Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sussex and Wiltshire, Part 2: The Moon over Salisbury

Salisbury was a welcome change from Brighton. Smaller but less closely packed, and parochial in the traditional sense (of or relating to a church parish), here we experienced the first hint of real English cold - frost on the grass and ice crisping the tops of puddles when we stepped out in the morning.
Robert enjoying a beer at The Cloisters pub on our first night.
It is also a traditional market town - fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and other delicious treats are rolled out into the Market Square carpark every Tuesday and Saturday. We wandered aimlessly through these for a while before deciding it was time to go see the Big Cluster Of Rocks On The Hill.
'Oooh, we're building a henge, are we? That's lovely.'
This was one of many occasions on which my eight-year-old self has shadowed us on the tour, quietly offering up memories to me which may or may not be what actually happened. Memory is a very strange thing indeed, and as I have re-entered places I first came to fourteen years ago, the faintly recalled visions of my childhood trip have become entwined with the new. As I summon images and feelings to memory, I cannot easily pick apart what was then, and what is now - the twenty-two-year-old and her eight-year-old shadow stand side by side gazing upon the same monument or vista, and what they each see and feel has become the one seeing and the one feeling.

In some cases, as with Stonehenge, I can see faintly the ghost of another, older image, like a double exposure on film, a fuzzy recollection superimposed on the real landscape. The Stonehenge of my childhood was much, much bigger - not just the impressive and monumental reality, but astoundingly and absurdly colossal, easily twice their true height. This memory persists, a flickering projection, inflated and exaggerated, over the new memories. This is easily accounted for by a change in perspective (yes, though it might be hard to believe, I am in fact taller now than I was at the age of eight), but a strange sensation nonetheless.

On a lighter note, a few amusing facts about visiting Stonehenge:

1. The fields immediately surrounding it contains a number of sheep grazing, which rather undermines the ancient dignity of the site.

2. the entirety of the information presented at the site can be summed up as 'here are the dates when particular parts of it were built and some things we found on site, but apart from that we have absolutely no idea how it was done or what it was for, or any useful evidence. CUE ETHEREAL MUSIC'

3. The audio tour noted that some of the more impressive parts of construction were done at the same time the pyramids were being built in Egypt, which kind of makes it seem a bit crap and unsophisticated, really.

4. As the audio tour consisted of seven parts, which you were intended to listen to at different spots around the henge, each part of the tour would end with the recorded guide directing you to the next spot. You know, 'walk to the next marker on your left, and when you get there, press 2 and play' sort of stuff. The penultimate section of the guide, however, said this: "The next marker is near the TARDIS, which is shaped like a sentry box." I shit you not. We even stopped to listen to it again and make sure. We didn't get a chance to ask someone about it, but I'm sure there's a fun story there.

We returned to town via Old Sarum, which we have affectionately re-christened 'Willie's Hill Fort'. I could not remember if I had been there before or not. Castle ruins tend to all run together, as there is very little to distinguish one flinty wall core from another after everyone's knocked down the castle-y bits and pinched all the nice stones for other buildings.

Robert entering what remains of the castle's back passage, hur hur.
It is interesting, but sadly there is little surviving to indicate the grand and remarkable structure it must once have been. Now, the outer ring of the original motte and bailey castle has become a green and tranquil place where the locals play fetch with their dogs.


We had both worn the wrong shoes, and were subject to Willie's Revenge, which was the thick chalky clay that climbed up the sides of our sneakers and resolutely clung to them as we left the ruins, trailing white footprints on the grass behind us.

Also here is a pony.
We returned to town to visit another museum, whose collection nicely complemented what what we had seen in the morning. We were there for the rest of the afternoon, and the sun set while we were inside. As we stepped out into the dark, we were greeted by the full moon, low and large in the sky beside the cathedral. She was a pale, shimmering gold, and bright as a new coin through the winter branches. I remember other moons from other times, and to them I add this moon, a memory newly-minted in the frosty air of Salisbury in winter, at age twenty-two.

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