Stonehenge: Visiting during the Good Old Days (aka 2006)


Stonehenge is less than an hour's drive from Alfie's parents' home in Marlborough, UK, so I've visited the site several times.  It's everything that people say it is: ancient, beautiful, mysterious, fascinating.  How the heck those ancients were able to arrange the stones the way they did, with the technology they had, is mind-boggling.  Stonehenge is definitely one of the places in the world where Alfie agrees that the adjective awesome actually applies (for other examples, see: Yosemite Falls, Grand Canyon, London Eye).

Stonehenge is so well known around the world that I won't squander my readers' attention by spending time on its history  or visitor info like how to get there, where to park and where the restrooms are.  Suffice it to say, if you find yourself in the UK, visit Stonehenge.  Make it happen.

What I will say to prospective visitors is this:  don't expect to get the chance to chip off a bit of Stonehenge  to take home.  In fact, don't expect to even be able to touch the stones, a la Blarney Stone.  The stone circle is completely roped off, so the only thing visitors will be able to do is walk around the stones in designated paths, view the stones from afar, and take photos.

It's a far cry from Stonehenge forty-five years ago, when Alfie claims he was able to climb on the stones and grab a smoke with his friends during his teenage years.  It's perfectly correct and understandable for the English Heritage Trust to rope off the stones to prevent such an ancient artifact from getting vandalized, or just being gradually worn away from all those millions of hands touching the stones -- but I have to admit, I'd love to have visited Stonehenge when visitors were free to wander around. These days, the closest you'll get to any stones will be the ones on display at the Visitor Center:

With the completion of the new Visitor's Center in December 2013, it looks like the actual site may be even more inaccessible.  The last time I visited, the parking lot was situated fairly close to the stones, but the new Visitor's Center is located 1.5 miles away.  Visitors will have to walk or take a shuttle bus. In addition, entrance tickets will be timestamped, so advanced booking is recommended.  That's the cost of progress, I suppose: fancier exhibits, a more educational, more interactive experience, but perhaps a more sterile, less authentic, less  immersive experience.  Then again, it might be good to see Stonehenge surrounded by fields of grass, without a concrete parking lot and cars just a few hundred feet away.

I think it's time to visit Stonehenge again when we head to the UK this summer.  The kids are old enough to really appreciate it, and I'd like to see how the site has changed since the last time I was there.  Maybe I'll find myself longing for those good old days when we were allowed to be just 10 feet away from the stones, not 100!

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