My friend David arrived in London where we spent time with his son and girlfriend before taking a flight to Paris. We made plans in advance to visit Stonehenge which had been on our bucket lists for quite some time. Deciding to make a day of it, we booked a tour that included a stop at the luxurious Windsor Castle and the charming town of Bath.
Before we reached the entrance to Stonehenge, we could see the Stone Circle from miles away, until an eerie wave of fog rolled in. In the distance, the stones seemed small and unassuming until the bus continued up the drive to the Visitor Center.
Stonehenge, a unique, circular arrangement of bluestone, is located 80 miles west of London in the county of Wiltshire in the central part of southern England. Standing in the midst of English farmland, the closest town to this architectural phenomenon is Amesbury, 2.5 miles east.
David and I both agreed that had we not researched this location prior to our arrival, we may have left here confused and unimpressed. The mere fact that this structure had survived thousands of years is enough to stand in awe of its simple remains, yet thinking about how these rocks came to be here and how, with limited tools, they were arranged, is also mystifying and magical. The resources that would have been required to create this vast monument are unfathomable.
Archaeological estimates date the first initial stage of Stonehenge to have been built around 3,000 BC when the large circular stonework was erected. Sarsen stones created the shape of a horseshoe and an additional circle, while more bluestones were added in between them about 500 years later.
What remains of Stonehenge today is the ring of thirty stones that stand 13.5 feet high, 7 feet wide, weighing about 25 tons per stone. Recent scientific finds have uncovered burial mounds nearby which date back to the Bronze Age, long after the stones were initially raised.
The fog was beginning to lift as we departed the bus at the Visitor’s Center and boarded a tram that took us to a path leading to Stonehenge. There were several posted placards that provided additional information about the structure and additional earthworks surrounding the Stone Circle.
We came to a fork in the path where we could take a short detour to the Heel Stone where the Avenue meets the earthwork enclosure. This rock remains in its natural state, untouched by tools. Legend declares that it was here where the devil threw a stone at a friar, leaving the friar’s foot imprint upon the stone. We thought the stone resembled a whale jumping up from the ocean. Yet one thing is certain, the stone marks the rising sun on the day of solstice.
Retracing our steps, we made a left towards the Stone Circle, identifying the larger, outer circle of sarsen stones (“hard silicified sandstone found scattered naturally across chalk areas of southern England”) the smaller formation of bluestones towards the center. Had the weather cooperated with a bit of sunshine, we may have been able to see the orange-brown and blue colors of the stone, but the monoliths seemed to blend in with the dull, grey surroundings of the elements.
We identified stone lintels and tried to imagine Stonehenge at the height of its glory as the place of the “hanging stones”. Making an educated guess, we tried to determine where the altar stone was located. We wished we would have brought binoculars to try to find the slaughter stone or to identify stone number 53, which is said to show evidence of the Mycenaen civilization. Because the Stone Circle is roped off to preserve the land within and surrounding the stones, we were limited to how close we could approach the structure.
Surprisingly, at about the time we were ready to make our way back to the Visitor’s Center, the sky began to clear up just enough for us to explore the huts of the prehistoric inhabitants near Stonehenge and make a quick stop at the gift shop to purchase a Stonehenge Woolly Jumpers Sheep Tea Pot. Love, love love!
Prehistoric in nature, several theories have tried to explain how these stones at Stonehenge were erected and why. The most popular beliefs are that it was once a Druid temple or a cult center. It may be a simple as a place where ancestors worshipped or as complicated as an astronomical computer for predicting eclipses and solar events. We may not determine the reason in our lifetime, but Stonehenge is undoubtedly a once in a lifetime experience during the summer solstice and continues to attract over one million visitors per year.
Have you visited Stonehenge? Did you take an excursion from London or stay local? If you are interested in learning more about this fascinating World Heritage site, I recommend the book by Christopher Chippindale titled, Stonehenge Complete. Many thanks for taking the time to read about my visit to Stonehenge and wishing you many Happy Travels!
What to See:
Salisbury SP4 7DE, United Kingdom
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Solstice Bar & Grill
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