It is not so rare now that I get to check things off the bucket list of my childhood, and for this I am eternally grateful, despite the things I feel I have given up in the trade.
When American J expressed interest in seeing Stonehenge when she visited me, I immediately jumped on the opportunity. It's not everyday one of my friends initiates adventures on the weekend and is so willing to coordinate everything for me; I love it. Plus this is something I've had on my list since I moved to London and as you can clearly tell, never got around to. I was thrilled someone was excited enough to get going on it.
So we booked our tickets and made our reservation. I made sure we got to the appointed place on time and even got a fabulous discount for all of American J's travel for the weekend (the benefits of the not so futuristic rail pass I am a holder of).
Our tour was pretty simple - coach ride out of London to Stonehenge, free entrance and audio guide at the site, then a drive back to London. It was called Simply Stonehenge and is done by Golden Tours, one that has a very good reputation, according to internet sources. It's also an incredibly good deal for the money - only £30 per person, which at £8 per person for admission and audio guide at Stonehenge, and a hearty discount you can get by searching for a promotional code on the internet giving you about £5 off, leaves you at about £17 roundtrip for the coach transportation. That's nothing in comparison to the train fare you'd likely have to pay to get there, and you'd have to coordinate it all yourself.
There is nothing around Stonehenge but empty landscape. So getting there would be quite a feat from any train station.
American J and I enjoyed the warm bus and chatted about things on the two hour drive up. It is quite a ways out of the city and the view was beautiful. We were lucky; it was sunny and completely clear that day; no rain in sight. Though cold, at least we got to see Stonehenge this way, instead of miserable.
We were also lucky in that next month they are opening up a system where visitors can only see Stonehenge by train; they'll no longer be able to walk around the stones. Photos of the stones will confirm why they are doing this - even as recently as ten or fifteen years ago the formation of the stones was beautiful, circular, and whole. Now it is close to a ruin, with many stones missing, fallen over, or simply damaged by the number of tourists who see it everyday. They no longer allow tourists to even walk among the stones without private appointments because there has been so much damage previously. It is a shame that only now they are doing their utmost to upkeep the site.
We arrived and we see Stonehenge emerge before our eyes. Because it is on a barren hill it is easy to spot. Breathtakingly recognizable.
We get our audioguides and listen to the history unfold as we walk around the stones. Fabulously sunny yet bitterly cold despite there only being a slight breeze.
Basically people don't know why this was built or what it was used for. The original site is over 5000 years old and was not made of stone but rather was a ring dug and structures possibly made of wood. It used to be a heavily forested area rather than the grassy hills we see today, so this would make more sense.
Though some of the stones seem to align with cardinal or solstice directions, not that much is known about this area except that there are human ashes spread around it and the hills surrounding the area were burial grounds for important people. This is known because these important people had other items and sometimes animals buried with them.
Though many theories say that sacrifice was performed on the center stone of this formation, most of that stems from the fact that when wet, some of the stones turn red. This is because of the presence of iron in the rock and not because of lingering traces of blood.
There are also over 90 types of plant life on the rocks themselves which are not found in the surrounding modern day vegetation. These rocks were mostly brought from other parts of the UK - Scotland, Ireland, etc. There are theories on how they were moved here but generally not much is known.
Overall the audioguide tour was very fun and delightful. Just seeing the stones on their own might have been majestic, but it does lack something. In all honesty, though it was great to check this off my bucket list, the formations were a lot smaller than I had imagined. This didn't make them disappointing, mind you, but just...different. I guess as a child I always imagined them being these behemoth stones. Something like the Easter Island heads where no one could even conceive how ancient man could have moved them. Though they've done studies and these stones are at least a third buried, if not more, that doesn't make them that huge. Given that it all had to be done by hand and simple levers, pulleys, and the like, it is...but otherwise...it's the arrangement that makes it fascinating more than the stones themselves.
I should note also that while we were walking around getting our prerecorded tour, the sun faded behind a mass of clouds and it became bitterly cold. Two had come earlier in the year when she and Olive first moved to London and warned me of how cold it was then, in the springtime/early summer. Since we were closing in on winter by this point, we figured it would be freezing. Good we prepared with down jackets, gloves, and in the case of smart Californian J - a hat. Something that I have yet to break out for this winter season because it's been so unseasonably warm.
We tutted around the gift shop a little bit so I could buy my customary postcard and we could warm up a bit, then it was back in the overly warm bus (this time, too warm) and into town.
From there we had an adventure around town, where I showed American J the Internations ropes.