Welcome to the UKthruMYeyes!

The most popular category to visitors is castles, which is my favorite too.  To celebrate some changes that are coming to the blog this week I will write and post about two new castles I visited.

Please share my blog with others and come back regularly.

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Bolsover Castle

If your hear doesn’t beat when you first see a castle then there is something wrong with you.

About

Bolsover Castle is a stunning castle perched on the top of a hill overlooking the beautiful English countryside. It is unusual in that it was built as an estate house to look like a castle. It received the nickname “Little Castle” when built. I always imagine the first reaction of medieval travelers as they rode their horses and carriages up the road for the first time as I approach the castle by car.

Location

It is east of Chesterfield (home of the Church of the Crooked Spire) about 20 miles, southeast of Manchester.

My Experience

Perched on top of a hill up from the motorway (highway) I stopped to take in the sight and take a picture of the castle above me. King Charles I was entertained at the castle in 1634 by the Cavendish family. Queen Mary visited the estate in 1912.

This is what the houses looked that surrounded the castle when it was built.

The landscape is beautiful on top of the castle hill.

I drove through the narrow, winding, stone street known as Castle Street. It is the same in all medieval castle towns. Visitors approach from the unprotected rear of the castle, away from the view of the tower. That is one indication this tower was never meant to be a fortress but rather a home, a place to entertain.

View of Bolsover Castle from inside the courtyard

The castle is in amazingly pristine condition. Restoration work was complete in 1999 that uncovered much of the original woodwork and the color of the rooms inside the castle. The Cavendish’s were consumed with horses evidenced by the enormous stone structure for shoeing the horses, a large stable and a “riding house”. The castle stables are one of the best preserved in England. No other castle I have visited had such extensive stables.

Standing outside the Terrace Range looking towards the Little Castle

You can imagine life size pictures and statues along the wall. This is the view of the Gallery.

The “Terrace Range” is a series of guest rooms, bedrooms, dining rooms, drawing rooms, galleries and other entertainment areas. The elongated building overlooks the countryside below and must have been spectacular view 400 years ago when it was built. The former living area today is a remnant but it has been restored enough to see how spectacular it must have been when Charles I visited.

From the front of the Small Castle looking at the Terrace Range

This is the back entrance to the Little Castle from the inner courtyard through the outer wall.

After the stables and Terrance Range is the approach to the “small castle” on the crop of the hill. Between the Terrance Range and the castle is an outer circular wall protecting the castle. As you walk through the gate you see a beautiful courtyard with gardens, statues and water fountains. There were few people the day I visited and it was most peaceful. As the picture shows above the water fountain was elaborate.
Visitors are required to enter the castle through a main entrance created by the Cavendish’s to provide a spectacular view of the valley below. It is highly decorated and intended to create an impressive entrance. It requires a person to stop and admire the surrounding landscape.

This picture was taken from inside the inner courtyard.

This is the front view of the Little Castle as you walk down the path from the Terrace Range.

The castle itself is four stories high with an abundance of small rooms. Unlike a larger, more elaborate castle, Bolsover has the same number of rooms just much smaller. Each room is highly decorated with ornate handcrafted woodwork and some of the original colorful paint has been restored. As in all castles, the higher up a person stayed or worked the more important the person. The “upper class” is a term used today derived from this practice.

Many of the rooms had been restored and were ornate.

Another view inside the Little Castle

The rooms were marked with wall plaques with explanations of their usage and some of the rooms had some interesting history. Cavendish’s bedroom had a private guardrobe (toilet) and a way to sneak “guests” into his room from the outside. There is a maze of guest areas, additional bedrooms, fireplaces, gathering places throughout the castle which must have left a unique impression on the guests of the Cavendish’s.

The Background and History

Before the Norman conquest Bolsover was in the Saxon kingdom of Mercia. William the Conqueror granted the area to William Peverel after the Battle of Hastings. There was a rudimentary castle built on the hill during this time but the Peverels lost the castle when they were on the wrong side against King Henry II in 1152. A medieval castle was later built on the site but didn’t survive the siege as a result of the revolt against King John in 1223 when one of the towers was breached. It fell into ruin and much of its materials sold off. To an Elizabethan traveler it appeared as a “great building to an old castle”.

Charles Cavendish purchased the castle in 1608. Cavendish was a soldier with a passion for arts, music and architecture. His tombstone in the graveyard of the church nearby says he was a man whom, “wisdom, honor, content, made happy”. It is believed that Cavendish hired the brilliant designer Robert Smysthson to work with him on the design of the building. It was built over the foundations of the previous medieval castle.

The Little Castle

Intricate records were kept and have survived showing the details of how the castle was built. In 1612-14 50 men were on site with women, boys and even girls to help them. Some of the “boys” were apprentices but other children were employed carrying stone and sand. The castle was an interesting combination of both old and new architectural ideas.

Four years after the work on Bolsover began Charles Cavendish died. His son William used it as his country home until his death in 1676. William lived in nearby Welbeck Abbey but visited the castle frequently. He had a household of 45 people which included his wife and 5 children. The entire group usually ate together in the early afternoon and was usually finished by mid-afternoon. A menu survives showing different tables for “my lord”, the steward, gentlewomen, children, nurses, grooms and “those that wait upon the masters’”. The lower tables had only mutton and porridge while William had “larks, pies and other small boiled meat”.

This is a great view of the gate to enter the Little Castle from the front.

The castle played a key role in the extraordinary life of William Cavendish. He was known to be a voracious philanderer. His second wife Peg was a writer who authored his biography and chronicled much of his life. In her own words with regard to his wandering ways, “Whether this be so great a crime to condemn him I will leave to the judgment of young gallants and beautiful ladies.” From all accounts he was a loving husband who wrote many poems to both of his wives and his mistresses.

His first wife, heiress Elizabeth Bassett, died when he was fighting the civil war in 1643. In 1645 he met Margaret, whom he nicknamed “Peg”, in Paris. William wore fashionable clothes “unless they were inconvenient for horse-riding and heroic actions”. According to Peg he was always neat and cleanly which made him “long in dressing”. Even in war his vanity had no limits. Those serving him complained that “he lay in bed until eleven o’clock and combed till twelve”.

Because of her biography we know he ate little, normally one meal a day. Although time was spent in managing his estate it was not his first love. He spent time instead in music, poetry, architecture and horses.

Peg was known to the world as “Mad Madge of Newcastle” and she may have been more eccentric than William. An author of philosophical books, rare for a woman at that time, plus her bizarre behavior contributed to her reputation. One contemporary wrote that “there are many more soberer people in Bedlam.” Although she spent a great deal of time writing in her closet she also loved to make outlandish public appearances. Her prolific writings were highly unusual for a woman in the 1600s. She was an ardent supporter for women’s rights in a time when there were none. She wrote of the inferior education and role allotted to women. She suffered the usual fate of women who did something in a “man’s” field which didn’t seem to bother William. Her writings provoked an uneasy fear that the “lesser” sex was overstepping her boundary and she was accused of “dangerous peculiarity”.

A spectacular fountain was an important part of the garden.

For all of their unconventional ways there was one event that would define William’s legacy. He was a key royalist leader in the English Civil War as Commander of the troops north of Trent. He is most famous for losing the north for the King in a crushing defeat at the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644. He fled to the Continent to escape the Parliamentarian army. Bolsover Castle was captured by the Parliamentarians in 1645. With cannons trained on its walls its occupants surrendered without a fight.

Like many of the Royalist leaders, William was unable to return unless he apologized for his role in the Civil War which he refused to do. His brother stepped in, paid a hefty fine for William and gave the estate to William’s children to use the income. After the death of Oliver Cromwell, leader of the Parliamentarians and Lord Protector of England after the Civil War, and the restoration of the monarchy, King Charles II invited William to come home but his reputation and position with the royal family was tarnished by his military failure. William died on Christmas Day 1676 at age 83 and was buried in Westminster Abbey under a tomb marked “The Loyall Duke”.

Ratings (Castle)

Category Rating: B+

Overall Rating: #5

Comments: The castle is worth visiting and its stables are unmatched in any castle I have visited to date. It is unusual as it is both an estate house and a castle. There is a great deal of unusual artwork and woodwork in the main house that has been restored and is visible today.

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The Church of the Crooked Spire

The crooked spire.

Its ponderous steeple, pillared in the sky
Rises with twist in pyramidal form,
And threatens danger to the timid eye
That climbs in wonder.

Samuel Bromley 1822

St. Mary and All Saints Church was finished around 1360. It is the largest church in Derbyshire. The spire leans 9 feet and 5 inches from its true center and leans at a 45 degree angle. There are several theories on why it leans but it wasn’t intentional. The Great Plague killed between a third and half of everyone in England. With the church built shortly after there was a shortage of artisans. Others have speculated that it is the amount of “green” timber used in its construction as it has to support 32 tons of lead roof.

It is near the center of town on a hill and easy to see to those driving by.

Folklore was that a black-smith “mis-shod” (wrong shoes) the devil who leapt over the spire in pain knocking it out of shape. Driving through Chesterfield it is a sight that is hard to miss.

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Tower of London

About

The Tower of London is one of the most popular tourist attractions in England with over 2,000,000 visitors a year.  It has been a castle, a royal palace, a prison, a mint, an armory, a safe-haven for the crown jewels and a government records office for important historical documents.  Some of the original buildings date back to William the Conqueror in 1070 and foundations have been found dating back to Roman times 2,000 years ago.

Location 

The Tower of London is on the northwest corner of the Thames River and the Tower Bridge.  It is accessible by bus and boat which both drop you off near to the entrance.  The nearest Tube, or Underground station, is about four blocks away but still a comfortable walk.

My Experience

It was 40 years between my two visits to the Tower of London.  I first saw the royal palace at 16 years old.  I recently came across a picture of me leaning over the wall with the Tower Bridge behind me.  In 1972 it was a cool old building in a far away country.  This time I was expectant, almost a little anxious when I entered the gate to the Tower of London.  So much of the history of western civilization occurred here, within these walls.  Some great stories happened here and many were not pleasant.  The walls of this palace record some of the saddest moments in England’s history.

Courtyard of the Tower of London

Inside the Tower of London

More than any site I have visited, the Tower of London is an all-day event.  Inside there are so many places to explore, events to watch and artifacts to see that to get the most out of this royal palace it would be best to plan a full-day.  The crowds are typically larger here than at other tourist locations except Buckingham Palace during the changing of the guard.

Memorial where two Queens were executed.

Location where two of Henry VIII’s wives were executed.

I stood on the grounds where Ann Boleyn was executed 475 years ago.  She was decapitated for being Henry VIII’s wife when the Catholic Church wouldn’t approve of his desire to divorce.  At the same place another Queen, Catherine Howard, was executed for the same reason some five years later as Henry VIII’s fifth wife.  Not only were these two innocent women put to death by Henry VIII, but by severing the relationship between the Vatican in Rome and the church in England, and making himself the Church of England’s supreme authority, he began hundreds of years of religious wars in the U.K.  This action alone resulted in the death and destruction of people and property up until the present time.

Part of the Queen’s guard which also serve as tour guides. They are very professional.

This is one of the towers that served as prisons. It is facing the Thames River.

There were as many as 10 people executed within the walls of the Tower of London and dozens on Tower Green or Tower Hill, a comfortable walking distance just outside the north wall where there is a plaque commemorating the spot today.  The executions inside the walls of the Tower of London were private, only for royalty and the most prestigious prisoners.   The executions on Tower Hill were public with sometimes thousands watching and cheering on the executioner.

During my visit at the royal palace there were staged historical events with actors dressed as medieval characters which the children seem to enjoy.  The White Tower at the center of the royal palace contained fascinating artifacts such as the armor of Henry VIII and James I, Oliver Cromwell’s sword, death masks of most of the Kings and Queens as well as cannons and rifles from when the Tower was used as an armory.  The crown jewels, both medieval and modern, are on display although no pictures can be taken by tourists for security purposes.

You can still see the words of the prisoners in the towers. Plaques have been placed to make it easier to read.

Prisoners were kept sometimes for years within the various towers.  It is possible to still read the musings and writings etched into the walls by famous people who were imprisoned.  It takes time for tourists to read, but I found it amazing to read last words or what was of importance to the prisoners.  Some of the calligraphy and drawings were complex while others wrote the names of their sweethearts, claimed their innocence or scratched a Bible verse onto the walls.

A structure doesn’t survive over 1,000 years without changes, but if you take the free tour, with the price of admission to the royal palace, your guide will show you how it changed and grew over the centuries.  They will also tell you old stories about famous people that happened within the walls throughout the centuries.

The Background and History

In 43 A.D. the Romans first conquered what is today England.  In 383 A.D. the Romans left Britain as their empire was collapsing and Roman rule ended.  The Angles, Saxons and Jutes, Germanic tribes, opportunistically invaded England from mainland Europe after the Romans left, around 450 A.D., and ruled. In 793 the Vikings first invaded Britain to challenge Anglo-Saxon rule.  300 years later the half Saxon, half Norman (Norman is French/Viking) born King Edward died without an heir.  He was called Edward the Confessor because he built Westminster Abbey.  Harold Godwinson was named king upon his death betraying an agreement Harold had reportedly made with William of Normandy who believed he had been promised the crown.  The Vikings attacked in the north trying to take advantage of the instability caused by the death of King Edward.  Harold took his army to the far reaches of north England and defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Stamford Bridge securing, at that time, Saxon rule.  He discovered William had landed in the south and pushed his army at breakneck speed after defeating the Vikings.  Fighting against an exhausted army William of Normandy won and King Harold was killed at the Battle of Hastings.  Willam, Duke of Normandy, now became William the Conqueror, King of England.  Saxon rule in England was over.

Roman stones were found under the foundation of the Tower of London. This wall is almost 2,000 years old.

William knew he needed to consolidate power quickly so he ravaged the countryside on his way to London.  Officials from the city submitted to the conquering William in hopes of avoiding death and destruction.  William sent an advanced guard to London to “build a fortress and prepare for his triumphant entry into the city”.  After his coronation at Westminster Abbey on Christmas day 1066, William withdrew from the city.  He knew his first task was control of the huge and “fickle” population of London.

The White Tower

Built by William the Conqueror in the 1070s. The English had never seen a building like it. It could be seen over London for miles.

The Normans built a great stone tower called the White Tower near the site of the old Roman fort.  The tower wasn’t like anything ever built in London and sent the city a message of things to come.  Norman masons and stones were brought in from William’s native Normandy for the building.  The labor to build the tower was provided by the English.  The tower dominated the skyline and could be seen for miles.

The Tower of London was never the favorite royal residence or the first line of defense during war.  The Tower’s primary function was as a fortress, a stronghold for the royalty and it would remain that way until the late 1800s.

The Medieval Tower of London

Richard the Lionhearted was the first medieval king to update and expand the Tower.  He left for the crusades shortly after becoming King in 1189.  In his absence the royal palace was doubled in size and reinforced as a stronghold by adding additional defenses.  In Richard’s absence his brother John laid siege to the Tower and forced Richard’s men out after their supplies ran out.  Upon his return in 1194, Richard regained control.  His brother John asked for forgiveness and was even named successor to the throne.  When King Richard died, John became King and was probably the first to have exotic animals, such as lions, kept at the Tower.  John died trying to keep his throne and left a kingdom in turmoil to his son Henry III.  Henry defeated the invading French and dealt with rebelling Barons during his reign.  He saw weaknesses in the Tower’s defenses and worked to improve them.  He was the first to build a moat around the Tower in 1238.

It was a vegetable garden during WWII. At one time the Thames River flowed through to act as a conduit for trash.

The Tower of London was considered a “concentric” castle with lines of defense within lines of defense. Each could see over and around the other.

King Edward I transformed the castle into the largest and strongest “concentric” castle, with one ring of defenses inside another.  The castle had first been used as a prison in 1100 but King Edward was the first to store historic papers and other valuables within its walls.  It also became a royal mint during this time.  His grandson King Edward III was a successful warrior, like his great-grandfather Henry III and unlike his father Edward II.  He captured the kings of Scotland and France and imprisoned both in the Tower.  During his reign 10,000 rebels plundered the capital during the Peasants Revolt and entered the Tower but did so unarmed.  In 1399 King Richard was imprisoned in the Tower after being forced to renounce his crown.

The Tower had a reputation for being a place of murder and execution.   Mad King Henry VI was imprisoned and eventually executed at the Tower.  King Edward IV became King upon Henry’s execution.  It was upon King Edward’s death that one of the saddest moments occurred in the history of the Tower.  His two sons Edward, aged 12 and Richard, aged 10, who were in line for the throne when their father died, went missing never to be heard from again. Their bones were found at the castle during renovation in 1674.  The story remains a mystery but there is little doubt murder was committed at the Tower.

On display in the White Tower in the Tower of London.

On display at the White Tower at the Tower of London

With King Henry VII, the Tudor family came to power in England.  Henry VIII continued the expansion of the Tower but it was the execution of two of his wives at the Tower for which he is remembered.   Henry VIII’s decision to break with Rome and become the Supreme ruler of the Church of England caused a large increase of catholic prisoners in the Tower and saw a rise in executions.  His son Edward VI continued the large number of executions until the short rule of Queen Mary I, who returned the country to Catholicism and persecuted protestant leaders.  The use of the Tower, as a prison and a place of execution, continued for another 100 years.

The Tower played a key role in the English civil war, fought between the royalists and the parliamentarians.  Charles I ended parliament which was a major cause of the civil war.  He lost the Tower in a blow from which the royalists did not recover.  With the execution of Charles I and with the monarchy abolished, all the gold and jewels were sold and the precious metal melted to provide funds for the good of the commonwealth.  After the restoration of the monarchy several years later the Tower’s use as a prison declined even as its use as storage for military supplies and equipment increased.

One of the oldest fireplaces in England built when the White Tower was first built in 1070s.

Under the guidance of the Duke of Wellington in 1852, the aging palace and castle was restored as an important place in English history.  Two world wars saw the Tower used once again as a prison and a place of execution.  Rudolph Hess, one of Hitler’s trusted generals, was briefly held as a prisoner in the Tower.  During WWII bombing damage was considerable and several buildings were destroyed.  During this time the dried moat was used for growing vegetables.

Ratings (Castle)

Category Rating: A+

Overall Rating: #3

Comments:  Tourists can learn so much about the history of England and the life of its royals by studying the Tower of London.  I wouldn’t go to London without taking at least a half day and visiting the Tower of London.   It is a “must see” historical site.

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Surprising Stonehenge

The rocks are huge

About

Stonehenge is a collection of enormous prehistoric stones prearranged in a semi-circle on the side of a hill in southwest England. That is all that is known for certain. Some believe it to be an ancient burial group, a druid temple, an astrological calendar, a location for pagan rituals, an ancient healing and pilgrimage site or even a memorial to the dead that is thousands of years old. Early medieval legends indicated that Merlin transported it from Mount Killaraus in Ireland as an appropriate place for Britain’s dead princes. Stonehenge remains one of the most important archaeological sites in the world with busloads of visitors coming daily to experience the ancient rocks.

Location

Stonehenge is near Amesbury, England. It is an hour and a half drive or 87 miles, west of London. Google “London bus to Stonehenge” and there are a variety of tour companies that offer services to Stonehenge and back.

My Experience

Outside of London, Stonehenge was the first major historical site I visited in England. I got up early one Saturday morning and decided to take my first adventure. From Manchester it is at least a 4 hour drive, but it was a nice, warm sunny day which can be rare in England.

I was so excited when I saw Stonehenge in the distance that I had to take a picture through my windshield.

Cool look down on Stonehenge from the top of the hill

I remember the childlike reaction when I saw Stonehenge in the distance. My heart started beating fast and immediately I started taking pictures out of my front windshield. The collection of stones weren’t new to me but they were more impressive than I imagined. My heart leaped at the awe-inspiring sight. The rocks weren’t on top of the hill as I remembered but on the side near the top of a hill. There is a small road that took me from the highway to the parking lot but the giant rocks were always in sight to my immediate left.

Over 1,000,000 visitors a year.

You can see most are listening to the tour guide through the headphones.

More than any other site I have visited I was impatient to get my car parked and enter the park. The parking lot was crowded with buses and cars. It was a bank holiday and obviously I wasn’t the only person visiting Stonehenge. People were everywhere and I remember feeling a little uneasy. When there are lots of crowds around I feel like everyone else knows what to do except me. Working through my anxiety I paid my entrance fee and picked up a headset that allowed me to take a walking tour. Crossing under the road through a tunnel that leads to Stonehenge I walked up the stairs and was face to face with these blue, enormous rocks. People were wandering around with their headsets on listening to the tour guide.

This was not a protected historical site prior to 1986 which really surprised me. There are pictures of druids and hippies in the 1960s climbing on the rocks or holding ceremonies. Today you can get close to the rocks but you can’t touch them. There is a fence that surrounds Stonehenge keeping the visitors a safe distance away.

As you can see even in the summer you may need a jacket.

They are so cool. You can’t help but wonder why they were built at this location and for what purpose(s).

It is hard to describe the feelings I got from standing near Stonehenge. People were sitting on bleachers, in the green grass or walking around looking at the rocks but I got the feeling that others felt the same way – quietly awe-inspired. Looking at the massive rocks left standing after more than 3,000 years without real knowledge of what they were used, for or how the rocks were moved there, was perplexing. The logistics of getting these enormous stones to stand up in a pattern seems impossible without today’s construction equipment. Even beyond the physical wonder of Stonehenge was the spiritual aspect. Were my feelings those of respect for those who built such a monument? Was I moved by the events that must have occurred at this location? Or was I just confused as to what was standing before me?

I liked it. It felt good to stand near it and imagine. Looking at the meandering road from the river believed to have been used to bring the rocks to this location it seemed impossible. It would have taken 5,000 people working full-time over 3 years to move these stones from southern Wales, where they were believed to have been quarried, to this location.

Over the hill in the center of the picture is the river. It is believed the blue stones were quarried in Wales, brought by river and then somehow drug up to this location.

Looking from the parking lot you can see the burial mounds nearby.

There are burial mounds that can be seen from Stonehenge within a half-mile of the hill with walking paths nearby. People can follow the path below Stonehenge towards the river where they believed the rocks were carried to this site. Most people take their time at the historical site. Even without the rock formation the view in each direction is beautiful.

There are no new housing additions on the horizon or new stores that have sprung up selling souvenirs. England has passed laws keeping residents from building new homes or commercial properties in the country. It is referred to as the “green belt”. Its purpose is to keep the countryside as beautiful and pristine as possible. Even if someone were to purchase a 300 year old house, approval by the local town council is required to make changes, modifications or improvements because of the desire to protect their historical sites and preserve England as it was.

The Background and History

Stonehenge wasn’t made at any one particular time. There is evidence that first construction began over 5,000 years ago. Neolithic Britons used man made tools, such as deer antlers, to dig a circular ditch and bank. It was believed to be surrounded by wooden posts. John Aubrey first discovered them in the 17th century.
Several hundred years’ later Stonehenge builders hoisted as many as 80 blue stones quarries in Wales which is over 200 miles. 43 of those stones stand today. They are believed to be in a semi-circle or horseshoe formation.
The third phase of construction was almost 2,000 years ago. Sandstone slabs were arranged in an outer ring or assembled in the center of Stonehenge. 50 of these stones are visible today. Carbon dating shows that construction continued until about 1,600 B.C. The question remains how a civilization without modern technology, including the wheel, was able to build this monument.

You can see the remains of the early ditch that was built that pre-dates the rocks.

Supposedly the sun strikes the small stone on the summer and winter equinox at sunrise/sunset.

Modern historians believe that several distinct tribes of people contributed to the building of Stonehenge, each undertaking a different phase of its construction. The facts around the building of this monument remain a mystery but even more mysterious are the reasons behind why it was built. Most modern historians believe Stonehenge was a burial site, but most scholars believe it served other functions as well. Some believe it was a ceremonial site, a site of religious pilgrimages, burial site for royalty or a memorial erected to honor their descendants. Since the 1960s there has been evidence it was an astrological calendar used by farmers while others believe it was a place of healing. Some of the bodies unearthed at the site showed signs of illness and injury and the blue stones were believed to have healing powers.

As you can see the area tilts a bit – it on the side of a hill.

Old, big stones

Since 1986 the site has been protected by UNESCO World Heritage Foundation, Stonehenge attracts more than 1,000,000 visitors a year.

Ratings (Monument)

Category Rating: A
Overall Rating: #1

Comments: Along with Hadrian’s Wall, York and the Tower of London this is my favorite site in England. Take your walking shoes and enjoy the area in and around Stonehenge. It is a fascinating look at what our ancestors were capable of building without modern technology. It will surprise you.

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