Once upon a time, in Wiltshire, in the early evening, you could turn off the A360 and pull over to the side of the road to peer through a fence. It was your standard, average wire fence. But on the other side of it – was Stonehenge.
Stonehenge was one of those sites that my heart started beating a little faster for in anticipation of seeing it for the first time. I didn’t know what to expect. How big was it? Would I see it coming from a distance or would it sneak up on me? Worst of all, would I be disappointed?
That first glimpse took place a few years back and it was special because I felt like I just stumbled upon Stonehenge. (If one could just stumble upon a gigantic, ancient monument in the middle of farmland.) We were driving and then suddenly: there it was – just off to the side of us. We jumped out of the car and scampered over to the fence, pressing our noses up against it trying to get closer. I was immediately struck by questions like where on earth did they get these slabs of rock from and how on earth did they place them all together? It was after-hours and the site was closed, so we stared at it quietly for awhile while those questions bounced around in our heads and then we continued off on our journey.
Fast forward a few years later and I took my mom back to visit the site. And here is where I admit I was just the tiniest bit disappointed. That little road we drove along right up to the site years ago has been blocked off and a huge, very nice, English Heritage visitors centre has been built to manage the crowds flowing in to visit Stonehenge. This is where I scold myself because the centre is clearly needed: a million people visit Stonehenge every year (some 5,000 on a summer day alone)… and it is good for the local economy to have people stay at the site for a longer amount of time.
But there was something about not having to stand in a huge line of people and be piled into little trolleys to take you to the site that made it seem more accessible. More like how farmers must have seen it when they came upon it walking across the Wiltshire farmlands. A sort of mystery that belonged to everyone.
Maybe I’m just getting older and becoming adverse to change (I feel like my grandfather with one of those “back in the day, we walked to school up-hill both ways with no shoes in the snow” stories) … but it felt a bit less personal the second time around.
Now that we have established I am writing like an 80-year old in this post, let me state for the record: you have to visit Stonehenge. Archeologists estimate that the stones were placed between 3000 and 2000 BC and those are dates that will blow the mind. The site was privately owned until as late as 1918 when it was given over to the state and the public could actually walk amongst the stones until the 1970s. Today, you can walk a full circle around the site – and you really should because every few steps give you a different view of the monument.
Go early in the morning to beat the crowds, take the little trolly up to the first stop and get off at what seems like a little forest. You’ll set off on a 10-15 minute walk through some cow pastures (yup, just wander right past the cows) and see Stonehenge appear in the distance, which is a lovely way to see it.
Stonehenge is open every day of the year except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Advanced booking is required through English Heritage. Check their website for entrance times, which vary depending on the time of year.