Five Great Ancient British Landmarks

It’s shocking to think about how many opportunities there must have been to destroy Stonehenge over the years. I mean those monoliths are about 5,000 years old, and it’s only been the last 40 years or so that the site has been in any way protected from vandalism or attack. Anyone could have knocked the stones over and dragged them off to use as rubble for a wall. And yet they didn’t. They didn’t when the Romans invaded. They didn’t when the Saxons invaded, when the Vikings invaded, when the Normans invaded, and during the Wars of the Roses, the English Civil War, the Industrial Revolution and the rise of factor farming. The one thing you can say for sure about Stonehenge is that people seem to really like it.

Here are five other sites of great antiquity, the continuing existence of which we should all be grateful for.

The Cerne Abbas Giant

The Cerne Abbas Giant (Barry Batchelor/PA)

Otherwise known as ‘The Naked Man With The Oversized Club,’ the Cerne Abbas Giant is Dorset’s great cultural gift to the world. It’s not entirely clear when this huge hillside design was first cut out of the turf on this chalky hillside. The earliest written reference to it is only a couple of hundred years old, however the design is consistent with those of neolithic depictions of Hercules, who traditionally carried a big club and a lion skin cloak. A 1996 survey found that the design had been changed over the years – possibly during a 16th Century restoration – and that this cloak could well have been on his other arm. Naturally, his other appendage has become the subject of all sorts of fertility rites over the years. We probably don’t need to go into what they are, but there’s a lot of moonlit dancing.

More info: Wikipedia

Woodhenge

Woodhenge

Now this is a monument for people who prefer their neolithic sites to be made of recycleable material. It’s the vegan alternative to the full-blooded Stonehenge. Actually, Woodhenge significantly predates Stonehenge, and is only a couple of miles away, and of course, it’s no longer there, even the stones that were once part of the structure have long since gone. The wooden struts, which would be well over 5,000 years old if they were still there, have been replaced with concrete stubs, to give a view of what the entire structure would have looked like. Apparently it is aligned on the rising of the sun on the summer solstice, although there are countless theories as to the other, ceremonial duties such a site will be have been used for.

More info: Wikipedia

Uffington White Horse

The Uffington Horse (AP Photo/Str)

There are a few white horse figures carved into the British hills, but none as singular as the Uffington White Horse, in Oxfordshire. The figure, which is sometimes thought to be that of a dragon, is a highly-stylised charicature of a quadruped in full gallop. It’s thought to be 3-4,000 years old, with Iron Age coins bearing a similar design having been found nearby, and it was, until relatively recently, ceremonially cleaned every 7 years in a festival set up by locals. The National Trust have since taken this job on. And if it seems like a familiar design, you may remember the XTC album “English Settlement” had the white horse on its cover.

More info: Wikipedia

The Callanish Stones

The Callanish Stones (AP Photo/Hugh A. Mulligan)

This stone circle, on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, is a more subtle affair than the monoliths at Stonehenge. The stones rise up like broken teeth, in a 13-metre circle which sits at the end of a corridor of stones. The entire site is roughly laid out like a celtic cross, and contains burial sites and other evidence of ceremonial activity. Despite standing for nearly 5,000 years, the stones were buried in swampy peat until 1857, due to the changing climate on the island. This protected the stones from the worst of the elements, although not enough to offer concrete clues as to exactly what they are for.

More info: Wikipedia

Mên-an-Tol

Mên-an-Tol

Not all ancient landmarks are enormous. The arrangement of carved granite at Cornwall’s Mên-an-Tol is simple, small, and striking. Picture a 4-foot Live Saver embedded in the ground, with man-sized Twinkies staring at each other through the hole. And yet, such a specific arrangement fires the imagination like nothing else. Tales have been told of stolen babies, of children cured of rickets, of barren women passing through the central stone seven times backwards, under a fool moon, and then becoming pregnant. Of course, it could’ve just been the advertising sign for an ancient wheelmenders.

More info: Wikipedia

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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