An hour and half’s drive from London, in the UK, lies the ancient landscape of Salisbury Plain (pronounced Souls-brie Plane). It is a 200 square mile flat expanse en route to the West Country and would be pretty unremarkable if it didn’t set the scene for one of England’s best known, and least understood monuments, Stonehenge.
Mr Fluskey and I had hired a car for the weekend, a rare treat for us. We had been to a wedding down in Poole, Dorset and so we decided to visit Stonehenge on the way back to London. The excesses of the wedding the day before had left us with some cobwebs that needed blowing away. After a large, pub lunch, we squeezed into the hire car and set off.
Driving into the car park, you could be forgiven for thinking that you have arrived at the wrong place. There are no giant stone circles to be seen, just a very Scandinavian looking building.
The Visitor Centre
The new English Heritage building looks much more Icelandic than British. It stands a mile and a half away from the stones themselves.
On the right hand side of the ticket cube you will find an exhibition space which will tell you a bit more about the area, the presumed uses of the stones and archaeological discoveries in the area. I was very interested to find out how they tested the eating vessels to discover what people ate; Scottish pigs that must have trotted for hundreds of miles!
It also has a fab 360 projection room that puts you in the centre of the stones throughout time and all weathers. It’s a nice way to spend a warm/dry half an hour.
Just outside of the exhibition room you will spy the recreation of prehistoric houses, the foundations of which were found nearby.
On the opposite side is the gift shop full of anything and everything you could conceive of covered in Stonehenge. We skipped straight through here ignoring the trinkets and hoodies, but we did stop in the cafe for some refreshments.
There is a very good selection of delicious drinks, cakes and nibbles. I was sorely tempted by the elderberry wine but I opted for a softer option instead.
After a refuel it was time to head for the stones themselves.
Getting To The Stones
From the visitor centre, you need to make your way to the stone’s location, a mile and a half away. You have a few options here.
- The Bus – The easiest way to the reach the stones is on the shuttle bus. These ply the route between the two points every five minutes. The journey takes just under ten minutes and this is included in your ticket price.
- Walking the Road – Along the tarmac, you can follow the walking path. This takes about 30 minutes and it allows you to enjoy the scenery on the way up. You will walk through a small patch of woods called Fargo woods, and then the stone circle comes into view.
- The Scenic Route – The land around Stonehenge is owned by the National Trust. They have put together three walks that lead to the site. You can see them here. They are all between 3 and 4 miles, and none will be too taxing (the joy of these things sitting on a plain).
I wish we’d had more time, and more appropriate walking gear, so that we could have tackled one of these walks. Instead, we walked up to the stones along the private road and jumped on a bus back.
The Site of The Stones
Hidden behind the woodland as you walk up the road, your sense of anticipation is built up nicely. Thus, when the henge comes into view, it’s quite exciting. You’ll see a big cluster of people in between you and the monument, don’t panic. Yes there are many selfie sticks fanatics, family portrait posers and instagram crouchers on the path to this side but all you need to do is walk a little further around and you’ll have a lovely spot to yourself.
So What Exactly IS Stonehenge?
Well, that is debatable. On the face of it, Stonehenge is a geometrically pleasing group of stones. These stones, the largest of which weighs about 30 tonnes, were dragged or rolled over 20 miles just so they could be arranged here. Then there are the bluestones, transported over 140 miles from Wales. It’s easy to forget just what an achievement that was 4000 years ago. The largest sarsen stone is a pretty vast 8.7m tall but you’d never know; most of it is underground.
Beyond that, we have to use archaeology, know how, guess work and technology to figure it out. This henge (a stone or wooden prehistoric circle) has baffled people for generations. There are several theories, some more informed than others.
Behind The Stones
What theories lie beyond what we know?
- Stonehenge was a buriel site for the great and the good. The landscape around the henge is full of buriel mounds and lots of human remains have been found there.
- Stonehenge was a temple. It creates a strong focal point and considering the time and effort required to build it, surely means it was was a very special place.
- Stonehenge was a performance space. The acoustics inside the circle are very special, changing and enhancing voices and instruments in quite an advanced way.
- Stonehenge was an observatory. On the days of the winter and summer solstice, the sunrise and sunset line up perfectly with the heel stone.
- Stonehenge was built by aliens, along with the Great Pyramid of Egypt and other ancient monuments. These were built before the invention of the wheel and so theorists think we must have been taught how to build them by extraterrestrials.
- Stonehenge was built by a giant! Supposedly, a race of huge people called the Nephilim survived the flood of Noah and helped Merlin construct the henge. Henry Browne also thought it had survived the biblical flood, sharing that information with readers of his 1823 guidebook.
I am sure you have read articles about communing with the stones, feeling a strange energy of the stones, sensing the history of the plain. I’m not sure we felt anything beyond a very British interest, but I did enjoy our visit.
It can require a little imagination to get a sense of the place, the audio guide really helps with this as well.
I am really glad we have finally visited Stonehenge but I’m 80% sure I would have preferred it if there hadn’t been a very chilly wind battering us across the plain. It gave the pictures a nice gloomy feel but it made taking a picture of us very tricky!
I think with a little more planning, and better weather, we could have made more of our time; exploring the area. It was a shame to miss that, but on the flip side, we got on the returning bus just as a rain shower burst from the sky…phew!
Plan Your Visit
Thinking of visiting Stonehenge? Here are some things you might want to know.
The English Heritage Stonehenge Website is an excellent source of information
- You can purchase adult tickets, children’s ticket and family tickets online. They are quite a bit cheaper if you do so. On the door tickets are possible but you pay more.
- Children up to 4 years of age go free, 5 – 15 and they pay a children’s price.
- It is cheaper to book in advance on the website. It guarantees you entrance as long as you arrive at the right time and you can skip the longer walk up queue.
- Concessions – If you are over 60 or a student with a valid ID you will receive a discount. These can be booked online.
- Access Rate – If you are disabled, you pay for a full price ticket but you can also book a complimentary carer ticket online, ahead of time or at the ticket office.
- Gift Aid – If you are a UK taxpayer, you can choose whether or not to include a donation. This can be Gift Aided and so the donation gets increased by 25%.
- English Heritage members go completely free.
- Stonehenge splits the year into two. From mid-October to mid-March, it has reduced hours. In the warmer months, it stays open later.
- In 2017 it is closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with reduced hours on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
- Last entry is two hours before the advertised closing time.
- Your ticket price includes an audio guide. These are available in ten different languages.
- You can also download an audio guide onto your iPhone or Android device.
- Occasionally there is an Access event which allows you to get closer to the stones. It is about twice the price of a normal ticket. These happen early in the morning so you’ll need to stay near by. Check the website for upcoming dates.