The Living Rainforest, Avebury Stone Circle, Stonehenge 21 May 2014

While my niece was in town we skipped work and drove out to Hampshire, where most of the neolithic artifacts in England have been found. Nobody knows exactly why that region was so important to the prehistoric peoples of the region – but more evidence is being discovered constantly.

First, we stopped at the Living Rain Forest in Hampsted Norreys, which is a wee bit of tropical paradise tucked into the backroads of rural England. All manner of plants and animals roam around in a huge enclosed space that’s kept heated and humid. Also, no small number of school children were underfoot though we got there late enough that they trundled off back to their school and left us alone in the facility. It would be a great place to bring a tripod and some lights; the overgrowth is so thick that it was quite difficult getting a good exposure. I also learned that what I learned about metering modes and focus zones in the studio is useless when shooting critters in varying conditions. It was a fantastic place to visit, and I look forward to going there again.
The Living Rain Forest [[Click to Enlarge]]

After we left Hampstead Norreys, we went to Avebury where there is a neolithic circle that subsequent generations decided to build a town through/near/around. There’s also a number of burial mounds and monuments nearby, but we didn’t visit those (yet!). I’m not a religious person, and while I find the gaudiness and artificiality of christian monuments slightly sickening I do appreciate pre-christian monuments. The amount of labor and technology those peoples organized to move those rocks around and place them so they line up with astronomical events amazes me. Being near the stone circle, I felt like an alien trying to make sense of a culture that I respected but couldn’t understand.
Avebury [[Click to Enlarge]]

My experience of Stonehenge was very ambivalent. On the one hand, for all the reasons I listed above, I found the monument to be awe inspiring. For thousands of generations, the monument was important to the peoples of Europe – they’ve found evidence of people who grew up all over Europe and were buried there. The monument underwent a number of changes over the millennia, and we have no idea what ideas and leadership drove the different cycles of building and disuse. I think the English Heritage organization has done a good job of putting the monument into context and explaining what little we know of it’s history and meaning. Unfortunately, to protect the site they rope off the monument with a 30m diameter “no go” zone, so you can’t really get close to the stones and appreciate the craftsmanship or time’s ravages. Also, while I was there the site was infested with several busloads of american teenage girls who insisted on doing their cheerleading routines – causing my tripod to bounce while I was trying to grab an HDR – and shouted, screamed and selfied away from any sense of appreciation or solemnity. I am going to have to apply for pre-dawn access. I didn’t have a lot of preconceived goals when I moved out here, but getting good shots of Stonehenge was one of them.
Stonehenge [[Click to Enlarge]]