Some key facts
- Building of the stone circle began about 5000 years ago.
- The final stages of the structure we see now was completed around 3500 years.
- There are a number of similar monuments scattered throughout England, although Stonehenge is the most famous and most impressive.
- The ‘Heel Stone’ which is the largest weighs approximately 30 tons.
- Prior to 1900, visitors were given chisels which they used to chip pieces of the stones off to take home as souvenirs.
- The purpose of Stonehenge is still widely debated by historians and archaeologists.
A Family visit to Stonehenge
The English Heritage run site of Stonehenge is truly a spectacular place. A monument of beauty and unprecedented mystery. The energy around the site can be felt as you walk around and the super imposing stones can only be appreciated in all of their glory as you stand before them, looking up at their super-size and height.
We visited Stonehenge last week (June 2017) and we were rather surprised to see that access to the monument has changed. On our previous visits, the stones could be seen from the road that ran passed the stones (A334) and the car park adjacent to the stones. A huge rather ugly fence surrounded the field which in many ways took away some of the majesty of the site. Visitors then passed through a small visitor’s centre, paid the entrance fee then walked under a subway to visit the site. Now visitors park in a car park approximately 1.5 miles away from the stone circle and are taken to the stones via a shuttle bus. This new system with the re-routing of the A334 has significantly reduced traffic close to the stones which would potentially compromised the stability of the stone circle in the future.
The Visitor’s Centre
Furthermore, English Heritage have done a marvellous job creating a new visitors centre. This is close to the car park and where customers begin their visit. This was particularly popular with my youngest child and we spent a good amount of time here before we visited the stone circle itself. There is a wonderful 360 degree projection of Stonehenge which shows how the site changed over time and also what it looks like at different times of the year. This was a really nice touch. An array of artefacts are on display, some housed there on a temporary basis, enabling the exhibits to change. One display is the reconstructed face of a Neolithic man based on his skull. He is displayed alongside his skeleton. Although this exhibit was interesting, I nevertheless always feel somewhat uneasy with displays of human remains such as these. The display added an energy to the room and this was felt by many people there. It also led to a number of awkward questions from my toddler – why is he there, hung up in a glass cabinet in this way, is he dead, etc. This is simply my personal opinion, however as I do not approve of such displays, I’m sure other visitors will have differing views on the matter. I believe English Heritage excelled rather with their reconstructions of the site itself, how it would have looked when originally built, and the changes over time as represented in stone models. It was clear to see that a huge amount of money has been put into the visitor’s centre and (with the exception of the skeleton) was money well spent.
A number of Neolithic houses have also been built outside the visitor’s centre and visitors can walked inside these and experience a taste of the Neolithic way of life before visiting the monument they erected. A replica of one of the sarsen stones has a rope attached to it and a counter – visitors pull on the rope to show how many more people would be needed to pull the stone. My husband was rather proud that we as a family had enough brute strength to pull the stone (although I don’t know how far we would manage)!
Getting to the Stone Circle
We visited on what must have been one an extremely busy day. The queues for the toilet were enormous as multitudes of tourists disembarked countless tour buses and coaches. Having said that, we only waited around 10 minutes for the shuttle bus and the staff repeatedly apologised for the delay. Before getting onto the shuttle bus, you should obtain an audio guide (available in a huge number of languages) from the visitors’ centre as these are extremely useful in explaining the construction of the stones and the theories surrounding their purpose. Visitors can ask the driver to drop them off half way to the stones at ‘Little Wood’, enabling them to walk across the fields to the stones and offer a unique perspective.
The stone circle itself is extremely impressive, one can truly only appreciate the structure by walking around it and looking up at the huge stones. The stone circle is roped off; visitors are not able to walk through the stones, except on four special occasions throughout the year. Please see my post on Celebrating the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge. Make sure to bring a camera as the monument is extremely picturesque and the perfect opportunity for a unique family photo.
Overall, I would highly recommend a visit to Stonehenge with the family. It is one of those places you can say ‘I have seen’. However, a visit here is much more than seeing, rather it is an experience, one you will always remember.
Cost: Free with English Heritage Pass or Adult £16.50 Children £9.90
For Kids: Activities for the kids to do in the visitor’s centre, also children’s’ audio guides available.
Time Spent: 2 hours plus
Disabled Access: The visitors centre is wheelchair user-friendly and the shuttle bus accommodates wheelchairs. There is little walking involved for those with limited mobility, although it does take some time to walk around the stone circle.
Dogs: Permitted in the visitor’s centre but not in the field in which the stone circle is located. (Guide dogs welcome throughout the attraction).
Parking: Free for English Heritage members.
On-site Café: Reasonably priced and clean with ample seating.
Shop: A huge gift shop with a wide selection of relevant gifts (although as to be expected, rather pricey).
Toilets: There are plenty (only at the visitor’s centre), but more are needed, especially for on busy days, yet they were clean and tidy.
Overall Rating: 5/5