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Solsbury (Silbury) Hill – England, United Kingdom

Me & the Mystics
Me & the Mystics

A friend recently made a Peter Gabriel mix CD for me, and I was uninterested in listening to anything else for the next week or more. One song in particular brings back memories.

Since 1992, the song "Solsbury Hill" reminds me of a trip I took during my semester abroad in college. I was in the UK, and very shy about meeting new people or joining groups. I registered for the "Mystic Society" at the "freshers faire" before the term started, because they said they'd be doing a weekend trip to Stonehenge and I didn't think I'd get to go otherwise. I didn't go to a single meeting, though, because I couldn't convince any of my American friends to go with me and I was terrified of going into the campus pubs (where the meetings were) alone. I finally bucked up enough courage, though, when the time for the trip came – again, because I wasn't going to get to see it otherwise – and so after dark on a Friday night I brought my dorm comforter to the carpark outside the campus pub and met up with the two minibuses (the size of small VW vans) full of British students – I was the only American on the trip.

We drove for several hours before arriving in Avebury, where we parked. One of the guys – the president, I think – said they were going for a walk, and did I want to come? Well, if the alternative was sitting alone in the van in the cold (it was mid-November), then sure – I wanted to come. We had no flashlights, and could barely see, but we walked through cowfields and climbed to the top of the earthen mound in Avebury, called Silbury Hill, that's said to be somehow "mystic." You know, they have no idea what it's for, it's not a burial site, they dig to the center and find sod that's still got green grass on it even though it's been buried for centuries, etc. etc. File under the same category as standing stones, crop circles and chalk carvings. We couldn't see a damned thing – it was something like midnight – but it was grand fun. Nearly bumped into a few cows in the fields, too, which would've been amusing.

Slept in the vans (hence the comforter), and only in the morning did I finally see what I'd climbed. It's one of those things I probably wouldn't have done if I'd seen it; kind of like if you know what you're eating you're less likely to enjoy it. We wandered around the standing stones in Avebury, and then hit the road again. We spent some time in Salisbury, and then went on to Stonehenge – the group had made arrangements beforehand, saying they were a university class studying pre-Roman history, and they wanted to see if they could get a tour or a group rate. Turns out we got even more – they let us in for free as the place was closing, and they dropped the ropes so we could walk among the stones. (They told me not to say anything, lest my American accent give them away.) It was surreal. We touched the stones, we sat down on the stone at the center of the circle. One of the guards took a group picture of us in the center of the circle, and even though the picture taken with my little camera is horrid by any photography standards, it never fails to bring back floods of memories when I see it. (And that's enough, as far as I'm concerned.)

The next day we went to Glastonbury, where we climbed the Tor (in daylight), and then headed back to campus in Nottingham. It was on this weekend that I met the only remaining friend I have from my study abroad – my dear friend Matt, who drove one of the vans and became my protector (as I recall, one of the Mystics was hassling me one morning when Matt took my arm and whisked me away). And though the name isn't the same, "Solsbury Hill" becomes Silbury Hill in my head. And that makes me smile every time I hear the song, remembering a weekend where I took a chance and it paid off handsomely. So while it might not be one of Peter Gabriel's best, I've got a soft spot in my heart for it, and always will.

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