I always loved learning about unsolved mysteries and conspiracy theories; from the time I could read and watch TV up until today. Whether it’s the Pyramids of Giza, haunted houses and ghost stories, crop circles and UFO’s or Stonehenge, there’s something about the unknown that’s fascinating in this world of information overload where science has the ability to explain almost everything.
Stonehenge has been featured in too many books to cite, on the History Channel and National Geographic and everywhere in between. I was excited to go to Stonehenge and see the circle formation and wonder why and how this was built over 4,000 years ago. Located just outside of Avebury, England – about 3 hours outside of London, it wasn’t too far from where we devised a route to include Bristol for the Banksy exhibit, Bath for the hot springs, and a trip to Stonehenge.
The site that Stonehenge sits on has been occupied since around 8,000 BC, but it was during the Neolithic and Bronze periods that the majority of monuments came to be. Starting with large Bluestones and Sarsen stones around 2,500 BC, the final large stones were completed around 1,600 BC.
Anything look blue to you? I can’t tell from here, and I’m using the zoom!
There’s a small visitor center on the grounds and you walk around a path about 150 feet away from the stones themselves. They’re as big as I always imagined them to be, however, Deidra says she imagined them to be much bigger. Due to the distance the path around the henge is, you can barely see the original blue stones on the inside. There are dull audio talking points all around, and you can see the hill that people would originally walk up. It must have been amazing walking through the planes to walk up that hill, and then see the Stone Henge slowly come up into view. I wish we could have walked that path ourselves, but there is a major road in the way.
Except on special or pre-arranged occasions, visitors are unable to walk amongst the stones. It’s great to be there and see the henges, but because you’re situated so far away and can’t touch the rocks I find it creates a detached feeling. I was looking at the stones and their mysterious beauty, but without binoculars you couldn’t see if there were any inscriptions or make out the colors of the blue stones very well, they all looked the same. It’s really too bad and creates a similar feeling like seeing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre – it’s great and nice, but without being able to get close to inspect it yourself, it’s like looking at a picture. Unlike Newgrange and Knowth in Ireland, two other Neolithic burial mounds with henges that you can get right up and into.
There are a several things that are being put into place that will improve the Stonehenge experience. The biggest improvement is that the historical society is going to redesign the museum as a whole. A pamphlet we received on location stated they’re going to make a tunnel for the major road, making the Stonehenge area to have no sight of any civilization. They also plan to build a completely new visitors center, which will be about 1km away from the henge, down a slight hill and out of view. Once the improvements are completed, all visitors will walk up a hill and witness Stonehenge crest over the hill with dramatic effect. The feeling would be the same as people who visited this site thousands of years ago, and away from the noise of cars. I think this will be such a massive improvement to the area and would even go see it again.
The other way to get more out of your Stonehenge experience would be to pre-arrange a semi-private visit. English Heritage allows small amounts of people to walk within the rings if it’s preplanned or part of a package. (link: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.878). You can go either in the early morning at sunrise or late evening after the official hours. At time of this writing all morning slots have been booked up past March 2010, so you really have to pre-plan well ahead or find a tour company with available spots and pay them for it. For anyone who’s interested in Stonehenge more than just passing curiosity, I would say this would be a thousand times more impressive.
Summer Solstice Celebration
And finally, possibly the best way would be on either the Summer or Winter Solstice. English Heritage allows free access during this time as well, within the boundaries so you can celebrate with others during the night and then witness the sun rise through the stones. There are only a few basic rules, no amplified music, glass bottles, large bags and no climbing on the stones. Visiting this way would be a majestic experience, up there with Knowth and Newgrange during the Solstice.
Stonehenge is an important historical site, and the fact that it was built 5000 years ago when humans were still throwing spears made from flint is impressive. With the new improvements and alternate viewing options it has a great future ahead of it.