Stonehenge is one of the most recognisable and fascinating monuments in the world; this status was confirmed when it was named a World Heritage Site in 1986. Spiritual wonder surrounds the improbably-constructed 5,000-year-old stone circle, which is considered the most architecturally sophisticated of its kind in the world.
Stonehenge comprises the unique use of two different kinds of stones – bluestones and sarsens – the largest weighing over 40 tonnes, thought to have travelled as far as 140 miles from the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire. It was built in stages over approximately 1,400 years, starting as a ditch with wooden walls and posts
in 3000BC until heavy stones were erected between 2400BC and 2200BC.
To test the feat in the modern day, at the turn of the millennium a group of volunteers attempted to move a bluestone from Wales to Wiltshire. But as the enormous bulk was being rowed across the Bristol Channel on two ancient replica boats, it slipped into the sea – so much for that plan.
Over the centuries, the area has been host to astronomical query and archaeological digs. The significance of the arrangement of these prehistoric megaliths is still pondered today.
A site of scientific interest
One of the most popular theories about Stonehenge is that it was an ancient observatory or a scientific instrument for accurately measuring the rising and setting positions of the sun, moon, planets and stars.
Skeletal remains dating back as far as 3000BC have also been found during archaeological digs. One of
the most famous was deemed the Stonehenge King by the press, because of the treasures buried with him; gold hair ornaments that are thought to be the earliest gold objects found in Britain.
One of the first people to scientifically examine the site was John Aubrey in 1666, whose excavations pits still bear his name. He was the first person to associate it with druids.
In 1798, local merchant William Cunnington began excavating a large part of the land surrounding the stones – several hundred barrows – and he unearthed wood, animal bones and pottery.
Laser scanning is one of the more recent approaches to answering the mysteries of the henge. In 2011, scientists carried out a laser survey in the hope
to uncover information that is invisible to the naked eye.
The evidence has shed light on the intricate way some of the stones were hand-carved with axes so that they would glint in the sunlight from certain approaches.
A mystical visit
Stonehenge is open to visitors on most days of the year, with English Heritage guides talking you through its history. The privilege of walking amid the stones and considering the true meaning of this ancient, dramatic creation is well worth the trip.
In recent years, it has become tradition for modern day druids, pagans and revellers to camp near Stonehenge for the spring, summer, autumn and winter solstice. The most popular of these is the summer solstice, when around 30,000 people descend upon the monument, which is open overnight free of charge. Dancing, music, prayer and storytelling feature strongly as part of the tradition.
The old theory that the site was a sanctuary for worship of the sun, although not unanimously agreed by historians, is nevertheless illustrated by the yearly Midsummer’s Day ceremony, during which there is a folkloric procession of bards and druids at Stonehenge.
In fact, Stonehenge is the subject of many theories, including being a site of pilgrimage or even burial.
Some even say that Stonehenge is the work of
aliens – so don’t forget your camera, just in case.
HOW TO GET THERE
The site is two miles west of Amesbury, Wiltshire on the junction of A303 and A344/A360. Car parking on site.
FIND OUT MORE
0870 333 1181
The Stonehenge Tour
0845 0727 093
The Stonehenge Tour bus leaves from Salisbury city centre and also stops by the ruins of Old Sarum.
19 Salt Lane
This traditional, cosy inn has a great range of ales, and a pub classic menu that focuses on fresh local ingredients.
Old Mill Hotel
This AA 3-star hotel is situated on the edge of the River Avon, and right next to Salisbury Cathedral. The adjoining restaurant offers an accommodating menu.
As well as housing the world’s oldest clock, the cathedral is home to the best surviving copy of the Magna Carta.