Archive for May, 2010

Here’s a novel suggestion for how the government can help reduce the massive public deficit: sell Stonehenge. A survey of 500 estate agents, among other monuments studied, has placed the price of the ancient stone circle at a cool £51 million. It’s a drop in the ocean of the £156 billion gap between government income and expenditure. But it’s a start.

 Okay, so we’re not really advocating putting one of Britain’s most prized historic monuments up for sale: UNESCO would have some angry words to say about that. And it doesn’t even bare thinking how the druids will react. But the survey does shed light on just how much heritage sites are worth. Elsewhere, a price tag of £5.2 million was placed on 10 Downing Street, while Windsor Castle’s value was reckoned at £391 million.

 But are the sums on Stonehenge correct? Shouldn’t such an internationally-renowned, popular and iconic monument be worth so much more?

 In recent years Christie’s auction house has sold the likes of the Egyptian statue of Ka-Nefer and his family for a tidy £1.9 million, the Canford Assyrian relief for the princely sum of £7.7 million, and the Jenkins Venus for a whopping £7.9 million.

 Counting just the 18 large standing stones, the 10 giant stones of the inner circle and the central altar stone at Stonehenge, by a very unscientific breakdown, that £51 million price tag on the Neolithic monument gives its 29 key constituent parts an approximate value of just £1.7 million a piece. That’s lower than each of the Christie’s sales listed above.

 Theoretically speaking, don’t these figures at least suggest the total price tag should be a bit higher? Surely a super-wealthy antiquities collector would be prepared to pay megabucks to have a Stonehenge megalith in their living room? Or possibly even a trilith framing their front door?

 And what about admission fees? Stonehenge presently attracts around 900,000 visitors a year, at an average price of about £5 per head. Multiply that long-term – by 25 years, say – and that means the monument is worth over £112 million. Consider too that visitor figures will most likely increase in years to come, and factor in revenue from merchandising, and £51 million begins to sound like a snip.

  “It’s quite a challenge for estate agents more used to valuing suburban semis to put an accurate valuation on a royal castle or ancient monument,” commented Nigel Lewis, a property analyst at FindaProperty.com, who ran the survey. “But there was a surprising amount of agreement between the different agents we spoke to.”

  Clearly estate agents have done their sums, too. They consider many different factors when it comes to judging the value of a property – location, age, whether it’s in need of improvement and so on. Stonehenge doesn’t lack for a good spot, situated on sheep-nibbled rolling Wiltshire countryside. But at 4,500 years vintage it could hardly be described as a new build, while its state of repair is questionable to say the least. And then there’s that ugly car park plonked right across the road since the 1960s (although it’s soon to be removed).

 Also, unless Stonehenge’s new owners were to scrap already scaled-down plans for a new visitor centre – current cost £25 million – then that’s a big chunk of change they’ll need to lay out straight after being handed the keys to the front gate. But £51 million still sounds like far too low an asking price.

 Someone buying a historic British monument isn’t actually as ridiculous as it sounds. Missourian businessman Robert P. McCulloch in 1968 purchased the old 19th century London Bridge designed by engineer John Rennie (or at least its stone cladding) from the City of London for $2 million dollars. He then shipped it to the United States, where it was rebuilt across Lake Havasu in Arizona as the gateway to a mock-English community. Legend has it that McCulloch mistakenly believed he was actually buying Tower Bridge – a story he vehemently denied.

 It’d be a tragedy to see Stonehenge similarly packed-up and shipped off elsewhere. But Number 10 or Windsor Castle? Times are tight, after all.

Video: Spring Equinox Celebrations and Druids at Stonehenge

Digs, Discovery and Disaster: A History of Archaeology at Stonehenge

How to Celebrate the Summer Solstice 2010 at Stonehenge

The Stonehenge Stone Circle website

Article from the Heritage Key website with thanks

Nicholas – Stonehenge Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in History

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Magical Glastonbury
Glastonbury is unique, sacred, spell-binding. It is a small town town in Somerset, cradled in a cluster of hills that are all different shapes. The highest is the Tor, a whaleback formation with a tower on top, once part of a church dedicated to the Archangel Michael. Near the Tor is the smooth dome of Chalice Hill. Wearyall Hill is a long narrow ridge pointing toward the Bristol Channel. Windmill Hill, on the side facing the cathedral city of Wells, is less clearly defined and covered with houses, Below are the ruins of a great medieval abbey.

Early in the Christian era, the hill-cluster was nearly encircled with shallow water, the river Brue provided a deeper channel enabling sea-going craft to reach it. An old name for it is Ynys-witrin, the Island of Glass; “island” because, from most angles of approach, it would have looked like one. A more famous name is Avalon, the Apple-place. In Celtic lore Avalon was an isle of enchantment.

This area was probably sacred long before Christianity. Around the sides of the Tor is a strange system of terracing. Much weathered and eroded, but still well-defined, it has been interpreted as a maze following an ancient magical pattern, which is found in Cornwall, Wales, Ireland, Pompeii, Crete and India, and even among the Hopi of Arizona, who call it the Mother Earth Symbol. If the maze on the Tor is real, human labour formed it four or five thousand years ago, during the period of vast ritual works that created Stonehenge and Avebury. There are grounds for thinking that the Tor would have been a sanctuary of Goddess-worship. To come down to a somewhat later time, archaeology has shown that toward the beginning of the Christian era, this neighbourhood became an important centre of Celtic population, with far-flung trade. The inhabitants lived on small artificial islands.

According to a much-loved legend, Christian Glastonbury began with the arrival of Joseph of Arimathea. He figures in the Gospels as a rich disciple who obtained the body of Christ and laid it in the tomb. Some say he was an older kinsman and had brought Jesus here as a boy, perhaps on a trading voyage to Britain. Reputedly, in the years after the Crucifixion, he came to this remote country on a mission with several companions. They made their home in Avalon and remained there as a community of hermits. An offshoot of the legend concerns a local variety of hawthorn known as the Glastonbury Thorn. It is said that Joseph planted his staff in the ground, and it became a tree that blossomed at Christmas. Descendants of a medieval hawthorn on Wearyall Hill actually do blossom at Christmas or thereabouts, While no other English hawthorn does this, there are some that do in the Middle East, including Palestine.

Whatever the facts may have been, the basic Joseph legend grew around something that was real and solid, an ancient church constructed of wattles – interlaced twigs or rods – with reinforcements of timber and lead. Bound with clay, wattle-work can be a stalwart material. It was used by early settlers in Wisconsin, and the remains of a wattle structure can be seen at New Harmony, Indiana, among the buildings in a community founded by the philanthropist Robert Gwen.

In the centuries after Britain broke from the Roman Empire, a group of Celtic British monks lived beside Glastonbury’s small wattle church. It may already have been so old that no one knew who the builder was. Chroniclers decided eventually that it was Joseph of Arimathea, and that idea was the nucleus of the tale of his coming to Glastonbury. There were other stories connecting him with Britain, but no one knows which came first, or why such an unlikely person was ever thought of. The belief may reflect a lost tradition. At any rate, the site of the “Old Church” came to be known as “the holiest earth of England,” where the Christian Faith was first planted. Today, the Lady Chapel among the ruins marks the place.

Hard evidence is lacking. Archaeologists have found traces of Christian settlement at least as early as the sixth century, on the Abbey site and on the upper part of the Tor. Gildas, a British author, seems to mention the Old Church about the year 530. Hermits may have lived hereabouts farther back, and there was some kind of Roman presence. But the more distant past is lost in obscurity. Those who wish to believe in Joseph are free to do so. Certainly, after the Gospel incident, history says nothing about his later life anywhere else.

When Christian Glastonbury began, most of the people of what is now England were British Celts, ancestors of the Welsh. But the pagan Anglo-Saxons, ancestors of the English, moved in from across the North Sea and gradually overran the country. At first they wiped out whatever Christian institutions they found. However, their advance slowed down. The West Saxon kingdom of Wessex did not expand far enough to absorb Glastonbury until the middle of the seventh century. By then its kings were Christians, themselves, and they took over the British community peaceably. At Glastonbury, as nowhere else in England, we have a major instance of Christian continuity right through from Celtic times, As one historian has put it, the Saxon kings made the place a temple of reconciliation between previously hostile peoples.

Its monastery grew into an abbey of the Benedictine Order. The greatest abbot, St. Dunstan, in the tenth century, started the drainage of the still-waterlogged country round about, embanking the river to prevent flooding. He launched the restoration of learning and religion in England after the Norse destruction of monasteries and monastic schools. His successors continued the reclamation of most of the territory down to the Bristol Channel, and protected it with sea-walls, so that it is now farming land.

Medieval Glastonbury played a part in the making of the legends of Arthur. Joseph of Arimathea, or a companion of his, was said to have brought the Holy Grail, the wonder-working vessel of the Last Supper, to Britain., From a first Avalonian resting-place, it had been removed to a mysterious castle, and, four hundred years later, many of Arthur’s knights rode out in quest of it. The King himself had at least one personal connection with Glastonbury: he had besieged it to rescue Guinevere from an abductor, and visited the Old Church when the matter was settled.

In 1191, the monks of the Abbey claimed to have found his grave in their cemetery. Guided by a hint from a Welsh bard, they had dug down and discovered a stone slab. Under it was a cross of lead with a Latin inscription saying “Here lies buried the renowned King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon.” Digging farther down, they had unearthed a coffin made from a hollowed-out log. Inside were the bones of a tall man who appeared to have been killed by a blow on the head, because the skull was damaged. Some smaller bones were taken to be Guinevere’s. Modern excavation has shown that the monks did dig at a place south of the Lady Chapel, and did find an early burial. Most historians would deny that the bones were Arthur’s, and dismiss the inscribed cross as a fake. But some have been willing to accept the identity as possible, even probable.

Throughout the Middle Ages the Abbey was growing. Its main church, nearly 600 feet long, was the largest in England after St Paul’s Cathedral in London, with space for thousands of pilgrims on the principal holy days. The Abbot was Chief Justice in central Somerset, and the people for many miles around were his tenants. The Abbey maintained a school, and one of the finest libraries in England. It flourished until 1539, when Henry VIIl’s policy of dissolution caught up with it. The last abbot, Richard Whiting, was convicted on trumped-up charges and hanged on the Tor, and his Abbey was dissolved like the rest.

Surveying this long record, we can see that Glastonbury has been a place of great beginnings. It has a strange vitality. Its Christian community, if not literally the first in Britain, was the first that survived, carrying on without a break from early times. It brought together Celts and Saxons; in a symbolic sense, the United Kingdom was born here. It was the fountainhead of cultural recovery in the aftermath of the Norse. Its legends were at the roots of the national saga of King Arthur.

The Abbey’s downfall looked like the end. The buildings passed into private hands, and a succession of owners, who had no interest in preservation, used them as a quarry for saleable stone. Yet after all, Glastonbury was not dead, or reduced to a country town like many others. According to tradition, in 1587 an old man named Austin Ringwode, who had formerly been employed by the Abbey, prophesied on his deathbed that Glastonbury would be reborn and then “peace and plenty would for a long time abound.” The rebirth began (if in ways that Austin Ringwode hardly foresaw) in the twentieth century. The extraordinary spell of the place began to work again.

Several things happened. The Abbey’s last owner put it on the market, and the Church of England acquired it and has looked after it ever since. Each summer Anglican and Catholic pilgrims gather in thousands. Other developments were due to people with interests that were more secular, or, if religious, frequently offbeat and eccentric. In the 1920’s, Glastonbury was the venue of the first major English festival of music and drama, founded by the operatic composer, Rutland Boughton, with support from celebrities such as George Bernard Shaw and Sir Thomas Beecham. Rutland Boughton’s festival was the ancestor of others at Bath, Malvern, and elsewhere. Later came the establishment of a trust to preserve what is believed to be an ancient sacred spring, mentioned in one of the Grail stories and now called Chalice Well (pictured at right). The Chalice Well garden is a famous meeting place for visitors from many countries, with a variety of interests. Later again came a surprising discovery of Glastonbury by the alternative society, the so-called hippies. The “Glastonbury Fayre” in 1971 was a sort of mystical Woodstock. After much strife and controversy, it is still repeated in most summers and attracts tens of thousands, though, of course, it has changed considerably.

Today, Glastonbury’s role as a spiritual focus outside the churches is shown in a restored community centre, in a special-interest Library of Avalon, in healing clinics, in New Age conference rooms. Numerous tourists and seekers converge here especially from America. Some of the developments may look odd, but they cannot be ignored, and they involve many people of goodwill and intelligence. For a long time, “straight” and “alternative” elements in the town were sharply divided. The summer of 1996, however, may resolve some of the divisions with a new festival commemorating Rutland Boughton and bringing together musicians, artists, authors and others from different strata of the population. Is the reborn Glastonbury taking coherent shape? It may well be.

Visit Glastonbury with an expert local guide and perhaps combine it with Stonehenge and Avebury Stone Circle for a truly magical day.  We offer guided trips visiting these locations and others that depart from Salisbury, Bath or London.

Henry – British Tour Guide
Histouries UK – Bringing History alive

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We were excited to see news of the first crop circles in Wiltshire, home to Histouries UK.  We have already been taking private groups to see them and have a great relationship with local farmers allowing us to enter the fields when other can’t. Many locals have reported strange lights in the skies and hearing srtange noises at the same time as the mysterious circles appear (serach on YouTube to view video footage)
Whatever your thoughts on this phenomena they are fantastis to see both form a distance and up-close giving some amazing and unique phot opportunites. We do offer dedicated crop circles, however our regular historical guided tours visiting Stonehenge, Salisbury, Old Sarum Hillfort, Glastonbury and the Wessex are will pass these crop circles and the topic will be discussed in depth.
We expect to see crop circles between May and September this year (2010)

Some more information on the recent circles………….

Herewith the first crop circle of 2010. It is in oil seed rape and measures approx: 180 foot diameter. It is a circle containing six arcs intercepted by a small circle surrounded by a larger circle. A lozenge shape lies alongside the sixth arc with seven circles lying in an arc below. It lies below the ancient Hill Fort Old Sarum in Hampshire. Sadly due to the fact that it lies in Boscombe Military Air space it is also directly below the helicopter low flight approach zone, the images were taken from 2000 feet and also the crop is not yet in full bloom so the imprint is poor

The first week in May we witness the first English Crop Circle in southern Wiltshire. The area around Old Sarum is certainly not an active part of the countryside for the phenomenon. In fact it has only witnessed a few events of the last two decades, which makes this ‘Curtain Opener’ to the 2010 season quite a surprise.


On further investigation, it would appear the positioning of the crop circle in relation to Old Sarum, actually lies on the direct path of a very well know Ley Line which has an alignment with Stonehenge, and cuts the nearside edge of the inner banks of the fortified encampment of Old Sarum. This Ley Line then straight through Salisbury Cathedral itself, and the hill forts of Clearbury Rings and then Frankenbury Camp in Hampshire.

This clearly indicates that the positioning of Crop Circles could indeed be connected with Ley Lines, which are aligned to well known Ancient Sites. Are we being shown a doorway to ancient knowledge? Will we find the key in 2010?

HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in Wiltshire – Salisbury and Stonehenge Guided Tours

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The cuckoo traditionally marks the beginning of spring and right on cue to mark the first day of summer a crop circle has been spotted.

The first to be seen of that seasonal staple it is made up of curious swirls and has been ‘discovered’ in a field of oil seed rape in Wiltshire close to the remains of an Iron Age hill fort.

The crop circle lies close to the Iron Age hill fort of Old Sarum where Romans, Normans and Saxons have all since left their mark. To the right of the mound lies the outline of where the first Salisbury cathedral stood

The county is a popular spot for crop circle sightings and this one was found overlooking the historic site of Old Sarum, near Salisbury, near to where a 150ft dragonfly appeared in a field last year.
The bizarre shapes and designs are predominately found in the counties of South West England. However, they tend to pop up in other regions too and last year a 600ft jellyfish appeared in Oxfordshire – becoming the first jellyfish crop circle in the world.
The crop circle season normally begins in April with them increasing in number to a high point in July and August.
Just how these creations come into being is the subject of heated debate with some arguing they are the work of artists, while others feel they are deliberately created to bring in tourism.
The fact that many appear on ancient ‘ley lines’ leads others to believe they carry a mystical meaning.

Ley lines are supposed straight lines connecting three or more prehistoric or ancient sites which are associated by some with lines of energy and other paranormal phenomena.

However they’re formed though, tourists keep flocking to the circles every year to get a glimpse of the giant patterns.

Old Sarum was a mighty Iron Age hill fort which became the site of the first Salisbury cathedral. Chosen because of its strategic importance it was where two trade routes and the River Avon meet.
The Romans installed a garrison in the river valley below the site which was named Sorviodunum. Under the Anglo Saxons it ranked among the most considerable towns of the West Kingdom before the Normans arrived and built a castle there in 1069. The construction of the cathedral began in 1075 and it was nearly 200 years later that the second cathedral that stands today was built.

Nicholas – Stonehenge and Salisbury Tour Guide
Histouries UK – The Best Tours of Wessex

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One of our guides has just reported a crop circle report, the very first in Britain! One is next to Old Sarum Castle, the other is directly oppisite Stonehenge Stone Circle. We will post more details the next 254 hours but here are some pics……………… Needless to say we are currently taking clients to these circles en-route to Stonehenge

Pat – UK Crop Circle Tours
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in Wessex

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Since its initial publication in 1989 The Pillars of the Earth has been a hugely popular book at Salisbury Cathedral. It is full of drama and intriguing characters but it is also packed with carefully researched historical detail and lovingly tells the story of the building of a beautiful medieval cathedral not unlike Salisbury. The fictitious Kingsbridge created by Ken Follett is in the West Country, not far from the real city of Salisbury, early in the book Tom Builder even seeks work at the original cathedral at Old Sarum. As The Pillars of the Earth became an international best seller we began to meet more and more visitors who had been inspired to visit us by the book, from the UK but also from America, Germany and many other countries.

Many of our clients have read this book before visiting the area which greatly enhances their appreciation of Old Sarum and Salisbury Cathedral.  The announcement that the book is to be turned into a feature lenght film this year is great news for tourism in Wiltshire and for those who have visited or toured with us in the past.  Please take the time to read Ken Follet’s blog.

In 2008, as Salisbury was in the midst of celebrating its 750th anniversary year, Tandem Communications made contact with exciting news about a film of the book. A visit to Salisbury led to closer links, special effects shooting at the Cathedral and eventually a partnership. This section of our website holds a wealth of information about the film including images, video diaries and Ken Follett’s blogs. It will build as the international TV screening of the 8 hour film – starring Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Matthew Macfadyen, Eddie Redmayne, Hayley Atwell, Sarah Parish, Donald Sutherland, Alison Pill and Gordon Pinsent – moves closer.

The Salisbury Link to The Pillars of the Earth

Salisbury Cathedral was built in just 38 years in the 13th Century. This was quick for a medieval cathedral, and took place less than 100 years after the fictional Kingsbridge Cathedral was built in a similarly rapid timescale. The two buildings demonstrate a wealth of architectural parallels, notably the Gothic arches and rows of narrow, pointed ‘lancet’ windows, and Ken Follett has written about how Salisbury Cathedral was one of his inspirations as he researched The Pillars of the Earth.

The director of The Pillars of the Earth, Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, visited Salisbury Cathedral in 2008 and spent time taking detailed notes about the building as well as receiving input from our Consultant Archaeologist, Tim Tatton Brown. Special effects photographers followed in October 2009, meaning that elements of the real Salisbury Cathedral will be seen on screen, woven into the stunning location photography shot in Hungary and Austria, when the 8 hour film makes its TV debut in 2010.

A fabulous personal link between Cathedral and film became apparent as location shooting began when David Oakes, who plays the evil William Hamleigh, mentioned that as well as being educated at Bishop Wordsworth School in the Salisbury Cathedral Close he was also the son of a current Canon of Salisbury Cathedral – Jeremy Oakes!

The book revolves around the building of a beautiful medieval cathedral, built to the glory of God. As the modern day Salisbury Cathedral continues to the serve the purpose for which it was built, a current generation of craftsmen keeps the skills practiced by Tom Builder and Jack Jackson alive as they work to protect, restore and safeguard the building’s beauty for future generations.

Keep checking back as the airing of the film moves closer for more parallels, and some interesting differences, between the fictional Kingsbridge and the real Salisbury Cathedral!


Salisbury and Stonehenge Tour Guide
Histouries UK – The Best Tours in British History

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