Our second day in England took us to two sites of historic significance. Less than 10 miles away from each other and within an hour’s drive from where we were staying in Lymington on the southwest coast, a visit to Stonehenge and the town of Salisbury made a great day trip.
We began the cool November day with the trek to Stonehenge. A continuous drizzle blocked out the sun as we drove through the New Forest and into Wiltshire. The landscape on the drive was just lovely, with lush green broken by the changing colors of leaves in the fall. As someone who loves rainy weather, and doesn’t see quite enough of it in Southern California, I thought the dreariness of the morning rather enhanced the landscape as it gave contrast to the brightness of the foliage. On the less romantic side, it made the roads slick, and driving a bit more concentrated.
As we arrived at Stonehenge, the rain began to clear. We picked up our English Heritage Overseas Visitor passes and chatting with the rep about home. For some reason, it was repeatedly assumed by those we chatted with that we were from Canada. Clearly we were North American by our accents, but apparently we didn’t give off American vibes. Perhaps it was because of my Midwestern mannerisms. The teller also gave us ideas for other fun sites to check out around Hampshire. After a few minutes’ conversation, we boarded the shuttle which would take us closer to the actual site.
Stonehenge, an ancient stone circular monument and burial site, is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built in stages during the later part of the Neolithic Era and the Bronze Age between 3000 and 1250 BC. The circular ditch was built first, with the addition of the stones beginning about 2500 BC. The stone structure is made up of two types of stone, the larger sarsen stones, which are large sandstone blocks common to the area and smaller bluestones. The sarsens were constructed in two concentric patterns, with the bluestones added later. The 56 Aubrey holes in and around the monument have a bit of a mystery as to what they were originally for. It was thought that they may have held timber or stone, but what is known is that around these holes are cremation burials. This makes Stonehenge one of the largest Neolithic burial sites in the UK.
After exploring around the massive stone monument, we took the recommended hike back to the visitor centre. The expanse of grassy field punctuated by woodland was a lovely walk and perfect for candid photos of the kids. Moreover, it gave us the opportunity to appreciate the history that had been preserved, and contemplate those who came before us, and without large cranes and other machinery were able to construct these immense structures.
The rain picked back up as we returned to the visitor centre. There we picked up hot chocolates at the cafe and had our packed lunch. We also took advantage of the free WiFi to get caught up on email and post photos of the day. After lunch, we took turns in the museum, which held artifacts from the site, as well as exhibits on the history of Stonehenge. Thankfully, the rain let up once more, and we were able to venture just a few yards from the visitor centre awning to check out the huts. These are a reconstruction of ruins of a Neolithic settlement thought to be for those working on the construction of the monument. It was interesting to imagine what living in one of those might have been like. The kids stopped my what-if game at “there wouldn’t have been WiFi.”
Some things to consider:
Stonehenge is an absolute must-do on a trip to England. While it is not entirely known what the structures were built for, multiple theories- from ancient temple and burial site, to a very large astronomical calendar, to even one obscure thought that is was the site of buried treasure- we do know that it is a site to be appreciated in view of human history.
We purchased the English Heritage Overseas Visitor Pass, as this was actually 15 GBP cheaper than purchasing individual passes, and it allowed us access to other English Heritage sites. This can be purchased online here, and the pass itself may be picked up at the first English Heritage site you visit. There are 9 and 16 day passes available depending on the length of your trip.
We visited in November, so we knew that the weather would be cold and wet. At any time of year, though, layers are a good idea as the weather can be changeful. We all had weather-resistant puffer jackets as well as riding or hiking boots for the trek. This was perfect as we hit some spots of mud on the hike back to the visitor centre.
There was so much to learn and imagine on our visit to Stonehenge. It was definitely an experience to remember. Happy trails!
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Rochelle and Emily Haas