A First Visit to Stonehenge

In Europe you can feel history in the stones of the great monuments and cathedrals, but when visiting Stonehenge for the first time, you feel prehistory in the stones. This is so even though one isn’t allowed to actually touch the stones, or even go into the inner circle without prearrangement due to conservation concerns.

Stonehenge is a Neolithic stone circle near Amesbury in Wiltshire in the UK. Don’t expect quiet when you go; although Stonehenge is a World Heritage site, the busy A303 lies very nearby and the main monument is usually packed with visitors.

The bustle, though, does nothing to diminish the impact of Stonehenge. You see the stones, some standing in their places, some fallen, and wonder how you would budge even one of them. How did they manage to get those enormous lintels on top of their vertical supports? How did they get local stones 20km from quarry to site, much less the bluestones from Wales? No one knows how.

And no one knows why. If you did any research before your visit (see resources below), you know that many of the monument’s alignments are astronomically significant. Was the Stone Age worker building a giant calendar so he and his fellows would know when to plant? Did he believe the movement of heavenly bodies had religious significance? Was he building a cemetery, or a venue for some ritual? Or was he forced labor, moving rocks to expiate a crime, or because of the loss of a forgotten war? Put yourself in his footsteps for a moment, and the awe aroused by the stones themselves is dwarfed by wonder at the cost in human sweat.

Stonehenge, of course, is not the only monument at the site. You inspect burial mounds reminiscent of the barrows in The Lord of the Rings. You visualize farmers scurrying toward the Iron Age hill fort at the first sign of danger, and imagine processions along the Avenue or the Cursus, and you marvel at the immensity of time through which Stonehenge has been a part of human life.

To visit Stonehenge, take bus #3 from the Salisbury station, or join one of many organized tours, or drive a couple of hours from London; English Heritage’s website says admission currently costs £7.50 for adults and £4.50 for children, and they link to a map for independent travelers. However you go, your first time visiting Stonehenge will be the memory of a lifetime.