Discover world history during your perfect trip to StonehengePosted on 07th October 2016
An estimated thirty million hours of labour, 200 monuments and over 240 miles of transport all contributed towards the construction of the extraordinary site that is Stonehenge. A trip to Stonehenge is a priority for many visitors during a holiday in Wiltshire, and for good reason. The remarkable area is of such significance that it has been granted rare UNESCO World Heritage status.
However, with such a high volume of visitors seeking to catch a glimpse of the ancient stones every day, it can be a challenge to witness Stonehenge in all its glory without forward planning. Not to mention the temperamental Great British weather! Of course, visiting Stonehenge is an inspirational experience whatever the circumstances, but there are certain steps you can take to ensure that your day out to Stonehenge is as atmospheric as its mythology promises.
Have an idea of the history
There is much more to Stonehenge than the sheer size of its rocks. To truly appreciate the importance of this heritage site, do a little bit of research into the area’s history before you visit. Of course, guided tours, booklets and exhibitions will give you all you need to know once you arrive, but a small amount of prior knowledge will really open your eyes to enjoy the spectacle you’re witnessing.
Stonehenge is considered one of the most archaeologically rich sites in the whole of Europe, having thus far revealed over 250 archaeological objects, each of which has enabled historians to develop a complex understanding of Great Britain’s prehistoric past. The area that is home to Stonehenge is believed to have been inhabited since around 8,000 BC, with the monuments themselves having been undertaken around 3,100 BC. Believed to have been created to facilitate ancient rituals in anything from sacrifice to astronomy, much remains to be discovered of Stonehenge’s fascinating history. However, what is certain is that the monuments are made out of Bluestone, Sarsen and Welsh sandstone, which was transported some 240 miles using rollers, sledges and rafts to Wiltshire.
A truly incredible feat of human innovation, Stonehenge will broaden your understanding of not only Wiltshire’s history, but world history. Having that little insight before you visit will allow you to ask guides all the questions you’d like to know answers to, and really quench your thirst for knowledge.
When to visit
Due to its high-profile status, Stonehenge maintains a steady level of popularity throughout the year. Whether that be organised tours or people simply popping off the A303 for a glimpse from afar, the site is often buzzing with excitement as fellow visitors mill around the stones and sights. However, if you’re looking for a slightly more secluded trip, avoid visiting in the late morning or early afternoon, as this is when many tour coaches from London arrive. If you are visiting the area independently, the best time to go is either at opening time or in the late afternoon.
Of course, as Stonehenge is located in Great Britain, weather is a central consideration. The monument sits in its original prehistoric landscape with no shelter at the Stone Circle, and so is unprotected from weather conditions. Depending on your preferences, this is an important element to bear in mind. If you are a fair weather walker, plan a visit to Stonehenge during the summer months (and remember to bring your sun cream). The rest of the year, northerly winds blow around the area, so remember to bring extra layers.
Although it may require a little extra planning, Stonehenge is quite spectacular in the rain or on cloudy days, as a dramatic atmosphere fills this ancient arena. Budding photographers may therefore find the winter months the most appealing time for a visit.
Getting to Stonehenge
To make your visit to Stonehenge as seamless as possible, pre-planning your journey is essential. There are various ways to get to Stonehenge, and choosing the best route depends on the level of flexibility and simplicity you desire. Situated near the town of Amesbury and the city of Salisbury, Stonehenge can be found just off the A303 road.
For international visitors, the area is located 70 miles southwest of London Heathrow Airport, and from London visitors can take the M3 and A303 to Amesbury before going west to find the monument nearby. Driving to Stonehenge allows maximum flexibility and independence, as you can arrive and leave whenever you wish, avoiding the larger crowds if desired.
The closest train stations to the site are Andover and Salisbury, from which you can catch a bus or taxi to Stonehenge itself. No public buses run to the location, but direct buses offering audio tours are available. These are called The Stonehenge Tour, and prices begin at £14. Alternatively, you could get a car tour where the driver will tell you all about the history of the site as they lead you around. This option is particularly good for those with accessibility requirements.
If you’re travelling from further afield and don’t fancy navigating your way to Stonehenge, several coach tours operate from areas like London, visiting the site en route to destinations such as Salisbury or Bath. Or, for those who would like to explore the surrounding area in a unique, active way, you can cycle to Stonehenge from nearby Amesbury.
What to do at Stonehenge
Image Credit: Sam.hill7 (Wikimedia Commons)
Stonehenge has a plethora of brilliant things to do and see for all ages. Of course, at the top of the list is a walk around the Stone Circle itself, where you can take in the millennia-old architecture of communities who spend thousands of years building these pioneering structures.
The Stonehenge Cursus is a mysterious monument that can’t be missed, with a 3km-long earthwork situated just north of the main monument. Its original purpose remains unknown – perhaps you can formulate some of your own suggestions. King Barrows Ridge is also a must-see at Stonehenge. On the course of the Avenue, this area provides stunning views over the Stonehenge bowl that are perfect for photography and simply taking a moment to reflect.
There is also a lesser-known twin to Stonehenge that is often overlooked, but more than warrants a visit. Woodhenge is a Neolithic site nearby, which is supposed to have been built around 2,300 BC, probably as the remains of a large burial mound. Just to the north are the Durrington Walls, which have been revealed as the site of a significant Neolithic village, where numerous ancient religious activities were carried out. These impressive walls are the largest henge – or earthworks – monuments in the United Kingdom.
However, it’s not just the history that makes Stonehenge an outstanding site. The area itself is of extraordinary natural beauty. As a prehistoric chalk grassland, the area is a rich environment, providing abundant habitats for a diverse array of animals and plants. You may be able to spot the rare chalkhill and Adonis blue butterflies, skylarks and stone curlews, as well as families of foxes, badgers and hedgehogs.
There are also plenty of activities to keep young children entertained during a visit to Stonehenge. The site’s exhibition centre features plenty of hands-on experiences, with relics and items that can be interacted with, plus fascinating installations such as a forensic reconstruction of a man who lived at the circle 5,500 years ago. The ‘Standing in the Stones’ installation is an immersive experience, where visitors can sit inside a simulated Stone Circle with a 360-degree view of the site as it transforms throughout the seasons. Reconstructed Neolithic huts are also open at Stonehenge, allowing you to find out exactly how the site’s ancestors lived. Of course, for those looking to really take in the history of Stonehenge, the museum is full of hundreds of archaeological finds and information.
Numerous events run at Stonehenge throughout the year, from children’s technology demonstrations to late night Christmas events and the highly sought-after exclusive access sessions where ticket-holders are able to actually go into the inner Circle and get up close to the stones. Every year, the stones also open to neo-pagans and druids for the Summer Solstice, Winter Solstice and Spring and Autumnal Equinoxes.
Eating and drinking
With so much to take in at Stonehenge, you’re sure to work up an appetite. Luckily, there are plenty of options for refreshments in the area. The English Heritage centre beside the monument has a small café, located in a glass pod where visitors can enjoy traditional British dishes such as pasties, soups and other regional produce.
Alternatively, why not make the most of the surroundings with a picnic? It will probably be the most scenic you’ll ever experience. Further afield, Amesbury and Durrington are home to several traditional pubs, cafes and restaurants where you’ll be sure to find something to suit your tastes.
Respecting the site
To ensure that Stonehenge remains a site available for all to enjoy into the future, a central aspect of any visit to the monument is awareness and respect. Ongoing conservation efforts are engaged in preserving the archaeological findings at Stonehenge and the monument itself, and visitors are usually unable to go into the inner circle in order to protect the ancient relics.
As an article in The Guardian explains, even when special passes are granted, requests are made to keep the site safe. Writer Mike Gerrard recalls a security guard saying:
“Please don’t climb them or try to chip anything off them, and don’t carve your name on them like Sir Christopher Wren did. You haven’t got a metal detector, I take it? We get all sorts here, you’ve got to be careful. OK, off you go… enjoy them.”
Enjoyment is, of course, key. However, to get the most out of your visit, try to be aware of the cultural relevance of Stonehenge to groups such as neo-pagans and druids, for whom the site is a vital part of their identity and lifestyle. Don’t leave any rubbish in the area – alcohol has recently been banned at solstice celebrations due to littering. A healthy respect for the site will deepen your connection with the area’s atmosphere and mystery.
If you’re considering a visit to Stonehenge, why not consider making a holiday of it and staying right in the heart of the atmosphere in a Wiltshire holiday cottage? A long weekend is the perfect way to experience the monument and its surrounding points of interest, as well as enjoying the beautiful Wiltshire landscape in all its glory.