on March 30, 2010
We arrived at Stonehenge one Saturday afternoon, not long after lunch. You can see it as you approach by road and if you are travelling to the South West on a Bank Holiday weekend this is a popular rubber-necking spot as everyone has a good look as they drive by. Not for us, as we planned a little trip here on our way to Bath so we turned off (to the A344 just off the A303 coming from London) and parked up in the designated parking area opposite the site. Parking was free but I understand that there is a charge during the peak season which is refundable on admission. This is to avoid people parking up and walking across the road to look at the site through the fence for free. Standard adult admission is £6.60 (£6.90 from 1st April) but as we are members of English Heritage (who manage the site) it was free for us. I believe National Trust members also get in free. Your admission includes a free audio guide which is available in ten languages. There are seven numbered spots around the site and you can just push the corresponding button on your handset to listen to the commentary. The narrator will also give you some optional numbers to press to hear additional commentary on such things as the myths surrounding the site and the surrounding area and landscape. Stonehenge is certainly one of the most famous ancient sites in Britain. Built between 3000 and 1600 BC, no one seems particularly sure what its original purpose was. Due to the positioning of the stones in relation to the sun at certain times of each month makes me believe that it was some sort of calendar or has an astronomical purpose. The society that built Stonehenge was obviously very organised as some of the stones came over one hundred miles, they would have been heavy and would have had to be cut and shaped with fairly basic tools. The stones are also sunk into a pre-dug ditch. After we had picked up our audio guide we walk past the gift shop and through the tunnel which goes under the road to the site. If you are here at weekends expect the site to be busy, we were here on a windy March Saturday and were grateful to dodge the rain showers, but it was still fairly busy. I think your first impressions are that they are quite small, but you don't actually get that close to them. You walk round the fence, partly on a path and party on grass. If it is wet it will certainly be muddy due to the amount of people who come here. This part wouldn't be ideal for wheelchairs if the weather is bad either, although part of it is paved so there is access to the majority of the site – wheelchair users won't be able to do the full circle unless its dry. The audio guide fills you in on what you need to know from here. The situation is amazing – there is nothing but fields and sheep all around you apart from the neighbouring roads, but if you take a 360 degree look around you, you can see countryside for miles, it is nice to see an ancient landmark without encroaching civilisation. When you have finished looking at the site (or been sufficiently windswept – there is a disadvantage to all the open countryside) you go back the way you came through the tunnel, and return your headsets. There is a large gift shop with an assortment of Stonehenge themed gifts such as 'Stonehenge Rocks!' T-shirts and teddies wearing said T-shirt. Models of the site that are ready made or ones you can make yourself, books including pop-up picture books and novels of the Bronze Age era. Postcards start at 50p, and there are an impressive range of photographic prints. The official guide book (in five languages) is £4.99. There is a small coffee stall selling drinks and snacks, but only a few tables to sit at. The toilets on site are port-a-loos – I guess this is how they cope with peak season visitors, I didn't use them. The site is open all year round apart from Christmas and usually opens at 9.30am and closes at 6pm except during the winter months when it closes at 4.30. Through June to the end of August it is open 9am to 7pm.If you are in the area I think this is a must see attraction and is worth going out of your way to visit. You will need a car to get there but I did see tours advertised from Bath (just under an hour away) for £15. I expect other towns in the area offer something similar.
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