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,