign.  The campaign – a pre-curser to the Heal LA student charitable group co-founded by Michael’s eldest son Prince at Loyola Marymount University in 2016 – aimed to provide health care, drug education, and mentorship for Los Angeles youth, particularly children affected by the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. (2)

I’m not sure why I haven’t been to the Rose Bowl before… but this was definitely the year to tick that off my ‘wish list’.

Arriving in LA just prior to the first weekend in December also enabled me to attend Parents Day at Tippi Hedren’s Shambala Preserve for big cats in Acton, Ca. on the first Saturday of the month.  Michael Jackson’s tiger Sabu, formerly of the Neverland Zoo, had turned 18 years of age on 20 November 2016.  As his sponsor, who has visited him every year commencing 2011, I didn’t want 2016 to close without seeing him again.

Tippi herself lives at Shambala and is usually there on Parents Days to give us all a warm greeting and to sit and chat and have photographs taken with us.  This year though the windy weather kept her inside for the sake of her health.  But the rest of us toured the compounds and enjoyed the big cats being fed their treats by the animal crew before we retired lakeside for our potluck lunch.

sabu-2-dec-2016    sabu-dec-2016

Sabu was no longer where I had always seen him previously – in the enclosure he’d shared with his sister Thriller (who died of lung cancer in 2012).  Now he was next door, so photographic angles were a little different from what I was used to.  But, thanks to having a zoom lens on my camera, I was satisfied with the results (see two of my images above).

More importantly, of course, was Sabu’s apparent good health despite his maturity.

Not far from Shambala lies the scenic area of Vasquez Rocks, a popular movie location and the place where the scenes in Michael’s ‘Black or White’ video featuring the Native American dancers were filmed.  I came here last year in October, but filming at the base of the rocks prevented me from getting to the other side – the spot where Michael danced.  This year I simply drove through the rocks to the car park on the far side and walked back through, photographing everything as I went.

Being a weekend, and great weather for hiking, climbing, biking and whatever other outdoor activities take one’s fancy, there were plenty of folks about enjoying the spectacular scenery.  A couple of guys were flying a drone over the rocks to get aerial shots, and there was even a fashion shoot in progress against the dramatic sandstone backdrop.

15369047_10208019237173899_2044835975682944359_oVasquez Rocks has a fascinating geographical and anthropological history, and if you have time, I recommend following some of the trails using the free leaflet from the Visitor Centre and reading about the Tataviam Indians who lived here from approx 200 BC to the late 1700s AD – the beginning of the Spanish period in California. (3)

In his Handbook of Indians of California (1925) Alfred Louis Kroeber wrote:
“They cannot have been numerous. Taken to San Fernando or San Buenaventura missions, they dwindled rapidly, and the few survivors seem to have been so thrown in and intermarried with people of other speech that their own language became extinct in a couple of generations.” (4)

These Native Americans weren’t like the familiar Plains Indians we saw dancing with Michael here at Vasquez Rocks.  In that instance the Rocks were standing in for an archetypal Wild West backdrop as they have done in many Hollywood westerns of yesteryear.  Only this ‘wild west’ location is just approximately 50 miles from downtown LA.

On the way back to the San Fernando Valley and our hotel, an premature exit from the freeway prompted a visit to the Historic Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana in Mission Hills, founded in 1797. (5)  It is a beautiful property (as you can see from the photo at the top of this story) with an extensive museum which is worth exploring.  In the mid-late 70s and 80s I made a point of visiting any of the historic missions that were within reach of my travels, but had never been to San Fernando Rey until now.

The legacy of the missions in terms of the local Native American tribes is understandably controversial.  The fate of the aforementioned Tataviam being just one example of dispossession, relocation and decline/loss of cultural identity or actual extinction.

15355684_10208019439218950_630511458181414996_n

Nevertheless, there were a couple of delightful surprises in store for us here… a Sweet Sixteen ceremony taking place in the mission church, and in one of the museum rooms, the old organ (on the left in the photo opposite) that was used in the classic black and white comedy movie ‘The Ghost Breakers’ (1940) starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. (6)

Willie Best is wonderful in this film as Hope’s black manservant – a role that would definitely be considered demeaning and insensitive these days, and an example of how, historically, black actors were often typecast in dumb sidekick roles, secondary to the lead actors.  But, despite these failings, Best’s performance is a testament to his considerable comedic acting skills.  (He has the best lines in the film!)

Having arrived back at our temporary ‘home base’ of Sherman Oaks, it was time to pack in preparation for our early departure next day.  It was also time for any final photos to be taken of our surroundings – which, not coincidentally, happened to be the hotel where Kent Twitchell’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ mural of Michael Jackson was proposed to be installed. (7)

15230813_10208011185452611_3082354158303144322_nThe Courtyard by Marriott at Sherman Oaks has comfortable beds, friendly staff and a nice cafe where I got delicious, inexpensive meals on both nights of our stay here.  There are local stores within walking distance, and the Sherman Oaks Galleria is just one block away.

But that will have to wait for another visit, some other year.  After two days of busy activity, I was ready to head north – to Sacramento and California’s ‘Mother Lode’ country, where more adventures awaited my miniature travel companion and I.

Story and Photos by Kerry Hennigan
April 2017

Sources:

(1) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-02-06/business/ct-biz-0206-rosenthal–20110206_1_super-halftime-party-doritos-zaptime-halftime-show

(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Bowl_XXVII

(3) http://www.scvhistory.com/scvhistory/vasquez011574glenn.htm

(4) Alfred Louis Kroeber, Handbook of the Indians of California (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1925) pp. 613-614.

(5) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission_San_Fernando_Rey_de_Espana

(6) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0032520/

(7) http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-michael-jackson-mural-at-museum-of-the-san-fernando-valley-20150618-story.html

 

 

 

Stone Sentinels of Salisbury Plain: Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral – June 2010

It was the day after the Summer Solstice and the field next to Stonehenge was still full of the camps of New Age Druids who had been present for the rising of the sun the morning before. There was even a Druid wedding ceremony underway in the car park when our tour group emerged from its bus.

Stonehenge, and the plain on which it is located, has seen the passage of history for over four millennia. What it consists of now is just the remnants of a large ceremonial centre come celestial calendar which appears to have attracted visitors from as far afield as the Mediterranean.

Evolving over centuries of usage by the ancient Britons of the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, Stonehenge reached its apogee in approximately 1930 BC – 1600 BC before falling into gradual disuse and decline.

Contrary to the belief fostered by early antiquarians, there is no historic evidence of Druidic ritual practices having been conducted at the man-made structure. Their preference was for oak groves deemed sacred to the gods. However, that doesn’t stop their modern-day counterparts from turning up in the hundreds for the traditional seasonal occasions.

Regular visitors can book tours to enter the stone circle at dawn or sunset at certain times of the year. Our visit though was in the early afternoon, after lunch and a tour of Salisbury Cathedral.

Salisbury is the perfect introduction for overseas visitors to the picture post-card English country town. The landscape is gloriously rural and undulating, dotted with livestock and adorned by thatched cottages.

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Old Sarum (c) Kerry Hennigan 2010

Just outside the town is Old Sarum, an archaeological site that dates back to pre-Roman Britain. The Romans took over the hill-top location for their own fortress, and in later ages the first Salisbury Cathedral was built within the walls of the settlement. Due to the instability of the ground on which the Cathedral foundations were built, a new Salisbury Cathedral replaced it.

This is the Cathedral constructed of massive stone blocks, which visitors (and the faithful) flock to today – a stunning medieval structure surrounded by a serene expanse of open space dotted with shade trees – Salisbury Close.

 

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Salisbury Cathedral (c) Kerry Hennigan 2010

Within the actual church there are many wonders to behold – soaring stained glass windows of myriad colours, towering columns, the great vaulted ceiling high overhead.

There is a medieval clock in a glass case, the pennants of ancient regiments adorning the walls, many burial crypts of historically notable figures, and, in the Chapter House, the best surviving copy of the Magna Carter in existence.

For those seeking a quiet place within the vast Cathedral for personal prayer and reflection, at the time of our visit the Chapel of St Michael the Archangel was signposted as being specifically reserved for this purpose.

Back out in the streets of the town, we could be forgiven for thinking we had walked in on a scene from the famous Midsomer Murders TV series. That was what Salisbury looked like to this Antipodean visitor. I expected to see Inspector Barnaby hop out of an unmarked police car and go into one of the quaint shops or pubs to investigate yet another mysterious death on his patch. Midsomer is fiction, of course, but Salisbury has the right appearance to induce flights of fancy in the first-time visitor.

However, these creative imaginings were quickly dispelled by the delicious smells of our pub lunch at one of the historic old inns. There is nothing like a good feed to bring you back willingly to the here and now. It was after tucking into our traditional roast, fish and chips or seasonal vegetable pot pie (followed by apple crumble for dessert) that we continued on in our coach to Stonehenge. The first glimpse of it on the plain just off the modern highway is unforgettable.

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The inner circle (c) Kerry Hennigan 2010

In addition to the Stonehenge monument itself, walking trails in the area wind amongst ancient burial mounds (burrows) that dot the surrounding hillsides. It is an amazing landscape for the amateur archaeologist and history enthusiast.

Of course, experts in the field have long explored the mysteries of Stonehenge and Salisbury Plain, and new discoveries continue to be made. Reinvestigation of old ones also reveals new information about the place and the people who came here – some travelling vast distances in the process.

Even without access to the inner circle of the stone temple, by walking the path around Stonehenge, you can get surprisingly close to the giant stone blocks. A low fence suggests rather than prevents access to the circle, and this is certainly no impediment to taking unobstructed photographs of the monument – and plenty of them, from every possible angle.

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The Heel Stone (c) Kerry Hennigan 2010

Sitting back by the roadway, all by itself, but seemingly pointing towards the main structure is the Heel Stone, which has been known by various names throughout Stonehenge’s later (i.e. recorded) history. This is as far as the path goes before being stopped by the boundary fence that borders the A334. But from here you get a good view back at the ring of standing stones.

It’s a lot to take in, and there is no peace and quiet to be found in the visitor centre or gift shop, which are full of fellow customers. Better to find a quiet spot at the top of the walk and sit down to contemplate one of ancient Britain’s most famous enigmas.

Take a deep breath and inhale the stuff of legends… they don’t come much bigger than Stonehenge, whatever its original purpose (or multi-purpose) may have been.

Story and photos by Kerry Hennigan

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This article was originally written for publication in my brother’s on-line magazine ‘Travelscene International’ which sadly no longer exists. I found the draft buried in a folder of documents on my work computer and, since my fascination with Stonehenge still remains (I returned for another visit in October 2012 – see photo of little MJ with the monuent, above) as do my memories of Salisbury and its magnificent cathedral, I decided to polish it up and publish it as a Note on Facebook. Now it has been transferred to WordPress for easier access by a wider audience.  I hope you enjoy it.

Kerry Hennigan
11 February 2017

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