HOME AT FIRST's
FIRST APPEARED IN APRIL 2006.
MOST RECENT UPDATE: OCTOBER 2015.
It has stood
as silent and as old as the Sphinx lo these several millennia, mocking us with its
riddles, defying us with its unfathomable logic, captivating us with its fearful symmetry.
Scattered ruins in a circular cluster draw upwards of 1 million pilgrims annually to a
triangle of land wedged between two rural roads on the Salisbury Plain of Wiltshire,
England. We dont know why it was built or who built it. If Stonehenge was built to
bring people together to wonder in metaphysical awe at the magical mysteries of Nature,
God, and Man, it triumphs still.
Many things we know conclusively
WHEN STONEHENGE WAS BUILT. It was built and altered in
several stages over a period of 1500
years between 3000BC and 1500BC. When the Romans arrived in Britain 200 years ago, the
newest parts of Stonehenge were already 1500 years old and the monument was a partial
HOW STONEHENGE WAS BUILT. Archeological evidence indicates that Stonehenge was originally
an earthwork circle that evolved into a more complex structure, first with wooden posts
and later with huge stones set in phases over hundreds of years.
WHERE THE STONES CAME
FROM. The original 80
monolithic bluestones weighing several tons each were brought with great difficulty over
land, sea, and inland via rivers and portage from 240 miles away in the Preseli Hills of
Wales. Later in the Bronze Age even larger sarsen
stones of 25+ tons were dragged in from northern Wiltshire almost 20 miles from
Stonehenge. Modern experiments have shown how prehistoric people could move and erect such
large stones with precision using only simple tolls and no wheels.
BLUESTONES & SARSENS
The massive stones for Stonehenge came
from quarries in Wales and north Wiltshire.
© HOME AT FIRST
STONEHENGE DOES NOT STAND
ALONE. It stands in a broad local landscape loaded with dozens of other
prehistoric monuments: earthworks, circles, burial chambers, mounds and barrows, each
significant, each mysterious, each somehow related to all the rest. Together with a second
major prehistoric landscape at nearby Avebury, Stonehenge has been a listed
UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986.
Two great mysteries remain:
Who built Stonehenge? and
Over the last 2000
years many scholars (and at least as many crackpots) have offered theories that attempt
to solve the mysteries. Heres a sampling:
Who built Stonehenge?
Ancient Welsh texts credit
Merlin the Magician with the magical transporting of the bluestones
have magical healing powers
to Stonehenge to form a symbolic Round Table for a
Stonehenge imagined by Inigo Jones
as a Roman temple
17th century architect Inigo Jones
could not believe that such a sophisticated structural array as Stonehenge could be
designed and built by primitives. He posited the idea that
the Romans built
Stonehenge and drew up complex plans of how a Roman temple would have looked at
John Aubrey, who first discovered and analyzed
the ring of "post holes" at Stonehenge that bear his name ("Aubrey
Holes") was the first modern to suggest that Druids were responsible for building
Stonehenge as a temple for their Celtic religion. Aubrey had read of Roman accounts of
the Druid priesthood from the time of Julius Caesars invasion of Britain in 55BC. What Aubrey
didnt know, however, was that Stonehenge was already 1500 to 3000 years old at the
time of Julius Caesar, and already
Stonehenge imaged in a
1820. Was it a place of ancient
Celtic ritual performed by Druids?
in partial ruins. The people who populated
Britain long before the Celts arrived with their Druid
priests were likely the actual builders of Stonehenge.
scholarship suggests that
"Beaker People" of the New Stone
Age began the earliest construction of Stonehenge sometime around 3000BC. Pottery and tool
artifacts unearthed at Stonehenge support the idea that these primitives were on the site
and were the likely builders. The design of the henge (an earthen ditch and bank circle)
with a northeastern orientation in line with the exact point of the rising sun on the
summer solstice suggests that Stonehenge was more than a simple temple or burial ground
for important priests or Celtic kings, queens, and nobles. Some theories
suggest Stonehenge was a center of ancestor veneration, or a place with
magical healing powers for the sick and injured. Indeed, as has been suggested
in other ancient sites in Egypt, Mexico, and Peru, Stonehenge may have been designed on an
intricate mathematical plan as an astrological calendar that could accurately predict the
seasons, the phases of the moon, and even ellipses.
MODERN DRUIDS AND STONEHENGE
Of all the proposals tendered one has best
caught the public imagination. Not long after John Aubrey first suggested that Druids were
the likely founders of Stonehenge, Druid societies began popping up in Britain, the USA,
and Australia. So popular were these semi-secret organizations in their Ku Klux Klan like
white robes and hoods that their annual ceremonies on "mid-summer" have drawn
great crowds to Stonehenge at dawn on the morning of the summer solstice for well over 100
years. Among the members of the Ancient Order of Druids
one of the more mystical
groups dating from the Victorian era
was none other than Winston Churchill, who
joined while a young man at Oxford.
Modern Druids popularized Stonehenge as a
tourist destination. Much damage was caused to the monument by the throngs who swarmed
over its stones, until
in 1984 Stonehenge became the charge of
English Heritage, Englands public/private agency set up by Parliament to oversee and care
for the countrys most important historic and prehistoric sites.
Stonehenge has become such
an international attraction that it must now be cordoned off from
the Throngs who want to touch it, walk among its stones, and photograph
it at close range.
IT REMAINS POSSIBLE, HOWEVER, TO FIND A FEW MOMENTS TO ENVISION
STONEHENGE AS A LONELY,
RUINED ENIGMA SET ON THE WINDSWEPT , GREEN SALISBURY PLAIN BACKED WITH A
© HOME AT FIRST
In the last two decades Stonehenge has become
tightly controlled, with entry by advance ticketing only, organized parking 1½
miles from the site at a large visitor center with a museum, an
exhibition, a souvenir shop, and audio tours, shuttle bus transfer from
the visitor center to Stonehenge itself, where there is very restricted access to the
stones. When you visit today during normal operating hours you are required to
stay on grass or paved pathways that keep you from
getting closer than about 25 yards from the stone circle. It is possible to gain
access to the stone circle itself, but such visits are possible only
before and after normal visiting hours, require being vetted by an
advance application process, and your dates may not be available due to
Controlled accessibility may
not be the only disappointment in store for visitors. In years past, it
was possible to walk, take a public bus, or go with a guided day group
from London to Stonehenge on the spur of the moment. But crowds,
security, and visitor shenanigans have brought about the new rules and
access restrictions. Two busy rural roads, the A344 and the A303, still flank
the property on oblique angles, still bringing car noise and exhaust fumes to less than the
length of a football field from the monument. The circle itself, after the
build-up in your imagination, lacks the presentation of places like the
Eiffel Tower, and many castles and other attractions of Britain. Your first impression of Stonehenge
may be that
of a seedy tourist trap. Your second impression once inside the entrance gate is
that the circle is smaller than expected and very exposed to the blustery, wet weather
that washes over the plateau of the Salisbury Plain. Bring a sweater, a hat, gloves, a
jacket, and rain protection. The third impression is the disappointment that you
must walk past the monument in a procession more appropriate for an
expired world leader lying in state. It is a pity one cannot any longer
wander among and touch the stones they beg for it.
Its the fourth impression of Stonehenge
thats satisfying. Find a break in the line of visitors at a point along
the pathway away from the stone circle 30 or more yards, enough to minimize the human presence, enough to put the circle into its natural
presence caught between the Englands solid green earth and the drama of its John
Constable sky. Spellbinding.
IF YOU GO
Opening Times, Admission,
Reservations, & Tickets:
STONEHENGE CONTROLLED BY THE
ENGLISH HERITAGE PRESERVATION GROUP.
OPEN DAILY: March
16 through May 31: 9:30AM 7PM
1 through August 31: 9AM 7PM
1 through October 15: 9:30AM 6PM
16 through March 15: 9:30AM 5PM (Exception:
Stonehenge closed Dec.
£12.50/senior/student, £8.30/child, £3610/ family (2 adults + up to 3 children)
If you wish to visit Stonehenge on your own (not as part of a
guided tour group), you must order entrance tickets in advance
ENGLISH HERITAGE'S TICKET SALES SITE.
(Exception: access to Stonehenge is free
on the days of the summer and winter solstices.)
Stonehenge is within day trip range of
At First lodgings in three regions of
BY CAR FROM THE SOUTHERN
From Home At Firsts cottages in/near
take the B4014 south to Malmesbury, then the A429 south to Junction 17 of the M4.
Dont enter the M4. Instead continue south on the A350 for Chippenham. Take the A420
into Chippenham, then the A4 southeast to the A342 direction Devizes. (Canal enthusiasts,
stop at Devizes to see the 16 consecutive locks stepping up Caen Hill bringing the very
much functioning Kennet & Avon Canal into Devizes from the west. Stop for lunch at the
Caen Hill Cafι at the top of the lock ladder.) From Devizes, take the A360 south
across the Salisbury Plain toward
Amesbury and Salisbury. At the Airman's Cross
stepped canal locks at Devizes
roundabout find the the
entrance to the Stonehenge Visitor Centre. Park there,
visit the center and use the free shuttle bus to get
to/from Stonehenge. Total one-way journey time: under 90
BY CAR FROM THE NORTHERN
COTSWOLDS: From Home
At Firsts cottages in/near
Chipping Campden, take the A44
and A424 southeast to Stow-on-the-Wold, then the A429 southwest to
Cirencester. At Cirencester take the A419 SE to Swindon, then
the A346 south to Marlborough. At Marlborough turn SW on the
A345. Take the A345 south to the A303 at a roundabout just north
of Amesbury. Follow the A303 west past Stonehenge (it will be on
the right in a field) to the A 360 north. Follow the A 360 north
a short distance to the Airman's Cross roundabout and the
entrance to the Stonehenge Visitor Centre. Park there, visit the
center and use the free shuttle bus to get to/from Stonehenge.
Total one-way journey time: under two hours.
BY CAR FROM
Home At Firsts Devonshire cottages in/near Tavistock
by Dartmoor, take the A386 north to the A30
near Oakhampton. Follow the A30 east to Junction 31 of the M5 near Exeter. Take the M5 north two
exits to Junction 29, then the A30 east toward Honiton. Five miles beyond Honiton pick up
the A303 northeast across Dorset and into Wiltshire almost all the way to Amesbury.
miles west of Amesbury at the A303 junction with the A360, turn left on the
A360. Follow the A360 a very short distance north to the Airman's Cross
roundabout at the Stonehenge Visitor Centre. Park there, visit
the center and use the free shuttle bus to get to/from
Stonehenge. Total one-way journey time: under two and one-half
BY RAIL FROM
LONDON: From Home At Firsts
at St. Katharines Marina by the Tower of London walk 5-8
minutes to the Tower Hill Underground station. Take the
District or Circle Line subway train west 6 stops to
Embankment station. Change at Embankment to the Northern
Line southbound one stop to Waterloo BritRail station.
(Total journey time to Waterloo from St. Katharines
Marina: 35 minutes.)
The Brewery Apartments, walk 5-8 minutes to the
London Bridge Underground station. Take the Jubilee Line
2 stops west to Waterloo BritRail station. )Total
journey time to Waterloo from The Brewery Apts.: 25
At Waterloo, catch an express train for
Salisbury. Service is half-hourly, currently departing Waterloo at 20 minutes and 50
minutes past each hour. Journey time to Salisbury is less than 90 minutes, with current
arrivals at 20
Salisbury Cathedral another
treasure just minutes from Stonehenge.
minutes and 42 minutes past each hour.
Round-trip fares from Waterloo to Salisbury: start at
about £39/person (off-peak travel times).
At Salisbury train & bus station look for your
pre-arranged tour bus or mini-van, such as
the orange double-decker buses of The Stonehenge Tour. Important:
pre-reservation is important for any visitor to
Stonehenge on a tight schedule who does not wish to wait
for an available opening time to see the stones. See this website for ideas:
(Note: this information is provided as an example, only.
The website and tour company are not endorsed by Home At
First nor does Home At First receive endorsements or
commissions if you book and reserve their tour
Some tours include visits to Salisbury Cathedral,
one of the worlds great gothic cathedrals with its
magnificent pointed steeple before returning to the rail station for
your journey back to
Trains back to London Waterloo depart
half-hourly at about 27 minutes and 47 minutes past each hour. Journey time to London is
about 90 minutes. Depart Salisbury as late as 7:25PM and be back home at your
London apartment by 9:30PM.
You can visit all
kinds of destinations as easy day trips
from Home At First lodgings
in the England.
Our exclusive "Activities Guides" have hundreds
of pages of suggestions for things to see and
do when you travel with Home At First