At first glance from the road, cutting through the Salisbury Plain, this monument looks as impressive as you might imagine.
There it was in the hazy early morning sun. Stonehenge. The most mythical of ancient monuments. Much like seeing a celebrity in person for the first time, there’s no mistaking what it is, but it somehow looks different in person. However, where a celebrity may disappoint in person, Stonehenge proves to be even grander than what I had anticipated. Towering above the surrounding farmlands, it is truly monumental.
As far as English weather goes, the day was perfect. Dramatic clouds hovered above offset by plenty of blue skies. We had timed our arrival for the monument’s opening at 9am. That turned out to be an excellent decision on our part. There was already a queue at the ticket office when we arrived twenty minutes before the site opened.
We couldn’t t see the stones from here which only increased our anticipation. Around us, accents and languages from all over the world were a testament to the appeal of this 4500 year old monument shrouded in mystery.
TREADING IN THE PAST
From the ticket office, you are shuttled to the site. Being as we were on the second shuttle of the day, a handful of people were already walking the grounds and peering at the stones through phone and camera lenses. Visitors have the option to download a free audio guide to compliment their visit. The massiveness of the stones cannot be understated. That, combined with the fact that we were treading where an obviously advanced civilization once stood and built a monument of such magnitude humbled me. Although Stonehenge dates back 4500 years, there are signs of human activity here going back to 8000 BC.
Little is known about Stonehenge, other than it lines up with the solstices. It’s impossible to not snap photos from every angle. Unfortunately, the massive stones are cordoned off so you can’t touch or walk through them. But it doesn’t lessen the effect of these megaliths. We circled the stones once, and then again in the opposite direction. By this time, there were dozens if not hundreds of people elbow to elbow, each wide-eyed as they took in the majestic scenery. The magic seemed to dissipate as shuttles brought more and more people. Perhaps that’s an ironic statement, given that we were part of those people.
Stonehenge is a complex of sites. Nearby are dozens of burial mounds known as barrows. This area on the Salisbury Plain has the highest concentration of barrows in England. With a keen eye and a little imagination, you can make out Stonehenge Avenue, an ancient road that passes through King Barrow Ridge which consists of several barrows. Stonehenge Avenue leads toward the Durrington Walls and once led to the River Avon.
A 3 kilometre trail leads you to the Cuckoo Stone, Woodhenge and the Durrington Walls, which now appears as a ridge surrounding a basin. It’s thought the creators and builders of Stonehenge resided here. Archeologists estimate there may have been 1000 huts housing up to 4000 people within the walls at one time. Precious little is known about the inhabitants. It hasn’t been determined if they were brought together as slaves to build Stonehenge, or if they were willing participants. There are a handful of examples of the Neolithic huts these people likely lived in outside the main admission building.
Also within walking distance are the Stonehenge Curcus and its 5 adjacent barrows. Upon its discovery, the Curcus was originally thought to be a Roman racetrack. But excavations indicate this site dates farther back than Stonehenge itself. The Curcus is 100 metres or so in width and almost 3 kilometres in length. Easily accessible and visible, it’s worth a look. From here, looking back at Stonehenge your imagination can’t help but run wild.
Archeologists have discovered some factual information, but by and large, they can only theorize as to the meaning of Stonehenge. The fact that we know so little about a monument of this stature is amazing.
In the shadows of Stonehenge, I really felt that as a human being, I am but a speck in time. And to me, this is where the magic of the monument comes from.
It’s certainly worth finding your way to Stonehenge to bask in its glory. If you do, make sure your camera has fresh batteries. Plan to spend at least an hour. If you can hike, you’ll likely spend the better part of a day.
Several tour operators run buses from London to Stonehenge. Alternatively, you may want to consider renting a car so you can get there early, ahead of the crowds and road traffic. A vehicle will allow you to drive to nearby Woodhenge and the Durrington Walls instead of walking. Plus, you can tie in a visit to Avebury where you’ll find the largest megalithic stone circle in the world.
There are also hotels nearby so you can make the most out of your visit, including waking up at dawn and hiking the surrounding trails so you can soak in the magic before the crowds get there.
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Mike & Dianne