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Stonehenge

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Stonehenge is a well-known Neolithic and Bronze Age stone monument located in a UNESCO World Heritage Site on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England. The whole WHS is quite large and contains many other structures from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages.

Understand

Stonehenge is in a World Heritage Site of over 2000 hectares that is considered one of the most archaeologicaly rich in Europe. It is home to some of the most important Neolithic and Bronze Age finds and structures in the UK, and contains some 200 scheduled monuments. It is also the site of one of the biggest Chalk grassland reversion projects in the world.

Stonehenge is owned by the nation and is administered by English Heritage [1]. Much of the World Heritage Site land is owned by local farms, but a third is owned and managed by the National Trust [2] who are spearheading the grass regeneration scheme.

There is some debate regarding the Stonehenge setting, and new visitor facilities have been planned for some time. As yet no work has been done, but it is hoped that new facilities will be in place in time for the 2012 Olympics [3].

History

Evidence indicates that the area around Stonehenge has been occupied since around 8000BC, but it was during the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods that the vast majority of the monuments around it came to be built. Early work at Stonehenge itself began in 3000BC when an outer ditch and embankment was constructed, and standing timbers erected. From about 2500BC, Neolithic and Bronze age man started to bring Bluestones and Sarsen stones from Wales and the Marlborough Downs. It was not until 1600BC that Stonehenge came to be completed. Most of the other monuments in the area such as Durrington Walls and Woodhenge date from the same period. A nearby hill fort was built during the Iron Age, and there is evidence to suggest that the area was extensively settled by the Romans. The nearby town of Amesbury was later settled during the Saxon reign in 979AD.

Stonehenge and the land immediately around it was given to the nation in 1918. Being on the edge of the military training area Salisbury Plain, a large amount of military facilities have also been constructed in the area, including military barracks, a light railway and an aerodrome built within a stones throw of Stonehenge (most of which has now fortunately been removed). Since then the National Trust has acquired some 850 hectares around Stonehenge, and the area was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 1986.

Landscape

The Stonehenge landscape is one of the best preserved areas of readily accessible chalk downland in the UK. On the edge of Salisbury plain it features several rolling hills and dry river valleys that allow for pleasant walks without too much trouble. Surrounding farmland is ideal for crops and animal grazing.

Flora and fauna

Chalk grassland is a very rich environment allowing for a diverse range of animals and plants. Thin free draining soil restricts competitive species, but allows lime loving plants and trees to flourish. Knapweeds, Birdsfoot Trefoil and Yellow rattle are amongst several downland floral plants well established in the area. The thin soil also traps heat quickly and is ideal for a wide range of insects, such as the rare Chalkhill and Adonis Blue butterflies. The skylark (an RSPB red list species) is also common in the area, and lent its name to the nearby military garrison Larkhill. The RSPB own a reserve just south of the stones that has provided an ideal habitat for the Stone Curlew.

Get in

By car

From London take the M3 and A303 to Amesbury. At the A303 Countess roundabout go south to visit Amesbury for food/accommodation, north to visit Woodhenge and Durrington Walls, or continue west to reach Stonehenge at the centre of the UNESCO site. A mile past the roundabout you can see Stonehenge from Kings Barrow Ridge, and take the next right to access the car park. From Salisbury and the South, take the A345 through Amesbury to Countess roundabout, and from the north just follow the A345 south. Stonehenge and Woodhenge are well signposted from Amesbury.

By train

The nearest practical stations are Andover and Salisbury which can be reached from London Waterloo on a direct service. From here you can catch a bus (below).

By bus

The only bus that goes directly to Stonehenge is the Wilts & Dorset Stonehenge Tour bus that runs directly from Salisbury, but it is expensive at £11 per person--excluding entrance fees. If there are three of you, negotiate with the taxi drivers and you will get it for about the same price per person and leave your luggage in the cab. If there are four or more of you, a cab is cheaper. If there are other people waiting in line, why not suggest sharing a cab? Alternatively, people can get off at Amesbury bus station on other routes and either take a taxi to the stones or walk into the Stonehenge Landscape.

From Swindon or Salisbury, take the Wilts and Dorset service 5 or 6 bus to Amesbury. From Andover take the 8 "Activ8" bus. From Devizes, take the 4 to Amesbury (this bus annoyingly goes right past Stonehenge but won't stop there). From Bath, Bristol or Warminster take the X4 or X5 bus to Salisbury.

By tour

Several tours take in Stonehenge when travelling from one destination to the other. Most start from London and visit Stonehenge on their way to Salisbury or Bath. It's worth noting that these tours usually allow 30 minutes only at Stonehenge, which gives you time to see only the Stones and not time to appreciate the surrounding area. For tours starting from London, the price starts from around £65 for adult, including entry fee and pick-up service in your London hotel.

A very easy way to visit Stonehenge from Salisbury is with the Stonehenge Tour [4]. This bus costs 17 pounds as of June 2009. The double-decker tour bus picks up at Salisbury train station, Salisbury centre, and Amesbury. The ticket is valid all day long and has stops at Stonehenge and Old Sarum It runs between every 30 minutes and every hour, depending on time of day and year. If there are three of you, negotiate with a taxi driver, and you will pay only marginally more and they will store your luggage while at Stonehenge. If there are 4 or 5 of you, a taxi is much cheaper.

Get around

The stones themselves are next to the main car park on the A344 but for those wishing to explore, the local landscape is best enjoyed on foot or by bicycle. Several bridleways and footpaths crisscross the area, and the National Trust allows access to a large amount of its land that is being reverted to chalk grassland.

Walking

The National Trust has opened some 260 hectares of its land to walkers so that they can access some of the monuments around the area. Several recommended walking tours are available on their website [5], and dogs are welcome as long as they are kept under control. Visitors have the option of parking at Stonehenge, Woodhenge, or Amesbury, and touring some of the ancient monuments from there. Care should be taken around the A303.

Bicycle

Several quiet back roads and bridleways make access to the monuments quite easy, and for the hardy cyclist, Stonehenge can be combined with a larger tour around Amesbury and the Woodford Valley on the way to Salisbury. It is not advisable to cycle on the A303, but it can be avoided for most of its route anyway.


See

Aside from the plentiful wildlife and nature available, the UNESCO site is considered one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Britain. The landscape boasts several outstanding Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments that can be reached on foot a short distance from the famous Stonehenge [6].

Stonehenge

The Stones can be seen from the main car park, and can be viewed quite clearly from the roadside. Unlike the other monuments in the area however, it is necessary to pay to get closer. An entry fee of £6.60 for adults and £3.30 for children (Oct 2009) includes an audio guide and takes you through a tunnel under the road on to the site. There is no access to the stone circle itself - visitors are guided around the monument by roped pathways and on-site attendants. The audio guide is available in several languages and if you listened to all available material would take an estimated 30-60 minutes.

It is not usually possible to walk amongst the stones themselves, but English Heritage and some tour operators from Salisbury can arrange early morning or evening visits allowing you to do this [7].

Stonehenge Cursus

A huge and mysterious monument, the cursus is a 3km long earthwork just north of Stonehenge. Consisting of a ditch and bank running east-west, it is still visible on the landscape, although its purpose remains unknown.

The Avenue

A ceremonial approach way to Stonehenge, the Avenue links the monument to the river Avon. Its ditch and embankment can still be seen from the stones, and its path can be followed up to King Barrows Ridge.

Winterbourne Stoke Barrows

A mile west of Stonehenge is a collection of every type of burial mound found in the UK. A neolithic long barrow creates an alignment that later Bronze Age barrows have been built on, including distinct bowl, bell, pond, saucer and disc barrows.

King Barrows Ridge

So called because of its commanding views of Stonehenge, King Barrows Ridge is on the course of the Avenue, and delivers one of the most breathtaking views over Stonehenge bowl.

Woodhenge

A contemporary monument to Stonehenge, Woodhenge was a series or timbers erected in oval rings, and like Stonehenge is aligned to the rising sun on the summer solstice. The old timber postholes are now marked with small concrete plinths (although there are plans to reconstruct the timbers as they may have looked), and although short on information the site offers a peaceful location away from the crowds at Stonehenge .

Durrington Walls

Just north of Woodhenge, Durrington Walls has been revealed as the site of a great Neolithic village, and likely home of several religious activities. The walls themselves are the remains of the largest henge (earthworks) monument in the UK - some 500 in diameter .

Do

Buy

Souvenirs are available to paying visitors at the English Heritage shop at Stonehenge, although a wider range of merchandise can be obtained from Salisbury. For those wanting something a little different, Stonehenge Lamb is available to buy from local famers [9].

Eat

There is a small kitchen at the English Heritage centre next to the stones, but those wishing for a more satisfying meal would be best advised to visit Amesbury nearby. Here several pubs, cafes and restaurants offer lunches and dinners. Alternatively the Stonehenge Inn in Durrington, visible from Durrington Walls and Woodhenge can provide food. Local tour groups offer food tours taking in local produce [10].

Drink

Hop Back Brewery [11] based in Salisbury and Stonehenge Ales [12] produce several fine ales that can be obtained from most of the local pubs.


Sleep

Visits to Stonehenge can easily be combined with a visit to Salisbury where many hotels, bed and breakfasts, and hostels are available. There are several options locally however:

Lodging

There is a Holiday Inn business hotel next to the A303 in Solstice Park, but be warned that rooms start at around £150. For sub £50 rooms consider the George Hotel, Antrobus Arms or Fairlawn Hotel in Amesbury, or one of the many charming B&Bs in the area [13]. There is also a rather drab Travelodge on the A303 roundabout outside Amesbury.

Camping

Camping is prohibited on the open land around Stonehenge, but campsites are available outside Old Sarum in Salisbury (8 miles), Upavon to the north (10 miles), or Stonehenge Touring Park [14] near Shrewton (4 miles).

Stay safe

Although the Stonehenge landscape is relatively small and civilisation is never too far away, care should still be taken when out touring the area. Sensible shoes are recommended as some of the ground is uneven, and a waterproof jacket is a good idea on days when the weather is uncertain. Mobile phone reception is usually good, and generally the area is easily accessible by emergency services. Be aware that animals often graze on the National Trust open grassland, and cattle in particular should not be approached. There are some busy roads between the monuments,and care should especially be taken if crossing the A303.

Get out

A trip around the Stonehenge landscape and Stonehenge itself is best combined with a trip to Avebury to the north (which has an even bigger stone circle), or Salisbury to the south. Be warned though that it would be a push to visit all three and be able to fully appreciate them all in one day. A weekend would be a better timeframe to consider.

Related Information


WikiPedia:Stonehenge


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A list of contributors is available at the original article on Wikitravel. Additional modifications may have been made by users at TRAVEL.COM [15].

Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply.

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