Thursday, April 2, 2015

Stonehenge for the Equinox

Everyone wants a photo of themselves at Stonehenge, don't they?
We were going to be in London for the Vernal Equinox on March 20, 2015, and I had this idea that it would be fun to visit Stonehenge with my son Omar for the day.  This is basically the first day of spring, where the hours of sunlight and darkness are equal.  It was unusual because there was also a solar eclipse and an incredibly large moon planned for the day- a super moon.  Some journalists called it a perfect trifecta.  If you missed seeing it, here's a link which includes a video.  There had also been a solar flare which included sightings of the Northern Lights.  Unfortunately there was fog and cloud cover in England, so I didn't get to see the eclipse or the northern lights clearly, but the sun burned off the fog in the afternoon and it was a good day just to visit the majestic stones.

We got on a bus tour with Golden Tours, the same outfit we used to see Warner Bros. Studios for the Harry Potter Tour.  They have a variety of tours which include Stonehenge, but we chose the 11 hour tour, which included stops at Windsor Castle and Bath as well.  It was a long day but with stops and time for snacks, walking around and sightseeing, it went incredibly well.  

Stonehenge was our second stop of the day, and we arrived about 1:00.  Coaches and private cars are only allowed to park about a quarter mile from the visitor center.  Everyone then walks to the visitor center where you take one of the park buses another mile out to the circle of stones, which is roped off.  They made this change about 18 months ago because of conservation efforts.  In my opinion, this is much better than what I heard existed before.  You can't actually get up close to the stones, but then neither can anyone else.  This allows you to take better photos and to see it in its entirety from a short distance. The use of buses ensures it is never so crowded you can't see the stones. There is a walkway around the entire area so you can see it from different vantage points. In the early days of tourism, it was a parking nightmare and people were allowed between the stones.  Sometimes there was graffiti and that's when preservation plans took over.

The surrounding land is managed by the National Trust and it's public land, which means anyone can walk there.  On this special date, there were some people in colorful costumes dancing in the adjoining fields (some called them hippies), I'm assuming to celebrate the equinox.  They had tents set up there.  I was told the crowds are huge for the summer solstice.
Stonehenge- an ancient temple aligned on the movements of the sun
So what is Stonehenge?  That question has been answered in many different ways since it was first discovered.  The English Heritage are calling it an ancient temple aligned on the movements of the sun. The stones were raised 4500 years ago by sophisticated prehistoric people, that our guide called "people of the flask".  These small people are buried in mounds near Stonehenge with their flasks around their neck.  He also said to consider it a type of early church.  Consider churches today have graveyards, clocks, and are a place for worship.  Stonehenge is no different.  You can learn much more about it at the visitor center through the use of audio guides, videos, and books.  Recent archaeology studies report that there is more under the earth for several miles surrounding the stones, and that perhaps this was part of a pathway.

Some of the Solstice dancers
There's a nice cafe in the visitors center where we had lunch.  I can't say that I felt anything magical while I was at the stones.  There was no time travel or illuminations, to Omar's huge disappointment.  Still, it was a place I had always wanted to visit. If you go, you might consider a more personal tour which includes sunset at the great stones.  There is a newer 36 mile hiking path called the Great Stones Way from Salisbury to Barbury Castle, so if you really want a workout, you might try it.  If you do, you'll see rolling countryside and a few of England's most important prehistoric sites.  Go to the link and you can see photos as well as details about where to find the head.  You can do it in increments and stay in lodging along the way.
Cafe inside the visitors center

You could hike to Old Sarum
New visitors center


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