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. 


24 comments on “Stonehenge, Repackaged

  1. Hi Marcia, I can remember Stonehenge as a child when we would just pull up off the roadside, walk down a rutted path and meander amongst the stones, often alone. It’s amazing how much it’s changed and makes me feel rather old – I haven’t been back, although I can appreciate how very informative it must be nowadays. Back then it was eerie, and full of “what if’s” and “I wonder’s” but no pertinent signage or description. Love the new look of your site by the way (and thank you for supporting me so much in my blogging x)

  2. Hi Marcia. This is not what I would have expected at Stonehenge. How close do visitors get to the stone circle? Thanks for linking up this week. #TPThursday

  3. We saw Stonehenge 36 years ago in it’s natural form and I must say it didn’t make much of an impression on my young (24 y.o.) mind. I would probably find it more interesting today, but I can’t really be sure. I agree it is a pity about the cheap baubles.

  4. Doesn’t it feel awful when you visit a place and you discover it is totally overhyped? Thanks goodness I have not experienced a lot of those moments on my trips. It is kind of surprising that Stonehenge didn’t have any sort of visitor’s center until recently. How it worked before? Were you able to walk around without tickets or controlled access?

  5. So many top sights grapple with this question: how to accommodate the hordes of people wanting to see them while protecting the site and paying for managing all those people. It sounds like, by keeping all of the crass commercialism and parking and visitor’s services far away from the site, perhaps Stonehenge regains some of its grandeur?

  6. It’s great to see that there’s now a visitor centre at Stonehenge, but disappointing to see tacky commercial souvenirs on sale too.

  7. It’s been several years since I’ve been to Stonehenge and loved visiting it. It would be incredible to see these new updates and improvements! Thanks for sharing these new changes!

  8. I’m not sure it was overhype in this case – or maybe I overhyped it in my mind.
    We went after hours so I can only guess how the original center worked. Whatever was there before was smaller and, for me, entirely forgettable. Since we were the only group there at the time, we had the place to ourselves – that’s why I went then so I could go inside the circle and close to the stones.

  9. You’re welcome, Nancie. Thanks for hosting #TPThursday.
    Visitors can choose a tour that takes them inside the circle. That’s what I did the first time I went. It’s a pretty cool experience.

  10. My pleasure, Jo!
    Wow, what beautiful memories! I believe we’re beginning to answer the ‘I wonders’ and the ‘what ifs’ and there are now lots of signage.

  11. Too bad for the crass commercialization (esp the cheap-looking Made in China baubles) … btw the thatched houses have a striking resemblance to traditional African huts

  12. I’ve not seen Stonehenge so I wondered about how the facilities there are set up. Thank you for sharing. Perhaps by knowing what to expect others will avoid the disappointment you experienced the first time you were there.

  13. I haven’t been to Stone Henge, I would like to. I’ve been to Newgrange, a monolithic tomb in ireland. In the 80s you still needed a tour to go inside, but there was nothing much around and you just drove up to the tomb. By the late 90s there was a visitor’s center and a trolley to take you to the tomb. I wonder if at some point they will limit people going inside because there must be wear and tear. And of course a souvenir shop. But I guess yoyo have to pay for all the improvements somehow!

  14. I’d love to see Newgrange. I’m sure, on their end, they have to think of how to make a site accessible and safe while limiting the wear and tear that continuous contact brings. It’s a delicate balance, one that I’m sure they’re always calibrating.

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