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.