Megaliths and Market Days

Today I saw the first of the two megalithic monuments I came to Salisbury to see, Stonehenge. Tomorrow I'm off to see the less-well-known (but larger, and if most of the people I've talked to can be believed, more interesting) Avebury. Being both an avid amateur astronomer and being interested in things archeological, Stonehenge has been on my "must see" list for quite some time. It is an impressive site in person, though somewhat less so than it might be.

In order to preserve the stones from the presence of about a million visitors per year, the stones themselves are normally closed to visitors. (Special arrangements can be made to have access to the site before it opens, but that takes more arranging than I had time to manage.) There's a path all around the monument, but it's far enough from the stones that it can be somewhat difficult to judge the size of the stones.

And of course, there are the tourists. Lots of tourists. Lots and lots of tourists.

I was there on a weekday morning, so it wasn't as crowded as it probably is on weekends, but it was still crowded. All this meant that although I don't consider my trip to Stonehenge to have been a disappointment, I also didn't feel the need to spend all day (or even all morning) there. The other thing that kept me from wanting to stay were the nasty little stinging beetles that kept trying to attach themselves to my shirt and hat (and once or twice, my arm).

In brief, Stonehenge was cool - a really amazing piece of engineering and astronomy - it just doesn't take long to get your fill.

I was back in Salisbury by noon, and so had a chance to experience one of the town's market days, which have been going on here since the 13th century.

The market here is more than just a farmer's market - it really has a bit of everything. Food of all sorts: veggies, meat, fish, sweets, bread, cheese, you name it. But there were also stands selling clothing, used books, auto accessories, and of course, the inevitable tourist junk. (Also a fair amount of world cup merchandise - England is a bit football mad at the moment.) In all, it seems like the market day tradition seems to be keeping itself up-to-date quite well here in Salisbury.

My final bit of sightseeing for today was to visit Salisbury Cathedral (or the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to give it its proper name). In "Notes from a Small Island," Bill Bryson called Salisbury Cathedral the most beautiful building in England. While I'm not sure I'd go that far myself (I was really taken with some of the college buildings in Oxford), it is a really lovely building. It's famous for having one of the tallest spires in the world, and it sits on a wide expanse of lawn that appears to be a favorite picnic and relaxation spot for tourists and locals alike.

It's equally impressive inside, and it is huge - quite possibly the largest church I've ever been in. On interest to the librarian in me - they also have an extremely well-preserved copy of the Magna Carta and some nice manuscripts.

All this in an easy-going day. Even with all the rambling around, I still finished off by mid afternoon.