Stonehenge Pictures Guide, England

Stonehenge longview on sunny day, Wiltshire, England

Not many visitors to Stonehenge at that time. Very early perhaps? Photo by Davis Crochet.

What is Stonehenge?

After 6 years of extensive excavation of the whole plain around Stonehenge, leading archeologist, Professor Mike Parker Pearson has concluded that Stonehenge commemorates a royal dynasty, probably of Welsh origin – hence the labour of dragging 80 three ton Welsh blue stones from Preseli Hills, about 250 miles away. The bigger Sarsen stones weighed around 40 tons and were dragged from 20 miles away.

Stonehenge cremation burial remnants have been carbon-dated to 3030-2880 BC (5, 000 years ago), about when the first ditch-and-bank monument was cut into Salisbury Plain. The stones are roped off, so no touching; if you wish to hug megaliths go there on the night before the summer solstice or head for nearby Avebury, where the stones are smaller but still impressive and the area is semi-rural and much less visited.

Between 150 and 240 people were buried in ‘Aubrey Holes‘ around Stonehenge over a 600 year period, along with ceremonial weapons and antler ‘pick-axes’ so Parker Pearson believes that this was a monumental tomb of a single royal family.

Furthermore, 2 miles (three kms) away another ancient site created at the same time, Durrington Walls, which had a significant timber henge, shows signs of a massive population, perhaps 100, 000 folk, with cremation rites on the nearby Avon River.

Further up the river is a ceremonial track leading past (holes for) four bluestones 3 kms up to Stonehenge. In other words, Durrington was home for the living, Stonehenge for the dead and both were part of one complex.

Visiting Stonehenge

Stonehenge visitors, England, UK

About the average visitor numbers at the stones, unless a coach tour arrives. Photo by Garten.

The World Heritage Site of Stonehenge is set in gently rolling, rural Salisbury plain, Wiltshire county, an hour or two driving from London. It’s a wonderfully bare but fitting location, though slightly degraded by two smallish roads passing nearby.

Naturally, as one of England’s top monuments, it’s heavily visited, though the English Heritage organisation have done a good job in concealing the visitor centre and car parks and keeping internal fencing to the minimum.

Excellent multi-lingual personal audio players are included in the reasonable entry fee and offer clear and comprehensive information on all aspects of Stonehenge. The walking route circles the stones at an acceptable distance, though touching is forbidden. Stonehenge photos are of course, permitted.

Stonehenge is closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day and also difficult to access on the days before and after the summer (June 21) and winter solstices (December 21) as the police try to control 15, 000 or so overnighting Pagans, Druids, Gypsies, New Age Travellers, Ravers and wackos of every description from getting high on the stones, literally and metaphorically.

Physical access to the stones is not permitted (due to potential vandalism) except on midsummer night of the Summer Solstice or by permission from the English Heritage organisation.

If a tourist feels like getting touchy with ancient stones and not around in mid June then the best thing to do is to head for Avebury where similar stones – though smaller – are charmingly located and accessible.

Getting to Stonehenge

Directly from London is a fairly easy day trip southwest by rental car, tour or train to Salisbury (2 trains an hour, taking 80 minutes).
However, since the Stonehenge area offers many interesting sights, notably Avebury, varied White Horses, crop circles if you’re lucky and more, in addition to the cities of Salisbury and Winchester and the lovely Dorset coast just an hour away, many tourists choose to overnight at the nearest city to the henge, which is Salisbury.

From Salisbury it’s an easy drive or take an official Stonehenge tour bus or a regular public bus, though that will involve a half an hour’s walk from Amesbury.

Stonehenge is off the A344 road, Amesbury, Wiltshire SP4 7DE.

Stonehenge Opening Times (but check no recent changes!)

Opening times are:
16 March – 31 May, 9. 30am – 6pm.
1 June – 31 August, 9am -7pm.
1 September – 15 October, 9. 30am-6pm.
16 October – 15 March, 9. 30am – 4pm.

Stonehenge Design

Stonehenge under a dark cloud, England

The dark side of the stones. Photo by Sanjay Nair.

Stonehenge’s first designwas a simple circular earth bank and ditch with a central sanctuary. About 500 years later a wooden structure was built there and then around 2950 BC a powerful Neolithic chieftain was spurred by his priests to upgrade this to a monumental religious edifice by dragging eighty large bluestones on sledges 240 miles (385km) from Wales, shaping them and arranging them in a double circle.

Larger Sarsen stones (a kind of sandstone) and lintel stones arrived a few years later from Avebury, a mere twenty miles (30km) away.

Although the large vertical stones were clearly tipped into pre-dug holes, then levered upright, how primitive man persuaded the massive lintel stones to settle on top of the verticals – into pre-carved joints – is something of a mystery.

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge

Sunrise over Stonhenge during the summer solstice, England

The sun rising over Stonehenge on the morning of the Summer Solstice (21st June), watched by a crowd of around 15, 000 people. The photo was taken by Paul Dunn a couple of minutes after sunrise and a little to the right of the solar alignment line.

Regulations and access (but no guarantees they’ll be the same any other summer)
The summer solstice occurs around 5. 00am on June 21st. The car park opens at 8pm on June 20th and is free, as is entry to Stonehenge, opening at 10pm. Car park admission closes at 8am on June 21st and the site closes at 9am June 21st.

No backpacks, sleeping bags or other large bags are allowed onto the site, nor are large amounts of alcohol. Personal use quantities only!
Also no glass (i. e. bottles of booze. Plastic is OK), dogs, cycles, camping equipment, chairs, fireworks, fire making equipment or amplified musical instruments are permitted on the site, though kids in push chairs are OK.

Special car parks, ambient lighting, heated braziers, drinking water, toilet facilities, meeting points, stewards, first aid, emergency services and refreshment areas and local camp sites are organised by English Heritage. Weather guarantees are not, and so it rains.

Public buses run from Salisbury Railway and Bus Stations to Stonehenge from the evening of June 20th to early morning of June 21st. Return runs go from about 6. 00am until 9. 00am June 21st.

Visitors are permitted to touch the stones but not the climb, stand or lean on them.

Stonehenge worship

Stonehenge druids performing a pagan ritual, Wiltshire, England

Druids performing pagan rituals at Stonehenge. Photo by SandyRaidy.

The Stonehenge circle is aligned to midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset in addition to some special moon phases, but this astronomical alignment probably had more to do with the timing of pagan rituals than determining optimum agricultural timing, i. e. when to sow seed or when to harvest.

Ancient peoples living in very close contact with nature had a powerful belief in the Earth Mother and Sky Father, thus the heavily female symbolism of Stonehenge’s concentric stone arrangements – resembling a womb and vulva. To guarantee fertility of crops, animals and families the Sky Father needed to penetrate the Earth Mother, and this is clearly visible about 5am from 18-24th June when the sun is bright (visible from the roadside through the fence).

The shadow from the phallic Heel Stone enters the vulva arch to touch the Womb (or Cult) Stone (pictured above, though not at sunrise! ).

n.b. the Druidic cult arose well after the stone circle was constructed so they have no claim to an ancient relationship.

The Future of Stonehenge

Stonehenge is managed by English Heritage and the surrounding landscape by the National Trust.

A new visitor centre is now located 2 miles (3km) from the stones with considerably more facilities than the previous centre and a land train takes visitors who prefer to ride to the site.

There are no museums at the Stonehenge site but 7 miles (10kms) away Salisbury Museum (Cathedral Close) has an excellent collection of artifacts, as has Devizes Museum (Long Street).

The British Government plans to spend £2bn to make the entire A303 and A358 to the region dual carriageway, including a tunnel at Stonehenge.