It was 5:30 pm. I could take the shuttle back to the stones of Stonehenge or take a taxi from right outside the visitors’ center back to town. It wasn’t a hard decision; I was knackered and I’ve been in this situation enough to know that it doesn’t work to force myself to keep trying to find “that wow feeling.” I had said, Wow! when I caught my first glimpse of Stonehenge from across the fields. I had felt a mild wow when I saw my ancestor, homo-erectus-bradpitticus.
Sure, the wows! hadn’t come over and over like at Machu Picchu or Petra. But those sites cover square miles. Petra has over 800 structures.
I took the taxi.
The visitors’ center lady had told me the fare would be £8. I always ask taxi drivers before I get in the vehicle.
“How much will the fare be, approximately?”
“£20,” he replied.
“Twenty! I was told it would be eight.” If he had said 10 I wouldn’t have pushed it but 20?
“It’s Sunday,” he explained, irritated. “The local council sets the rates; I don’t have any control over it. It’s all here on the rate card if you don’t believe me.” This was all said in a thick southwest accent that I could barely understand.
“No, no, I believe you.” No sense in upsetting a taxi driver who clearly has a chip on his shoulder—and will be driving you through remote farm fields.
Now, did I sit in the passenger seat or in the back—to make it clear I was not interested in any hanky panky? Some tourist guides actually advise this, but I figured it didn’t apply to a 65-year-old guy who was a big gob I was sure I could outrun.
So I sat in front, where he proceeded to verbally assault me as he took a circuitous route. “There’s an old military garrison there,” he growled, “Everyone should be in the military. It’s compulsory here, you know.”
I was quite sure that wasn’t true.
“Our military is just a defense force now,” he complained.
And the problem with that is? Do you really want your military to be an offensive force? Do you really want to be paying 50% more in taxes for more bombs, guns, and to send young people to Iraq?
Of course I didn’t say any of this.
“My dad, brother, and sister were in the military,” I said.
I’m sure he had been assuming I was a new-age, trust-funded American liberal coming to Stonehenge to worship the sun and howl with the wolves … if there were still any wolves in England. I am not from a military family. None of them served during war time, and my brother and sister were in the reserves. They all joined for the usual reasons that blue-collar kids join—it was something to do besides go to college.
But the driver was now warm to me. We were driving through farm fields, and he explained that the buff colored ones were barley while the green ones were alfalfa, or maybe it was the opposite.
“And over there—you can’t see it—but over there is another henge, only it’s wooden. It’s called Woodhenge.”
I just plucked this photo of it off Wikipedia.
“Woodhenge is a Neolithic Class II henge and timber circle monument.”
Oooh…a Neolithic Class II henge! I assume these are not the original wood posts.
“It is 2 miles (3.2 km) north-east of Stonehenge.”
I could have walked to it easily from the Econolodge.
I asked, and the driver agreed, to show me where I would catch my bus in the morning. His phone rang. “That’s the wife,” he said to me. Then to her: ’ello, luv. Yeh, yeh, yeh. Ok, ok, yes, yes, yes, ok. No, no, no worries, I’ll remember. See you soon. Love you, buy-eee.”
So he was a big softie after all.
He pulled up at the bus stop to let me off; I was going to walk around downtown Amesbury.
“That’ll be ten quid … for you.”
For me? I felt guilty for implying I was from a military family. I handed him a tenner and hopped out.