Thursday, 16 April 2009

Raking the Moon

Dori and I dwell in the county of Wiltshire in the south of England. It is probably best known for being the home of Stonehenge – a World Heritage site. Built approximately 4500 years ago, it remains a mystery to this day exactly what its purpose was. The fact that a number of the very large stones there were transported from over hundreds of miles away just adds to its mystery and mystique. I quite often pass by Stonehenge whilst I am travelling for work in the area and we are hoping to experience the summer solstice celebration there sometime soon.

Stonehenge is not the only stone circle in Wiltshire though. In the north of the county an even older stone circle can be found at Avebury. The stone circles, and other prehistoric sites, at Avebury cover a wide area and are well worth a visit if you are in the vicinity. Avebury has been voted one of the top 5 most spiritual sites in the country and is also the home of Silbury Hill – the largest man-made mound in Europe.

Wiltshire is also famous for its White Horses, the oldest of which can be found just outside Westbury in the west of the county. It is thought that this particular figure may have been created to celebrate a battle victory for Alfred the Great. The White Horses are formed by carving the shape into the chalk hills that make up a great majority of the Wiltshire landscape.

Wiltshire is also home to the city of Salisbury and its famous Cathedral, which has the tallest spire in the UK, and is also home to Europe’s oldest working clock and to one of only four surviving original Magna Carta. Add to this the town of Swindon, which grew as a railway town and is home to the mighty Swindon Town FC (!); Lacock Abbey where the world’s first photograph was taken; Longleat – the site of Britain’s first safari park, and Stourhead – a beautiful house and gardens which holds special memories for me and Dori, and you have just a taste of the wonders of Wiltshire. If you get the chance then this county of mine is well worth a visit. :-)

Stourhead Gardens

People born in the county of Wiltshire are known as “Moonrakers” – and this has nothing to do with James Bond!! Legend has it that a group of local smugglers were transporting their ill-gotten gains (in the form of brandy caskets) through the county, pursued by excise men. Fearful that they would be caught with their contraband, the smugglers threw the caskets into a nearby pond and disappeared into the night. Returning to the pond when they believed it to be safe, the smugglers were trying to retrieve the caskets using some hay rakes when an excise man happened upon them. The taxman asked the men what they were up to. Seeing the reflection of the full moon on the water, the smugglers quickly responded that they were just trying to rake in the cheese that they could see in the pond. The excise man looked at the moon’s refection, smiled to himself at the foolishness of these simple country folk, and went on his way to tell all and sundry about how dim-witted these Wiltshire men were. The moral of the story, of course, is that although we may seem to be simple, slow or unworldly, Wiltshire folk are just as sharp-witted and worldly-wise as the next man. Never judge a book by its cover :-)


Maureen said...

I didn't know Wiltshire Cathedral is home to Europe’s oldest working clock and to one of only four surviving original Magna Carta. And it's fascinating to learn about “Moonrakers”. I've learned a lot. Thanks!

Brit Boy said...

I am glad that you found my post informative. Salisbury Cathedral is certainly worth a visit, and here's an insiders tip: take one of the free guided tours if you go because you will learn a tremendous amount of the history of the place.

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