Sunday, 12 October 2014

Stonehenge And The New Visitor Centre

Stonehenge is about half an hour's drive from here. I haven't been for a while, certainly not since the new visitor centre opened, so this morning we popped over for a look.


I got teased soundly by my family for expressing the opinion that English Heritage has done a good job making the roof contours of the new building fit the topography so well. For some reason, they all found this funny, but I stick to my words- the new centre fits the landscape better than it would have done with a flat roof. It also nestles into a dip in the land so from a distance is as unobtrusive as it could be. This is all long overdue and I am glad that horrible monstrosity that was the old visitor centre is gone and the Stones can breath in their landscape again.

The museumy bit is good too: not so many glass-fronted cases that you nod off and emerge bleary eyed and drained several days later, and not too few that you feel leaving you've only had a glimpse of the story. It's simple, clean and efficient, a case proved by the fact that L, who is my barometer for all things dull and boring, didn't start asking when we were leaving until we'd more or less finished.

This chap was buried in a nearby Longbarrow about three thousand years ago. Sorry the pic is blurry but I wanted to include it because I was struck by how modern he looks- it could be you or I (if I was a man and had a beard). I'm hoping that isn't his real skeleton beside him. I doubt they returned it to the Barrow, but I feel they should.


Stonehenge is part of a much wider Sacred Landscape that extends through the valleys of Salisbury Plain to take in Avebury, my favourite place and possessor of that other amazing circle of Sarsen Stones. The Processional Avenue that leads from the River Avon into Stonehenge was built in 2300BC some time after the Circle was complete (Stonehenge started life around 2600BC). The removal of the A344 which cut through the avenue and ran immediately adjacent to the circle and was decommissioned and grassed over earlier in the year (again, long overdue, although I'm sure it's irritating for local people who presumably now have to take a detour to get to the A303), means that eventually visitors will also approach the Stones along this ancient processional way. I'm not sure how I feel about that.


Outside the centre there are a small collection of huts, built to represent the homes the builders of Stonehenge would have lived in.








There is also a life-size replica of a Sarsen stone sitting on a trolly so you can attempt to move it. M had a go, much to the delight of a watching group of Japanese tourists. He was chuffed because according to the info, he had the strength of five men....



The real Stones are an eight minute drive from the new centre. You can either walk there up the track or hop on a small bus type thing pulled by what sounded like an electric landy. It was quite chilly (understatement) so we opted for the bus. I wished I'd brought my hat.


They have taken away the fences that used to imprison the Henge as well as removing the old road. Here it is, all grassed over....


The Stones themselves were looking well, considering they are exposed to a million visitors a year (most of whom seemed to have chosen today to go and see them. We had great fun photo bombing).


I don't think I've ever been in a place where so many selfies were being taken, and regretted not getting a picture of a girl who had her camera stuck on the end of a stick which she proceeded to wave about so she could take pictures of herself from every conceivable angle.

You'll have to make do instead with pictures of this amazing feat of engineering, the details of whose construction we are no closer to definitively understanding than we were a hundred years ago.






 

I did get side-tracked while M and F were listening to a chap from English Heritage (who was dressed only in shirt sleeves and trousers and must, therefore, have been freezing), waxing lyrical about the Stones' effect on Sir Christoper Wren Apparently, he was so filled with spiritual wonder when in their presence that he designed St Pauls using the Henge as inspiration (the dome, for instance, occupies the exact same space as the circle of the Henge).
While they were so captivated, my attention was held by a Kestrel dancing in the skies off to the left of the site. I watched him hanging balanced in the air for several moments before plummeting with pin-point accuracy onto whatever small, furry thing he had spotted several metres below...



Apart from the Raptor, the main bird family represented at Stonehenge were the Corvidae. There were Jackdaws sitting on the Sarsens...



Rooks wandering about on the ground...



And starlings who were keeping a very close eye on the work that is currently underway to break up the old car parks and presumably return that section of this prehistoric landscape to something more closely resembling the rest of it...






I'll leave you with a shot of one of the many Barrows that are to be found in this landscape of pre-history


Enjoy the rest of your weekend all,

CT :o)

29 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for this post, I was watching a programme about this the other night. They were discussing how all the sites around there would have been connected. I must get up there again and have a look. The last time we went we were driving back from London. The visiter centre was closed so were peered though the fence as it was getting dark (and it was freezing) Still magical, and there was no one else around!

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    1. Definitely worth a visit now- the whole thing is much improved. The main difference for me is they are finally linking the site with its landscape context which makes it a very different place.

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  2. I've never been! Sounds like improvements have been made so maybe worth a visit now that the work is complete.

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    1. Ooh, you MUST go (and to Avebury, too). The Stones are amazing, you just have to try and block out all the other visitors. It's worth exploring the land round about too, which you can now do thanks to the way EH has put the site in context. There are lots of round Barrows and prehistoric walkways right beside the Stones. It's a great place.

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  3. Yes, Avebury is very impressive. I'm sorry, but I hate it when English Heritage feels as though it ought to provide more entertainment that distracts from the stones. It makes me think that you can get a very good view of the A303 from Stonehenge.

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    1. I didn't get that feeling, but you are right about the A303, especially when it was queued at a standstill as it was today.

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    2. The traffic there comes to a standstill almost every day, in the same way it does when people stop to gawp at an accident on the motorway.

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  4. Last time we went it was very busy and freezing cold too! many years ago now, The improvements sound good.
    IF we get a holiday next year we will be heading that way no doubt.

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    1. Perhaps the openness of the site means it's always a little chillier up there? Worth a visit if you can schedule it in. Hope C is OK- have been reading but pushed for time comment-wise this weekend.

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  5. Another place I have not been, my dad has driven past it a few times many years ago when he was a wagon driver...
    Amanda

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    1. Worth a trip if you get the chance. It's lowland chalk grassland so quite a rare habitat and I imagine the plants will be interesting in summer time.

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  6. Great photos of Mrs Kestrel! Thanks for the tour, I've never been to Stonehnenge! I've watched quite a few documentaries over the years, the most recent was the one with Neil Oliver which was all about how it is linked to other sites. One day I must actually visit!

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    1. It's worth going to if you're in this neck of the woods. It's definitely better for the loss of the road and the fence.

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  7. How I would enjoy a visit here. Thank you for the history and the beautiful photos. I love the photos of the Raptor in flight. Your photos are truly beautiful and so are your posts.

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  8. Interesting post CT with some lovely photos. I haven't been to Stone Henge for years and years and to be honest I was really disappointed - I found it a real anticlimax. I much prefer Avebury. Am I right in thinking you can no longer walk among the stones??
    I will return one day as D and E have never been and it would be interesting to see the new museum!

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    1. I was disappointed the first time I went, too. Avebury is much more my cup of tea, but the Stones are much better for being part of their landscape again. The removal of the fence and the road has helped and we were impressed with the visitor centre.
      The path still runs round the outside of the circle and although there is nothing to stop you going among the Stones I suspect it isn't something EH want to encourage- the sheer number of visitors alone probably makes it problematic in terms of taking care of the Stones.

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  9. It is a fascinating place isn't it. I drive past on the way down to Somerset and back and always like to see it as I pass. I would be sad if the road completely bypassed it, but it would be a nicer place if it did. I had no idea about the houses that had been built and so on being there now, it must make a for a more interesting visit, especially for children. Your pictures are so good, especially the starlings! xx

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    1. I'm very glad they've made the changes they have. I think they were overdue. I guess it's hard to manage a site like Stonehenge- you're never going to please everyone and the footfall is immense for a relatively small site. It's worth a look round if you get the chance. x

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  10. Thanks for your post, and the info' regarding the centre. We drove past Stonehenge yesterday on our way to Bath for one night. And again today on our way back. It's an impressive sight. I remember actually walking amongst the stones when I was a very small child in the early 60's, before there were any barriers. I think my family were on their way to Somerset for a camping holiday.

    Jean
    x

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    1. My ma said the same thing about walking between the stones. Must have been magical. x

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  11. Nice one! When I last visited in the 70s there wasn't a visitor centre at all!
    I'm glad you've managed to keep people out of the pictures - I especially like that one of the trilithon with the red farm field seen through it (and is that a little kite or a bird?)
    Have you heard that theory that Stonehenge was a centre for (physical as well as spiritual) healing for a wide area of Europe?
    All the best :)

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    1. I thought I did quite well avoiding all the tourists! Yes, some sort of bird :o) I had heard that about the healing x

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  12. I've driven past Stonehenge on the A303 dozens of times but I think I've only ever stopped once to go and visit it! I think it was fenced off by that time but I don't remember any visitor centre. Talk about taking things for granted. You captured those birds very well especially the kestrel in flight. :-)

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    1. I think you would really love Avebury. In some ways it is a more important site than Stonehenge. The energy is rawer there.
      I was really pleased with the Kestrel shot- didn't realise it had worked until I downloaded the pics on the laptop xx

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  13. Interesting to see how they have improved the Stonehenge experience - and also allowed it its proper space in the landscape and the proper approach to it too. Next time we are in Wessex, we will visit, though having to share it with hundreds of other folk ruins the experience for me. I prefer Avebury anyway, but Stonehenge is pretty unique and let's face it, a World Heritage Centre . . .

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    1. The single biggest impression of change I got was that now the Stones are allowed to be part of their landscape they can be seen in context at long last. Agree about all the crowds- I can't bear it. Avebury is the place for me too.

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  14. I didn't realise the visitor centre was so far from the stones! Can you get closer to the stones than you used too? Sarah x

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    1. I think it's the same path going round them but they feel closer for the lack of fence. The visitor centre worked well distance-wise, but I expect in the height of summer there might be more of a wait for transport if you aren't walking. x

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x