Stonehenge is a collection of enormous prehistoric stones prearranged in a semi-circle on the side of a hill in southwest England. That is all that is known for certain. Some believe it to be an ancient burial group, a druid temple, an astrological calendar, a location for pagan rituals, an ancient healing and pilgrimage site or even a memorial to the dead that is thousands of years old. Early medieval legends indicated that Merlin transported it from Mount Killaraus in Ireland as an appropriate place for Britain’s dead princes. Stonehenge remains one of the most important archaeological sites in the world with busloads of visitors coming daily to experience the ancient rocks.
Stonehenge is near Amesbury, England. It is an hour and a half drive or 87 miles, west of London. Google “London bus to Stonehenge” and there are a variety of tour companies that offer services to Stonehenge and back.
Outside of London, Stonehenge was the first major historical site I visited in England. I got up early one Saturday morning and decided to take my first adventure. From Manchester it is at least a 4 hour drive, but it was a nice, warm sunny day which can be rare in England.
I remember the childlike reaction when I saw Stonehenge in the distance. My heart started beating fast and immediately I started taking pictures out of my front windshield. The collection of stones weren’t new to me but they were more impressive than I imagined. My heart leaped at the awe-inspiring sight. The rocks weren’t on top of the hill as I remembered but on the side near the top of a hill. There is a small road that took me from the highway to the parking lot but the giant rocks were always in sight to my immediate left.
More than any other site I have visited I was impatient to get my car parked and enter the park. The parking lot was crowded with buses and cars. It was a bank holiday and obviously I wasn’t the only person visiting Stonehenge. People were everywhere and I remember feeling a little uneasy. When there are lots of crowds around I feel like everyone else knows what to do except me. Working through my anxiety I paid my entrance fee and picked up a headset that allowed me to take a walking tour. Crossing under the road through a tunnel that leads to Stonehenge I walked up the stairs and was face to face with these blue, enormous rocks. People were wandering around with their headsets on listening to the tour guide.
This was not a protected historical site prior to 1986 which really surprised me. There are pictures of druids and hippies in the 1960s climbing on the rocks or holding ceremonies. Today you can get close to the rocks but you can’t touch them. There is a fence that surrounds Stonehenge keeping the visitors a safe distance away.
It is hard to describe the feelings I got from standing near Stonehenge. People were sitting on bleachers, in the green grass or walking around looking at the rocks but I got the feeling that others felt the same way – quietly awe-inspired. Looking at the massive rocks left standing after more than 3,000 years without real knowledge of what they were used, for or how the rocks were moved there, was perplexing. The logistics of getting these enormous stones to stand up in a pattern seems impossible without today’s construction equipment. Even beyond the physical wonder of Stonehenge was the spiritual aspect. Were my feelings those of respect for those who built such a monument? Was I moved by the events that must have occurred at this location? Or was I just confused as to what was standing before me?
I liked it. It felt good to stand near it and imagine. Looking at the meandering road from the river believed to have been used to bring the rocks to this location it seemed impossible. It would have taken 5,000 people working full-time over 3 years to move these stones from southern Wales, where they were believed to have been quarried, to this location.
There are burial mounds that can be seen from Stonehenge within a half-mile of the hill with walking paths nearby. People can follow the path below Stonehenge towards the river where they believed the rocks were carried to this site. Most people take their time at the historical site. Even without the rock formation the view in each direction is beautiful.
There are no new housing additions on the horizon or new stores that have sprung up selling souvenirs. England has passed laws keeping residents from building new homes or commercial properties in the country. It is referred to as the “green belt”. Its purpose is to keep the countryside as beautiful and pristine as possible. Even if someone were to purchase a 300 year old house, approval by the local town council is required to make changes, modifications or improvements because of the desire to protect their historical sites and preserve England as it was.
The Background and History
Stonehenge wasn’t made at any one particular time. There is evidence that first construction began over 5,000 years ago. Neolithic Britons used man made tools, such as deer antlers, to dig a circular ditch and bank. It was believed to be surrounded by wooden posts. John Aubrey first discovered them in the 17th century.
Several hundred years’ later Stonehenge builders hoisted as many as 80 blue stones quarries in Wales which is over 200 miles. 43 of those stones stand today. They are believed to be in a semi-circle or horseshoe formation.
The third phase of construction was almost 2,000 years ago. Sandstone slabs were arranged in an outer ring or assembled in the center of Stonehenge. 50 of these stones are visible today. Carbon dating shows that construction continued until about 1,600 B.C. The question remains how a civilization without modern technology, including the wheel, was able to build this monument.
Modern historians believe that several distinct tribes of people contributed to the building of Stonehenge, each undertaking a different phase of its construction. The facts around the building of this monument remain a mystery but even more mysterious are the reasons behind why it was built. Most modern historians believe Stonehenge was a burial site, but most scholars believe it served other functions as well. Some believe it was a ceremonial site, a site of religious pilgrimages, burial site for royalty or a memorial erected to honor their descendants. Since the 1960s there has been evidence it was an astrological calendar used by farmers while others believe it was a place of healing. Some of the bodies unearthed at the site showed signs of illness and injury and the blue stones were believed to have healing powers.
Since 1986 the site has been protected by UNESCO World Heritage Foundation, Stonehenge attracts more than 1,000,000 visitors a year.
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Comments: Along with Hadrian’s Wall, York and the Tower of London this is my favorite site in England. Take your walking shoes and enjoy the area in and around Stonehenge. It is a fascinating look at what our ancestors were capable of building without modern technology. It will surprise you.