The Stone Circle

Not long ago, I mentioned Stonehenge on my list of things to see someday. One of my dearest friends (the same one who took me to Disney World a couple years ago) felt the same way. So it became the first major trip of our visit.

My in-laws decided to rent a car, partly because Stonehenge is easier to reach by road than by train. In fact, you drive right past it on the highway. I’m astounded by the number of British people who told me not to go to Stonehenge. They all insisted it was disappointing, just a walk around the circle and then you’re bored, but I wasn’t deterred. I knew it was going to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Stonehenge is of great spiritual significance to me (I won’t say religious because I don’t consider myself particularly religious). I won’t wax eloquent on the details, but Stonehenge represents a great many of my beliefs. I’ve always been interested in the location. I think I’ve watched every documentary they’ve ever made on it. My favourite is the one on “Foamhenge,” which was a scale replica of Stonehenge in its heyday made entirely from foam. It was used in several studies including the position of the sun in relation to Stonehenge and the acoustics of Stonehenge at the time it was whole.

No one knows exactly why Stonehenge was built. We know that it grew up in stages. The first was “Woodhenge“, made up of a circle of logs with markings to indicate the surrounding area. There are some theories that “Woodhenge” was meant to be a map. Later the logs were removed and the stones were added. There are two types of stone; the sarsen stones and the bluestones. The sarsen stones are the iconic standing stones that make the circle at Stonehenge. Originally they formed a complete circle and a horseshoe in the center, but much of the circle has toppled. The bluestones smaller and arranged inside the original circle. The bluestones are particularly special because they were believed to have healing properties.

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For a long time, historians believed the Druids built Stonehenge and used it as both a ritual and burial site. It seems this assumption dates back to Roman times since, when the Romans arrived, it was the Druids they found. But archaeologists now believe Stonehenge predates the Druids considerably. In its time, Stonehenge may have been a place of gathering. Certainly it must have held significance to the Summer and Winter Solstices, since the rising and setting sun respectively align with the the arches. There are an astounding number of burial mounds surrounding Stonehenge, as it seems people came from far and wide to be buried within view of the monument.

I wasn’t feeling well the morning we set out for Stonehenge, and I’m not much of a car person, so I spent most of the drive dosing. But I woke up when we were about ten minutes from our destination. My eyes snapped open and, though I had no idea where we were, I knew we were close. Some people might drive by the monument and think from the road that’s it? But when I saw it, my heart started pounding. All around the field was a line of people, tourists come to visit the ancient henge. From the road they seemed to form a perfect circle, the formation in which we perform our rituals.

Even from the car park there was electric in the air, a hum beneath our feet. In ancient days the people gathered there, to tell stories, dance and perform the rites of old. They lived and gathered and traded in the shadow of the stones. Today there’s a tourist center with an exhibition including artifacts which have been recovered from the site. They are also building a group of period-accurate huts. It was very interesting to watch them work, because they’re building them by hand, with the same materials our ancestors would have used.

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There are also a pair of stones you can touch; one is a bluestone from the same quarry as the stones in Stonehenge. The other is a replica of a sarsen stone so that you can get a sense of their size and weight. (It’s a replica because there is no longer enough sarsen stone to create a stone the size of those at Stonehenge.)

To get to the henge, you have to take a short bus or trolley ride. You can also walk, which takes about half an hour. There’s an old visitor’s center closer to the monument, but they’re tearing it down in an effort to both preserve the monument and enhance the experience (an action which I heartily approve of). You’re no longer allowed to enter the stone circle unless you pay for the privilege, and then you must do so before opening or after closing. The audio tour explains the reason for this is preservation. They need to control the number of people who pass through the circle every year, or the ground would become trampled and unstable. Which is particularly concerning because there is an underground portion to the monument which has yet to be excavated.

It is true that the only thing to do at the actual monument is walk around it and listen to the audio tour. We spent a good hour doing that and I took pictures of the henge from every angle. One of the most interesting things I learned during the tour was that the monument actually has a front and a back. Better materials were used on the front portion of the monument, and that’s why there’s still several arches that stand almost intact.

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(The front)

The back side of the monument was of poorer quality, so that’s why the arches have toppled. There have also been several efforts made to preserve and restore the monument, including filling some of the sarsen stones with concrete (which has been left visible in some places so people know it has taken place).

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(The back; and on the sarsen near the middle (behind the laying bluestone) you can see a patch of concrete from one of the restoration attempts.)

I found the heel stone (or sun stone) of particular interest because, from certain angles, it appears to bear a face. The heel stone leans toward the monument and the sun rises over top of it on the summer solstice (hence why it is sometimes called the sun stone).

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When we finished at the monument, we hopped in a bus back to the visitor’s center. My poor mother-in-law just wanted to ride the really nifty trolley but it always filled up right before our spot in line.

At the gift shop, both Rowena and I spent some time picking out bluestones to purchase. It seems Stonehenge is one of only two or three places who can withdraw bluestone from the quarry where the Stonehenge bluestones come from. They’ve radiocarbon-dated the stones to match so they know where they came from. This was of great significance to both of us. It’s almost like carrying a piece of Stonehenge with us. Rowena got a pair of earrings and I got a keychain shaped like one of the henge arches. I’m thinking of turning it into a necklace at some point (they didn’t have necklaces that came in that shape).

We spent the last part of the afternoon in the exhibition hall. My favourite part was the opening room. They have two circular walls where they project a rotating image. It starts in the ancient days with the sun rising over Woodhenge. Then it transforms to what Stonehenge would have looked like when the stones were whole and standing. It shows the sun rising and setting through the archways. Then it transforms a final time to the Stonehenge of today so that you can see what it would be like to stand within the circle. Perhaps it isn’t as good as getting to go inside Stonehenge, but it’s certainly a magnificent experience. Honestly, I could sit in that projection room all day. (It would make for excellent writing inspiration, let me tell you!) And honestly, I’m amazed how close you’re able to get to the circle. When I heard you aren’t allowed to go inside, I thought they’d keep you much further back than they do.

Overall, I can safely say this was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I know Rowena felt the same. I do hope I’m able to go back some day.

5 Responses to “The Stone Circle”

  1. Bronwyn Green Says:

    Someday…someday I’ll see this for myself. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    • Megan Cutler Says:

      Glad you enjoyed it! :) They were improving the site while we were there so it will be even more fantastic when you get to see it! :D I’m really hoping I get to go back someday!

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  3. Katy Huth Jones Says:

    I’m so glad you got to see Stonehenge! We took the train from Devon back to London when we visited hubby’s grandparents a few years back, so were close but not close enough (the conductor did say we were nearing Stonehenge, but you couldn’t see anything). I do NOT understand those who say it’s “boring.” Just being that close to so much ancient history would give me goosebumps. Your photos are great! And glad you got a little piece of the same stone. Wow! :)

    • Striker Says:

      It was a worthwhile trip, I can say that! :D We had originally intended to stay only half a day, but we were so enamoured by all there was to see and experience that we spent the entire afternoon there. I guess maybe if you drove past it every day on the highway it would lose its lustre, but not for me, I don’t think. I was quite taken by it. I managed to take that panorama shot totally accidentally as well XD I didn’t realize until I put them on my hard drive how fabulously they lined up!


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