I have always had a fascination with ancient places and stone circles in particular. The Castlerigg Stone Circle in the Lake District and the Arbor Low Stone Circle in the Derbyshire Peak District are places I’ve visited. The circle at Callanish on the west coast of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland is still on my list of top places to visit. Of course, the most famous circle is Stonehenge. For a long time, I wanted to visit the site, but it’s a long journey from where I live.
Two of my favourite bands, Hawkwind and the Ozric Tentacles, have played concerts there at the Stonehenge Free Festival, held in June between 1974 and 1984. Such things would never be allowed now of course. Over the years there have been several BBC documentaries broadcast as historians and archaeologists have unearthed more of its secrets.
A recent long weekend trip to Bath provided the perfect opportunity to visit Stonehenge.
As you can imagine Stonehenge is now very commercial and quite costly unless you are an English Heritage or National Trust member. Every year it is visited by many thousands of people from all over the world. Best to visit early morning or late afternoon if you’d prefer fewer people. I was slightly disappointed by how far away from the monument the path is. Touching the stones is now forbidden. However, this does mean that you generally have an unobstructed view of the site. There is no denying that the site is very impressive and obviously it was once a very special and spiritual place. It has kept its mystery, and its original purpose is still not fully understood. The alignment of the site to the sun at both the Summer and Winter Solstices definitely has great significance.
If you want to get close-up photographs, take your telephoto lens with you.
Directions and Facilities
If you are driving to Stonehenge it is clearly signposted from the A303 and A360 (Postcode: SP4 7DE). It is possible to travel by bus from Salisbury rail and bus stations using the Stonehenge Tour Bus.
Most of the site is off-limits to dogs and there is no shade in the car park. It is not allowed to leave a dog tied up anywhere on site.
The site has a cafe, shop and toilets. There is also a museum with various exhibits. Just outside the visitor centre are five Neolithic Houses. These are furnished with replica Neolithic axes, pottery and other artefacts. Inside the visitor centre, stand inside an audio-visual 360 degree stone circle. This gives you a sense of what it’s like to stand inside Stonehenge, as standing inside the actual circle is not permitted.
Entry to Stonehenge is managed through timed tickets. Advance booking is the only way to guarantee entry on the day and time of your choice. If you book in advance you will benefit from an advanced booking discount.
If you are a member of English Heritage or the National Trust you get free entry but advance booking is required.
The visitor centre is some distance, about 2km, from the stone circle. If you don’t feel like walking, regular shuttle buses will take you to the stones. This journey is included in the price of your ticket.
The stone circle at Stonehenge is part of a complex landscape of ceremonial monuments. Not very far away is the early Neolithic Woodhenge and another henge from the same period at Durrington Walls. Also close by is the Avebury Stone Circle which is aligned the same as Stonehenge and Silbury Hill, the largest manmade mound in Europe. All around the area are ancient burial mounds and barrows.
The huge stones at Stonehenge each weigh several tons. These were transported, shaped and erected by a workforce who had only the most basic stone tools and picks made from antler.
The earliest known structure was a circular bank and ditch, which may have been ringed with wooden posts. This was made about 3000 bc. Some 500 years later the first stone circle was built from bluestones. These are found in the Preseli Hills in Wales, 240 km away. It is thought that maybe the stones were dragged to the sea and transported on rafts, or possibly they were already at the site and had been moved by glacial action.
The circle was then replaced by an outer circle of much larger stones brought from the Marlborough Downs 40km away. An outer circle of 30 upright stones was joined by lintels. Inside this stood five even larger pairs of stones topped by lintels to form ‘trilithons’. Finally, in the Bronze age, the bluestones were re-used as a ring inside the outer circle.
What is Stonehenge?
Stone circles are monuments constructed from a number of upright stones which enclose some sort of circular area. These were built in various places in the UK throughout the late Neolithic and early Bronze Ages. The reason for them is not altogether clear though it is thought they had a religious purpose.
Stonehenge is 5000 years old and was thought to be either a place of sun worship, a healing sanctuary, a sacred burial site, a large astronomical calendar or something different altogether. However, it must have been very important to the Ancient Britons to make it worth the enormous investment of energy and effort that must have gone into its construction.
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument of unique importance and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is surrounded by a number of both domestic and ceremonial remains. Some of these pre-date the monument itself.
Neopagans, who identify with Druids and other Celtic Pagans, have made Stonehenge a place of worship and pilgrimage. It is also popular with New Age followers.
The current site is only part of the original Stonehenge. The original construction has suffered a great deal from both weather damage and human pillage. Many of the original stones have fallen or been removed by previous generations for home construction or road repair. Some of the smaller bluestones suffered serious damage when visitor contact was allowed.
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