Salisbury Plain

We passed over the goodly plain, or rather sea of carpet, which I

think for evenness, extent, verdure, and innumerable flocks, to be

one of the most delightful prospects in nature.--Evelyn's

Diary, 1654.

There is not a county in England which does not pride itself upon some

outstanding characteristic which places it in a category by itself.

And if there be a thing particularly characte
istic of Wiltshire, it

is the Plain of which John Evelyn above quoted has written so


The word Plain is somewhat misleading, for the surface of the

Salisbury Downland is anything but even, as poor Samuel Pepys found to

his cost when he traversed it in 1668, and on his journey encountered

some great hills, even to fright us. The actual truth lies midway

between the evenness of Evelyn and the great hills of Pepys, and

to the man of Wilts that word Plain will ever summon up a vision of

rolling downs, a short, crisp, elastic turf dotted with flocks, and

broken here and there by some crested earthwork or barrow, which rears

itself from the undulating Down, and breaks the skyline with its

sharp outline. It has been estimated that fully one-half of Wiltshire

consists of these high bare chalk downs which rise in bold rounded

bluffs from the valleys which thread their way through the county. It

is impossible to escape them. The Cotswold shepherd looks downward on

their folds, and marks the gleaming white of the occasional chalk pit

which breaks the surface of their scarp.

The huntsman in the Vale of the White Horse, and the farmer on the

fringe of the shady depths of the New Forest alike live in the

presence of the Wiltshire Downs. There is something of grandeur in the

immensity of their broad unbroken line stretching as they do, or did,

for mile upon mile, limited only by the horizon, a rolling sea of

green pasture.

And the very heart of the Downs is the Plain of Salisbury, that broad

stretch which is bounded on the west by the wandering valley of the

river Nadder, and on the east by the trickle of the Bourne, between

which the Hampshire Avon divides the area with almost mathematical

accuracy in two equal triangles; and Salisbury lies at the apex of


The pasturage of the Downs, and the rich woodland of these valleys

must have been important factors in those old days, when the builders

of Stonehenge pushed inland from the coast, seeking a spot wherein

they might settle. As a general rule, it may be held with

considerable certainty, not only in Wiltshire, but also in other parts

of England, that our early settlers from the Continent elected to live

on the downland rather than in the valleys. Go where you may over the

Plain, its turfy surface is scored by terraces or lynchets, telling

the tale of the ancient ploughman's furrows on the slopes, and side by

side with them lie the scars of what were once cattle enclosures,

farms, and stockaded villages. Nor is the explanation far to seek, for

the valleys afforded shelter to the wolves, and were in places

obstructed by undrained marshes, unhealthy and unfitted for the

herdsman and his flocks, and impenetrable as regards roads.

Midway between the valleys of the Nadder and the Avon lies

Stonehenge, a Megalithic Monument without an equal in this country,

about which the legend of the peasant, as well as the speculation of

the savant have gathered in an ever-increasing volume.

The bibliography of Stonehenge alone comprises nearly a thousand

volumes, and it is hard to pick up an old magazine or periodical which

does not contain some notice of it. County historians, astronomers,

Egyptologists, and antiquaries have argued, as old Omar would say,

about it and about until the man of ordinary tastes who chances to

visit the spot and to study the stones, finds himself confronted with

such a mass of evidence, of theory, and of fantastic speculation,

that he sadly turns aside befogged, or maybe fired by the example of

others evolves from his inner consciousness yet another theory of his

own to add to the already plethoric accumulation on the subject. The

object of the following pages is not to propound any new theories, but

rather to reduce the existing knowledge of Stonehenge to a compact

compass, and to make it readily accessible to that vast body of

individuals who take an intelligent interest in the stones, without

having the leisure or opportunity of following up the elaborate stages

by which certain conclusions have been arrived at. In short, it is a

plain statement of the facts about Stonehenge which may serve either

as a guide to the visitor, or as a useful remembrance of his visit.