Why is Stonehenge on the Must-See List?
Admittedly, we aren’t huge fans of the “must do” or “must see” attractions during our travels. This may be because we think they will be too touristy, or maybe we are just snobbish about seeing things that pretty much everyone else already has. Stonehenge is one of the most well-known sites to visit in the world so you can imagine our hesitation when planning to visit. Everyone knows and recognizes this famous circle of rocks, but we initially thought it may be better to see another, less visited stone circle in Avebury which was on our route as well. There are reasons sites make it to UNESCO status, though, and we decided we just couldn’t pass by so close and skip it.
Driving from London we go to the area in the late afternoon and it was raining, so we decided to spend the night and get a fresh start in the morning. The George Hotel, a traditional 13th century inn. It’s time-sloped floors really set the mood for our next day’s activity. To visit Stonehenge you must buy a ticket and book a time. The first time available was 9 am but we decided 10 am sounded better.
Choosing When to Visit
Of course we were up before the alarm went off with excitement. After eating breakfast we head over early, thinking we’d spend some time in the visitor’s center until our allotted 10 am time slot. Maybe it was because of the time of year (we were there in late February), because it was Monday or because the day before was so rainy but we strolled in and were able to go to the site straight away around 9:15 am. Having a ticket booked in advance definitely made the process easier upon arrival. The easiest way to get to the stones is to leave the visitor’s center on the free shuttle which drops you a short walk away. Others prefer to walk from the parking area, which looks like it would take 15 to 20 minutes. We were in the first group of the day which was about a dozen people. The cold wind was fully worth being there in such a small group. We felt like we had the place to ourselves!
Following what we later realized was a common theme during our visit to southwest England, the sun came out at just the right time to provide a lovely view. We were blessed with some beautiful morning blues, mixed with moody, gray clouds as the backdrop to the scene. Our fellow guests were respectful and conscious of each others’ experience, which absolutely made the day that much more special.
The Mystery of this Megalithic Monument
No one is fully sure of exactly how or why the stones were set here in the first place. There are a multitude of theories, of course, but it’s precisely the mystery that continues to draw people to this little circle of half-tumbled rocks. Was it an ancient burial site for the elite? A place of healing? A temple? Did the Druids play a role? Was it built by aliens? The visitor’s center explores some of the theories in detail, and sheds light on very recent archaeological discoveries (2014) that call many previous theories into question. Stonehenge itself is set on the top of a hill in what is now a very large pasture. This afforded views of other man made items on other nearby hill tops. Notably, the Kings Barrow Ridge was off to the east. Barrows are believed to be burial mounds of important people from the time. Upon further scrutiny we noticed barrows on nearly all the hilltops, each affording a “view” to Stonehenge. If Stonehenge was indeed a temple to honor the dead, placing the barrows in a position to look upon Stonehenge is quite purposeful.
The Visitor’s Center
After spending time in reflection, pondering the stones, we caught the bus back to the visitor’s center. the new center is well-designed, and filled with as much detailed information as you might care to digest. Outside, they had replica period houses and an interactive stone-moving experience. I couldn’t help but let my inner child out and give the stone pull a try. It’s basically a mock up of how we believe such large stone could have been moved, but with a high tech twist. You pull the rope and a computer gives you a reading of how many more people you would need in order to actually move the stone. On my first try I would have needed 95 more people! Not satisfied with that outcome, I gave the rope a few more tugs, with my best result being “only” 80 more people. Of course there was no way I could maintain the force of a quick jerk to the rope so it’s same to say it would take MANY more people to move these stones!
We both agree that our time spent at Stonehenge well exceeded our expectations. We had heard that you couldn’t get close enough to the stones, and that it would be overrun with people. We didn’t feel either was the case. We found Stonehenge to be a powerful, special place. Within the past couple of years the site had gotten a remodel with a more natural feel being the goal, and for us it was successful. Arriving on a weekday in the off season is also always a good recipe for small crowds.