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Stonehenge: Tour of A World Heritage Site

Updated on October 4, 2014

Go Back in Time With the Bluestones and Sarsens

Having made regular trips to southern England in the last number of years, 2013 was a milestone for the family as the last of our three children graduated from university. Another different sort of milestone for me was soon to be uncovered - to see Stonehenge up close.

Whilst driving towards London the day after my son's graduation and putting up with never ending traffic queues and breakdowns, not to mention the abysmal weather on the road, we drove past Stonehenge in Wiltshire. Only being able to see it in a foggy mist, I thought to myself that one day I really must visit this historic site rather than always just drive past it.

Little did I realize that that 'one day' would be in a weeks time.

My journey back to Ireland just happened to go via this extraordinary place. I made ample time to stay there and take photographs while wandering around and listening to an informative commentary on a small portable set each of us had been given.

Staying behind off the site after public closure, I tried to get immersed in the myths and legends of Stonehenge as I watched the sun setting on these vast stones. There is something special about trying to take yourself back in time to think about all the hows, whys and wheres.

Created on 27 Sep 2013

IMMINENT All Things Round

Selected as Lens of the Day on 11 Nov 2013

All photos © Rob Hemphill - unless credited otherwise

What is Stonehenge?

Stonehenge is a prehistoric Neolithic monument in Wiltshire in southern England., located about 8 miles from the cathedral city of Salisbury. It's a ring of giant standing stones set into the ground; however, many of the stones are now no longer standing.

The sheer size of each stone beggars belief as to how they were mined and carved let alone transported to this site and erected. It's a fascinating puzzle that has proved hard to crack - theories abound on the enigma of the stones.

Archaeologists think it was built anytime between 3000 BC to 2000 BC. in 2008, results of radiocarbon dating suggest that the first stones could have been erected between 2400 and 2200 BC. It's also possible that bluestones may have been raised here as early as 3000 BC.

Possibly the Most Famous Neolithic Site in the World - Is getting a new visitor center

Mural on a wall of the underpass depicting the movement of stones by Neolithic man.

As I approached Stonehenge by road, with about a mile to go to the actual site, I could see that a new building was under construction, this is going to be the long awaited new visitor center.

At present, the famous Neolithic site draws in up to 9,000 visitors a day, who come to see this Unesco World Heritage Site. It has to be one of the most popular places of interest and is definitely part of Britain's identity.

With so many people to process, the current facilities, built in 1968, of some portable buildings and a car park are just to out-of-date for the 21st century. As each visitor arrives, he or she is given a gadget resembling a small fat mobile phone with which to listen to an excellent commentary while walking around the stones. This no doubt will be dramatically upgraded and modernized.

Simon Thurley, the CEO of English Heritage, says that 'Stonehenge has been a national humiliation' since 1984 when English Heritage became guardians of the stones. He added 'Stonehenge is the only recognizable man-made structure in Britain that seems to be treated like a motorway service station'. But after many years of controversy about the 'Stonehenge problem', it seems that a solution may have been found, for the time being at least!

Stonehenge - A New Understanding

Stonehenge - A New Understanding: Solving the Mysteries of the Greatest Stone Age Monument
Stonehenge - A New Understanding: Solving the Mysteries of the Greatest Stone Age Monument

Mike Parker Pearson's book 'Stonehenge' has to be one of the most recent, and perhaps best books written about this special place. It's a scholarly book which reviews the status of many archaeological studies of the monument and its environment.

It's very well organized and written, and offers so much information with regards to the current state of understanding of what is probably the greatest megalithic structure within Europe, and perhaps the world.

For anyone interested in the study of ancient structures, this book is a must-have.

 

Preservation Plans

In the early part of the 17th century King James I pondered the enigma of this significant stone circle, and commissioned Inigo Jones, his architect general to report on the state of the stones' and determine their origins. Jones reckoned that only the Romans had the expertise and skills to build such a complex structure, and provided detailed drawings of the stones as they would have been in their original state. Jones dismissed the ancient Britons as complete savages and totally incapable of undertaking such a 'stately structure’.

The same questions as to who built Stonehenge, why it was built it and for what are still being asked 400 years later. The focus is now to ensure full preservation of the stones and control visitor numbers to a realistic level of no more than 5,000 people per day. With the main road passing nearby, there is no question that cars and traffic in general have exacerbated the problem.

Photo shows the antiquated visitor buildings on the site.

Another mural depicting what the original layout of the stones would have looked like.

Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England

A marker -
Stonehenge
get directions

If Stones Could Speak

If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge (Orbis Pictus Honor for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children (Awards))
If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge (Orbis Pictus Honor for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children (Awards))

From most reviews I've read about 'If Stones Could Speak', I've found the same dazzling enthusiasm from its readers. With a straightforward text, plenty of drawings and photographs, this book should appeal to readers of all ages.

The readers are reminded by the author to look at the historical theories with an open mind and generate their own thoughts and ideas. We think we know a lot about places like Stonehenge, but we can only scratch the surface - that's what makes history like this so interesting.

This really is a must read book for keen history buffs or potential archaeologists.

 

Have You Been to Stonehenge?

See results

Guiding the Crowd Masses

Walkway approaching the site takes you back in time with graphic murals of men moving the giant stones.

Having just received the gadget to listen to the commentary about Stonehenge, I followed the crowds under this walkway - which definitely needs to be modernized, and headed off to the site just a few hundred yards beyond.

Once there, it's clear that everyone has to stay on the designated path or roped off grass area surrounding the stones. No more is it possible to walk up and touch them, which in this day and age is quite right due to the aimless destructive habits of some. I've been to several places to see historic artifacts which have been desecrated by carving and graffiti, so sad that some spoil it for the many.

After closing time comes, security guards are seen walking around maintaining a presence in case anyone has ideas of their own. The site has long attracted groups of sun worshipers who want to see either the sunrise or sunset over the stones.

Sunrise at Stonehenge...

Solving Stonehenge

Solving Stonehenge: The Key to an Ancient Enigma
Solving Stonehenge: The Key to an Ancient Enigma

Tony Johnson's book is an intriguing read, so if you're fascinated at the enigma that is Stonehenge, delve into this excellent book.

Much new evidence is uncovered and discussed with lots of pictures, sketches and drawings, but one thing remains the same - we can only speculate and debate.

 

Built For What?

Speculation on the reason it was built range from astronomy to human sacrifice.

History of Stonehenge

First Stage - Stonehenge I

The Stonehenge that is seen today is the final stage of three stages that was completed around 3,500 years ago, but first of all I'm going to take you back 5,000 years.

The very first Stonehenge was simply a huge earthworks or Henge, which comprised a ditch, bank, and pits called Aubrey holes, all possibly constructed around 3100 BC. The Aubrey holes are circular pits in the chalk which have steep sides and flat bottoms, and are about one meter wide and one meter deep. They form a circular enclosure that is about 300 feet (90 meters) in diameter.

Excavations have revealed cremated human bones in areas of the chalk filling, and it's thought that the holes themselves were probably not for graves, but as part of the religious ceremony. Soon after this stage Stonehenge was abandoned and remained untouched for the next 1000 years.

Second Stage - Stonehenge II

It was around 2150 BC when the second stage started, and when the drama of the bluestones began.

How did they transport the massive stones?

Around 82 bluestones originating from the Preseli mountains, 240 miles away in south-west Wales, were transported to the site. There is much debate as to why they choose stones from so far away, and if they did come from there, how did they move them to the site. With each stone weighing about 4 tonnes, they would have constructed an efficient system of rollers and sledges to move the stones along the ground possibly to Milford Haven. Then a hoisting system would have enabled them to load the stones onto rafts for the journey by sea along the south Wales coast. From the sea, they came up the rivers Avon and Frome, and shifted them overland once again to near Warminster in Wiltshire. The last part of this incredible journey was mainly by water, firstly travelling down the river Wylye to the town of Salisbury, then along the Salisbury Avon to west Amesbury.

When the stones arrived at the site they were set up to form a double circle in the center. A pair of Heel Stones were also erected at this time, and part of the nearer Avenue was built being accurately aligned with the midsummer sunrise.

Many tourists when they recount their experience at Stonehenge immediately talk about the vast trilithons made of Sarsen stone, but the real magic I think is to be found in the inner horseshoe which is made of the Preseli Bluestones.

Moving the Stonehenge Bluestones Reconstruction

Third Stage - Stonehenge III

It was around 2000 BC when the vast Sarsen stones arrived at Stonehenge. They are thought to have been brought to the site from the Marlborough Downs near Avebury 25 miles away to the north of the county.

As the largest of the Sarsen stones weighed 50 tonnes, it wouldn't have been possible to transport them to Stonehenge by water, so the giant stones would have been moved using the tried and tested system of the day, sledges and ropes.

To pull one of these stones would have required 500 men using ropes made of leather, and a further 100 men to prepare and lay the colossal rollers in front as they traveled.

The Sarsens were arranged outside the bluestones to form an outer circle, then a continuous line of lintels were fitted using the carpentry techniques of mortice and tenon, and tongue and groove jointing. On the inside of the circle, five trilithons (a structure which consists of two large vertical stones supporting a third horizontal stone set across the top.) were placed and arranged in a horseshoe-shaped formation, the remains can still be seen today.

Image credit: Wikipedia - 17th century depiction of Stonehenge

Final Stage

It was soon after 1500 BC when the final stage took place. The bluestones are also rearranged into the same horseshoe-shaped formation.

It's unknown how many bluestones would have been in the inner circle, but it's estimated to have been around 60, these have long since disappeared or been broken up. A few remain just as stumps below the ground.

From the National Geographic - Stages of Stonehenge - the evolution from earth burrows to megalithic monoliths.

Stonehenge Summer Solstice

Midsummer: the Summer Solstice

~ On the longest day of the year (21st June), thousands of people are drawn to Stonehenge to watch the sunrise.

~ The solstice has had spiritual significance for many thousands of years.

~ The word 'solstice' means a standing still of the sun.

~ Recent pagan celebrations only began at the site during the 20th century.

~ For pagans, "the solstice marks the high point of the year, a time of great vitality for the energy of life..." says Gus diZerega, Beliefnet

Photo credit: The Wild Hunt - Druids at Stonehenge on the Summer Solstice

Which Was Not Used in Building Stonehenge?

Which of these were not used in building Stonehenge?

See results

Answer to the poll above - vote first & no cheating!

Bluestones

How did they get the name 'Bluestones'?

The stones in the inner circle were originally blue getting their color from a mixture of dolerite and milky feldspar. Dolerite is a volcanic rock and various forms of it are found around the world.

When the stones break or fracture, this new surface is a blue color, or perhaps nearer to green! Only 45 of the original 82 or so bluestones are still at Stonehenge.

Secrets of the Preseli Bluestones

Photo credit: British Geological Survey/NERC

Microscopic analysis of a bluestone which confirms their origin in the hills in west Wales.

Stonehenge Rediscovered

I know this is quite a long video, but I do recommend you try and watch it - it's worth it!

An enlightening film that puts a lot in perspective about the Neolithic period compared to others, and how man changed from being a hunter-gatherer to a farmer.

Stonehenge Sunset

The sun going down on the day I visited.

Seeing a sunset at this extraordinary place concentrated the mind. I parked up on a nearby laneway along with other revelers, possible pagans and druids, and we all watched the last of the day's rays fall over the stones.

Several small trucks and vans remain here, whether they are the equivalent to gypsies or travelers I wasn't sure, but they all seemed to live permanently in their vehicles. There were small fires burning and children crying - all adding to the experience!

Answer

Which Was Not Used in Building Stonehenge?

Henges - The bank and ditch make up a henge, but there's only one at Stonehenge.

Stonehenge was built BEFORE the invention of the wheel,

It has been estimated that construction took more than 30 million hours of labor.

Druid or Pagan?

In the 2011 census, almost 60,000 people in England and Wales describe themselves as pagan.

Step Around Stonehenge

Print this PDF guide, loads of fun and games with activities to do at the site.

FREE DOWNLOAD

What Are Your Thoughts on This Great Place? - Thanks for your visit

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    • IanTease profile image

      IanTease 3 years ago

      Love visiting stone circles. I do wonder if not really knowing makes them more appealing than if we knew lots about them all

    • sierradawn lm profile image

      sierradawn lm 3 years ago

      A most excellent and informative article! Nabta Playa in the Sahara has a Neolithic Stonehenge-like construction. Archeological evidence shows that both these places served the same purpose for early man. The scattered populations would gather together here for special ceremonies. Fascinating study!

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 3 years ago

      It was a site chosen for my archaeological thesis. You have done well to describe it with such accuracy. Congrats on LOTD.

    • profile image

      tonyleather 3 years ago

      Never seen it yet. Thanks for this!

    • grrbtn profile image

      grrbtn 3 years ago

      Great lens and well done for it winning LOTD. Nice to see a lens about such an historical attraction here in the UK.

    • Nithya Venkat profile image

      Nithya Venkat aka Vellur 3 years ago from Dubai

      Thank you for the wonderful tour, enjoyed reading. Wish to visit the Stonehenge one day. Great lens.

    • KathyZ1 profile image

      KathyZ1 3 years ago

      Congs on your LOTD. Nice lens.

    • JoanieMRuppel54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 3 years ago from Keller, Texas

      Thanks for the tour, would love to see this sometime.

    • profile image

      hmommers 3 years ago

      I would love to visit that place!

    • profile image

      reasonablerobby 3 years ago

      Nothing can quite prepare for seeing this amazing monument close up. It is quite salutary to think it was built before the pyramids.

    • profile image

      TechnicalIndicators 3 years ago

      Congs on you LOTD. Great information.

    • MrAusAdventure profile image

      Bill 3 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      Stonehenge was always a place that I had wanted to visit so when I went to the UK in 1998 I just had to drop by Stonehenge and have a look. I was immediately surprised by how close it was to a major road. Seeing cars whizzing by in the background was a little disappointing as I had always imagined it being more remote, but I guess that is what makes this place so highly visited, it is easy to get to. Congrats on LOTD. :-)

    • profile image

      mamainthehouse 3 years ago

      nevet get here

    • lollyj lm profile image

      Laurel Johnson 3 years ago from Washington KS

      I've always wanted to visit Stonehenge. Thank you for the guided tour.

      Very well done.

    • profile image

      samsmom7 3 years ago

      Wow! Great lens and a history lesson for me. Very interesting.

    • bobnolley lm profile image

      bobnolley lm 3 years ago

      Congrats on the LOTD. Stonehenge is such an intriguing place that has always interested me, sadly I have not been able to travel there. A beautiful lens...well done.

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      An amazing place. Super lens. Congratulations on getting LotD!

    • lewisgirl profile image

      lewisgirl 3 years ago

      Wonderful lens. I visited Stonehenge about five years ago and passed by it while visiting Cornwall last month. There is nothing like seeing first hand just how large the rocks really are. Fascinating place!

    • QualifiedExpert profile image

      QualifiedExpert 3 years ago

      Great lens!! I will make sure to share this with some friends, spreading some love.

      Cheers, Mike

    • RowanChisholm profile image

      Rowan Chisholm 3 years ago from Washington state

      I was there June 21, 1976 at about noon and I saw the Druids as well as Stonehenge. What an experience! Nice lens!

    • Mary Stephenson profile image

      Mary Stephenson 3 years ago from California

      Congratulations on LOTD.

    • David Stone1 profile image

      David Stone 3 years ago from New York City

      I don't think the mystery of how and why Stonehenge was created has been solved. What they have amounts to best guesses and not convincing ones at that.

    • Diaper Bag Blog profile image

      Stanley Green 3 years ago from Czech Republic

      I've been always wondering how did they manage to build it... I associate Stonehenge with mystery...

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      Stonehenge is a wonderful place especially during the Mid Summer Solstice. I have been there many times and never tire of its sense of time and mystery. Well worth a visit!!!!

    • profile image

      DebMartin 3 years ago

      Such a dramatic mystery. I've always wanted to go to Stonehenge.

    • profile image

      changrcoacher 3 years ago

      Haven't been there.....always been fascinated by it. Thanks for this wonderful lens, sharing your experience..and congratulations on LOTD!

    • KentuckyGal LM profile image

      KentuckyGal LM 3 years ago

      I've always wanted to go there. Thank you for this excellent introduction to the site. Congratulations on LOTD!

    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 3 years ago from Lakewood New York

      Thanks for the visit to this amazing part of history and Congratulations on Len Of the Day

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 3 years ago

      Congratulations on LOTD! What a fascinating story about Stonehenge. I always believed it was a calendar instrument of sorts...I'm glad at least this much has been preserved for all to see and learn about.

      d-artist

    • SBPI Inc profile image

      SBPI Inc 3 years ago

      This is a place we all should see.

      Great lens

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 3 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Stonehenge is quite an amazing place, I must visit again one day. Went there when I was quite young and you could back then wander all around the place. It's only 36 miles from us, but you never visit places on your doorstep do you. Things many people don't realise are that (a) it's a lot smaller than they imagine and (b) it's only one of thousands of ancient stone circles and structures in the UK. Excellent job and I love the photos too.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 3 years ago from Colorado

      I have always loved great mysteries and few places are as spectacularly mystical as Stonehenge. You have done an awesome job of presenting it to us. Would love to immerse myself in that mystery and that place. Congrats on Lens of the Day!

    • profile image

      TheDeeperWell 3 years ago

      Lovely lens about a profound place...makes me want to go back and see it again.

    • tmsmith19 profile image

      tmsmith19 3 years ago

      Great Lens! I have always been interested in Stonehenge. Hopefully I will make it there someday!

    • debnet profile image

      Debbie 3 years ago from England

      I enjoy visiting Stonehenge but have to admit I haven't been for a while. As I'm only about 35 miles from it, it's often on the local news. We get to see the crowds for the summer solstice as well as updates on the road bypass scheme. Wonderful lens, full of original content that must've taken you a long time to put together. Well done on a well deserved LOTD :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      Had to come back and wish you congratulations on your Lens of the Day, well deserved Rob!

    • Max Globe profile image

      Max Globe 3 years ago

      I have followed you advice and watched the whole video! Learnt a lot thank you!! :)

    • rattie lm profile image

      rattie lm 3 years ago

      An amazing place. And well worth a visit.

    • Meganhere profile image

      Meganhere 3 years ago

      It's wonderful, very mystical. I visited when it was still possible to stand among the stones and touch them.

      Congratulations on LotD.

    • somebudiesangel2 profile image

      Tami-Lynn 3 years ago from North Vancouver

      This has always interested me...thank you for sharing! :)

    • profile image

      golfspice 3 years ago

      I've been to Stonehenge a few times. Nearby Salisbury is an ideal place to stay and Salisbury Cathedral is one of the finest in England. Here you will find one of the copies of the Magna Carta, and one of the oldest working clocks in the world (circa 1386).

    • FrancesWrites profile image

      FrancesWrites 3 years ago

      I would love to visit Stonehenge one day. Lovely sunset photo :)

    • Max Globe profile image

      Max Globe 3 years ago

      Great article! I remember the first time I saw Stonehenge, it was absolutely breathtaking. One of the most fascinating experiences of my life

    • MJ Martin profile image

      MJ Martin aka Ruby H Rose 3 years ago from Washington State

      Fascinating mystery, I love learning more about it, great, helpful lens, very educational.

    • federico-biuso profile image

      federico-biuso 3 years ago

      Wonderful article!!! Thank you for sharing!

    • profile image

      sybil watson 3 years ago

      Wow, this is absolutely fascinating! I've always wanted to go to Stonehenge - I've only been to England once and I've been longing to return ever since. You've done such a fabulous job of explaining it that I can't wait to visit.

    • sharadkgupta lm profile image

      sharadkgupta lm 3 years ago

      Love these places , one day wish to go there.

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      Would love to visit there one day!

      Saw your lens featured on IMMINENT! âThings That Are Roundâ Highlight Reel

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I was there with my husband years ago and I was fascinated.

    • profile image

      DebW07 3 years ago

      I don't know that I will ever have the opportunity to visit Stonehenge, so it is nice to be able to read articles and see photos such as yours. Very thorough and well-done lens.

    • profile image

      TanoCalvenoa 3 years ago

      Such a fascinating site. I love all the information you put in this lens. I'll watch the video sometime, glad you provided it.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 3 years ago from Canada

      Your wonderful articles seems to have lost it's like buttons so i will definitely pop back to see if they reappear after the update.