Thursday, 2 October 2014

Circling Stonehenge ...

The English Heritage website describes it as:

Winter sunrise at Stonehenge

Stonehenge is perhaps the most famous prehistoric monument in the world. Begun as a simple earthwork enclosure, it was built in several stages, with the unique lintelled stone circle being erected in the late Neolithic period around 2500 BC. Stonehenge remained important into the early Bronze Age, when many burial mounds were built nearby. Today

Stonehenge, together with Avebury and other associated sites, forms the heart of Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site", with a unique and dense concentration of outstanding prehistoric monuments
English Heritage

Stonehenge had changed since my last visit around twelve years ago with The Bostonian, his son and my Rags. Not the stones, of course, they remain solid and unchanging now that they have English Heritage acting as their custodians, but the layout of the visitor facilities which have been moved from the area near to the stones and are now about a mile away.

So now you enter from a roundabout to a large car-park, a new entrance where the queues were long because I had timed my visit to coincide with the autumn equinox, a beautiful sunny day and with the recent showing of a BBC TV series about the recent archaeological work at Stonehenge and the surrounding area. I had been aware that I could have pre-booked a ticket but I'd foolishly dismissed that good advice and so I kicked myself as I joined the end of the slow-moving queue. And then I thought, why not cut the queue by joining English Heritage, which would also give me free-entry to many other places to visit and so two birds, one stone, if you excuse the pun. I popped into the E.H office and a lovely lady sorted out my annual membership, gave me a bag full of goodies and led me past the ticket office and past the queue to pick up my audio guide (I was given two which meant I was able to pass on the spare to a lady who'd neglected to collect hers) and so to enter the site. Perfect!      

I chose to take a shuttle-bus to the stones rather than walk on wonky-knees that had stiffened-up during the sixty-minutes of stop-start crawling along the two miles or so of dual-suddenly-narrowing-to-single-carriageway, trust me, the traffic can be a problem when approaching Stonehenge. (See also Equinox and The BBC above.) Some people in their reviews have complained about being 'shuttled to the stones' but it's purely a matter of choice and one can, if one wishes, walk. Or, do as I did, and hop off the shuttle-bus half-way to take in the landscape and some of the nearby barrows as you walk the last half-mile up to Stonehenge.

I love the Neolithic, I love stone circles, I love prehistoric treasures, but even so I was not prepared for the feeling of, how to describe it, the sensation of being close to the people who once walked on that land. It was like being transported back in time, and feeling as if turning my head quickly would enable me to catch a glimpse of one of our ancestors. It was like looking back through the millennia to the Neolithic landscape. Hardly surprising, perhaps, that the past should feel so present where from every angle, whichever way you turn, you see barrows and stones and the faint lines of former henges and avenues.

And I arrived at the stones...

I walked round once while listening to my audio player which gave a brilliant account of the history of Stonehenge, the people who brought the stones to this site, when and why, and some added extra information for those who, like me, couldn't get enough of it.

And I took photographs, lots of photographs of the stones and the crows and also some of the other tourists who asked me if I would kindly take their group photographs, quite a few of them in fact...

And I spent a great deal of time snapping and chatting, and once or twice I explained a couple of the signs to a nice Italian family who didn't speak English...

And I acted like a tourist, except that no-one took my photograph...

And then I popped my camera away and switched off my audio-player and I walked around the stones again...

And this time it felt as if everyone else had vanished...

and even though I knew that there were hundreds of people around me, and they were chattering and laughing and posing for 'selfies' ...

The second time that I walked round the stones it was as if I was totally alone...

I often feel that we spend far too much time viewing the world through the lens of a camera and fail to see it with our own eyes, and so I walked and I looked.

I could have circled the stones at Stonehenge all evening, all night if that had been permitted, but I was exhausted and felt a little punch-drunk, so I hopped on the bus back to the visitor centre, grateful to be able to sit down and rest my aching knees.

I spent a lot of money in the shop. It was a rare act of indulgence as I filled my basket with postcards and pictures, books and key-chains and a large, beautifully decorated mug that, I've discovered, holds enough liquid for me to enjoy a pleasant thirty minutes in bed each morning sipping tea and contemplating the day ahead.

And then to the exhibition...

You enter a large circular area where you are surrounded by an almost-360 degree picture of how Stonehenge would have looked when it was first constructed.  

And the images change to show a summed solstice sun rising over the stones...

And snow falling during a winter solstice...

Which, of course, I loved.
I'd have spent more time in there, watching the changing scenes but time was passing and there were no benches on which to sit and I was tired, and so I allowed myself to watch just one more year at Stonehenge and then I entered the exhibition itself.

It was thrilling to see these objects from the past

And the bones of an ancestor...

I left clutching my large bag of goodies, my knees-aching were but I was smiling as I set off to drive the 25 miles to Avebury and the B&B in which I'd booked a room for the night.

I think I may be returning to Stonehenge soon...

Advice For Visitors:
1. Pre-book a ticket or, better still, join English Heritage
2. The visitor's centre has a cafe, toilets, a large shop and an English Heritage office for info, buying membership, advice etc, and the staff are lovely.
3. Pick up the free audio-guide from the kiosk behind the ticket office.
4.Shuttle-buses take you to the stones but it's nice to walk the last half-mile.
5. Please do not climb on the barrows, unless you are the kind of person that feels it is acceptable to clamber over someone's grave.
6. Take your time, circle the stones several times.
7. It will be busy, do not feel cross because there are crowds, remember that you are also a part of the crowds and be happy to be there.
8. If your visit coincides with one of mine I will happily take your photo.
9. You may not enter the stone circle except at special times of the year. Again, do not be cross, it's for the benefit of the stones and because there may be more archaeological remains underfoot. And you really don't want to be the one who knocks over a standing stone, do you?
10. Enjoy.

One last request for English Heritage - Please consider hosting women's camping events at Stonehenge, I think they'd be very popular and I'd be there in a flash :)


  1. 11. Don't poke fun at the latter-day druids and their acolytes. We're all a bit mad really.

  2. I'm not sure that I was Tom, I am also one who walks her own path

  3. I get a bit impatient with the people who moan about how you can't get in among the stones any more and when they were kids you could etc etc. Last time I went, the first time since I was very little and we did climb all over the stones (which I only really remember I think because my mum had it on ciné film), I actually felt it was more impressive viewing it from a distance unencumbered by human figures, and that the walkway was well set up for the numbers - it was about four years ago and I think perhaps the set up you describe wasn't yet finished. And I was oddly proud that so many people come from so far to wonder at it.

    That was a very good TV program I thought. In a similar vein I also enjoyed Adam Thorpe's 'On Silbury Hill' when they serialised it on the radio recently (the podcasts have expired now sadly, but worth looking out the book). He expressed much of my own ambivalence about connecting with the prehistoric and about the people who seek to (who I'm sometimes a bit sceptical about), while remaining always very gentle and open, as well as making a kind of archaeological excavation of his own troubled past, and the healing power he had found in ancient landscape.

    Thanks for sharing your trip!


Hello! Your comments are welcome and appreciated