The Merry Knights (or perhaps not)

12 03 2011

We hurried on from Boltby and Kilburn, anxious to get to our next stop in time for me to make it to our last stop for the day.  Our next stop was Sherwood Forest, Alannah’s can’t miss location so that my little tree hugger could see her 800 year old tree.  It was all she had spoken of for some time and now that we were on our way, she chattered away incessantly about it.

I finally decided to begin making use of all of the guide books and historical information I had put together and paid to have printed up as books prior to our trip.  With a bit less excitement than I had hoped (but a bit more than I had anticipated) they began reading out loud to us all about the history of Sherwood Forest.  See, while the tales of Robin Hood may or may not be real, Sherwood Forest is very real.  It’s rather a sad story, as the forest used to be quite massive, encompassing most all of the Midlands of England, but now – thanks to constant foresting – it is less than two square miles of forest.  And no longer as dense as it was even five hundred years ago.  There have been efforts to repopulate the forest, but it will never be what it once was.

The tree in question is aged to between 800 and 1000 years old, and like many of the oaks in the forest, it is partially hollowed out in the trunk.  This gave merit to the Robin Hood stories which stated he and his merry men hid out in the trunk of the tree.  However, considering that it would have only been a sapling when he supposedly ran amuck, he wasn’t hiding out in that tree.

Going to the forest was not very high on my list.  At all.  The idea of going and looking at a tree that cannot support its own weight is just not worth the fuel.  But making my baby girl happy is and since it was one of her only requests for the trip, it was a must.  On the plus side, we could take Fosse Way from the forest almost right to my next stop – Rollright Stones.  As such, the initial game plan was to stop at the park, look around, leave.  I certainly wasn’t paying the five pounds a person to go in and look at a damn tree.  But we stopped and got out and my tree hugger was so happy, I said what the hell.

Once we started walking up I noticed there was a path to the Royal Oak, and next to it was a path to the admissions office.  I sent the girls off on the path to the tree and hoped for the best.  Glenn and I dawdled along the path behind them, avoiding the admissions desk entirely.  My game plan was, if stopped, to say my children had ran on ahead and surely no one would keep the mama bear from saving her precious cubs – right?

Luckily for me, no one stopped us at all.  (I started feeling bad later that night, here this country runs on this honour system of having faith in the common good and decency of man and I’d cheated them out of twenty pounds.)  The forest wasn’t great, the tree wasn’t all I had hoped, but the views on the quiet stroll were relaxing.  It would be my last pleasurable moment of the whole day, I would soon learn.  I wish, in hindsight, I had appreciated the moment of serenity more, or perhaps not given karma a doorway through which to pay me a visit – but too little, too late.

We left Sherwood Forest and as it was already 3 in the afternoon, I decided to ditch the Fosse Way route for Billy’s suggested path which would be considerably shorter.  He had us bypass Nottingham, Leicester, Northampton and Milton Keynes with a straight (well semi-straight) shot into Buckingham.  Through small little towns in the late dusk hours, I anxiously tapped my foot, huffed and kept careful watch on the clock – I was certain we’d get to the Rollright Stones late enough to watch them going into Long Compton.  Ugh.

Because of my anxiety of not making it with even a sliver of light with which to see my darling stones, I told Glenn to forgo the re-fueling need (which the rental car made obvious to us every few miles with bells and whistles).  Don’t worry, I assured him, I could find us a place to re-fuel once we got to the stones.  The car said we had 64 miles left of fuel, and we were only 21 miles from the stones.  No worries.

We finally made it to the narrow roadway for the stones and there was a slight glow still left in the sky.  We pulled off beside a young teenage couple who looked as though they may have just been interrupted from their extra-curricular activities by our presence.  They got into their car and left.

We were alone.

Normally I would prefer to explore without others around.  But this place was Creepy.  With a capital C.

The entire roadway was lined with dead trees and growth which made it almost impossible to see beyond the trees to the fields, even though you could tell it wasn’t but a few feet thick with these trees.  I quickly deduced that the same lack of visibility would exist from the stones in the field looking out to the road.  I also knew that this area had been seeing more than its fair share of vandalism over the past year.  There is a donation lock-box on the gate that has been robbed many times; there was once a small shed on site that was broken into then demolished; the stones had been chipped away and spray painted; and much more.  Obviously the local heathens needed better things to do with their days.

My sensible side said no one knows we are here, who would come out here at sundown on a Saturday night to fuck with tourists?

Glenn brought up the rear as I led the pack of us into the wrought-iron gate and through the Creepy woods.  About ten feet further on, we were right face to face with the stones.  Well, most of them.

The story goes that back in the days when there were multiple kings ruling over their own little domains in all of Britannia, one such king and his knights were riding through this land.  They came upon a witch who stopped the king and made him an offer…if he could take seven steps forward and see the village of Long Compton, he would be king of all of England.  His knights all stood around in place, wondering if the king would take the bet.  A small group of knights huddled together to whisper their doubts about the king.  The king, though, took the challenge and seven steps.

Long Compton he could not see.

The witch determined that the king would now be made into stone and the same would happen to his knights.  After turning them all to stone, she turned to leave and came face to face with the knights who had huddled together to whisper their bets.  She turned them to stone as well.

The stones themselves were placed between 2500 and 3000 BCE in this field with one stone, the “King Stone” sitting ahead of the rest, proudly tall and near to a hill crest that overlooks Long Compton.  Then a great circle of stones, “The Knights” stand in a circle, numbering anywhere from 150 to 200 stones.  And then a distance away, supposed to be leaning inward as if huddled together whispering, should have been the “Whispering Knights”.

I say should have been because they were no longer there.

No, it wasn’t that I couldn’t locate them in the darkness or that I was confused.  It was that they had been cut down.  After standing their ground for near on 4500 years, they had been defeated.

I cannot articulate how angry this made me, how utterly devastated I felt in seeing this.  A piece of history, gone, forever, for what purpose?  Sick to my stomach is the only thing I could feel at that moment.  It still sickens me now.

There is a tale that says that anyone who can accurately count the number of stones in the knights ring three times in a row will have every wish they desire granted them; but should they miscount the stones three times they will go mad and die a horrible death.

With this in mind, Kayla set out to count the stones.  Her first tally was 167 stones.  Her next was 164.  And with that she stopped, determining that either way she was out of luck and there was no point in trying a third time.

The king stone was protected, albeit not well, but a iron fence encircling it.  Pieces of this stone supposedly promise good luck to the bearer and during the war, people would chip pieces off.  The government finally decided to do what they could to protect the lone stone by erecting the fence.  It’s done little good since vandals have decided to attack it by putting “tyres” around it and setting the tyres ablaze, amongst other destructive acts.

We’d arrived with a slight glow left to the sky, but it had now quickly gotten dark and something felt wrong.  I cannot quite describe it and usually I am a very rationale person – not easily spooked.  But I was spooked.  I felt as though someone or something was there, watching us.  Waiting to pounce.

I had not yet finished making my way around the stones and yet I told Glenn we needed to leave.  Immediately.  I gathered the girls and began hurriedly walking back to the gates.  Glenn asked what was wrong and I didn’t want to unnecessarily worry the kids, so I told him I didn’t feel well.

It wasn’t a lie.

The feeling of not being alone there was overpowering and as soon as we made it back to the car I locked the door and I didn’t feel safe until we began driving away.  I just kept waiting for something to happen.

I didn’t have to wait long.

I programmed Billy to find us the nearest fuel station and he located one 1.7 miles away at Chipping Norton.

We made it to the Shell station and debated for a bit which side the tank was on and located a pump with diesel fuel.  I took the wallet inside and met the clerk, who looked like Harry Potter, and told him I didn’t know how much fuel our vehicle would take.  Could I wait there with the money until my husband filled it?

Harry said sure, in a pre-pubescent voice.  More of the honour system here, they don’t require any pre-paying.  I told him how that would never fly in America and he said his girlfriend, who lived in Poland, had a similar issue there.  There, in Poland, cars must enter a gated area to fuel and are not allowed out of the gated area until paying.  But not here in Merry Ol’ England.  No.  Do you have a lot of drive offs, I asked?  No, not really he said.  Harry said they did have issues with people who forgot their wallets or didn’t have enough, but not drive offs.

Interesting.

Glenn waved to say he was done, filling the tank only half full.  I paid the forty pounds and waved bye to Harry.

We settled into the car and Kayla piped up.  Aren’t you supposed to put diesel into this car?

Yes, Glenn answered her.

You put regular in, announced Alannah.

I felt the vomit in my throat.  Tell me you didn’t, I told Glenn.

He got out and smelled the gas cap.  Sure enough, he had.  Thankfully he hadn’t started the car, but with anti-syphoning technology, that meant little.  Here we sat in BFE, more than two hours north of our hotel at 7 at night with no idea what to do.  I was going to be ill.  Physically.

Glenn went in to phone Avis and chatted with Harry for a while, while I made my way to the bathroom and did everything shy of hurling.  I was hungry – we’d not eaten since tea at Betty’s at 10 am.  I was ill – nothing was going according to plan.  I was frustrated – I had just begun to think that we’d already hit rock bottom on our trip.

Little did I know, we’d not yet seen the worst.

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