Blame my fascinating with all things rocks, but visiting Stonehenge in England has long been on my must-do list.
But I’ve met a few people who have discouraged me from the side trip to Wiltshire from London, a two-hour drive west.
And you’d have to drive through London. I haven’t met a person yet — including Londoners — who said that was a good idea.
But my husband shared my desire to see this prehistoric monument, so I decided to plan a side trip to Bath, a quaint spa city in Somerset in southwest England, which is much closer to Stonehenge (and the wetlands nature preserve from my previous blog.)
Now, I’m not going to lie: driving around England sans GPS (and WiFi to use Google Maps) wasn’t easy. But we somehow managed to find both the preserve and this iconic site — and while driving on the other side of the road!
The nice part was seeing a different side of England. Up until this trip, I had only stayed in London. And there are only so many museums and pubs you can visit in a week’s time.
Seeing a more rural side of the country was a great experience, even despite the UK’s love for roundabouts.
So we left our hotel early in the morning, meeting the misty roads just after sunrise.
I had heard from a few people that the experience at Stonehenge had dramatically changed in recent years. No longer can you drive right up to it and walk around the massive stones. Because of vandalism — people were even chipping off pieces of stone to take home as souvenirs — English Heritage, which manages the site, decided to build a visitor’s center and exhibition area about 1.5 miles away from Stonehenge and now limits the number of people who can see the site each day. (Right now, more than 1 million people make the trek here.)
You have to park at a car park next to the center — parking is free — and walk through an informative display of the history and cultural significance of the monument and surrounding area. There are five replicas of neolithic homes outside, with axes, pottery and other artifacts that help connect the ancient stones with the people who lived and worked in the area.
After you tour the exhibition area, you catch one of the four-wheel-drive vehicles to the site. You can, like we did, get off a little earlier to walk about halfway to the site yourself, through open fields and cattle pasture.
Despite the biting chill in the air, I actually liked the walk. It was nice to see the monument off in the distance. You really got a sense of the landscape surrounding this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But, of course, we came to see the rocks.
Stonehenge is the remains of a ring of standing stones surrounded by hundreds of burial mounds. Archaeologists believe it was built anywhere from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. And its meaning and purpose have been debated for decades.
Just this September researchers from the University of Birmingham discovered as many as 17 new chapels and hundreds of archaeological features around the monument using ground-penetrating radar equipment. (Read more here.)
So this was an exciting time to visit.
Even though we were there with more than a hundred other people, circling the standing stones with cameras and iPhones, it didn’t feel crowded or frantic. In fact, the whole experience was surreal and serene. You could definitely feel the weight of this sacred place, but it was calming and peaceful, too.
Seeing Stonehenge was definitely one of those travel memories that will stick for awhile. And even though it would have been ridiculously cool to walk around the stones and touch them, just seeing them was enough.
So worth the stress driving through roundabouts.
Visiting Stonehenge: Cost is £13.90 for adults, £8.30 for children ages 5 to 15, £12.50 for students with a valid ID and seniors over 60. It’s located near Amesbury in Wiltshire. Visit the website or call 0870 333 1181 for more information.
Follow Cat on her #FoxHoneymoon to England, Scotland and Ireland on Twitter @thedailydish and Instagram @catherinetoth. Track her travels at #CatTravels.
CAT: I always wondered why the site was selected…like is it near a river, or forest, or some other source of fuud? Or is it really true that it was a site of alien habitation?
Hello Cat and Kai,
I would have gone to see Stonehenge too if I’m in London. How can you not go to see it.
I’m glad you went to see mystic Stonehenge, Cat! It’s such a mind-blowing experience. To think it was built thousands of years ago for a mysterious purpose. I felt the power of the sacred site, even before I saw the monoliths.
I’m so happy you went to Stonehenge! It’s been part of my retirement regiment for a long time! Time to put it into action. Thanks Cat.
I appreciate your impression and observations. Brave to drive there also. I just can’t bring myself to get behind the wheel in any country where driving is on the other side of the road. Crossing the street on foot is hard enough when the brain is hard-wired to be expecting vehicles to be moving in different directions and on the right side of the road.
I visited Stonehenge about 35 years ago, when you could drive very nearby and walk right up and touch the stones. And zero admission fee. Ah, the good old days. I recall another ancient shrine just a couple miles away, whose name is Woodhenge. That name sounded like a joke when I first saw it, but it’s very real, and an interesting place to visit. By the way, I had no trouble navigating through England, because they used to have a funny folded up old thing on paper that you could get at any tourist office (map).