Sunday, July 23, 2006

Standing Stones

A single standing stone can’t help but bring out the pagan hippy in me - the desire to reach out and touch it, lean against it, or even clamber on top of it if possible, is irresistible. Stone circles even more so – partially it’s the circular nature of them and partly it’s the fact that there are more stones involved. So once we knew we were going to Brittany, it was inevitable at some point we would have to make the trek to Carnac where there are literally thousands of standing stones, many of them in rows several kilometres long.

It was a drive of well over 100 miles to get there from where we were staying, much of it along back roads and not a dual carriageway in sight. With stops for coffee it took the best part of 3 hours. Anticipation was high, meaning that the disappointment at finding the whole thing fenced off, with a sign saying that in order to help preserve the site against the hoards of tourists you were only allowed to wander among the stones during the winter months, was huge.

The fenced off stones at Carnac
Fenced off - tourists not allowed, but you can buy souvenirs at the shop

Peering through the wire fence, along with hundreds of disappointed German, Dutch and British tourists, the whole experience was pretty soulless and reminded me of a trip to Stonehenge nearly 20 years ago. After staying up all night, then watching an incredible sunrise, Dan, Shirley and I had decided to drive up to the most famous of all Stone Circles, 150 miles away. The journey up had been one of excitement and energy, which turned rapidly to disgust and despair as we found that not only did they want to charge us what we considered an excessive entrance fee, but that once inside the stones were roped off so that you couldn’t actually get within 30 feet of them. The very purpose of the journey was denied.

I remember once hearing that an idea had been mooted to help preserve Stonehenge from the vast numbers of tourists that involved restricting access completely and building a replica site made of polystyrene several miles away for the visitors instead. Considering the whole point of Stonehenge was real stones placed at, some believe, powerful ley-line junctions, this seemed nothing less than total sacrilege, but after that complete non-event I began to think it wouldn’t make any difference. People would still come from all around the world to be subjected to a sense of disappointment for an excessive entrance fee.

And Carnac was a similar frustration. Even from the viewpoint on top of the visitor centre that sold atmospheric postcards and mini-menhirs-on-a-keyring there was no possibility of worthwhile experience. Further down the road at Locmariaquer, home of the world’s largest menhir – or at least it would be if it wasn’t broken into 5 pieces – our disillusionment was reinforced when they wanted to charge us 5 Euros a head to look at the pieces of rock. Instead we glanced through the fence at the sour faced German, Dutch and British tourists, who had coughed up and were clearly of the opinion that their cash would have been better spent on coffee, beer or prostitutes, climbed back into the car and endured the 3-hour return journey to the cottage.

5 comments:

kim said...

thats really disapointing :(
i have always wanted to go to Stonehenge too, the travel guides and magazines make it look so majestic *sigh*

Kate said...

I had a similar experience at Stonehenge too. It was a big disappointment because like you I'm fascinated by standing stones.

However, if you want to see them up close, as far as I know the Rollright Stones on the Oxfordshire/Warwickshire border are easily accessible. Not as spectacular as Stonehenge, but pretty great in their own way. I prefer them to be honest, they aren't as well known and the location lends a certain something to the atmosphere.

St Jude said...

I'm with you and Kate, my experiene of Stonehenge was disappointing too. I desperately wanted to step over the rope and touch the stones, but it wouldn't have been worth it. Apart from anything else the Japanese tourists click, clicking and chattering everywhere totally destroyed any atmosphere that there might have been.

Gyrobo said...

I was similarly disappointed when I went to Boston and forgot to buy a Boston Cream Donut. But I suppose it's for the best, as the recursive wording would have been too much for my fragile mind.

Kim Ayres said...

Kim - welcome to my ramblings! I'm afraid you'll get far more from the atmospheric postcards and travel guides than you ever will from the actual site :(

Kate - There are a few good stone circles dotted around Scotland. I intend to go out to the ones at Callanish on the Isle of Lewis one day. I have a friend who got married there.

St Jude - yes, the crowds were oppressive. But I don't know what the solution is. I'm very aware of the hypocrisy of criticising the presence of other tourist ruining my tourism experience...

Gyrobo - a narrow escape if you ask me.