You know what’s better than visiting Stonehenge? Visiting Stonehenge when the weather is cold, wet, windy and absolutely miserable.
Honestly, it makes for way cooler photos. Stonehenge isn’t nearly as interesting on a warm, calm, sunny day. But set against a background of darkened, swirling clouds? It sets the mood and enhances the mystery of the place.
It’s believed that Stonehenge was built in numerous phases from 3100 BC to 2000 BC, although there is archaeological evidence of several large, Mesolithic post holes dating as far back as 8000 BC. Also, as you drive toward the site, you’ll notice numerous hills along the way, which are actually burial mounds. Hundreds of these mounds, or barrows surround the area. Excavations indicate that Stonehenge may have started life as a burial ground, and evolved into a ceremonial and astronomical tracking site later on.
The audio guide is highly recommended when visiting Stonehenge. It gives a lot more detailed information then you’ll get from any signage. At the time of our visit in 2006, I have to say their visitor center was greatly lacking for such an important heritage site. However, a new visitor center opened in 2013 about 2km away, which houses over 300 artifacts and offers shuttle service to and from the site.
I would say that the biggest letdown about visiting Stonehenge is that you can’t walk up to the stones and touch them. It’s especially disappointing when you hear in the audio guide that some people claim to sense or feel vibrations coming from the stones. Back when my parents visited Stonehenge in the 1960s, the stones weren’t yet roped off from the public. My mom also claimed that people would go up to the stones and chisel pieces off as souvenirs! This is substantiated from an article on Smithsonian.com. The stones were roped off in 1977 to prevent people from climbing the stones, vandalizing them and trampling the grass around them. Unfortunate but necessary measures, I suppose. It’s a subtle barrier at least, and more psychological rather than physical. That wee rope won’t really keep people out, but at least it encourages visitors to remain on the marked trail.
A million things have been written about Stonehenge over the years, so I don’t need to go into all the details of its known history. However a lot of new discoveries have been made since our 2006 visit, which I find much more interesting.
Numerous archaeological excavations between 2003 and 2014 have uncovered new, previously unknown sites nearby, including additional burial mounds, proof of adjacent stone and wooden structures, and as many as seventeen new monuments resembling Stonehenge. So when once it seemed that Stonehenge was just a lonely one-off structure in the middle of nowhere, it now appears that it was the center of a bustling complex of buildings and monuments. It still has a bit of a lonely, solitary feel to it though:
What impresses me the most about these massive standing stones are the lintels capping them. There aren’t many still in place anymore, but they were curved to fit together to form the outer ring of enclosed stones. There were originally 30 in all, and were fitted together using a tongue and groove method, most commonly used in woodworking. Pretty impressive work considering the time period and primitive tools that would have been available at the time. Not to mention how they got into their current position, 16 feet off the ground!
The tallest stone, Stone 56, can be seen in the photo below a little right of center. It stands at about 6.7 meters, and it’s believed to point to the midwinter solstice sunrise and midsummer sunset. The carved point at the top is what the lintel would have fit onto.
The outer ring of stones are in a horseshoe pattern open on one end, and it was long believed that the circle had never been completed. However, in 2014, parch marks where the grass didn’t grow as well in dry weather revealed the original placement of the missing stones, which formed a complete circle.
The inner ring of stones are shaped like a horseshoe however, similar to the original layout of the Almendres Cromlech we visited in Portugal recently. Since there’s still debate over who actually built Stonehenge, and Almendres Cromlech is about 2000 years older than Stonehenge, perhaps there was some influence from overseas?……