England, 2016 – Face to Face with a Mystery of History: Stonehenge

There’s a certain small, lingering fear I think a lot of people have when they travel – that iconic sites they’ve seen pictures of and have been dreaming of seeing in person for years won’t live up to the standard they’ve conjured in their minds. I was wary about seeing Stonehenge in person.

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Our flight left on July 27, but we arrived around 9:30 am the next morning (UK time). Despite the inability to sleep for more than 20 minutes on the plane, I felt surprisingly rested and eager to begin our adventure (thanks, excitement and adrenaline!). Of course, that faded quickly when we discovered how much of a maze-style nightmare the Gatwick airport was.

After passing through customs and collecting our luggage, we made our way to the Enterprise car rental desk. This was a tricky enough task already, but the lack of sleep combined with the lack of proper signs caused a bit of frustration. When we finally found the desk, it was to discover a lovely note informing us that the car rentals were no longer held out of the North Terminal; all had been relocated to the South Terminal.

I can look back on this and laugh now, but it was frustrating to say the least at the time. After two elevators, plenty of walking, the second longest hallway to ever be built, a monorail ride, and more walking, we finally made it to the correct rental place.

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Our first stop was to check into our rooms at The Lismoyne Hotel. We chose this beautiful hotel in Fleet because it was the wedding venue, but it was also centrally located for all the activities we had planned. Everything we wanted to see or do was roughly an hour’s drive from the hotel.

After arriving and freshening up, we met up with Carly, T, and two other members of “Carly’s Canadians” (there were seven of her Canadian friends who were able to fly over for the wedding) to head out to see Stonehenge.

Perhaps it’s crazy to jump right into a sightseeing excursion when you’re dealing with little to no sleep and a time difference of five hours (ahead), but that’s just the way we roll. This outing was the first of many in our whirlwind long weekend in England.

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Stonehenge is accessible via car or tour bus. It’s situated close to the nearest main road, so you’ll get a glimpse of it on your approach, depending on which direction you’re arriving from.

While we were approaching, there was a crazy downpour of rain happening, but this ended up being a blessing. Many of the people who had already been at Stonehenge packed up and left because of it, so it felt emptier by the time we finally arrived.

The other bonus? The sun was shining brightly once we got there.

Once you purchase your tickets – or swap your online purchase receipt for proper tickets – you’ll need to head to the back of the visitor center and load onto the bus that drives you out near the stones. I heard others talking about being able to walk along the laneway, but I saw no one walking.

The ride out to the stones didn’t take long at all, and the buses run frequently. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a lone, photogenic sentinel:

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I seriously could’ve snapped pictures of him for ages, and he never flew away.

My first sighting of the stones was tinged with awe more than excitement or disappointment. To protect the stones and the ground around them, visitors are required to stay behind the rope line. As much as I would have loved to walk amongst the stones – an experience allowed only twice a year on the Summer and Winter solstices, or through coveted Stone Circle Access pass – I enjoyed the fact that it meant people were not directly beside the stones in my pictures.

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Thousands of people flock to Stonehenge each year to see the Neolithic standing stones and marvel at them. The strangest aspect of this is that no one actually knows what the stones were for.

Theories run wild, of course. Some of the most popular ones are druidic rituals, a site of ancient healing, and an alien landing site. The two theories most likely are that the stones were used as a way to track the sun and moon (based on the positioning of the stones), or that it was used as a burial site (based on remains found around the stones and surrounding area).

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Regardless of its true meaning and use, Stonehenge was erected in the late Neolithic period, and roughly dates back to 2500 BCE. The stones making up Stonehenge are sarsens and bluestones.

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I felt almost mesmerized as I walked around the stones, gazing at them and snapping pictures from all angles. Unlike my previous assumptions, however, I didn’t feel a pull to the stones; the fact that I was half-expecting that goes to show how much I had romanticized them in my mind. The mesmerized feeling was solely linked to the history behind the stones and wondering who raised them and for what purpose. My draw to the stones was purely historical, as opposed to mystical.

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When we finally pulled ourselves away from the stones and headed back to the visitor center, it was to discover that the accompanying exhibit was closing for the night. Still curious to read up on more history, I headed over to a display of stones and a series of huts.

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The two types of stones -pictured below – are sarsen (the larger of the stones and sandstone) and bluestone (the smaller of the stones and possess a blue hue when wet). Sarsens are difficult to sculpt and work with, yet there is evidence that the people behind the construction of Stonehenge also carved off the outer layer.

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The sarsen stone (pictured below) is an exact replica of Stone 60, one of the upright stones of Stonehenge. The display at the front end (pictured above) allowed for you to tug on the rope to check how many others would need to help you move it. I didn’t have to try it to know I would need the full amount.

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It surprised me to see a series of huts on display at the Stonehenge visitor center. As it turns out, they are examples of Neolithic houses the people who built Stonehenge may have lived in. The huts are based off of remains of structures found roughly a mile away that had been radiocarbon dated to the same time period as the construction of Stonehenge. The people who built these replica huts did their best to remain true to the building materials people back then would have used, and the result is an accurate depiction.

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In the end, I had no reason to be wary of Stonehenge. In fact, it matched what I expected quite well. Before our arrival, I had read comments from people who had been there before, and overwhelmingly, the response I came across most frequently was “it’s smaller than you’d think”. After seeing it person, I have to disagree.

Having been there now, I don’t feel a drive to return. If I did, I would be sure to try the Stone Circle Access pass for a more unique visit.

Have you been to Stonehenge? Did it meet your expectations?

2 thoughts on “England, 2016 – Face to Face with a Mystery of History: Stonehenge

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