What is Stonehenge – A guide to seeing Stones
What is Stonehenge? Stonehenge is one of those iconic places that you hear of it all the time but don’t really know too much about. I was definitely in that category so I was all ready to edumacate myself when I had flights booked for an arrangement that ended up being cancelled. It’s one of those images you see time and again that conjures up thoughts of hundreds of people toiling, being whipped, trying to move 20 tonne rocks on logs of wood. Although I have been to countries on all continents (well, except Antarctica….yet) it never seems worthwhile going to somewhere like Stonehenge that is only across the puddle that is the Irish Sea even though I always wanted to go. But now that the opportunity arose it was finally time to see what the fuss was about and if I was lucky, figure out what they were there for which nobody has done for the last 400years!
So what is Stonehenge? The first impressions of Stonehenge is that it is in the middle of nowhere. I was expecting big gates, long drive, a lot of fanfare but none of this is the case. It is alongside the main road at the top of a hill so you can get a drive by view without leaving the heating of your car behind. If you are really scabby and can’t/won’t pay the fee you can actually get within 30mtrs of the main structure on the side road and peer in through the mesh fence although this has now changed with the new visitors centre. Of course this way you won’t get the knowledge that goes with the zombies in the headsets heading from one number to another around the mystic stones. After you pay your little fee and head on the trolly you are greeted with an imposing sight of the tetris structure in front of you. The reason it can be seen for miles around is that the stones are actually huge, up to 4mtrs (12ft) high. The low rope that surrounds the standing stones stops people from getting too close but it also allows better photos as you don’t have a bunch of randomers in the way all the time. There were some Asian people doing some sort of fashion shoot when I was there as well as the usual ‘funny’ holding up the stones ones. I was there in the afternoon of the summer and you can just laze on the grass and watch the sun go down which I imagine was how it was done 4000yrs ago.
You wander slowly from one number to the next listening on how there was always a religious and/or burial site here and there were different phases of construction of which the stones were only the last few phases. The earliest phase of ground works goes back to 3100BC with indications there was a larger settlement going back further than that. Around 2600BC the first signs of stones were found replacing the wood. What is seen today are huge ‘sarsen’ stones in a large circle with lintel stones on top of which only some are still standing. The standing stones weigh about 25 tonnes and are 4mts high and are thought to have come from 40km (25miles) away. The smaller (still weighing 5tonnes) more precious ‘bluestones’ that were used are thought to have come from Wales 250km (170miles) away! What impressed me the most was that the lintels are secured using the woodwork ‘tongue and groove’ method. These massive stones were cut out and then placed exactly on each other is some achievement today never mind thousands of years ago. Stonehenge is thought to be the finishing point of a ritual journey for burying the dead which is among a huge number of theories about inter-tribal cooperation, healing powers of the stones etc, none of which have been conclusively proven or refuted. The stones also have some celestial properties which is very impressive. 4000years ago you are trying to move a 30tonne rock with a few ropes and people and you get it a bit out and then have to wait a whole year to see if the painful adjustment worked!
Stonehenge being so open has its ups and downs. It means that a national treasure is clearly visible to the public even if you are not paying in but it also means that when you are at this national treasure you can clearly hear and see the cars rolling by which takes away from the mystique and prestige of a 3000yr old structure. Why a main road was built so close to it is beyond me, whatever about the back road. A new visitors centre has just opened so now you must head there and take the bus in order to visit the site and find out what is Stonehenge.
Despite it being just another bunch of stones, it is definitely worth a visit so you know what the fanfare is about and try and think yourself with all your education how would YOU move a 30tonne rock with no machines??
Practicalities – What is Stonehenge?
€1 = £0.85 pound, $1 = £0.64
- Language – English is the first language and almost no other language is spoken. At Stonehenge tours can be taken in several languages
- Price and Opening Times – ADVANCED BOOKING IS REQUIRED FROM FEB 2014 ONWARDS. Tickets will be timed and a limited amount will be available to buy on the day. £14.90 admission for an adult. Open Mon-Sun 09:30-17:00 during Dec-Jan with times increasing to 09:00-20:00 from June to August before scaling back again to December. A new visitors centre is just open with a cafe and museum and provides a shuttle bus to the site. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/stonehenge/?lang=en
- Train – The nearest train station is Salisbury
- Car – See map below. Stonehenge is 16km (10miles) north of Salisbury out the A345 or the longer A338. After approx 12km you take a left when you hit the main A303. Stonehenge is 1.5hrs from Bristol (51miles) and 2hrs (86miles) from London.
- Bus – There is a Stonehenge tour bus that leaves Salisbury city centre and train station. The bus leaves every hour in the morning and takes 30min to arrive at the Stonehenge visitors centre. The buses home start later and pass the Old Sarum site on the way back to Salisbury. Prices are £13 for the bus only but combined tickets can be bought for the bus, Stonehenge and Old Sarum
- Flights- The nearest airports and Bristol, Bournemouth with Heathrow (London) being 1.5hrs drive away.
- Accommodation – £40 per night for an average double room
- Beer – 1 pint of beer costs around £2.50
- Visa: No EU member requires a visa to enter Italy. If you are from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan etc you also do not require a visa. If you are from another then check out the official website where you can enter your nationality and it will let you know. http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/visas-immigration/do-you-need-a-visa/
Map of Salisbury and Stonehenge