August 25, 2007 — I’m going to have to Bill and Ted a bit for this article. Normally, I wouldn’t, but this is a special case. This is Stonehenge. So I’m going to go back to a time in my life when I thought the odd shape of my head could be covered by a ball cap instead of emphasized by it. Back to a time when I’d been brainwashed by one too many Eddie Bauer ads into thinking canvas coats were becoming. Back to a time when I hadn’t yet learned that I needed to turn my head in certain ways in pictures to hide my goiter of a larynx. Back to a time, even, when I didn’t own a digital camera. I had to scan these pictures in manually.

I’ve gone back because Stonehenge is pretty much an icon of oddity, so it needs inclusion on OTIS. Oh, and I’ve taken pictures there. Which is, of course, the more relevant criterion for inclusion here. Stonehenge is mysterious, impressive-looking, ancient, and storied to the point of myth. It’s also rather pithily named. Unfortunately, it’s become so well known and images of it so commonplace that it’s actually almost become a non-oddity, despite being completely weird. You know, like goatees on any man under fifty. And that’s too bad. Because the thing is weird, man.

I visited Stonehenge as part of a study tour that took me throughout the U.K. by train. I don’t think I did much studying. But I definitely toured like the island was sinking. I’m debating as I write (and probably still as you read—it’s really hard for me to let things go) how much information about Stonehenge to actually include here. Partly because I don’t want to rehash information you could find on more reputable and trustworthy sites. Partly because I don’t really want to do too much research on this article. Mostly, though, just to cover that part of my body I affectionately like to call “my ass.”  After all, this is an official Wonder of the Ancient World, with all the rights and privileges vested therein, so there are terabytes of information out there on it, meaning anything I write could be easily fact-checked by people who like to be more accurate than I.

Suffice to say its mythos involves Merlin, the Devil, Druids, giants, aliens, and about a million Heavy Metal albums from the '80s.  Its construction involves concentric rings of upright stone slabs as heavy as 45 tons and as tall as 22 feet somehow maneuvered into ball-and-socket-jointed post-and-lintel arrangements way before the advent of tower cranes, fork lifts, and those Scottish blokes who toss trees.  Actually, before most advents.  When you pre-date history, you pre-date pretty much everything.

It’s located on the Salisbury Plain, and you can get there by just going to England. The country’s pretty tiny, so at most you’re always only a few hours away as the car drives from just about anywhere in the country. Those were the best directions I’ve ever given.

As to what Stonehenge is, nobody knows. The answers proffered by the closest thing we have to experts are all singularly uncreative and could have been dreamed up by the most unimaginative non-experts among us. It’s just something ancient Britons did, I guess. They made stone rings. The remains of thousands of them dot the entire countryside. Stonehenge just happens to be the most famous because of its incessant partying, loose morality, and eagerness to make a public display of itself.

If my old travel itinerary serves me right, my study group left London in the morning and caught a train to Salisbury and then a tour bus to the ruin, where we stayed for a couple hours before departing for Bath. The day was overcast, and the tour guide that came with the bus was stereotypically cast. Eventually, though, we got to check out the megalith for ourselves.

From what I remember, the field wasn’t ghastly crowded when I went, but there were still too many people there for it to be at all the mystical experience I’d been promised by nobody in particular. But that’s our fault, not Stonehenge’s. Give me alone-time with the most humblest oddity in the backwoods of one of our most embarrassing States over group-time with an edifice of true grandeur in one of the most chronicled countries in the world anytime.

These days and those days, of course, you don’t actually get to walk through Stonehenge. Nor do you get to touch it. That stopped about 1978. Something about tourists damaging it, and one incident in particular involving Chevy Chase and a station wagon, I think. If you ever catch footage of some of the music festivals that happened in that area in the 70s, you’ll see hippies thronging all about it and clambering all over the stones in complete oblivion. In addition to tie dye and STDs, it’s yet another reason to be pissed at them.

Anyway, as a result, you only get to view the edifice at an annoyingly respectful distance from a cordoned-off path that surrounds Stonehenge in yet another (sort of) concentric circle. It definitely gives you a sight, but it also deprives you of an experience. So I guess in a way you don’t really go to Stonehenge. You walk around it.

Besides the main part of Stonehenge, there are other items of interest to check out on the plain. Namely, more rocks and hills. And by rocks I mean the Heel Stone, and by hills I mean burial mounds.

The story of the 35-ton Heel Stone is that once upon a time the Devil took that whole saying about idle hands to heart and built Stonehenge or, as it was called then, Circle of Rocks to Confuse Future Archaeologists. A real devil, that Devil. Afterwards, a friar outwits him in a riddle game involving the construct. The Devil gets ticked and chucks one of the giant rocks at the friar, hitting him in the heel, which turns out to be non-Achilles, as the friar is unhurt and the stone is dented. It remained there outside the circle as a testament to yet another lost battle on the part of Satan. 

The story of the burial mounds is that they’re mounds of dirt that ancient people were buried in.

Overall, the best thing about Stonehenge is we know nothing about it, making it iconic of more than just mere oddity. Scientists can tell us in certain voices what some random carbon-dated group of cells was doing billions of years ago, but they can’t figure out for sure why somebody stacked rocks on a hillside. I love that.