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.
Archaeologists believe that Stonehenge was built in numerous phases between 3100 BC and 2000 BC. But 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 tribes initially used Stonehenge as a burial ground. It only evolved into a ceremonial and astronomical tracking site later on.
I would highly recommend getting the audio guide when visiting Stonehenge. It gives a lot more detailed information then you’ll get from any signage. At the time of our visit many years ago, I have to say their visitor center was greatly lacking for such an important heritage site. However, in 2013 a new visitor center opened about 2 km away. It houses over 300 Stonehenge-era 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 didn’t have a fence around them. The fence went up in 1977 to prevent people from climbing the stones, vandalizing them and trampling the grass around them. It was also meant to deter visitors from chipping pieces off the stones as souvenirs. Yes, shockingly, this was a common occurrence.
In fact, during the Victorian era, tourists were actually handed chisels so they could chip pieces off the stones to take home. Eventually, landowner Sir Edmund Antrobus realized the stones needed protection, so in 1900 he banned the practice and introduced an entry fee.
The fence is 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.
There are thousands of articles and books about Stonehenge, so I won’t go into all the details of its known history. And historians and archaeologists are discovering new things about Stonehenge even today, which I find fascinating.
Numerous archaeological excavations between 2003 and 2014 uncovered new, previously unknown sites nearby. These included additional burial mounds, proof of adjacent stone and wooden structures, and as many as seventeen new monuments resembling Stonehenge. So it appears that Stonehenge was once at the center of a bustling complex of buildings and monuments. Today, it has a lonely, solitary feel to it though:
What impresses me the most about these massive standing stones are the lintels capping them. Whomever designed Stonehenge curved the lintel stones to fit together to form the outer ring of enclosed stones. Originally there were 30 in all. They fit 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 thought 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. In 2014, parch marks where the grass didn’t grow as well in dry weather revealed the original placement of missing stones. Those missing stones formed a complete circle.
The inner ring of stones are shaped like a horseshoe however, which is similar to the original layout of the Almendres Cromlech in Portugal. There’s still debate over who actually built Stonehenge, and Almendres Cromlech is about 2000 years older than Stonehenge. It makes me wonder if perhaps there was some influence from overseas?……