This mystical monument, over 5000 years old, is one of this country’s most popular tourist attractions. Every year around a million people visit this prehistoric site to witness the majestic stone circles or to see a magical sunset. Stonehenge, literally meaning hanging stone, is immersed in mystery and speculation, the crowds it draws are a timeless testament to the prowess of its ancient architects.
Experts believe construction of Stonehenge started around 3100 BC. The circles of standing stones, also known as menhirs, were constructed in three distinct phases over a period of 1500 years.
The culmination of work from the three phases forms a set of concentric stone circles. The Stone Age henge consists of 82 enormous Bluestones, the largest of which weighs more than 40 tonnes. These massive stones were transported over 200 miles from their origin in Wales. With typical tools of the time being chisels made of antler and bone, it is estimated to have taken 30 million man-hours to complete!
Stonehenge stands on Salisbury Plain in the county of Wiltshire, England. The site it sits in is over 6000 acres, containing more than 400 monuments – a collection of prehistoric man-made stone structures which orbit Stonehenge itself.
The local area also has an abundance of historical remains. These fascinating monuments include Durrington Walls, Woodhenge and The Cursus. There are also the many Bronze Age burial mounds as well as other archaeological findings.
The greatest mystery of Stonehenge is its purpose. From astronomy to human sacrifice, no single theory has yet gained universal acceptance. The sunrises and sunsets are particularly exceptional on Salisbury plain which has led many to conclude that the stones mark important stages of the year such as the passing of seasons, and in particular the solstice. This ties in with the idea held by many experts that the site was a spiritual landmark used for astrological observation.
Just outside the henge is the Heelstone, also known as the Friar’s Heel. This 16-foot rugged rock leans towards the circle and has been at the centre of folklore for centuries. There’s even a tale it was thrown there by the Devil.
Throughout its long history, people have had many theories about who exactly constructed Stonehenge. These range from local shepherds and Celtic druids to Giants, Merlin and even alien invaders!
In recent years the site on which Stonehenge stands has been in the midst of redevelopment. Thankfully, this is coming to an end, meaning that visitors now have more to see and do than ever before.
The main attraction is, of course, the stones themselves. Varying in size from giant columns to small stumps, with the menhirs in the inner circle reaching an impressive 26 feet in height – it’s a mesmerising scene. An audio tour is also available to explain the complex history and theories that surround these mighty rocks.
Today, tourists can experience the newly opened Visitor’s Centre. Here you can discover what it would be like to stand in the centre of the stones with a 360-degree virtual experience. English Heritage experts are on hand to explain the exhibition which contains over 300 prehistoric artefacts, and there is also an interesting educational area helping to unravel the theories behind the henge.
From Easter 2014, visitors can see a group of reconstructed Neolithic houses, which really brings history to life. There is also a café and picnic area if you’re in need of a snack. The centre also offers a range of souvenirs at its gift shop.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Stonehenge is one of the world’s most instantly recognisable monuments. It is one of the most popular stops on our Active England tours, and one that you must experience first-hand to fully understand. For over 200 generations people, both young and old, have been drawn to this mystical plain and been mesmerised by its Neolithic splendour.