Stonehenge, the rock-forged monument in Wiltshire is an absolute must-see when visiting southern England. It should be on everybody’s list. We book our timed-tickets online two days before our visit. Timed-tickets are used to control the number of visitors to Stonehenge at any one time. One could just show up to purchase tickets (and many do), but pre-booking is the only way to guarantee entry on a particular day and time during tourist season.
We book our visit for the last day we are to be in England. Our timed-ticket is for 12:30 PM. The cost for 2 adults is £38.00. Booking on the half-hour better ensures you will get a ticket as most people book on the hour. We estimate a 1.5-hour drive from our Poundbury BnB to Stonehenge. In case of delays, we leave 3 hours before our entrance time. And lucky for us. Road closures require re-routing.
Perhaps Bring an Umbrella
We arrive a little early. The parking lot is huge. So remember where you park. Our timing is just perfect – not! As we parked, it starts to downpour. And it is a bit of a hike from the parking lot to the visitor centre, so we do get wet. Luckily, most of the visitor centre is inside or under a canopy, and we eventually dry out. The lovely gift shop, a café, and a museum at the visitor centre help to pass the time.
While drying off, we visit the gift shop which is crowded with tourists looking for something to do until the rain lets up. The shop offers a wide range of clothing, collectables, jewellery, books, media and gifts, all stamped Stonehenge. Because of the weather, we buy ourselves a Stonehenge umbrella. Though we are not sure if we can take it on the plane going home.
Do Not Walk on the Street
The rain lets up and we make our way through the ticket gates. The Stonehenge monument isn't visible from the visitor centre. If you know where you are going, you can walk to it. We elect for the trolley which runs every 15 minutes. We also learn from the bus driver that the paths in the fields are where visitors should to walk. He doesn't like people walking on the street.
The drive to the monument is longer than we expect. Once we arrive, a rope barrier separates visitors from the monument itself. Unless you get there very early, you cannot go up to the stones. I heard that at sunrise, twenty-six people may wander around and touch the rocks. Any other time, you can not! Though there doesn't seem to be any security around, I suspect if you cross the barrier, they will appear quickly enough.
Summer Solstice Brings Thousands of Visitors
It is almost impossible to take photos without people in the background. Sunrise or sunset is the best time to take pictures as most people are likely standing on one side of the monument to watch the sun as it moves behind the rocks. On the morning of the summer solstice, thousands of visitors from all corners of the world descend on Stonehenge, and stand in the field facing northeast to watch the sunrise directly above the Heel Stone located outside the monument circle.
At the winter solstice in December, a similar event occurs at sunset. Academics agree that the monument is even more directly aligned during the winter sunset than at the summer's sunrise. To Neolithic people, the winter-solstice marked the end of harvest. However, visitors to Stonehenge today would rather celebrate during the warmer weather in summer.
Ancient Burial Ground
For a long time, academics believed that the site was a temple constructed by Druids. That theory is no longer considered valid. Archaeology findings show that sometime around 3,000 BC, and before construction of Stonehenge started, this region of England was the spiritual burial ground for a civilization living in a nearby settlement. It wasn't until a 1,000 years later that the process of building what we see here today actually started.
This prehistoric monument, comprising roughly 100 massive stones arranged in a circular layout, continues to baffle historians. The outer ring is constructed with locally sourced sandstone slabs, but the inner-ring bluestones originate from Preseli Hills in Wales, over 200 miles away. How were these stones transported over such a long distance? Current thinking suggests glaciers may have played a part.
Simple Trick to Remove Tourists
I take several shots, each a few seconds apart, and will blend them later to remove the tourists. Simple trick. But at this time of day, it's all I can do. I take one lucky shot though of a raven flying by just at the right time. The clouds still dark from the earlier rain makes an eerie photo.
After a couple of hours, we walk back to the visitor centre through the fields, passing several burial mounds that date from 2300 BC or earlier. Analysis of the cremated, prehistoric remains discovered at Stonehenge reveal that those buried were usually adult males between 25 and 40 years old. And probably important figures such as noblemen or clan leaders. As we walk by, young kids are running up, down and around the mounds. I think kids and parents should be more respectful.
Thatch Houses Once Inhabited by Neolithic Tribes
It takes 30 minutes to walk from the monument to the visitor centre. The outdoor gallery features recreations of the thatch houses once inhabited by the Neolithic tribes who built the last stages of Stonehenge. The construction of these homes is based on material findings from past local excavations in Wiltshire. Also in the outdoor gallery, a huge stone, similar to the Stonehenge stones, lies on its side with a rope around it. You can pull on the rope to see if you can move the stone. You won't move it! It weights 4 tons! But it makes for a great picture.
This monumental mystery known as Stonehenge has fascinated us for thousands of years. This iconic stone circle is a Wiltshire must-see when visiting England.