PETER and ANN FROST investigate some old and puzzling places each with a remarkable story to tell.
The people who have occupied these fascinating islands we call Britain over the past centuries have left some amazing clues to how life used to be.
A few are easy to understand but many present us with a real puzzle. We’ll visit some this month and you can start to unravel some of the mysteries yourself.
Mysteries like who built Stonehenge and why? What did our presumably primitive ancestors know about astronomy? Have we lost some of the knowledge of our ancient forbears?
We’ll follow in the footsteps of Dan Brown and his Da Vinci Code, conundrum, we’ll visit the most haunted village in England, and hopefully find it quite, peaceful but remarkably beautiful. We’ll even unmask a very famous murderer!
We’ll see rude men, white horses even dragons all carved into our ageless chalk downs and we’ll shiver in Neolithic tombs where sea eagles picked clean the skeletons of our forefathers.
We can’t promise all the answers but we can promise some fascinating and thought provoking days out with your caravan.
Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire
Archaeology believe the standing stones here were erected around 2200 BC and the surrounding circular earth bank and ditch seven older about <a title 3100 BC. So what is a henge? They are earthworks consisting of a circular banked enclosure with an internal ditch.
So where did Stonehenge’s stones come from? Well most came from nearby Marlborough. Some of the larger blue stones are believed to have come from Wales but just how they got to the present site and how they were erected is the subject of new theories that seem to be revised every few years.
The Round Church
Right in the middle of the famous university town you will find a simple round church. Today it is a centre for Christian education and it denies its origins are with the Knights Templar and the Da Vinci Code.
Crusaders, the Fraternity of the Holy Sepulchre are given credit for founding the building. Like other round churches this is a replica of the Temple Church in Jerusalem.
This Cambridge church was built in 1130 nearly 80 years before the university would be founded in the town.
Just a few years ago an amazing discovery was made just along the coast from King’s Lynn; a 4,000 year old timber circle. This Woodhenge had been hidden by the sea.. Today you can walk among the timbers at Lynn Museum, newly renovated to show off and explain this incredible unique circle of wooden posts beneath the sea since Neolithic times.
Little Maplestead Church
After reading Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code many people believe that all of England’s four round churches were built by the Knights Templar, and that explain the origins of modern freemasonry. The beautiful little round church at Little Maplestead in Essex tells the story of a much more public spirited organisation.
The first aid people from the St. John Ambulance Association can trace their origins back to the 1092 and the crusades. The ancient church at Maplestead was built mainly for the use of these Knights. It is a replica of the Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem; the most holy spot for Christians in the world.
The 77 stones here, known as the King’s Men form a perfect circle 104 feet across and are perhaps five thousand years old. An early poet described them as being “corroded like worm eaten wood, by the harsh Jaws of Time”.
As well as the main stone circle there are the Whispering Knights, a group of five upright stones. These got their name because they look as if they are plotting against their king. And the king? Well that’s a stone too.
The King Stone stands away from the Circle itself. In the 19th century passing drovers chipped off small pieces to act as lucky charms and keep the Devil at bay.
Cerne Abbas, Dorset
High on a hill rising from the small Dorsetvillage of Cerne Abbas, the 60-meter tall Cerne giant and the Maypole mound above his head have celebrated fertility since ancient times.
Pagan May Days have been celebrated here for more than three thousand years. Modern science has discovered that a sight line taken up the giant’s giant organ on May Day points directly at the sun as it rises over the crest of the hill.
During prudish Victorian times the giant’s better bits were filled with dirt and hidden beneath grass. Rude the Giant may be but even today they do say that local young couples trying for a baby still venture on to the Rude Man on the night of the eve of May Day to try their luck!
The Tomb of the Eagles
One of the best of the many Neolithic sites in Orkney is known as the Tomb of the Eagles. Here on the cliff top there has been a stone-age tomb for more than 5000 years.
Dead bodies were left out on a rocky platform built on the cliff top. The skeletons would soon be picked clean by the large population of sea eagles. Amazingly you can still walk to the tomb take a look inside and worry about the sea eagles that circle overhead.
Roman St Albans.
What did the Romans ever do for us? Well at Verulanium – the original Roman name for St Albans – you can see for yourself.
Roads, theatres, centrally heated bungalows, bath-houses, vineyards and some of the most impressive floor mosaics excavated anywhere in the world. Today it’s all on show in an impressive new museum and outside in the surrounding excavated areas.
The most haunted village in England
Borley, Essex Suffolk borders
Today the pretty lanes and footpaths between Long Melford and Sudbury are quiet and peaceful. They bring you to delightful Suffolk and Essex villages such as Borley. So it is hard to imagine that less than a hundred years ago a terrible fear and dread filled the byways of this corner of England.
Borley was, quite simply, the most haunted village in Britain and its notorious Rectory and its many ghosts was the stuff of legends. Famous Ghost hunters of the 1930’s like Harry Price offered huge money for anyone who would stay overnight in the rectory but there were never any takers. Anyone trying it was led away screaming.
A hooded nun with the ability to walk through walls and locked doors saw to that and there were plenty of other apparitions and poltergeists. Exorcisms made no difference so in the end in desperation; in 1939 they burnt down the rectory. The nun and other spirits simply moved to the village church.
Maes Howe is a stone-age tomb almost perfectly preserved and protected; it’s older than Stonehenge, indeed twice as old as the Great Wall of China.
The tomb at Maes Howe is well worth a visit. However there is some interesting graffiti inside the chamber. Let’s go back 850 years. Not long in the long, long history of Maes Howe.
A group of Vikings stumbled across the tomb, and like tourists do they wrote on the walls – their names, and a few rude remarks about the girls back home and the girls of Orkney. Graffiti doesn’t change.
More important is the language of the graffiti. This is an rare examples of Viking runes – the coded language designed to be carved with an axe on stone.
Avesbury is the largest stone circle in the world, over a quarter of a mile in diameter, inside a mile round earth bank. This massive ditch has a great ring of 98 sarsen slabs enclosing two smaller circles of 30 stones each. All around the site are other groups and lines of standing stones, curious bumps, hills and hillocks.
The stones of the main circle each weigh about 40 tons or more. They came from Marlborough and were left as rough boulders and not dressed as were the blocks at Stonehenge. The biggest single stone weighs about 60 tons.
Uffington White Horse
I’m always amazed when I suggest that the huge chalk beast at Uffington might be a dragon. Otherwise normally intelligent people always protest that “it doesn’t look at all like a real dragon to me!” ;I quietly ask when they actually last saw a ‘real Dragon’.
What is certain is that one of the best views of the beast, if you aren’t actually flying in a plane, is from Dragon Hill along the valley. The very hill on which legend has it that St. George killed the Dragon.
This location makes the figure difficult to view from close quarters. Indeed some people reckon the best view is from a hovering alien spacecraft! Sadly there wasn’t one about the day we went.
Local hero Llewelyn got back from hunting to find his baby’s cradle overturned, the baby missing and his dog Gelert standing over the crib with blood dripping from lips and teeth.
An enraged Llewelyn slew the dog with his sword. Then, to his dismay, he heard the muffled cries of his son and found him unharmed under the crib, along with a dead wolf which had attacked the child and been killed by the faithful hound.
Llewelyn was broken hearted and buried the dog with great ceremony. From then on the town took the name Beddgelert – Gelert’s Grave.
The Triangular Lodge
Can you solve the many puzzles and mysteries of this curious folly dedicated to the Holy Trinity? The house has three of everything and triangles are the main architectural motif.
In fact it was built by Sir Thomas Tresham who was deeply involved with the November 5th gunpowder plotters and much of the building’s symbolism makes coded references to the ideas behind the plot.
The grave of Jack the Ripper
Thorpe Le Soken, Essex
Perhaps still one of the most discussed mysteries even more than a century after terror prowled the grimy streets of Whitchapel is who was Jack the Ripper?
In a quiet churchyard at Thorpe Le Soken near Harwich in Essex I think I discovered the answer. The grave is actually marked William Withey Gull. A local boy who really did make good.
He became a doctor, named the disease Anorexia Nervosa and became physician to the king. The royal family had a most delicate job for him. Prince Albert Victor got himself into a bit of trouble with a girl.
On one of his visits to the more sleazy corners of London had a brief affair with a shop girl named Annie Crook. Annie got pregnant. Something had to be done. The Royal physician used his influence to have poor Annie Crook locked away in an asylum. Four of Annie’s friends knew about the baby. Those same four women were all murdered by Jack the Ripper and all the evidence suggested Jack had real medical knowledge.
Do you believe that respectable doctor Gull was Jack? Somebody does, and they still feel strongly enough about it to have smashed the gravestone of William Withey Gull in the quiet churchyard at Thorpe Le Soken.