Road Trip Through History: Stonehenge

We caught our first glimpse of Stonehenge from the highway–the familiar stone circle silhouetted against the sky. I felt a flutter of excitement. After all, Stonehenge is a major Bronze Age site, built at roughly the same time as the Great Pyramid at Giza. Like the pyramids, it’s built from monolithic stones, some brought from more than 200 miles away. Unlike the pyramids, we don’t really know why* it was built or by whom.** As far as ancient mysteries go, it’s one of the most mysterious.

My Own True Love, who was not really interested, asked “Couldn’t we just say we’ve seen it and drive on?” As it turned out, he had the right idea.

The day was cold and gray. The wind was relentless. The line to get into the site was long. Protestors stood just outside the fence that defined the site, with signs urging that the ongoing excavations be shut down.***

Once we got past the ticket gate, the day was still cold and the wind was worse. The guidebooks had made it clear that visitors are no longer allowed into the stone circle itself without making special arrangements.  Instead, you walk around the monument on a tarmac and grass path made for the purpose. Under the right circumstances, this could be an awe-inspiring experience–like circumambulating a Buddhist stupa. These were not the right circumstances. The crowd moved in clumps, stopping when their audio tours told them to stop and occasionally posing to take each other’s pictures with the stones in the background. On a warm day, it might have been festive. As it was, there was a dogged quality to the whole thing. Halfway around the circle, we looked at each other and said, “Let’s blow this pop stand.”

Close up, the grandeur was gone.  We’d have been better off with the view from the highway.


* Most scholars believe the circle served as a celestial calendar, based on the alignment of its stones with sunrise and sunset at the summer and winter solstices. Recent discoveries suggest it could be part of a giant mortuary complex (there are some 500 Bronze Age burial mounds within a three-mile radius of the site).

** But we do know it wasn’t the Druids, who date from 1500-2000 years later.

***The wind was so high that I didn’t take notes–a fact I’m kicking myself for in retrospect. My memory tells me the signs cited reverence for a sacred site, reverence for the first kings of Britain, and respect for the dead. All good things–and yet….

Image credit: gianliguori / 123RF Stock Photo


  1. Alex Beecroft on December 19, 2012 at 8:28 am

    You’re not alone in feeling like that. I was terribly disappointed with it in the flesh. It’s so much smaller than you imagine, and it’s hard to retain any mystery when surrounded by motorways. A lot of the more modest stone circles are better for atmosphere, if only because you have to walk out into open country to see them. And you can stand in them, which helps.

    • pamela on December 19, 2012 at 3:57 pm

      I’ll have to make sure we put one of the smaller circles on the schedule next trip!

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