--- layout: default title: Stonehenge Tour author: RM priority: 0.1 modified: 05/01/2006 origdate: 08/05/1994 ---

Stonehenge Tour

You're most unlikely to get Stonehenge to yourself - even on cold and wet winter's day English Heritage reckon on getting a hundred or so visitors; on a fine summer's day several thousand will come to admire it. I'd like to know what sort of weather it has to be when only a hundred turn up - I've seen more than that in the pouring rain!


Many years ago, one could wander among the stones but now there are so many visitors the site is roped off - however English Heritage have done their best to arrange that walkway so you can get a good view of the stones from all around. One compensation for not getting into the circle is that other visitors don't get in the way of your view of the stones!

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Coming over the brow of the hill after the Amesbury roundabout (if you're coming from London) you see Stonehenge in the fork of two roads - from a distance it does not look all that big since there are no trees around to give a sense of scale. Turning off into Stonehenge car park, this is the beginning of the tour. There's no two ways about it, Stonehenge car park isn't good, a sixties concrete monstrosity which is far too close to Stonehenge. However, they have tried to improve it a bit in recent years, and it isn't _too_ visible from the stones...

After paying the entrance fee you can go through a subway to the other side of the road where the stones are. The path takes you round the stones in an anticlockwise direction.

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Stonehenge from the NW

view from the north-west (1)

You approach from the north-west, where the sarsen circle is least complete, then travel round the circle. The path takes you first inside the henge (the raised bank surrounding the stones), then out, giving you a clear view from the west into the inner structure of the monument.

Stonehenge from the West

view from the west (2)

You carry on around the path in an anti-clockwise direction.

Stonehenge from the SE

From the south-east the sarsen circle looks more complete (3)

Heel Stone

The Heel stone outlier

The path is moved periodically, to allow the effect of erosion from the countless visitors to be spread out, but until recently it ended at the north-east of the circle, from which a fine view of the Heel stone can be seen. This is the outlying stone near which the midsummer sun rises when viewed from the centre of Stonehenge. One can actually get much closer to it from the road, and this is probably the excuse used by the sad folk who gather on the roadside to see Stonehenge without paying :-)

The reason the path did not go all round the monument is that many important archaeological features are buried in the north-eastern part of the circle. From the circle to the Heel stone and beyond a bank and ditch pathway called the Avenue runs, which holds many features. There are post-holes which may have formed sighting points for astronomical alignments, and other artefacts. However, in 1996 a low bridge was built to carry the pathway over this area.

view from the north

view from the north (5)

From the raised bridge part of the pathway the raised henge is more apparent.

A lot can be seen from the pathway, however, the original designers of Stonehenge did intend it to be viewed from within. The Heel stone is framed in the sarsens of the outer circle, and may have served as an alignment to other astronomical features.

Heel Stone from within

The Heel stone, viewed from inside the circle (A)

And viewed from a distance some of the sheer scale of the stones is lost - from inside the power of seeing the sun through stones sixteen feet high is rather more impressive...

A Trilithon viewed up close

A trilithon viewed up close (B)

The location from which the pictures were taken is shown on this plan of the stones showing the path - it is given in brackets after the picture description.

Visiting Stonehenge is easy enough to do. Too easy, in my view - I'm all for the plan of shifting the visitor centre a mile or so from the stones and having people walk there. (update: this was done a few years later) The problem is summarised in this photograph of this lot -

Visitors to Stonehenge

Visitors to Stonehenge, Sunday December 12th, 2004

Observe that the day is cold - look at how wrapped up the girl in the Adidas jacket is, and the murkiness of the landscape in the background. And now imagine how many more people there will be on a warm summer Bank Holiday in the school holidays. The actual experience of the stones is much better than you'd expect from the number of fellow visitors you see here.


Visitor-free Stonehenge, December 2005

I took this photograph pretty much exactly one year later, also on a Sunday, with a similar number of people. I haven't edited the visitors out with Photoshop. You don't have to put up with other punters in your Stonehenge photo if you choose your standpoint and moment right. You will, however, make life easier for yourself if you come midweek, preferably outside school holidays.