I recently read an article by Chris on his blog Wisdom and Life called Your Magical Place, which he wrote after seeing my seed on *Seededbuzz (a blog promotion service) about my article Places that speak to the heart and draw on the soul and it got me thinking about my places of pilgrimage, hence this article.
There are a few places that I make a pilgrimage to regularly, where I have a kinship and need to pay homage. These places are all clustered around three key areas in the South West of England, the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, Purbeck Isle in Dorset and Glastonbury in Somerset. However as I was writing the article to include all the places in those areas it turned out to be far too long, so I decided to make this a three part article. Today’s article is part one of three and starts with the area closest to home – the Salisbury Plain.
In, on and around the Salisbury Plain there are a lot of wonderful ancient monuments and sites of historic significance and beautiful landscapes, gardens and breathtaking views. I love these places and always have done since I was a young child. Brought up in a family where an appreciation for the richness of history and culture was consistently reinforced and encouraged meant that I was exposed to historic places like Avebury, Silbury Hill, Stonehenge and Kennet Long Barrow on a regular basis. An appreciation for the beauty and awe inspiring power of nature was bred by numerous visits to places like Stourhead, run by the National Trust and Heaven’s Gate and Shearwater Lake, which are both on the Longleat Estate.
Something about the feats that the builders of the monuments at Avebury, Silbury Hill, Stonehenge and Kennet Long Barrow achieved lent an air of stupefied solemnity to me even as a young child. I never pass them without a feeling of reverence and pride that I have lived most of my life amongst them and that others travel hundreds of miles for just a glimpse of them and yet right now I drive past them all every day on my way to and from work.
Of them all Avebury is the closest to my heart, a place to go and contemplate, the nearest place I have to a church, where I can commune with nature and the power of the Earth itself. A place where you might find me on the night of a full moon making offerings to concepts bigger than myself. During the day it is a place I love to have my camera at hand, to capture the desolate beauty of the surrounding countryside, offset against the magnificence of the Avenue and Rings of Stones. A truly magical and mysterious place that everyone should visit at least once in their life.
When it comes to sheer appreciation of beautiful views I cannot choose between Heaven’s Gate, Shearwater Lake and Stourhead. All three have very different aspects that I enjoy.
With Heaven’s Gate most people visit to see the magnificent view down onto the Longleat Estate, but most quickly come to realise that there is so much more to this area, which becomes a riot of colour with the rhododendrons in the spring, the effervescent green of the summer and the autumnal perfection with the turning of the leaves come early October and even in winter the views are quite stunning! Added to this is the the addition of the Stone Ring and horse shoe of standing stones which were erected as part of the Millennium celebrations. It’s a beautiful spot for contemplation, photography and an appreciation of the beauty of the British countryside.
As a child we would visit Heaven’s Gate every year for the spring Rhododendrons and the autumnal procession. I remember thinking it must be some sort of magical place where fairies and angels lived to be called Heaven’s Gate. In my youth I never quite understood that it was the beauty of the place and it’s views that had lent it such an auspicious name.
Shearwater is a beautiful man made fresh water lake that sits on the outskirts of the Longleat Estate. It’s popular for fishing, sailing, walking, cycling and of course photography. Shearwater is situated nicely between Longleat and Warminster in a picturesque area of Wiltshire on the cusp of the Deverills at Crockerton.
The lake is surrounded by many beautiful specimens of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs/bushes such as Rhododendrons. There’s lots of wildlife on and in the lake, from the fresh water fish – carp, bream, roach, perch, tench and rudd to the many water fowl – Canada geese, ducks and sea gulls. In the woods the sharp eyed will see numerous grey squirrels and if you’re lucky you might even spot a deer or two peeking out from the dense foliage of ferns.
As a child I used to love running free through the small forest that skirts the lake, walking with my family as my Dad explained things about nature that I found absolutely fascinating and he would make me walking sticks, tickle my back with assorted pieces of foliage and engender a great love and affinity for the woodland around me. When I visit there these days I am often with camera in hand, but the child within me still has the urge to run wild through the forests and I am transported back to simpler times.
Stourhead was always a full day out. A beautiful house and managed gardens (I didn’t really appreciate the house as a child). My sisters and I used to love running through this beautiful garden estate which has various exotic and local varieties of trees some of which date back to the mid 1700s and were planted right at the garden’s inception by Henry Hoare II. It was Henry who had the gardens designed and created between 1741 and 1780 in a classical 18th Century design, with a central lake as a focal point. The inspiration for the gardens came from painters such as Claude Lorrain, Poussin and most notably Gaspar Dughet, who painted Utopian style views of Italian landscapes.
The gardens must have been a great labour of love for him and it shows through the attention to detail and the feeling you get of effortlessly walking from one world to the next, so masterfully planned and deliciously executed. Trees and shrubs were brought in from all over the world and successive generations of Hoares added to and enhanced the gardens until it was passed on to the National Trust in 1946 who have continued to care for the house and develop the gardens.
On the surface it would seem that Stourhead bears much in common with Shearwater Lake, a lake at the heart, surrounded by woodland, but Stourhead is a much more controlled and deliberate environment than Shearwater. This both adds to and detracts from it – the sense of raw, untameable beauty I experienced in the Shearwater Lake forest is missing, but the beautifully crafted temples, bridges and grotto that are dotted throughout the gardens enhance the sense of otherworldliness and a magical timelessness. The exotic trees and shrubs bring to life vistas many would never have seen without the efforts of the Hoare family.
As a child Stourhead was a place of exploration and adventure, a place to let lose knowing that your parents were just a little way back along the path. A place to picnic and eat ice-cream in the Spread Eagle Inn just outside the gardens. I always seem to “glow” when I visit Stourhead, as an adult there are just too many images to capture and like Shearwater Lake and Heaven’s gate spring brings a riot of colour through the Rhododendrons and Autumn is a spectacle of red and gold.
I feel peaceful and right when I’m at Stourhead and that’s a feeling that everyone should be able to experience and cherish.
Well that’s it for this instalment, I hope you enjoyed my memories of the places I love on the Salisbury plain and perhaps I’ve whetted your appetite for a visit. Don’t forget to watch out for part two of my places of pilgrimage – The Purbeck Isle, where I’ll explore some of my most treasured holiday memories.
Sleep tight pilgrims, see you on the next wagon train.
*For more info about Seededbuzz check out their website or my article Seededbuzz – A great resource for promoting your blog!
Don’t forget to check out my other Places of Pilgrimage articles: