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Stonehenge, Repackaged

Stonehenge was a bit of a disappointment when I saw it in 2011 and for several days after, I tried to figure out why.

One thought was that Stonehenge could not compare to the inflated images I had in my head – images that had been shaped by television, stories I had read and my own very fertile imagination.

Another was that my mind was still fresh from seeing the Eiffel Tower a few days earlier. Unlike Stonehenge, I hadn’t longed to see it or created personal myths around it. It was a blank slate, and when I finally saw it up close, its size left me speechless – and that’s not easy.

The Eiffel Tower soared over the city of Paris like the centerpiece on a spread of buildings against which I could make a quick, visual comparison. I could appreciate its towering scale.

Except for a line of trees in the distance, there is no structure near Stonehenge that I could compare it to, and the flat, open plain that surrounds it makes its 50-ton stones, which are nearly 30 feet high, seem stunted.

The entrance to the monument was unremarkable. My only memory of it was seeing a drawing depicting how Stonehenge would have looked when it was intact.

The Repackaging of Stonehenge

Since my last visit, Stonehenge has had a long overdue overhaul (from some articles I read, it was nearly 30 years in the making).

A handsome new £27,000,000 ($41,000,000) Visitor Center, which echoes the design of Stonehenge’s iconic trilithons, now greets visitors. It houses a ticket office, exhibition space displaying more than 250 artifacts found at the site, a gift shop, gallery, café and restroom facilities.

Since most people never get to see Stonehenge from inside the circle, there is an audio-visual presentation that simulates the view during the summer and winter solstices. During my visit in August, there was an exhibition of postcards, guidebooks and photographs chronicling the different ways that we have experienced and interpreted Stonehenge over the years.

A recreated Neolithic village of thatched cottages occupies a prominent space just outside the Visitor Center. Appropriately, there’s a gigantic sarsen stone that visitors are invited to try to pull. Even though the stone sits atop logs – experts’ best theory of how the builders of Stonehenge moved those massive stones – it was still difficult to move it.

Stonehenge sarsen stone

Larsen stone – Think you can move this?

Stonehenge moving the sarsen stone

Not as easy as it looks

To provide access to the now roped-off stone circle, a trolley service ferries visitors the mile and a half trip from the Visitor Center. The monument is also wheel-chair accessible.

Rounding out the repackaging of Stonehenge, is a larger parking lot that can accommodate cars and tour buses. A minor road that ran through the site has also been closed.

These improvements make Stonehenge the first class facility it always should have been. However, I was shocked by the crass commercialization that it has embraced. To me, mead and curd fit better into the milieu they’ve created than Stonehenge water, shortbread or cheap-looking Made in China baubles.

Linking this week with Travel Photo Thursday hosted by Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox, Jan at Budget Travel Talk, Ruth at Tanama Tales and, Rachel at Rachel’s Ruminations 

Budget Travelers Sandbox
 
Also linking to Weekend Travel Inspiration hosted by Rhonda at Albom Adventures, Reflections Enroute, The Crowded Planet, Contented Traveller, Safari24, Families Go! and Malaysian Meanders. 
 
 

 

Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites, Part I

I didn’t plan to return to Stonehenge – the Neolithic stone circle located on the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. I’d been there only a few years ago, in 2011, to be exact. It was during that tour that I heard about Avebury.

If you like Stonehenge and have time, the guide said, you should visit Avebury. It’s quite impressive!

I was intrigued. I couldn’t imagine anything more impressive than Stonehenge. If Avebury is that impressive, I thought, why hadn’t I heard about it?

Disappointed because I was leaving London the following day, I promised that I would visit Avebury on my next trip. I started looking for a tour as soon as I knew I was going. Since all the tours I found included Stonehenge, I concluded that it’d be good to experience both. 

So early one morning in August, I boarded a small tour bus with our guide, Edward, an archeologist from Tours from Antiquity, and about 15 others for a day-long tour of Durrington Walls, Stonehenge, Bath, Silbury Hills and Avebury.

It’s clear now why the tours to Avebury include Stonehenge and I’m glad that I saw them both on the same day. With only a few miles separating them, seeing these sites together makes it easier to understand the context and appreciate their connection. 

Durrington Walls

Our first stop was Durrington Walls. Located about 2 miles from Stonehenge, it is the area where the builders of Stonehenge lived. They were hunter-gatherers who lived in thatched huts and moved around the landscape hunting red deer, wild boar, and aurochs (wild cattle, now extinct).

They’d gather in the thousands in the Durrington Walls area for the winter and summer solstices. Tests done on animal bones found there suggest the animals, some of which came from as far away as Scotland, were killed at about 9 months.

Woodhenge

Located in Durrington, about 1000 yards from Stonehenge, Woodhenge is a six-ring wooden circle that was discovered in 1925. It was built about the same time as Stonehenge and has a similar layout but it is still unclear how the site was used. The posts were of different sizes, with those in the largest ring up to 30 feet (9 m) high. Some of the posts were aligned to the direction of the summer sunrise and the winter sunset. A ditch enclosed the site, making it a true henge. 

The site was excavated by Maud Cunnington who discovered the remains of a 3 or 4-year old child (a cairn marks the spot), who Cunnington interpreted as having been sacrificed. However, scientists have not been able to analyze the remains as they were destroyed when the museum in which they were being held was bombed during World War II. Also found buried among the posts were pottery, tools made of flint, carved chalk objects, and other items of everyday use.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge has changed since my first visit. Now a sprawling new £27,000,000 (about $40,000,000) Visitor Center, a gift shop, a small museum and a replica of a prehistoric village, anchor the site. Visitors are ferried 1 1/2 miles by buses from the Visitor Center to the site of the circle.

The stones were straight ahead as we arrived at the drop-off point and with people already milling around, it was striking how small they looked in comparison to the size of the stones. 

Even though I’ve seen them before, the stones were impressive. I’m happy I visited when I did and that I was able to go inside the circle as access is now restricted, the site now roped off.

A few things to know:

  1. Although it’s called Stonehenge, strictly speaking, it isn’t a henge. A henge is a stone or wooden circle with a ditch on the inside. The ditch at Stonehenge is on the outside. Woodhenge and Avebury are true henges.
  2. Archeologists believe Stonehenge was created around 3000 BC.
  3. Stonehenge was a burial site.
  4. Stonehenge is made up of two circles – an inner circle of smaller bluestones, which weigh about 4 tons and came from the Preseli Hills, 150 miles away in Western Wales, and an outer circle of sarsen stones that weight approximately 50 tons.
  5. Trillithons is a structure created by two large vertical stones topped by a horizontal stone (a lintel). The lintels are secured ‘Lego-like’.
  6. Stonehenge and Avebury were named World Heritage sites in 1986.
  7. There is a £5,000 fine for trespassing.

Stonehenge Travel Essentials

Hours 
Mar 16 – May 31  9:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Jun 1 – Aug 31  9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. 
Sept 1 – Oct 15    9:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Oct 16 – Mar 15  9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
** Last admission – 2 hours before close

Admission Price: 
Adults (Free for members of English Heritage) £15.50 / $23.93
Children (5-15 years) £9.30 / $14.36
Family (2 adults, 3 children) £40.30 / $62.22

Travel Photo Thursday – Stonehenge

Stonehenge

Looking back at the photos I took at Stonehenge, the one of this stone always grabs my attention. Maybe because it’s separated by several feet from the main stone circle and seems to be keeping watch over the others or maybe because of its shape — it looks like a large animal — I’m not sure. I look for clues and see body parts where there’s only stone.

 

Stonehenge – Sacred Stone Circle

I don’t remember when I first learned about Stonehenge but from the beginning, I’ve wanted to see it. As soon as I knew I would be going to London, I started searching for a tour. I opted for a private tour that would take me inside the stone circle at sunset. (There are also sunrise tours and other tours that don’t go inside the circle.)

Once I booked, it was hard to contain my excitement.

After a scenic drive through some of England’s most picturesque villages and towns, we arrived at Stonehenge around 6 p.m., just as the sun began its descent over the horizon.

I was struck by the size of the monuments. They looked smaller than what I had imagined they would have been after seeing them so many times on television. But they were no less impressive.

Since our group of 52 was too large, we separated into two – the first group entering the circle shortly after we arrived, the second about 45 minutes later.

Stonehenge is believed to have been built as a burial site around 2500 BC. Since there’s no written record of how it was constructed, speculation and theories abound.

However it was built and whatever the reason, it is still an incredibly impressive site, despite several missing and / or damaged stones.

The site feels peaceful, the surrounding area lush and green with fields of canola (rapeseed) in the distance.

When I see places like Stonehenge, I can’t help wondering what will be left of the structures we’ve built and what future generations will think of us.

What do you think?

The Heelstone

Yellow field of canola

Stone circle at Stonehenge

Artist’s rendition of what Stonehenge looked like

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