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CHAPTER XV

 

AT SALISBURY PLAIN

EIGHTY-FOUR miles west—south-west of London and situated in the County of 1'V ltshire, is Salisbury, landmarked by the magnificent spire of its Cathedral, which rises four hundred feet above the level of the picturesque streets of the town. It has led a peaceful, uneventful existence since its foundation by the Bishop of Old Sarum over seven hundred years ago. The ruins of the ancient inoated fortress of Old Sarum, established by the Norman Conqueror, still scar the hilltops a mile to the north, and stretching away towards the north-west on the opposite side of the valley is the road to Devizes, a town about twenty-five miles distant. This road bisects Salisbury Plain, an undulating plateau containing over two hundred square miles of rich pasture land dotted here and there with the long narrow plantations of trees devised in the days gone by as shelter for the flocks of sheep owned by the farmers of the surrounding villages.

The most striking feature of Salisbury Plain to the casual visitor has been Stonehenge, an irregular arrangement of large stone pillars and slabs about one hundred feet in diameter. Although the origin of this unique prehistoric monument is still in doubt, it is generally supposed to be a relic of Druidical times. The massive pillars of granite were evidently brought to their resting place from a great distance, probably from France. Barrows and tumuli are scattered over the downs, evidences of a Celtic civilization. A little to the north of the Stonehenge ruins are traces of a chariot race-course of the days of the Romans, and one mile and a half to the east are the earthworks which indicate the site of the camp of Vespasian. Within the area of Salisbury

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