The world is filled with mysterious locations. From The body-less heads of Easter Island to the Pyramids of Egypt there are still so many stories we’ve yet to fully understand. One of the most mysterious to me however & perhaps the world’s most famous prehistoric monument is the neolithic stone structure of Stonehenge in the United Kingdom.
There are many theory’s as to what Stonehenge’s purpose was, but to this day it’s secrets remain intact. A visit to Stonehenge is a must if you’re exploring the area around Windsor or Bath in the English countryside!
What We Know About Stonehenge
So what do we know about Stonehenge? Not much actually! These massive stones laid out in almost perfect concentric rings on the empty Salisbury plain still baffle researchers. Thought to be over 4,000 years old Stonehenge is one of the oldest & best preserved ancient stone monuments in the world!
Who Built Stonehenge?
We know next to nothing about who built Stonehenge or why. A popular scientific theory places the onus on the Druids, a people that inhabited Britain before the Romans arrived. However, modern archaeological techniques have been used to find that the completion of Stonehenge happened a full 1,000 years prior to the Druid’s rise to power.
There is evidence of human activity on the Stonehenge site dating back as far as 11,000 years ago. The site as we know it today however, didn’t start evolving until approximately 3100 BC at which point evidence suggests the first of the stones were placed. There’s even evidence that the project was started, dismantled and then rebuilt. If at first you don’t succeed try try and try again right?
Unfortunately, it seems as if the builders of Stonehenge had no written language. There were no records left behind for future finders to decipher, only buried & discarded tools and new age carbon dating to tell the story.
Why Was Stonehenge Built?
Stonehenge’s purpose can still only be guessed at. Clearly, by the scale of the work required to build the monument, it was of quite some importance to the ancient people. But what was it? Was Stonehenge a temple or tribute to their gods? A portal to another dimension? A calling card left by an alien species? The theories are endless and with little hard evidence it’s easy to make a case for any of them.
One common and down to earth belief is that Stonehenge was built to act as a giant sort of astrological calendar. Its alignment northeast & southwest would make sense if built to the solstice and equinox points. Looking closer at their theory, scientists discovered that on a mid-summer morning the sun would rise near the heel stone and fall directly into the center of the monument. One of the only alignments to do so!
Unlikely that such an alignment was happenstance or accidental scientists set their sights 180° and found that at exactly the moment of the winter solstice the sunset happened between the largest of the sandstone pillars in the monument. Is this explanation too simple? Some will argue so, but in my mind it makes sense until you consider what it took to build this mega structure.
HOW Was Stonehenge Built?
New information from archeologists in the field seems to help us debunk the ideas of aliens or magic. The experts agree, Stonehenge was an arduous task performed by hundreds if not thousands of hands. It’s mind-blowing to consider how these 25+ ton sandstone rocks were transported here from a quarry nearly 30km away. Let alone how they were heaved, hoisted and set in the positions where we find them now!
Stonehenge was not built overnight. Likely it took tens if not hundreds of years to evolve into its final iteration, but that shouldn’t tarnish the immense scale of the undertaking. How could this have been done with the tools, materials and engineering knowledge of the day?
Modern simulations and theory suggest that the massive stone uprights were hauled into place over 30km using wooden rollers or sleds and then tipped into position using stone counterweights and at least a basic understanding of physics. The accuracy of the craftsmen is astounding too. Even as the ground slopes the lintel blocks on top of the uprights are perfectly level. At times I can’t even hang a photo level, and this was 3,000+ years ago!
Whatever methods the builders of Stonehenge used they undoubtedly demonstrate a level of both achievement and ambition not commonly seen these days.
Stonehenge is easy enough to get to. From London you can take the train to the cathedral town of Salisbury through the English countryside. The trip takes about 1.5 hours and is quite scenic. Arriving at Salisbury station you’ll be looking to find a bus for hire or a bicycle for rent as Stonehenge sits ~17km north of the city. I’m told the bicycle ride along the river Avon to Stonehenge makes for a perfect day in the countryside.
Another, possibly better way to visit Stonehenge, is on a tour.
The biggest problem with most tours however, is that they either spend way too little or way too much time at each location. You’re either rushed through an attraction like cattle or you wander around lackadaisically and don’t get to see the other attractions in the area.
This Stonehenge, Windsor & Bath tour however, leaves from central London and manages to visit Stonehenge without rushing or missing the other culturally significant sights nearby! With everything taken care of, you’re left to sit back and literally enjoy the ride in the luxury air-conditioned coach complete with WIFI.
Tips For Visiting Stonehenge
Here are a couple quick tips to help you during your visit to Stonehenge:
- Tickets into Stonehenge are timed entry. If you need access at a certain time to make your itinerary work, buy your tickets online. They’re slightly cheaper online and include your parking! You can purchase tickets on arrival at the visitor center, but you’ll have to wait in the line and there’s no guarantee you’ll get the time you were hoping for. Better yet, take a tour as we discussed above and you won’t have to worry about it!
- Tourists & other visitors to Stonehenge tend to group up along the area of the ropes closest to the stone circle, but if you head over to the opposite side you’ll have some elbow room and better opportunities for photos! Don’t forget to bring your travel camera!
- The Stonehenge museum is actually pretty damn good! Don’t skip it! There are recreations of old Neolithic houses and an exhibition hall that attempts to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding the Stonehenge site.
The Take Away
If you’re addicted to travel like I am and love a good mystery then it’s time to pack your backpack, buy some cheap airfare and head off into the English countryside to visit Stonehenge! The history around the monument is intriguing and the ideas about how it came to be will keep you up at night wondering.
Have you visited Stonehenge? What was your favorite part?What’s your theory on its construction or use? Drop a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!