A Circle of Stones: Stonehenge, Salisbury, United Kingdom

We jump on the train to Salisbury from Waterloo, and there is a mild altercation with regard to seating, but we pick another pair of empty seats and settle in. The city is only about two hours away, and a day trip to Stonehenge is eminently doable. So we sit and we watch the grey sky and green hills slide by quietly.

stonehenge salisbury no admittance taking to the open road peggy tee
A low lying sign stops visitors from getting too close to the stones

The train station is located a little away from the centre of the city – there is a tour bus right outside and we buy tickets and hop on. Our tickets also include admission fees for Stonehenge, which comes with a free audioguide. Salisbury, as it is now, sits on the confluence of five rivers, all tributaries to the River Avon, of Shakespearian fame. It is an old city, dating back to the British Iron Age.

stonehenge salisbury salisbury town taking to the open road peggy tee geograph
In the heart of Salisbury

The streets are thronged with people, and here and there an old Tudor building stands, and another green oak-ed medieval pub or two. Like many medieval cities, Salisbury is a walled city, with five gates; we visit St Ann’s and the Queen’s gate. Above St Ann’s gate is the room where Handel stayed. . There has been a market in Salisbury since the early 13th century, with stone crosses marking the centres for specific trades. There is still the Poulty Cross, a gothic looking structure that looks a little incongruous surrounded by high street stores.

Stonehenge itself is located about 8 miles from Salisbury. On the way we pass Old Sarum, where the town used to stand. All that is left of that 11th century settlement, where there was once a castle and cathedral is a high embankment, a man-made hill and 12m deep ditches. It was here that William the Conqueror gathered his nobles, knights and prelates, and is also possibly where the Doomsday Book was collated.

n795935318_5321322_2291

We arrive at the circle amidst a gaggle of tourists, grab our headphones and walk through an underground pass to emerge on the other side, on a path that sweeps around and behind the stones. They are less impressive in real-life, standing lonely and isolated on rolling green plains, dark brown hills behind them. There are rounded barrows on the crests of the plains, dotted all around the valley – this is a sacred site, used for burials for thousands of years.

n795935318_5321307_8169 No one really knows why Stonehenge was built; numerous theories abound. The site is rich in speculation, from druids and Arthur, to paganism. The stones are perfectly aligned to the sunset at Winters Solstice, the shortest day of the year; many believe that they were built as a way of marking the passing of the seasons. The stones are open to the public on both Summer and Winter Solstice, when crowds gather within the circle of bluestones in the middle for their own interpretation, their own meanings and rituals.

n795935318_5321311_9247

They are just stones, really, battered by the years; all 4,000 of them! The wind has rounded the markings left by the old craftsmen, and before the barriers were erected, tourists used to nick their own souvenirs from the stones, leaving gouges and handprints. The sarsens have weathered all this, and they are still standing.

n795935318_5321314_70

The area has its own particular, mysterious beauty. Imagination populates the barren, chalky, plains with dark woods, the way it was thousands of years ago. Barrows loom in the dim light, a hush lies across the sacred landscape. A procession leads the way along a ditch, standing stones on either side. As they walk up towards the circle, the candlelight flickers, casts long shadows. Entering the structure, underneath the curved wooden roof and proud archway of lintelled stone, the candles are extinguished, and there is the smell of soot and ash, snow and expectation.

The sky, seen from the open archway, lightens on a clear winter day. And finally the first ray of the sun arcs out from the horizon, a beam of hope striking the Altar stone in the middle of the circle.

No one really knows why Stonehenge exists; the site has been reworked so many times that its original purpose lies lost to time. I breathe in the cold, crisp air, and throw a backward glance at the grey circle.

The stones stand silent.


You may also like

Views and Volcanoes in Lanzarote If you're looking for a sun-drenched holiday with a difference, Lanzarote must be fairly high on your must-visit list. This striking Canary Island,...
Amsterdam Top Six Moments My trip to Amsterdam was filled with light and water, lined with somber red bricked buildings topped with unique gables, the whir of bicycle tyres and...
Packing for Norway: Winter Gear I'll be heading off to Norway and Sweden in just under a week! The excitement is palpable. We've pulled down the suitcases and started to fill it with...
RELATED  Watersports on the Lakes: Lake Garda, Italy

8 Comments

  1. travelrat says:

    Nice piece, but I have to take issue with you on one small point. ‘Our’ River Avon (usually referred to as the ‘Wiltshire Avon’) is not ‘Shakespeare’s Avon’ … would you believe there are seven Rivers Avon in the British Isles, the name meaning … ‘River’! 😀

    1. Peggy Tee says:

      I didn’t know that! Thanks for the information… learn something new every day.

  2. Suzanne says:

    This is very interesting for I am thinking of taking the same journey myself later this year. (I’m an Aussie) I had been wondering how to go about it. You make it sound easy. I’d like to go to Glastonbury too. Did you go there?

    1. Hi Suzanne thanks for visiting my blog! It’s easy to visit Stonehenge from London. Catch the train to Salisbury and then a bus to Stonehenge I have detailed instructions here: http://takingtotheopenroad.com/tour-to-stonehenge-uk

      Hope that helps! Email me if you have further questions!

  3. This is one place in the UK I’ve always meant to go but never quite got round to it. Thanks for sharing Peggy. Nice work. Next time I’ll get there!

Comments are closed.