What is "Stonehenge"
Stonehenge is one of the most famous sites in the world and one of the most visited in the UK. It is a pre-historic site which has a lot of uncertainty regarding origin and its purpose - it frequently gets described as the mysterious or the unexplained and raises plenty of questions like why was it built, who built it, how was it built, how could the stones have been transported and why was it built in that particular spot.
The direct definition of "Henge" is "hang". This in reference to Stonehenge is mainly to do with the construction of the roof - the roof hangs on or is supported by the walls of the construction. So basically it refers to the horizontal stones that are overhanging or suspended by the tall wall stones. The "stone" reference comes from the material in which Stonehenge is built from. Therefore Stonehenge means "hanging stones".
When was it built
It is believed that Stonehenge was initially built approximately 5000 years ago around 3500 - 2500 BC, but the work was done over a long period of time and is said to have been completed to what it looks like today in 1600 BC. There have been many theories has to who may have built it - such as Druids (ancient priests before Christ - who are believed to have not even been around during time Stonehenge was built) Romans or the people of Atlantis. But we can certainly say that Stonehenge was built by nomadic people (people who wander from place to place seasonally) and these nomads may have at one point populated the Salisbury plain area.
We do know however that whoever did built it, must have been a very large group in number, incredibly skilled and knowledgeable and with some kind of motive for building it, as the monument structure is very closely focused on design and arrangement, layout and structure - it is known as an exceptionally advanced piece of engineering and architecture.
Its appearance today
Stonehenge is well-known as a "circular" shaped rock structure - it has the circular ditch or bank far out surrounding the rock structure - but it lacks a full circular standing shape today as many have fallen. Much of the stones are very large rugged looking and vertically standing around the outside in a horse-shoe shape - some with vertical "roofs" resting on two stones, and some without; smaller sized stones can be seen in the inner circle. The monument looks to consists of many different stones of different shapes, weights and sizes.
Stonehenge is located in Salisbury Plains which is in Wiltshire, South England. It is about 2 miles west of the town Amesbury. The postcode for Stonehenge is SP4 7DE. To get there by car, catch M3 to junction 8, then A303 (Andover), finally onto A344 leading to site. The actual location in which Stonehenge is built is stunning - on the windswept Salisbury plain, with gorgeous surrounding landscape stretching miles away - you will also see lots of sheep!
English Heritage Site & Entrance fees
This 2600 hectares of land around the Stonehenge monument is owned by the National Trust and the Stonehenge monument is managed by English Heritage. Whilst at the monument you are not able to go into the centre of the stone circle, but you could take a "Stone Circle Access" visit, which needs to be pre-booked, and will enable you to view the monument from the centre. In case you are wondering why you have to pay to visit a site which did not previously belong to the nation, it is said by the English Heritage (English Heritage website) that after the stone circle was "given to the nation in 1918 by Sir Cecil Chubb...a charge was to be made to pay for the upkeep".
Prices to visit: Adult: £7.50/Child: £4.50/Concession £6.80 and free for English Heritage members.
Opening Times: 09.30 - 18.00 (during Easter: April - May) and 09.00 - 19.00 (during Summer: June-Aug)
Whilst on the site
As you arrive and are getting closer driving along the A344, you will get a really nice but very quick glimpse of the monument - it will quickly be hidden behind the hill. This was a great moment, as it was the first time I had seen Stonehenge and was a bit like a teaser!
You will park your car in their car-park which is free, and head to the small entrance to buy your tickets. With your entrance, you will be given a small (very basic) map of Stonehenge which you will be able to follow when you pick up an audio machine for the "complimentary audio tour". The machine is basically like a phone, which will talk you through the different key numbers of your map - at each number you will be given talking commentary about the monument. The machine has numbers on it (just like a phone) which you will press mostly chronologically according what is being said to you and what you want to next hear about.
After passing the entrance and approaching the monument, the main idea is to walk anti-clockwise around the pathway beside a fence surrounding Stonehenge. This will enable you to see it from all angles and since the fence is quite far out, a few metres beyond the circular ditch, you will get a better view as I think the structure looks better from far away rather than very close up.
So the audio tour starts at number 1 intro and ends at number 7 - all these numbers are signposted along the pathway so you know which "chapter" to listen to next. Overall I thought the audio tour was so informative and a very helpful guide explaining lots of different things about how and why it may have been built and I would definitely recommend picking up a machine at the entrance.
Construction in stages
Although you will be given lots of information through the audio tour whilst there, I find it useful to do a bit of reading before I got there to appreciate it a bit more. I came across the following, and all below is what you might want to know before reaching the site.
Stonehenge was built in three stages and archaeologists have officially named them as Stonehenge I,II & III :
1. STONEHENGE I: The first stage, when Stonehenge looked nothing like it does to today, was the circular ditch. This was around 3100 BC.
2. STONEHENGE II: The second stage did not begin until around 1000 years after the ditch was made. This involved bluestones being brought in from South Wales and happened in 2500 BC - Bluestone was the first rock to be brought in order to start of Stonehenge's structure.
3. STONEHENGE III: The third phase is the point where Stonehenge begins to look the way we see it today -this was when 30 large sarsen (sandstone) boulders where positioned standing vertically on the outer circle, and had 30 lintel stones placed horizontally on top, each stone weighing around 25 ton.
What Stonehenge consists of (The ruins)
Stonehenge consists of different things put together and is actually quite a complicated creation.
Below are the different terms used in reference to the monument and also what they mean. It is these which structure together what the monument is:
1. THE STONEHENGE DITCH - circular pit surrounding the outside of the monument, and around 6 feet deep.
2. TTHE AUBREY HOLES - named after 17th Century antiquarian, John Aubrey (person who deals with rare and ancient things of the past). Aubrey believed 56 pits which can actually be seen today outside of the actual stone structure and all around a metre wide were likely to have been formed because vertical timber posts were once standing there to form an inner timber circle. They would have rotted over time. You can see the pits when there as they have been marked by white discs (seen at the edge of the ditch/bank)
3. THE BLUE STONES - There are 60 inner stones, which have been said to originate from the Preseli mountains in Pembrokeshire, Wales and is said to get its name "blue" stone as being stones brought in from elsewhere as opposed to local rock or stone (foreign stones). This then does presents the question of how they must have been transported from Wales some 200 miles away since each stone is about 2 to 4 tons heavy. It was thought however that they were most likely dragged through the sea via River Avon. It has been suggested that although these stones do not look blue in colour, when they becomes wet with rain, there colour changes to look like a shade of blue and so got its name "blue stones". However, mentioned on audio tour and more likely is that when these stones are split from the middle they will look blue inside with white specks.
4. THE SARSEN CIRCLE - This was the third stage as mentioned earlier when these very huge sandstones where positioned in a circle and so named "Sarsen circle". These stone were brought in from 20 miles away from Marlborough Downs. They are about 25 feet tall and 8 feet wide.
5. THE TRILITHONS - Trilithons is defined as "three stones", where one medium sized horizontal stone rests high on two very large vertically standing stones. These are the two tall stones near the centre of the monument. These are the largest stones, and are placed in a horse-shoe shaped inside the Sarsen circle.
6. THE LINTELS - Lintels are the component which carries the heavy loud and in regards to the construction, it is the lintel which holds together the "roof" of the Trilithons - there is use of tongue-and-groove joints as well and mortices and tenons joints to keep it intact. It is generally known to be one of the outstanding features of the design and structuring of that time.
7. TTHE HEELSTONE - The "Heelstone" or "Friar's Heel" is the vertically standing rock near the entrance of the site as you go clock-wise. This rock is sandstone and has not been chiselled or worked-on. It is not directly linked to what makes up the monument but is connected to it; if you stand towards the entrance area facing northeast, at the point directly through the entrance of Stonehenge you will be able to see the sun rise at the exact point directly above the Heelstone. The reason how this occurrence happens is because all of the stones where accurately placed and allied occurring to Solar and Lunar movements and activity. It is for these reasons it is strongly believed the builders of this monument where incredibly progressive in what they were doing.
Reasons why Stonehenge may have been built
* For burial purposes -
The earliest known purpose for Stonehenge is as a cremation cemetery or burial ground. However it is believed by archaeologists that its use for burial may have only been during its earlier stages, around 3000 BC when Stonehenge was first built - It is said that human remains have been discovered such as teeth and bones, around this time. And this would have been found in the circular ditch in the centre, bringing up the theory that Stonehenge could have actually been a temple for the dead.
* For Astronomical reasons -
Stonehenge is known for certain to have been built and used for the observation of astronomical occurrences - this is the most widely known fact; it is built on and aligned with the solstice axis and equinoxes - ie. the axis dividing the monument is evidently aligned with midsummer sunrise. So it is safe to say that Stonehenge was built in order to observe sighting of solar and lunar events and calculate future astronomical events which are on their way almost like a huge physical calendar or calculator. This does support the idea that whoever built Stonehenge had a great knowledge not only in solid construction but also in astronomy ie. the rising, setting and the path of the sun.
* For Religious purposes -
Due to the above, it is subsequently believed that the monument was built by Sun worshippers. Because solar activity can be read from the monument, this as a result can enable holy, religious rituals to take place; in this sense it can be said Stonehenge was built as a temple of the sun.
But despite all the above, there have been many others ideas developed overtime with possible explanations as to why Stonehenge is standing today....
*Merlin theory -
a myth in which it was believed the wizard Merlin using his extraordinary powers had miraculously transported these rocks here. This is the oldest theory historically of how Stonehenge was created and was portrayed by a 12th century cleric and writer Geoffrey of Monmouth. His account involved the depiction of the rocks being imported from Africa by giants and into Ireland, and then from Ireland to where it stands today. But the problem was Geoffrey's account, although widely believed at the time, had many inaccuracies in terms of chronology and other details which couldn't add up - it was all folklore.
*The healing rock theory -
The healing theory linked up with the Merlin theory where it was believed that Stonehenge created healing energy. So the giants who were brought in from Africa were used for their healing talents - also called the "Giants dance" by the same Geoffrey of Monmouth. This theory however can be backed by archaeologist who found remains of decomposed bodies which had kinds of deformities - it could be that they came here in search and hope for some healing.
* UFO theory -
It was believed aliens visited and created the Stonehenge monument. Another theory regarding why it was built is, since it is circular in shape, is could just as well have been a UFO landing pad (UFO's are generally thought to be circular in shape...)
Other facts about Stonehenge
* Stonehenge was built during a time long before the wheel was invented - this is why there is so much speculation as to how the stones may have been transported. It was also built before any sophisticated tools where invented (let alone any machinery).
* The stones of the monument were re-arranged and realigned a number of times over the generations before it settled to looks like what it does today.
* All digging work such as the ditch and the surrounding holes were done no doubt by hand but it is believed the type of tools used to dig where things like deer antlers as picks and cattle shoulder blades for shovels. These, though, have been preserved and are on display at the Salisbury and South Wiltshire (postcode: SP1 2EN).
My first impression of Stonehenge
From close up, just at the entrance of the site and at the opposite side of Heelstone (north-east), the monument basically looks like stones ruins (you can watch the sun rise from this angle) - by this I mean it took me by surprise because it wasn't the same as all the images I had previously seen and was difficult to make out what section was what - all images I have seen look a lot fuller and less ruins-like...
But as you carry on walking round the path, I thought the best view of the monument was from "the avenue" with your back turned against the Heelstone (the point you are the closest to the Heelstone) - and this is because it seems it is this section of the monument that is best preserved - probably as a result of much kinder weathering impact and damage by other means. It is from this side that you can see most of the horizontal "hanging" stones however only a small section still carry "roofs".
It appears that most of the photos you see of Stonehenge are taken from this angle and you'll recognise this because on front of the monument and at the avenue you will be able to see the "Slaughter Stone" - this is the stone in which it was believed to have possibly been used to slaughter people, but there is no evidence of that; when rain falls on this stone it brings out a red shade in the stone (due to the iron ore reaction).
Is it worth your time, interest & entrance fee?
What you see of the monument today is HALF of what it originally was. So is it worth your entrance fee to view what remains of something that once was?
I personally think the entrance fee is a bit much for what it is - which is a look (no touching!) at the stones and you will not really spend more than an hour or an hour and a half (which is what we spent by making two circles around the monument); but despite that I think it is worth the entrance if you are seeing it for the first time - a pre-historic structure and one of the most popular in UK should be a valuable visit in my opinion anyway. Other things which will be covered in your ticket price is a map (not a big deal - an ungenerous map if you ask me...) and the audio tour, plus your money helps with the preservation of the site.
If you are looking for other ways to pass time at the site and justify the time you took out to visit the location, you could visit the souvenir shop where you will find overpriced model Stonehenge structures, chocolates with Stonehenge wrappers and Stonehenge photos and postcards all cramped into a very tiny room, with a queue reaching out of the door; but there was nothing in that shop which interested me...
You could check out the café selling coffees and drinks and snacks, but it is outside the exit pass the turnstiles and after you walk out, you may not feel a need to stick around in an overly crowded area (the entrance/exit space is very small and narrow) to sit and have a coffee which is just as overpriced.
Overall though I believe Stonehenge is a heritage site worth taking time out to explore into its history and visit as it carries a lot of importance and it is places like these that make up what England is today - whoever did build Stonehenge contributed greatly (and little did they probably know) to English history, tourism and the local economy and in many way how England stands today in the 21st century.
(Thanks for reading! Previously posted on Ciao)
We arrived at Stonehenge one Saturday afternoon, not long after lunch. You can see it as you approach by road and if you are travelling to the South West on a Bank Holiday weekend this is a popular rubber-necking spot as everyone has a good look as they drive by. Not for us, as we planned a little trip here on our way to Bath so we turned off (to the A344 just off the A303 coming from London) and parked up in the designated parking area opposite the site. Parking was free but I understand that there is a charge during the peak season which is refundable on admission. This is to avoid people parking up and walking across the road to look at the site through the fence for free. Standard adult admission is £6.90 (2010 prices) but as we are members of English Heritage (who manage the site) it was free for us. I believe National Trust members also get in free. There are reduced prices for concessions.
Your admission includes a free audio guide which is available in ten languages. There are seven numbered spots around the site and you can just push the corresponding button on your handset to listen to the commentary. The narrator will also give you some optional numbers to press to hear additional commentary on such things as the myths surrounding the site and the surrounding area and landscape.
Stonehenge is certainly one of the most famous ancient sites in Britain. Built between 3000 and 1600 BC, no one seems particularly sure what its original purpose was. Due to the positioning of the stones in relation to the sun at certain times of each month makes me believe that it was some sort of calendar or has an astronomical purpose. The society that built Stonehenge was obviously very organised as some of the stones came over one hundred miles, they would have been heavy and would have had to be cut and shaped with fairly basic tools. The stones are also sunk into a pre-dug ditch.
After we had picked up our audio guide we walk past the gift shop and through the tunnel which goes under the road to the site. If you are here at weekends expect the site to be busy, we were here on a windy March Saturday and were grateful to dodge the rain showers, but it was still fairly busy. I think your first impressions are that the stones are quite small, smaller than they mau appear in photographs but you don't actually get that close to them. You walk round the fence, partly on a path and party on grass. If it is wet it will certainly be muddy due to the amount of people who come here. This part wouldn't be ideal for wheelchairs if the weather is bad either, although part of it is paved so there is access to the majority of the site - wheelchair users won't be able to do the full circle unless its dry. The audio guide fills you in on what you need to know from here. The situation is amazing - there is nothing but fields and sheep all around you apart from the neighbouring roads, so if you take a 360 degree look around you, you can see countryside for miles, it is nice to see an ancient landmark without encroaching civilisation.
When you have finished looking at the site (or been sufficiently windswept - there is a disadvantage to all the open countryside) you go back the way you came through the tunnel, and return your headsets. There is a large gift shop with an assortment of Stonehenge themed gifts such as 'Stonehenge Rocks!' T-shirts and teddies wearing said T-shirt. Models of the site that are ready made or ones you can make yourself are available plus books including pop-up picture books and novels of the Bronze Age era. Postcards start at 50p, and there are an impressive range of photographic prints. The official guide book (in five languages) is £4.99. There is a small coffee stall selling drinks and snacks, but only a few tables to sit at. The toilets on site are port-a-loos - I guess this is how they cope with peak season visitors, I didn't use them. The site is open all year round apart from Christmas and usually opens at 9.30am and closes at 6pm except during the winter months when it closes at 4.30. Through June to the end of August it is open 9am to 7pm.
If you are in the area I think this is a must see attraction and is worth going out of your way to visit. You will need a car to get there but I did see tours advertised from Bath (just under an hour away) for £15. I expect other towns in the area offer something similar.
Stonehenge - ancient monument of huge historical importance, vast in the consciousness of the mystics of our nation, surrounded by mystery and magic - tiny weenie circle of stones when you get up close!
As a child I pestered my parents relentlessly to visit Stonehenge, after reading a triology of books set in the dim and distant past centered on this megalithic monument. And as a child I was fascinated by it even when I saw it. I longed to be able to stand in its centre and feel all the mystical energy.
As an adult the fascination has long since worn off. I still look forward to seeing it, but am not drawn to stop and admire it. It is to be found on Salisbury Plain just off the A303 and can be easily viewed from the road. If you have no desire to pay the exorbitant fees for being able to walk around the monument you can park in the car park and view it through the fence and take photos.
If however, you do want to walk around it, it will cost you £6.90 and children £3.50, for what is essentially less than an hour. English Heritage and National Trust members are free. There is an audio guide you can listen to at various points around the circle. You cannot reach the stones themselves. I heard many visitors complaining about this on my walk around this week (I know I said I was not drawn to this, but had no choice as I was with a party of school children).
It is always very windy on Salisbury Plain, so whatever time of year you visit, be prepared to wrap up warm. It is amazing to think that these stones have been there for over 5000 years. How did they do it? But if you do want to see it, just be prepared. Its not going to be as big as your imaginings.
Stonehenge is a huge contradiction in terms, on one hand it is one of the most important historic monuments in England and a World Heritage site. On the other it is probably the most boring and expensive historic monument you will visit in the UK.
Stonehenge is located between the A303 (London to Cornwall) and A344. You can see it while driving past on the A303, but to stop you need to turn onto the A344 to get to the car park for Stonehenge. You park on the opposite side of the A344 to Stonehenge and walk under a tunnel to get to the monument. If you're one of the people that doesn't like to pay, you can park on the road and risk you're life crossing the road.
To park in the car park is £3, there are several hundred parking spaces for cars and coaches. You get the £3 off you're admission to Stonehenge when you enter. Admission is £6.60 for adults, £5.60 for concessions, and £3.30 for children. It is open till 6pm most the year and 7pm in the summer months. There are audio tours around the site, available in all the languages of visitors. These are probably the next most annoying thing as when you are trying to walk round the site, every time someone with an audio guide gets to a stop point, there is a huge blockage on the path in front of you.
The ancient stone circle is a unique monument. You are only allowed to walk around the edge of the stones, and not go up the stones, but always about five metres from the circle. The path guides you around the monument; this is pretty much all there is to Stonehenge. Alot of the knowledge you hear is guess work and they still only have limited ideas of what the stones are there for. The obvious use for Solstice and time/date keeping is probably only part of the story. There are also lots of other sites around the area, including Woodhenge and several barrows which are probably related to the monument at Stonehenge.
The only times you are allowed to get near the stones are during the Summer and Winter Solstice, where thousands of druids and followers go to Stonehenge to watch sunrise on the stones. The police in recent years have allowed them on the site and up to the stones and only arrest trouble makers. These dates would be June 21st and December 21st.
I have visited Stonehenge twice and they couldn't have been two more contrasting trips! The first time I visited was for a school trip, I was seven years old and I was very tiny. Because of this, the stones were enormous! I remember gazing up at the mystical stones in awe at their size and solidity and wondering how on earth they had got there...aliens? magic? Dragged from Wales on logs as we had just learnt in class? (I chose not to believe the latter as it was much less exciting).
The second time I visited Stonehenge was two years ago, on a wet night in June at 2am. After being dropped off a mile up the road and arriving already soaked , I quickly forgot how cold I was after consuming a fair amount of vodka and enjoying a few too many joints on the walk. The stones were not the awe inspiring sight this time, it was the motley crowd of 15,000 druids, hippies and anorak clad locals who had descended on the stones to watch the sun rise for the Summer Solstice. Despite the rain, the atmosphere was electric with the inner circle of stones packed with revellers dancing to drum beats and passing round spliffs. The police patrol, arresting anyone causing any trouble, but on the whole it is a peaceful event and the fact that no one could see the sun due to the thick blanket of cloud didn't dampen anyones spirits!
Easter holiday is coming. It's a good time to travel around the UK. I would like to say something about Stonehenge.
To my understanding Stonehenge is the number one tourist site you must see in this country.
First time I saw it was on my way to Bath. It was an early morning. From a distance I already saw the stones standing there like silent people. It gave me a shock. It's so very mysterious.
Second time I saw it when I on my way to Devon. I spent more than 3 hours to have a look of Stonehenge. It was an impressive trip. I admired it enormously. The tourist electronical guide provided by stonehenge was amazing with many languages to choose. I was glad I got one with my mother language.
Cimpared to my second trip to Stonehenge I think morning is the best time to visit it because you can feel the mysteries most.
If you want to give it a go, I would like to give you two tips. Hope it would be useful to you.
Stonehenge is both the national trust and the English heritage. If you are the member of one of the two organizations, you can get in Stonehenge free, your car parking is free too. Also you don't need waiting on the queue. You just need to show your card then you can get in directly. Economical both in time and money.
Better to go there earlier than later. Stonehenge is very popular. If you go there earlier than most tourists especially group ones you can save your time on the road, and you can avoid crowd when you explore it.
Every year on the summer solstice, an assortment of druids, pilgrims, pagans and other expectant travellers flock to Stonehenge in the hope of witnessing what is rumoured to be mystical sight. If the morning is clear, they will hope to see the midsummer sun rise between two of the great sarsen uprights, in line with the monolith of the heel stone at the far side of the circle. At this moment there will be much singing and rejoicing amongst the visitors, much wringing of hands amongst the custodians that all this frivolity doesn't damage their World Heritage Site, and much shuffling of feet by photographers as they try to make it appear that this alignment does actually work in their pictures. Unfortunately, the heel stone isn't quite where they want it to be. Archaeological work in 1980 revealed that there was originally a companion stone next to it, which formed a sort of gateway to the main circle of the henge (rather than a monolithic astronomical marker). This gateway would have marked the entrance to the henge when it was approached from the Avenue, thought to be the ceremonial pathway to the monument. Viewed like this, the arrangement makes much more sense if it is seen on the midwinter solstice (from the Avenue) rather than in midsummer; it might also make more sense culturally if you think how many enduring festivals there are in December around the world, compared to the few over the summer months.
But nobody really cares much. For centuries, ever since the first chroniclers mentioned the site, Stonehenge has been a giant peg on which different myths and (mis)interpretations have been hung. It has been variously a monument to a battle between Saxons and Britons that was brought magically to the Salisbury Plain by Merlin; a trick built by the devil; a Mycenaean temple made by Greek colonists; a temple constructed by Druids, and a landing platform for use by aliens. I suppose it all comes back to the famous quote by Jacquetta Hawkes that every generation gets the Stonehenge it desires and deserves; as each old interpretation of the site withers away, so it is replaced by a new one reflecting the ideas, beliefs and ideals of a new time. In the past, for example, it was commonplace for visitors to carve graffiti into the stones or take a chunk of sarsen stone away to commemorate their visit. Later, visitors were allowed to wander freely amongst the stones, but saw the earlier sightseers with their picks and hammers as vandals. Today, we are fenced off at a safe distance from the stones and closely monitored by staff lest we should try and get any closer, and feel amazed that anyone should once have been able to touch the stones for themselves.
Stonehenge is somewhere that I have frequently read about, that I studied as an undergraduate reading archaeology, and that I have wanted to visit and see for myself for a long time. So, it was not without considerable expectations that I embarked on my trip to see the stones shortly after the new year. I was aware that even on a wet weekday in winter English Heritage could reasonably expect at least a hundred visitors to the monument, so whenever I visited I was hardly going to get the place to myself. Visiting in January was greatly preferable to trying to appreciate the place with the thousands that descend on a daily basis in peak season, though, however cold a trip it would turn out to be.
Situated near Amesbury in Wiltshire, Stonehenge is currently nestled in a triangle of land bordered on two sides by busy roads; to the south is the A303, the main route to the West Country from London, and to the north the A344, impeccably sited to cut between the henge and its associated landscape setting. Aware of the controversy that has raged over these roads and their relationship to Stonehenge, I planned my route so that I would approach from the east on the A303; as you drive over a gentle rise in the land, you are suddenly presented with a view of the stones sitting in what would be a romantically isolated setting if it wasn't for the ghastly fork in the road that ploughs its way unceremoniously through one of the archaeologically richest plains in Britain. But using this approach highlights one of the topical issues of debate that surround Stonehenge better than coming along any other route. There has long been discussion over whether the road situation could be improved by burying a 1.3mile section of the A303 in an underground tunnel and closing the section of the A344 that passes Stonehenge, thus improving views over the site and hopefully reducing pollution damage from all the passing cars. Only recently (December 2007), however, a parliamentary statement has concluded that this work would cost a staggering £540m, which "would not represent best use of taxpayers' money", so we are really back to square one on that score. It is very obvious that *something* needs to be done; the problem is, the various stakeholders in this monument cannot agree what that something should be.
Following the trail of brown English Heritage signs, you take the offending A344, which takes you past the henge on one side of the road, and the visitor facilities on the other. The car park is small but free, and equipped with toilets, picnic tables and interpretation panels (that most visitors seem to ignore) informing the more adventurous tourist about the associated landscape features that you may like to explore - if you are prepared to walk across fields, that is.
Moving to the opposite end of the car park, the floor level slopes down to the main body of visitor facilities, carefully landscaped so as to be below the level of the road and therefore invisible from the monument. It was a small gesture, but given that the facilities were old, crowded and rather ugly, one that I certainly appreciated. In this area you find the ticket booth; a portacabin selling English Heritage memberships and advertising other local properties; the "Stonehenge Kitchen" (a booth selling sandwiches, soups and snacks); a further cabin issuing audio tours, and a well-proportioned shop. Is it me, or is there a considerable emphasis on taking money from, rather than informing the visitor here? I am aware that one of the conditions of custodianship made on the government by Sir Cecil Chubb was that money be charged to pay for the site's conservation and upkeep, and as a member of English Heritage I hardly begrudge spending money that will go to the preservation and study of historical sites, but the money-making ventures placed seemingly at the expense of written interpretation (unless you buy the guidebook for £3.99) seemed woeful to me. Not everyone would want (or could use if you considered hearing impairments) the audio devices on offer, and to have to drive all the way to Devizes or Salisbury to see the associated artefacts and an exhibition on Stonehenge was inadequate; I had come a long way and simply didn't have time for that. There is so much to be said about Stonehenge that some sort of interpretation/museum/visitor centre seemed obligatory to me. I did buy a guidebook (but read it afterwards as it was so windy!) and use the audio tour, both of which were good, but I felt this area was a bit lacking (and probably also very crowded come summer, given that the buildings were so crammed together).
The shop was large and well stocked, and, as the only place on site where a visitor can get indoors, was crowded with people. The stock covers all the usual things you might expect (stationary, t-shirts, postcards, branded chocolate, etc) as well as offering a good range of books and some stunning mounted photographs of the site taken by a local artist (and pretty reasonably priced at around a tenner, too). Worth a browse, even if only to buy a cheerfully tacky "Stonehenge Rocks" pen, although the guidebook (by Julian Richards) is actually rather good for £3.99 and represents decent value to anyone with a deeper interest in the site. The "Stonehenge Kitchen" was unfortunately less good. As a booth with just three outdoor tables and a scattering of chairs, it is hardly adequate for the task of feeding the visiting hordes either in summer (too crowded) or winter (damn cold to eat outdoors, and not even so much as a rain shelter). We bought two small pizza baguettes and a bottle of Pepsi, which was nice as a snack but hardly worth the £6.50 charged. I would suggest bringing your own food or venturing into one of the nearby towns or villages for sustenance instead.
Given the lack of a museum, I elected to take one of the audio tours; they are included in the price, so you may as well try it. The audio tour is a means that English Heritage have devised to counter the current lack of space for a museum; it is portable, so visitors can hear information while looking at the relevant features on site, and available in a selection of languages (I noticed editions in French, German, Spanish and Japanese while I was there). Operation of the device was very easy. It resembled a mobile phone and was used in much a similar way - you keyed in a number, pressed the "play" button and held it up to your ear to hear the information. There were also buttons to pause and replay the information, and a volume control. At the start of the tour you collect your handset, key in the number of the introductory piece that you are given by the staff manning the booth, and away you go. From then onwards, you encounter numbered points on your walk around Stonehenge and if you wish to hear the associated information, you just input the relevant number into your handset. I personally found the information to be clear, interesting and informative and I especially liked the optional sections to hear stories about myths and legends associated with the stones. My only point would be that there was no edition for children, so if you went as a family group the handset might be more of a nuisance than a help. I have seen other historical sites produce child-friendly versions of their spiel and see no reason why English Heritage could not have managed something similar, as there was certainly no reason why any child could not have used the device.
The entrance to the site is via a tunnel beneath the A344, and has been painted with murals depicting artists' interpretations of how the henge would have looked complete and in use, which was interesting preparation before seeing Stonehenge up close (although not quite "personal" given the crowds and the rope barriers). English Heritage have laid out a path that circles around the monument, first crossing over the outer ditch and bank to take you closer to the stones, before re-crossing them and then looping around the far side of the henge, passing just inside the heel stone and eventually bringing you full circle. This allows visitors to view all parts of the site surviving above ground. The pathway is partially paved with non-slip matting, although the section after the route re-crosses the bank and ditch to by the heel stone is just grass, so I would advise good footwear, especially if it has been raining.
The most visible elements of Stonehenge are of course the stones themselves. I have heard a lot of people comment that they were "smaller than they had expected", but I felt impressed by their size; we are used to massive structures in the modern world, but when you consider the amount of effort that would have gone into moving the stones to the site, shaping them, erecting them, and constructing the circle with such a degree of accuracy without modern technologies, I find it hard to not be impressed. While some of the remaining stones are small and broken, many are huge, intact and display evidence of fine working, and hint at how magnificent this henge must once have been. The ditch around the henge was dug into the chalk that underlies the site, with the bank made up of the excavated material, so these would have originally formed a gleaming white circle around the stones. There are also other features, revealed through excavation, that are now hidden from view. A circle of holes that once held large timbers have been found close to the inner edge of the bank, for instance. These Aubrey holes are marked on the ground in white concrete circles, so you can see their location clearly as you walk around the site. Stonehenge is more than just the stones: it is also these earth structures and intangible features.
From the site you also get an impressive view over the landscape (local A roads notwithstanding). Looking down the Avenue from the stone circle, you can see two barrow (burial mound) groups clearly silhouetted against the horizon, one on each side; these were also built out of chalk and would have originally been bright white. While it is hard to fully appreciate the atmosphere of the site when you are being jostled by the latest crowd to be disgorged from a coach, and the heavy traffic mere feet away, it does have what you might call a "sense of place". I found myself just staring at the stones and wondering what on earth could have motivated people to go to such great lengths to construct such a circle. Was it a temple? A calendar? A symbol of the wealth and power of the builders? We don't know - we probably will never know with any great certainty. But I think that is perhaps why the site remains so enduringly fascinating - because it is so enigmatic.
THE ASSOCIATED LANDSCAPE
There is far more to this area than just the henge, however. Rather than me trying to capture this hugely complex landscape in words here, take a look at the map at: www.english-heritage.org.uk/stonehengeinteractivemap/index.html. The reason that this area is a World Heritage Site is because it is so rich in prehistoric remains, and while many features have been damaged or destroyed by more recent activity, a startling amount still remains, most notably the barrows on the near horizon that you can see from Stonehenge. If you follow the interpretation panels in the car park that I mentioned earlier, it is possible to walk up to the Cursus barrows and the New King barrows, a route of not much more than a mile (although note that most of the walking is over fields). If the light is right, it is also possible to make out some of the lines of the Avenue, and scatterings of shattered flints across the landscape mark out where it was once mined and made into tools. If you are capable of making this walk then I heartily recommend it as a way of better appreciating and understanding Stonehenge; few visitors seem to bother with this activity and go away thinking the stones are "it". Both barrow groups have their own interpretation panels to better explain the features and the landscape from these viewpoints, although I found when I walked up to the New King barrows that the farmer had recently moved the fence, making the panel inaccessible. I hope that English Heritage will soon rectify this situation, however.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
Stonehenge is one of the UK's most important prehistoric sites but has been famously described by a government committee as "a national disgrace". While the plans to alter the roads around Stonehenge may have come to nothing, there are still ambitious plans to build a new (and badly needed) visitor centre 2 miles from the current site, on the edge of the land designated a World Heritage Site, to better cope with the large numbers of visitors the site now receives, and to provide a museum and educational facilities for them; English Heritage have an interesting plan to transport the visitors to and from the henge itself via low-emission trains. It is an intriguing solution to the problems of the current site, and I for one would love to see it come to fruition. Stonehenge at present is hardly dignified and sends out poor messages to the many tourists who visit it; here is a monument of international importance and renown, and yet we treat it shoddily as apparently nothing more than a cash cow for its guardians. This may be the Stonehenge that we deserve, but it is certainly not the Stonehenge that we would desire.
Opening times: Open from 9.30am (9am for June to August) to 4pm (winter), 6pm (spring and autumn) and 7pm (summer). Last admission is 30 minutes before closing time.
Entrance costs: English Heritage and National Trust members free
Adults - £6.30
Concession - £4.70
Child - £3.20
Family ticket - £15.80
10% discount for groups of 11 or more
Accessibility: See www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.16472 for details.
Public transport: Stonehenge can be accessed by bus from Salisbury, see: www.wdbus.co.uk/htm/ta/sdo-stonehenge.asp
Useful & interesting websites: www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.876
www.stoneh enge.co.uk/ (with a pinch of salt!)
Copyright: Collingwood21 (2008)
It was whilst trying to come up with something constructive to do during the school holidays that the thought of visiting Stonehenge suddenly popped into my head. I vaguely remember being a visitor for the first time way back when whilst I was still at school (that may well have been during the Stone Age). My hazy recollection of the ancient monument featured a graffiti-laden collection of stones and a shop full of school kids on the rob in nearby Avebury (not guilty, mlud). Still, the rest of the family had never been so we decided to risk it even if most reviews Id read hadnt exactly been that complimentary and I still remembered being notably underwhelmed myself.
The official site at www.stonehenge.co.uk carries comprehensive directions for all modes of transport including road, train and bus as well as having maps available. To travel from the Midlands (in our case Northampton) the most straightforward route was A43 > M40 > A34 > A30 > A303 but if you want a good route then try the route finder at www.aa.com. The AA site will give you a blow by blow route together with a handy map to guide you (I use the site all the time). The nearest train station to Stonehenge is in Salisbury about 9.5 miles away from the historical site with trains arriving from London Waterloo departing every hour.
***Places to stay***
I didnt know the area at all and decided to go by the recommendations on the Stonehenge site itself. Generally, I ask for views from friends online but as this was so last minute I took a flyer and went with the 3 options available at www.stonehenge.co.uk. It was a choice of either The Milford Hall Hotel in Salisbury (www.milfordhallhotel.com), The Old Manor Hotel in Trowbridge (www.oldmanorhotel.com) or The Fairlawn Hotel in Amesbury (www.fairlawnhotel.co.uk). The Milford Hall Hotel was booked up for that weekend so I ended up reserving a suite at The Old Manor Hotel, which is a grade 2 Listed Georgian House with converted stables. There are plenty of places to stay in this part of the world with numerous bed and breakfast places available so if you dont want anything as elaborate as the accommodation we ended up with then Im sure a trawl of the B & B sites online will show up something suitable for everyones taste.
Having parked in the car park, we duly paid our £14.80 for a family ticket (covers 2 adults and up to 3 children under 19) and entered through the turnstile (no dogs allowed except guide dogs). I paid in cash but it was possible to pay by plastic card (debit/credit) if you didn't want to use the more traditional method of payment. We only had a hand full of folks in front of us so waiting wasnt a problem. As ever with English Heritage sites, there was a cabin devoted to signing new members up to English Heritage, which would have meant free entry into Stonehenge. Incidentally, at £65 annual membership for 2 adults and the facility to take up to 2 children (under 19) free then with all the various places we end up visiting that are owned by EH then this wouldnt be the worst idea in the world. Anyway, I digress as usual.
Having entered through the turnstile, we were duly offered a free, complimentary audio tour, which came with an audio wand. I initially declined as I prefer to discover things for myself although I did end up listening to one at the end of the circuit with curiosity eventually getting the better of me. I would say that with so many people having these audio wands pressed to their ears, it made for a surreal scene that looked like something from a mobile phone convention! The audio commentary comes in several different languages including French, German, Dutch, Italian, Swedish and Japanese to name most of them. Of course, there is also an English version to cater for both those groups from hereabouts and those from the U.S. Judging by all of the accents we heard then this range would appear to be a good reflection of the nationalities present on the day. To get to the stones you have to go through an underpass that lies beneath the road above. Adorned with murals dedicated to the building process all those thousands of years ago, the route to the stones is fairly innocuous even if the paintings are nicely done. Emerging on the other side of the road, the monument itself is ringed by a low fence with signs imploring visitors not to walk on the grass. Whilst you could actually walk amongst the stones in the past, this isnt allowed these days apart from by special arrangement in advance.
Stonehenge is a World Heritage site as its probably the most significant site of its kind in the British Isles. Thought to have been built around 3100BC, Stonehenge was built in 3 phases. The circular ditch and bank (henge) that surrounds the stones was probably constructed c.3050BC. In the centre would have been a wooden structure built around 2600BC whilst the actual stone monument dates from c.2500 1500BC. The larger stones are Sarsen stones from the nearby Marlborough Downs whilst the more mysterious, smaller Bluestones come from the Preseli Mountains in Wales some 240 miles (385km) away. Its this long distance that makes the site so fascinating as to have dragged them such a distance and formed the construction itself would be a huge feat of engineering today never mind thousands of years ago. From the roadside (Stonehenge is flanked on 2 sides by major A-roads), the monument looks smaller than you would imagine but closer up it still cuts an impressive sight. The larger stones make an imposing spectacle whilst the visitor can only imagine how the lintels were placed on top of the stones. A note of caution when walking around the site is that with the location being Salisbury Plain then the area is very exposed. Whilst it was a relatively mild Spring day for our visit, the wind was sufficient to bring water to my eyes and made it feel much colder with the wind chill factor than it looked. Id strongly recommend wrapping up well unless its a blazing hot Summers day. It doesnt take long to walk around the circular path whilst taking in the stones of particular note. The free information leaflet does mention the features to look out for including the Horseshoe of Sarsen Trilithons, the Station Stone (located outside the ring and close to the henge), the Slaughter Stone and the Heel Stone to name but a few. As a visitor, one cant help but ponder on the attraction of the monument and its apparent significance to ancient rituals featuring the worship of the sun and moon. I found myself looking around wondering how many visitors were either Druids or Pagans and started to reminisce over a recent book I read called Stonehenge written by Bernard Cornwell. The renowned author had managed to capture the look and feel of the ancient monument conjuring images of ancient tribal lore and pre-historic worship of long-forgotten deities. Traversing the circular path may take anything from just a few minutes to as long as you like depending on how long you want to stay and there are plenty of opportunities to take pictures, which we duly did. Needless to say that there was the obligatory gift shop at the exit selling the kind of bric-a-brac that you might expect e.g. small, plastic models of Stonehenge, T-shirts, posters and the like as well as a tiny café peddling food and drinks. With nowhere particularly comfortable to sit and eat or drink, the café is badly situated and reflects how poor the whole Visitor Centre experience is.
The good news is that it appears that English Heritage is aware of Stonehenges shortcomings and there are plans over the next decade to make the site more visitor-friendly. The Stonehenge Project together with the National Trust and The Highways Agency are all working towards concealing the A303 and closing part of the A344 so that the site will not be affected by busy roads close by. The current car park with its Visitor Centre and toilets will be grassed over and a new Visitor Centre built approximately 2 miles (3km) away from the monument. With an exhibition, café, shop, educational facilities and, of course, parking for cars and coaches, this world-famous institution will finally have a support structure to be proud of. There will even be a train to take visitors to the stones in a touch of Americana that our British archaeological sites nearly always lack in their perpetually understated way.
We should be proud of sites like this both in this country and the world over; they are an invaluable link to the past and our ancestors. Stonehenge is not just for history buffs but for everyone and suitable for all ages. I would suggest that it will only take up a couple of hours of most peoples time at the most but there are plenty of surrounding sites of interest to make a day of it. These include the Stone Circles at nearby Avebury and the Woodhenge site at Amesbury, literally a short drive from Stonehenge. Id strongly recommend checking out the accompanying web site at www.stonehenge.co.uk, as it is nicely set up to plan your visit in advance. I went to Stonehenge expecting to be underwhelmed (but hoping not to be for the family's sake) and came away pleasantly surprised having had an interesting time. Do go if you get the opportunity!
***Prices and admission times***
Adult £5.90/Child (5 - 15) £3.00/Concession (student, pensioner) £4.40/Family Ticket (2 adults + up to 3 children) £14.80
Opening times: Spring 16 Mar to 31 May 09.30 - 18.00/Summer 1 Jun to 31 Aug 09.00 - 19.00/Autumn 1 Sept to 15 Oct 09.30 - 18.00/Winter 16 Oct to 15 Mar 09.30 - 16.00/Boxing Day and New Year's Day 10.00 - 16.00
Thanks for reading
Linked sites: www.stonehenge.co.uk
www.thetrainline.com www.nationalexpress.com www.wdbus.co.uk/
Hopefully this will be one of my more topical reviews, as you may have seen back in the summer on the TV news, or read in the press, that the long discussed and very expensively planned road tunnel under the famous monument has now been scrapped.
Why? On the grounds of cost, pure and simple.
And there ends the latest in a very long line of debateable issues surrounding this, the world famous ancient monument of Stonehenge. Issues that have been discussed and argued over for probably the 5000 years since the original builders arrived on site.
Having visited Stonehenge as recently as July (2005), I decided that now was the ideal time to put fingers to keyboard and share a few of my personal thoughts with you on this "mystical" place.
Before opening the debate, a brief history of my personal experiences here may just be in order. I have visited Stonehenge on four occasions during the last 20 years, each time in some capacity escorting foreign visitors there. Like most English people, I had seen the photographs, read most of the press and yes, on many occasions, sped past on the A303 bound for the West Country.
Stonehenge was therefore a familiar, albeit not personally visited, attraction. Then in the summer of 1985 I found myself planning a day out for an Italian friend and her sister. I thought it would be a good idea to show them the delights of Bath (Italian's, ancient ROMAN city!), they wanted to see Stonehenge. What a bit of luck, a good scenic route from Brighton to Bath falls into place via Stonehenge and Salisbury Plain.
It was June, a scorching hot weekday and we arrived mid-morning, being even then a World Heritage Site, I had expected to be fighting the crowds to view the stones. How wrong I was, there appeared to be four of us here, plus a workman's hut! It took a moment for the penny to drop following my comment 'that the builders might have taken their hut with them when they left the site!'.
Maybe English Heritage, guardians of this historic site, heard my throw away line, for, on subsequent visits, there has been no sign of the little wooden hut.
In fact we did not appreciate just how lucky we were on this particular visit, in those days you were able to walk amongst the stones and take photos of your mates inside the circle. Thanks to fears of vandalism and erosion of the surrounding ground, this is certainly not the case now.
Our unanimous conclusion at the end of this particular visit was that the admission charge, then about £3.50 I think, was very expensive and that, World Heritage Site or not, there really is not much to see or do here as a casual visitor. Speaking entirely personally, I completely failed to see or understand the mystery of the place. We had just spent some 40 minutes looking at some very large, if attractively arranged stones in the middle of absolutely nowhere, with plenty of traffic roaring past on both sides of the site.
.Bringing us right up to date and returning to my opening paragraph, according to English Heritage, there lies the rub
..Get rid of the traffic, remove the roads (bury them underground to be more precise) and the site perimeter fencing, take the car park out of site of the stone circle and you restore the mystery and tranquillity of the place - view it as the Druids did in ancient times
..Just you and the thousands of others doing the same thing!
Fast forward 16 years to my second visit, this time with my Polish friend, soon after to become fiancée and now, of course, my wife. We had talked at length on the telephone before she visited England for the very first time on holiday in May 2001, the foot and mouth summer. Mrs R. has a fascination for all things ancient, the Pyramids, Rome, religious icons, historic houses etc. One evening over the phone I asked her;
"What is the ONE thing that you would most want to see in England?"
"Stonehenge!" Came the reply, without a moment to pause for thought.
Fact. 100% of foreign visitors to England request to see Stonehenge!
Here we go again, book accommodation in Bath, travel there via Stonehenge. When we get there this time there is a small difference, I had been a card carrying member of English Heritage for three years by this time - I had also extended it to a joint membership to cover my Polish guest. On that day showing the cards gained us entry, no charge.
This time my new companion is in awe of the place. It is a baking hot late May day, up here on this completely exposed (there is no shade whatsoever) hill top the temperature was close to 30degC. Being in the first flushes of romance, we linger here for well over an hour, taking lots of pictures of each other with the stones in the background. You could no longer touch the stones or go within 50 yards of them. A roped circular path now took us far closer to the passing traffic than it did the stones.
Fast forward another two years and to Mrs R's parents first visit to our shores. In a true break with tradition we are returning from their favourite city of Bristol, Mrs R has the roadmap in her lap - 'we're not going to be far away from Stonehenge on the way home'. During the summer months it is open until 7.00p.m, naturally when we arrived at 6.50 they were not going to admit us, although we did talk our way onto the car park (£2 charge to non-members). This allowed us to get out and walk along the outside perimeter fence, which as it turns out, provides the best view of all. Through the fence with a standard 35mm lens camera you are able to take good photographs of the entire stone circle, a feat impossible from inside without the use of a distorting wide angle lens.
Two years later, and we are right back to where we started in July this year. Mrs R, her sister (Klaudia) and I returning from a fascinating day out at the S.S. Great Britain in Bristol. We have a couple of hours to spare before reaching home and ask 11 year old Klaudia what she would like to do this afternoon. Without hesitation comes the surprise reply;
"Go to Stonehenge!"
From the A36 Bristol to Southampton road we turned off at Heytesbury onto the B390 to enjoy a scenic and traffic free run over Salisbury Plain, joining the A360 at Shrewton. Stonehenge is located a little to the east of here at the point where the A360 meets the A303.
As we catch our first site of the stone circle we all let out a collective gasp! Having not seen this place on a Sunday we were staggered at the sheer number of visitors here. It was another hot, 26degC, sunny day and there were quite literally thousands of people surrounding the stones on the perimeter path. It was now 4.30p.m and the car park had two overflow fields in operation, there were whole fleets of coaches parked here too.
We were very tempted to give it up for another day, however we were here now and Klaudia was quite excited at the prospect of getting closer to the stones.
Impressively, bearing in mind the sheer number of people here, we queued less than 5 minutes to gain admission to the site. Very sensibly English Heritage had closed the audio guide shed immediately behind the gate to remove the obvious bottleneck caused whilst everyone stopped to collect their head sets. We had heard it last time so were not too bothered about viewing the stones without a guide.
From the entry gate you enter the site through a wide and well lit tunnel under the A360 to emerge above in the field just to the west of the stone circle. There are no steps here, the ramps are quite gentle and the ground on the path around the stones is quite even, Stonehenge I would advise as being fully accessible for the less able bodied amongst us.
As we entered the field there were EH staff handing out the multi-lingual (but not in Polish!) audio guides. One happy 11 year old!
I honestly think that the sight in front of us right now is so familiar that it requires no description here. I am also sure that you will all have better images of Stonehenge inside your heads anyway, perhaps sun-rise on mid-summers' day or the evocative snow scene adorning our fridge door in the form of a magnet perhaps.
As the experts are unable to provide a definitive purpose for this large stone circle, I am certainly not going to attempt to do so. For me it appears to be some form of huge prehistoric and primitive clock. Rather than a place of mystery, personally I find it - extraordinarily - a place of humour, somehow I just cannot help it! Two emails set to friends on Monday after our visit:
1) To my north country friend Mr Smith: went to Stonehenge yesterday, you'd think that after 5000 years they'd have got the roof on, that's the trouble these days, can't get the staff.
2) To another, local friend in response to her comment that they had not visited 'since the children were small': I wouldn't bother, it hasn't changed much in the last 20 years.
Of far more interest to me, as an engineer, is the genuinely awesome task of building this huge monument 3000 years BC. Even now, 5000 years later, the logistics of moving these colossal super-hard sarson stones from the Marlborough Downs to here, would be severely taxing. The smaller but still extremely weighty bluestones (in the centre) were transported all the way from the Preseli Mountains in South Wales, 240 miles away. That is just transporting them, the best guess was that they used a series of logs forming a raft - transporting by sea and river most of the way - finally rolling them on the logs over ground.
The manpower required to do this must have been staggering, likewise hauling those giant stones upright, which they did with the aid of a primitive form of block and tackle, there would have been no other possible way of doing this.
Take a moment, if you will, to consider the huge stones resting on top of those uprights. In actual fact they are not just held there by gravity, but by mortice and tenon joints and then linked to the next one in the circle by tongue and groove joints. It must have taken a mathematician of some skill to work out the angles involved, originally let us not forget that, those top stones formed a complete circle.
Then also cast your mind to the primitive tools and measuring equipment available to those builders, basic flints and animal bones - the skill of those prehistoric craftsmen really is beyond our modern comprehension.
The actual landscape, around and indeed under the stones, also has been largely created by man. It may have aged and mellowed over thousands of centuries but this hillside is clearly not all the work of Mother Nature. One feature of it is an oval track, encircling the stones - some suggest that this was used for chariot racing, but like so much else about Stonehenge it is pure conjecture.
We are jostled amongst the crowd (far more foreign than English language heard spoken), choose our moment to take those classic pictures in front of the stones and having walked that 360 degree perimeter path it is all over - time to hand back the audio guide and head for the "Visitor Centre".
Now, I suppose English Heritage would have you believe that this is part of the 'Stonehenge Experience'. The Visitor Centre amounts to an admittedly very good, and quite reasonably priced, shop, plus a couple of fast food kiosks. There are toilets to be found at each end of the car park. For what is supposed to be a World Heritage Site the facilities and information presented here are nothing short of a disgrace.
Klaudia and I realise as we walk back to the car that Mrs R is nowhere in site. Five minutes later she joins us at the car to explain that she has been reading a planning application notice nailed to a gate. Not only were the roads to be tunnelled away from the ancient monument, but also a whole new visitor centre was planned under ground too, therefore, theoretically at least returning the whole area to its original appearance - whatever that may have been!
All of that too, as we now know is also history.
And now, at last, to open the debate I propose three motions:
1) Temple, Timepiece, Monument or Folly?
2) Exciting day out. Must see, Moving experience, Pile of old stones or Rip-off?
3) World Heritage Centre or National Disgrace?
All of these thoughts passed through my mind as we walked back to the car from the laughably named Visitor Centre. I guess, ultimately, that IS the great debate. Stonehenge is an educational experience because it makes you think.
Stonehenge is open every day apart from 24th - 26th December and 1st January.
1st June to 31st August 0900 - 1900
1st September to 15th October 0930 - 1800
16th October to 15th March 0930 - 1600
16th March to 31st May 0930 - 1800
Car park £2, refunded upon entry to Stonehenge.
English Heritage members free entry and parking.
Standing on the Salisbury plain, Stonehenge is an amazing and iconic site. No one really knows who built it, or when, or why. it was built in stages, with holes in the ground, wooden constructions and finally the stones. The place is far from pristine, with many stones fallen or missing, but even so it is a huge and impressive construction, with giant stones towering over you, casting long shadows. The tourist experience is one that I've seen and can guess a fair amount about - you arrive by car, there doesn't seem to be any option for getting here on public transport, its a fair hike from the nearest town. The car park is large, as you'd expect with a world famous site. there's the obligatory shop with overpriced memorobelia of dubius quality -you know, the little plastic models and the tea towels sold in every tourist trap. The loos are remarkably cold. The car park does afford you some amazing views out across the Salisbury plain. Accompanied by the hum of traffic - Stonehenge is right on the edge of a road, you go under said road, and past the fence put up to protect the site from careless visitors, into the area of the circle. There's a smooth, flat path for you to walk around, suitable for wheelchairs, pushchairs and the otherwise less mobile. Even walking slowly it won't take you long to get round. You can't walk on the grass and explore the earthwork around the edge, nor can you go up to the stones. I wonder how many people are dissappointed by this. I recall going past in a car once, seeing a large number of people walking slowly round the path. it didn't look inspiring. I gather from friends who have done this, that the expereince is not a profound one and that the atmosphere is 'lacking'. My story is a somewhat different one. We set off from Gloucester at about half past eleven, at night, with the roads almost empty. We stopped for a while near woodhenge, to watch the first hints of dawn
touching the sky, and then went on to Stonehenge. When we arrived at the car park it was about three in the morning, it was freezing cold, and there was thick mist on the plain - through which the tumuli appeared like small islands. Other people were gathering and already there was an atmosphere of anticipation and possibility. Throughout the year, various Pagan groups have access to this ancient site. The most famous being the summer solstice gathering when people descend in their thousands. This was a much smaller group, meeting some days after. It was starting to get light as we made our way into the stones, at first following the tourist path, and then, where we where directed, moving into the circle. It was peaceful, reverent. I walked clockwise aroud the circle, between the outer ring of stones and the smaller inner one. We chanted, we sang, we meditated and we watched the sun come up through the mist. It was one of the most awe inspiring, breathtaking expereinces imaginable. There's little traffic around that time, and the skylarks were singing in the dawn. Would that everyone could experience the place in such a way - not as a curiosity or monument, but as a living part of the landscape, and a temple of the sun (Ok, it might not have been built as a solar temple or calander or anything like that, but watching the sun come up between the stones is dam impressive anyway.) My advice if you go to Stonehenge during normal opening hours, is to take your time, to close your eyes for a moment and try to imagine how it would be without the cars, the tourists, the continually snapping of cameras. It is an incredible place, a place with the power to stir the soul and ignite the imagiantion. It's also a place people visit to walk round and tick off their list of places they've seen, which to my mind is a waste of any expereince, regardless of the location you visit.
I have visited Stonehenge 4 times and my last visit was the weekend just gone (23-03-2002) which has prompted me to write this little opinion. If you only enjoy places that are commercialised (i.e. Alton Towers) then Stonehenge is not for you at all, but if you enjoy things of beauty and British heritage then this is a must. Before my first visit I was never that interested in wanting to go but then about 5 years ago we was in the area and decided to have a ride out and take a look, which was when I was hooked by its shear mystery. Every time I return it sends a shiver down my spine the first time I glance it as we approach, it does not matter how much you look at Stonehenge you can not get used to seeing it rising out the ground as it refuses to blend in and keeps its mystery a secret. What do I think it was for, I have no idea but one thing I am sure of, no one else has worked it out yet as I think it is far more complex than human thinking of today. Anyway that’s enough babbling on my thoughts what do you need to know about Stonehenge. Stonehenge is looked after by the English Heritage who look after some 350+ historic sites within England and most of these are open to the public. More information on becoming a member can be found at the contact information listed below: Address English Heritage, PO Box 1BB, London, W1A 1BB. Telephone 0870 333 1181 Web site www.english-heritage.org.uk I do recommend you visit the web site, and be aware that the Heritage is not a profit-making organisation. I am not yet myself a member of the English Heritage but do plan to join when my daughter is a little older. Cost and opening times ADMISSION PRICES from 25th march 2002 – 2003 Adults £4.40 Children £2.20 Concession £3.30 Family Ticket (2A & up to 3Child) 11.00 10% discount for groups of eleven or more paying as one group. I recommend you buy a guidebook which at £3.5
0 is not going to break the bank. To find out when the site is open it is best to visit English Heritage web site as it varies during the year but as a rule of thumb it is normally open between the hours of 9.30am and closes at 4pm but later in the summer. Also when you go past the pay booth you will see some phone like units take one of these as you go round the stones as they are a audio tour device Directions By car 2 miles west of Amesbury on junction of A303 and A344/360 By bus Tel: 0870 608 2608 for details By Train Nearest Station is Salisbury 9 ½ miles Tel: 0845 7484950 Stonehenge is 2 miles west of the town of Amesbury in Wiltshire and only 90 miles west of London. There are many tour companies offering day trips from London or you can drive. The nearest railway station is Salisbury and there are regular trains leaving from Waterloo Station in London. On my last visit I stayed at Byways House (which was a lovely family run hotel in Salisbury and I recommend that even if you don’t stay in Salisbury you give it a visit as it is a nice clean place with plenty to see and do. Visit http://www.a1tourism.com/uk/bywayshouse.html or www.stonehenge.co.uk where you will find a list of hotels to stay at plus additional information on the Henge. When you arrive at the site you will find there is a car park on the opposite side of the road to the stones, this is where you park and pay and then you go through a tunnel under the road and come up on the opposite side within the fencing holding the stones. The only disappointing thing is that you can no longer walk amongst the stones and touch them, but must stick to a marked out footpath. The footpath does go quite close to the stones so don’t be to disappoint. History This section gives you a little information on the history of Stonehenge but if you search the web you will find more information than you could possible read and a wealth of
information can be found at the links I have included. Stonehenge is one of the most outstanding and most famous monuments in England. The original henge was built over 5000 years ago and just a circular ditch and bank. This circular bank is the outer boundary of the Henge and lies about 30m outside the stones; part of the ditch was excavated in 1919-26 and was only partly refilled afterwards. The other half remains untouched. The earthwork is broken by a entrance to the Henge known as the Avenue which has been traced back all the way to the River Avon at West Amesbury. A second entrance to the hege was also found to enter from the south. Then about 4500 years ago a wooden settings were erected to the interior of the earthwork henge, it is not known the design form or extent of this Woodenhenge as nothing remains today apart from the holes that the posts were set in. It is known that there were timber settings in the centre of the Henge, the northeast entrance (Avenue) and also at the southern entrance. Also during this phase of the Henge there is evidence of settlement within a kilometre of the Henge. About 4000 years ago a stone monument structure was arranged and rearranged for almost 1000 years. This began with the arrival of the Bluestone s from the Preseli Mountains in Wales, these stones weighted up to 4 tonnes each. Some 4 hundred years later saw the arrival of the Sarsen stones each weighing over 25 tonnes they arrived from the Marlborough Downs 20 miles to the north, these are the main stones that can still be seen today. So what was Stonehenge built for and by who, go see it and decide for yourself as one day access may no longer be available then it will be to late. Other area of interest Why you are in the area there are lots and lots of other points of interest to see and many as equally mysterious, look out for the white horses carved into hillsides, apparently there are seven of these
around the area. I enjoyed our visit to Avesbury were there is a stone circle surrounds the village which is old as the Stonehenge also its free to get in and you can touch the stones (I did find it was very busy here). There is also a nice pub called the Red Lion with a wishing well inside. Get a local map book and search the web for loads of information exist’s on the area, then you can plan your trip well and take in as much as possible.
Next to London and all the sights Stonehenge must be one of the next favourite "must see" with visitors from this country and abroad. Even today no one is possitive about its history. This adds to its attraction. We do know it is very old and a World Heritage Site but apart from that nothing is absolutely a definate fact. Stonehenge orientation on the rising and setting of the sun has always brought visitors and worshipprs to it especially on Mid summers day when you can see the sun through the stones. It is believed the circle and its banks were part of a huge astronomical calandar but whether this is correct we might never know, in fact this will always remain a mystery. Nowadays it is so very commercialised there. You have to pay £4.20 entrance fee. There are fences all the way round so you can not get close enough to listen to the Whispering stones. There are ice cream vendors and gift shops now. Also you can look around the Stonehenge kitchen. My Grandad was a Druid. He used to go here but that was before it was so well known. Personally I would rather have Avesbury. This in my opinion beats Stonehenge anyday. It is known to be oldr than Stonehenge and it is not commercialised - yet. You can go here, free, you can even walk around the stones and the view there is absolutely magnificent. Also you can get near the stones so that you can put your ear to the stones and yes you can hear them whispering. When we had American friends over we took them to see both Stonehenge and Avesbury. They enjoyed both but prefered like I do Avesbury.
Last Bank Holiday weekend, I decided to take my son to Stonhenge. We have been there before, but he seems to like that place. And also the last time we went, I couldn't take my wife as she was working. Anyway we were on our way. The only problem was that it was a very hot day and when you are driving on a Motorway, you can't even keep the windows open due to the constant noises of the cars. We managed to get up to Stonhenge Road. Then we were lost for half an hour. Please be advised that it is not easy to find the place although I had been there before. After going round the circle, we finally reached the place. Oh my lord! What do we see? A long que for about a mile. Obvioulsy we had to slow down the car, and wait for our turn. Parking is a bit of problem sometimes. After waiting for a while, we managed to get a parking place. LOCATION Salisbury Plain, Southern England ABOUT STONEHENGE Stonehenge is the most outstanding monument in the British Isle. Built in 3050BC. It is believed to be built by the ancient people to map the course of sun and moon. It was used as sort of calendar. The sun would set in between the certain stones. And in fact, during the summer and winter soltices, the line up perfectly NAMES OF STONES There were many kinds of stones. Heel Stone Slaughter Stone Circle of Sarsen stones with lintels Circle of bluestones Station Stone Prices of the tickets are about 4.50 for an adult and 2.50 for a child. Free Guided Tour is provided every 30 minutes. These Tour last upproximatley 30 minutes. If you don't want to wait then you can use the Complimentary Audio Tours in various languages. It is very easy to use. I sometimes think that I might have studied about this in school in History. But I am not sure. I will be adding more to this when I get a ch
ance. Till then please rate this one. Thank you Love Honeys
I was planning to post this op on Midsummer’s day, but as usual I am a little bit behind, (well I am more than a little bit behind to tell the truth but we won’t go there now! :0)!!!) It just seemed an appropriate time of year to tell you my story of Stonehenge. Stonehenge is more than simply stones as far as I am concerned, and I am sure I am not the only one who feels that way? What can I say that hasn’t been said more than once about the mystery of them? Somehow I feel rather a fraud to be writing an opinion on them, little ol’ me. But this is all it really is, my humble opinion on a rather mystical pile of rocks in Wiltshire. Before I really get into this op, (and I think this is going to be another one of my epics, if you are going to stay for the whole thing may I suggest you go and make yourself a cuppa now!) I feel I must explain that this op is a mixture of my own personal experiences of this as well as some articles that I came across whilst doing a bit of research about it. I first visited Stonehenge in the early 70’s on the way down to Devon on a family holiday. I was a trendy teenager then, complete with knitted poncho and bell-bottoms, (the first time around!) and wasn’t particularly all that enamoured by this pile of rocks. But, I can vividly remember being there and walking in and around the stones and, touching them….. They must have subconsciously impressed me at the time because when we took our first family holiday in 1997 I pleaded with hubby to take me to Stonehenge first. Its ok we were going to Dorset, not Yorkshire!! Ho ho :0) I just had to see them again, I can’t say why, I don’t know why? I just knew that I really did HAVE to see them again… So one dull day in the late summer of ’97 we set off from Essex to Dorset via the Stones. Incidentally by taking this detour it took us 9 hours to get to Dorset..it took 3 hours to get ho
me the slightly (ahem..) more direct route! As we drove along the A30 just before the Stones came into view hubby woke me(!) “Kazzie quick look now….” Its hard to describe what I saw, well that’s not really as it was the Stones from a distance and looking awesome, but harder to express how I felt right at that moment. I was dumbstruck, no mean feat for me; they looked so incredible, even in the rain as it was pouring down at the time. We drove to, and parked in the car park, me with my nose pressed against the window not wanting to miss a single view of them. “Righto” I said. “Who is coming to take a closer look at them with me?” to be met by silence, and the odd groan!! Ok now I could kinda relate to that seeing as the boys were around about the same age as I was the first time I ever clapped eyes on them, so I knew I would be wasting my money by taking them in, and I didn’t want to force them. As it was my youngest said he would come with me, more because I think he needed a break from his brothers between whom he had been squashed for the long journey thus far! So James and I paid our money, and I am so sorry I can’t remember the cost but it wasn’t cheap:0(and went under the road to the other field to where the Stones are. As you go through the tunnel you can take a hand-held guide, (No its not a little man you can take around with you who will tell you all about the stones!!) select your chosen language and as you proceed around it gives you a running commentary, which I thought was an excellent idea! I didn’t bother with one I didn’t particularly want to hear about them, I have reads loads of books over the years, but James did which I think/hope made it a bit more interesting for him. There aren’t many of these guides available, and I should think that during the busy months you would be lucky to get hold of one. Although we were there i
n the late summer it truly was a disgusting day (another reason methinks why the others chose to stay in the car!) continually drizzling so there weren’t too many tourists there at the same time. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get as close to the Stones as I had when I was there all those years ago, but it actually didn’t dishearten me at all. I was surprised that I was closer that I thought I was going to be and it was more awe inspiring being a bit away from them. I know some people have thought it I shame that you aren’t permitted to get up close to, and touch them these days but I am in full agreement to this. They have been defaced over the years, but I believe that the weather is doing its best now to erase any graffiti and the like, a positive side to erosion perhaps? We wandered around for quite a while and I was pleasantly surprised that James seemed to be quite impressed by them. We took lots of ‘photos of each other grimacing against the drizzle, which was rapidly deteriorating into rain, and then having had our fill we proceeded back to the tunnel, replaced our little guide back into his little slot and went back to the car park, via the gift shop. Now I am a right tourist me! Everywhere I go I simply have to buy some souvenirs of that place. It matters not that they are the tackiest of tack; I just have to have something other than piccies to remind me. One thing I can say about the gift shop at Stonehenge is that you will not find much in the way of tack in it. No plastic coated, hologram biros with “Stonehenge” etched into them thank you! Exact opposite in fact! It was bloody expensive! I was after getting some teaspoons and thimbles to send to my pals in Australia and Canada; the cheapest teaspoon was over a fiver! It stayed on the shelf. I bought lots of postcards instead! I was surprised at how small the gift shop was though? It really was little more than a large ki
osk? I have heard that a larger style one might be on the cards for future development of Stonehenge. I pray that they aren’t going to turn it into something along the lines of what they have done at Lands End? All plastic and appallingly cheap looking… Well I think I have wittered on long enough about MY return visit to the Stones, time for a few facts for the anoraks amongst us, Yes I can be one too….sometimes! Stonehenge means “hanging stones”. It was erected in several phases over thousands of years. Simple human power along with ropes and levers supposedly moved the massive stones from Wales all the way to Wiltshire. It is visible for 1-2 miles in most directions. It is 80 miles west of London, and 330 miles above sea level. We all know that it is a very spiritual site for Druids who reconvene here each Midsummer Day. Perhaps I should consider becoming a Druid…..? It is one of England top tourist attractions (except on the wet day we went!!) bringing in over 700,000 people each year. Investigations over the last 100 years reveal that it was built in stages from 2800-1800 B.C. It appears to have been designed for several purposes, observation of the summer solstices, eclipses (Oh how I wish I had seen the eclipse from here, or even to have seen it at all…full stop!) While I was browsing sites to find out more info about Stonehenge, I came across something that I hadn’t known, about future plans for it. I wont give you all the details here, I am sure you are all getting sleepy now, if not bordering on comatose! If you are at all as interested about Stonehenge as me then I thoroughly recommend you go visit: www.theactivemind.com . it has some very interesting articles about Stonehenge and its future. English Heritage manage the site on a day-to-day basis and they are involved with other groups to ensure that the lands
cape will return to its original splendour, which may involve re-routing roads and the like? Interesting eh? Archaeologists and historians want it to be more than protected, they want it to be enhanced. You never know, if the plans came to fruition in a sympathetic manner there might well be another teenager one day who will remember his first visit to Stonehenge and want to pay a return visit there one day, just like his Mum had to….. Thank you. I hope you enjoyed this op! Kazzie!!