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a spontaneous day out in Salisbury - Wessex archaeology museum - Old Sarum neolithic hill fort

couple of hours by train, from Oxford (change at Basingstoke), Salisbury was our 'spontaneous day out' selection, this weekend. We'd been before, but only to take the tour bus to Stonehenge and Avebury.

Upon arrival in Salisbury, like consummate tourists (or pilgrims of yore), the wife and I made our way directly to the Cathedral for a quick shuftie round. We wandered around the quadrangle and then inside, but it was mostly cordoned off by a First Communion Ceremony. For those who don't realise this, a Cathedral is a massive cemetery for the rich/patrons with a roof over it. Outside, a local bird fancier had aimed a telescope at the Cathedral tower where a pair of resident peregrine falcons were busy tearing a pigeon to bits to feed their nested young.

Luckily, the nearby Wessex Gallery of Archaeology was having a re-opening day - we didn't know this before setting out, so this was a lovely surprise. Of course, the 'druids' (in the form of deed-pole-renamed King Arthur Pendragon and his similarly attired High Priestess) were staging a silent protest outside the museum stating that English Heritage had gone back on a promise to re-inter the remains of the Neolithic Kings they had on display.

Normally, it's £8.00 to get in, but we all got in for free as it was the Re-Opening Day, and you could sorta see what the druid was protesting about. While it was interesting to see the four (or more) burials laid out under glass, there are easy ways to 'fake' such a display i.e. create a cast of accurate simulation of the sight, without have to have the actual bones there. One body adjacent to the displayed Amesbury Archer was very emotional for this blogger to witness - there was nothing special about it, it was a reconstruction of the burial site like all the others. I just picked up a very saddening vibe coming off it; like a Shame Vibe or a Lost Soul vibe.

There was a demonstration of ancient flint knapping from Time Team's Phil Harding (a local resident) as well as Norman falconry and combat and other aspects of life 1,000 years ago in the grounds at the back of the museum. At one point in the falconry demonstration, the kestrel had had enough and she fled, up into the sky, reluctant to return. We left at this point, after sampling some honey mead, with the female falconer trying desperately to lure her kestrel out of a nearby tree, the rapidly descending silhouette of Salisbury's resident peregrine buzzed the invading kestrel now and again.

In Salisbury town, before heading up towards Old Sarum, I noticed a local gallery showing art so I popped my head in. Licorice Allsorts by renowned illustrator Ken McKie stood out and I promised the gallery owner I'd blog about it. I was captivated by both the childlike nostalgia of the image and the professional oil rendering - you really have to see this painting in the flesh.

Licorice Allsorts by Ken McKie

Apart from the islands of northern Scotland, Ireland and some sites in Brittany, Wiltshire has some of the most impressive Neolithic monuments from this era. I'm becoming obsessed, I tell you, obsessed with this ancient period of modern man's history 4,000-2,000 BC here in Britain.

Old Sarum hill fort

Old Sarum's about a mile's walk north out of town and it's the original site of the old Norman kings and the place where the Cathedral used to sit. But it's the older Neolithic aspect of the site that interests this blogger. The people who came before the Anglo-Saxons, who came before the Romans, the beer-importing Beaker People and their ceremonial sites that are scattered all around this region. We picnic'd on Old Sarum, in the glorious sunshine, and chit-chatted with some locals who regularly come up here for the view and the tranquillity, and the parachute teams. I wouldn't mind living up on this hill, and one can see why Neolithic man would also have had chosen the same.

Beaker People movements

Lovely day, lovely weather, lovely company; thanks Mrs P.

SPONTANEITY UPDATE CONTINUES: day after the above... wife and I wandered into Oxford town just now to have a look at Anglo-Saxon king Alfred's Jewel in the Ashmolean Museum. I'd seen it before but I now wanted to tie it into other thoughts I was having... and there they were, two Anglo-Saxon re-enactors prowling the fourth floor of the Ashmolean where the trinkets of such an era are on display. They looked very authentic, these two chaps, chatting among themselves; wolf furs, leather satchels adorened in gold, sword for chopping.

"Shouldn't you pair be speaking in Anglo-Saxon?" I chanced a bit of historical levity, telling them my story of how I felt they'd just dropped out of History somehow to visit us in the future and tell us how their world really worked..

One of the pair then lumbered over and (of course) started Anglo-Saxoning at me, and the wife. Which was funny, Anglo-Saxon, with its ee-bah-gum and ehz-tha-bin's its thees and thous and thine shovel always reminds me of those mining dialects you get up north. At that point I started enjoying the things he was coming out with, his stories about this and that ornamentation, this and that old custom. I even hefted his replica sword, very nice it was too.

Now, the Bell Beaker People are either also Germanic (from Rhineland) or they're more from the Portugal, with all those "X" sounds in their language i.e. Proto-Celtic.


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