At 10am this morning, American Cindy, Llio, Nathan and I assembled at Starbucks in Muswell Hill and drove west along the M4 to Avebury. Yes, yes, we were there less than a month ago, but neither Cindy nor Llio had ever been, and both are such highly spiritual creatures that it felt rude to deprive them of a potentially magical experience. Besides, I'd probably visit Avebury weekly if I could, as it's become something of a Mecca in recent years. I turn up at Avebury and instantly feel both alive and relaxed. And, as A-ha once sang, The Sun Always Shines on Avebury.
We went via Hungerford, which is always a treat, because it means we can point and laugh at the name of the owner of the major car show room in the town: Dick Lovett!
We stopped in Marlborough to buy picnic food and some fancy sunglasses for Nathan to ward off his migraines which are often generated by sun glare. Rather comically, the spell check on my computer would rather Nathan use sunglasses to ward off migrants! Thank God I double checked!
The girls made all the right noises as we pulled into Avebury itself. Frankly, it would be impossible not to be wildly impressed by a stone circle so large there's a village in the middle! I can't think of anything in any way comparable anywhere else in the world. So deeply and quintessentially English. Historic, beautifully pastoral, yet simultaneously shambolic and utterly eccentric.
We picnicked under our favourite lichen-covered standing stone. We always sit and eat under the same stone. It's turned into a proper tradition. The highlight of the picnic was almost certainly strawberries and cream. Again: terribly English...
This summer is beginning to feel like some of the summers from my childhood, and right on cue, the thunder bugs descended. I don't think I've seen thunder bugs for years, but, despite them going hand in hand with long, hot summers, they don't half start to irritate after a while. I must have murdered thousands of the little critters every time I scratched myself. The silly things don't fly away. They just seem to attach themselves to your skin and sit there until you try to brush them off, at which point they turn to dust!
We went to the wishing tree; a beautiful ancient oak, with the most astonishing above-ground network of roots which looks like a waterfall of arteries. People write messages on pieces of ribbon and tie them to the tree. Our great friend Ali, who had been with us in Avebury on Nathan's birthday, gave us a little piece of ribbon in a bag with a pen attached at our joint 40th on Sunday, with a little note which simply said "For Avebury." We cut the ribbon in half, and dedicated one half to life-long friends like Ali, and the other to the Leeds Pals.
Llio stood in a pool of dappled sunlight as she attached her own ribbon to the tree. The sun shone directly into her eyes, and turned them into little pools of ice blue water. I have seldom seen a person look so beautiful.
To tell you the truth, hanging out with both of the girls with their deep red hair glowing in the sun was no hardship. Avebury today was a riot of colour blocks. The deep blue sky, the bright yellow of the cornfields, the vivid green of all the trees. Add the red of Llindy's hair and we had our very own Kandinsky painting!
We went from Avebury to West Kennet Longbarrow, a prehistoric burial chamber, which is also the home of a family of house martins with brilliant comic timing. When anyone wanders into the burial chamber, which is dark and spooky, one of the birds flies out, like the bats on Scooby Doo. It always causes a scream and then much hilarity!
In the fields next to the long barrow was a crop circle. A different crop circle to the one we visited a month ago! As we arrived, we happened upon a neo-Pagan dangling a crystal in the middle. "It's not a genuine one," she declared, sounding more than a little fed up, "it's not perfect enough." Apparently the crystals were in agreement with her damning verdict.
From the long barrow, we drove into Oxfordshire, and up to the Uffington White Horse. When you visit that place as often as we do, it's easy to forget how stunningly beautiful the scenery is from the top of that ridge. You can see for miles up there, the whole of Oxfordshire mapped out in a patchwork quilt of green, yellow and brown fields.
We sat around the eye of that iconic landmark, played games with pen and paper, took hundreds of photographs, and finished the picnic we'd started seven hours before, as the sun slowly melted into a bright red ball and twinkling lights started appearing in the valley below us.
We listened to Llio's stunning album on the way home, stopping at a service station for tea, where Llio declared; "we have a phrase in Welsh for days like this: diwrnod i'r brenin... A day of Kings..."
As ever, I feel proud to let my Welsh people have the final word!
Diwrnod i'r brenin.