Stonehenge versus Avebury

4 12 2020

The world-famous Neolithic monument of Stonehenge is on everyone’s bucket-list, or seems to be – going by the droves who visit it every year – but many miss out on its sister UNESCO World Heritage Site at Avebury, only 17 miles away. What are they missing out on, and is it even better? Does it out-henge Stonehenge?

When in Wiltshire, one should most certainly visit Stonehenge, which is undoubtedly the world’s most famous stone circle. But one should also make time to visit Wiltshire’s “other” stone circle, Avebury — which holds the distinction of being the largest in the world.

Stonehenge has long been a must-see for any visiting England and venturing beyond the capital – and rightly so. The iconic stone circle, standing proud on Salisbury Plain, is one of the seven ‘modern’ wonders of the world (as opposed to the classical ones, of which only the Great Pyramid of Giza survive), and in 2019 1.6 million people visited it.  Let us first consider its attractions before looking at its great ‘rival’, Avebury.

To its deficit are: the hordes of tourists, queues, pricey entrance fee, and the fact you cannot walk amongst the stones unless you’re on a special private access tour, such as Stonehenge Tours run).

Right, so that’s Stonehenge. Now, let’s travel north (17 miles by crow) to Avebury and consider its attractions…

  • The largest stone circle in Britain at 1,088 feet across, comprising (originally) 98 sarsens configured as one large circle containing two smaller ones.
  • The henge of Avebury is deeper, wider, and far more tangible than the slight dip of Stonehenge. If it is ‘henge’ you want – Avebury is the place to experience it.
  • The only stone circle with a pub in the middle of it (The Red Lion!).
  • Free to enter (except for parking).
  • You can walk amongst the stones.
  • The Avebury landscape (all part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site) contains incredible, unique monuments, including Silbury Hill, the largest man-made mound in Europe; West Kennet long barrow (the best preserved example of a Cotswold-Severn transepted barrow tomb); the Sanctuary; Seven Barrows; the Ridgeway; Fyfield Down sarsen field; and Windmill Hill early Neolithic enclosure and Bronze Age barrow cemetery.
  • A selection of small businesses selling local produce, art and crafts.

To its deficit, the visitor facilities are pretty basic (a small car-park that is often at capacity in the summer; the National Trust tea rooms are currently only offering takeaway; and service in The Red Lion is glacial). The post office/grocery store is probably the best option for a quick snack.

Nevertheless, I think it is clear that Avebury offers so much and any visitor to the area is missing out on something very special if they don’t include it in their itinerary. While access to Stonehenge remains restricted during current ‘lockdown’ rules (and closed for the Winter Solstice) Avebury provides an excellent alternative that will not disappoint.

GUEST BLOGGER: Dr Kevan Manwaring is an author, lecturer, and specialist tour-guide. His books include The Long Woman (a novel which features Stonehenge and Avebury) He is a keen walker and loves exploring the ancient landscape of Wiltshire, where he lives with his archaeologist partner.

STONEHENGE AND AVEBURY LINKS:
Official website of Stonehenge & Avebury WHS (World Heritage Site). STONEHENGE & AVEBURY WHS
Award-winning museum displays featuring Gold from the Time of Stonehenge. THE WILSHIRE MUSEUM
Ancient stone circle, museum and manor house in the heart of the Avebury World Heritage Site. NATIONAL TRUST
Visit Stonehenge and Visitor centre. Book tickets ENGLISH HERITAGE
Avebury: Wiltshire’s “Other” Stone Circle. TIME TRAVEL BRITAIN
Stonehenge and Avebury Tour Specialist (depart from London) STONEHENGE GUIDED TOURS
Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Tours (depart from Salisbury). STONEHENGE TRAVEL COMPANY
Stonehenge and Avebury Tours (from Glastonbury) TORS TOURS
Stonehenge and Avebury Guided Walking Tours (depart from Bath). THE STONEHENGE TOUR COMPANY
Plan your visit to Wiltshire. Official Wiltshire Tourist Information Site. VISIT WILTSHIRE

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The Stonehenge Alliance Campaign Group Launch Legal Challenge over Stonehenge Road Tunnel.

30 11 2020

A campaign group is planning a legal challenge over the transport secretary’s decision to approve a £1.7bn tunnel near Stonehenge.

Historic England and the National Trust argue that diverting the road underground will enhance the site. Druids, green campaigners and archaeologists have opposed the plans.

The campaign group Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) has commissioned the law firm Leigh Day and barristers Victoria Hutton and David Wolfe QC to investigate the lawfulness of the decision.

The group said the plan to dig a two-mile (3.2km) tunnel alongside the A303 near the Unesco world heritage site was “wasteful and destructive”.

The BBC has approached the Department for Transport (DfT) for a comment.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps approved the project earlier this month against the recommendations of planning officials.

The Planning Inspectorate had recommended Mr Shapps withhold consent, but the DfT said that the benefits of the scheme outweighed the potential harm.

Unesco previously said the scheme would have an “adverse impact” on the surrounding landscape.

Campaigners are worried that the work will have a detrimental impact on the wider Stonehenge world heritage site – which the tunnel would go through.

Tom Holland, from the Stonehenge Alliance, said he was “stunned” that the government had decided to approve the plans.

Stonehenge Alliance is supporting the CrowdJustice appeal.

He said: “I fully back the move to test whether Grants Shapps acted legally in approving this highly wasteful and destructive road scheme.

“The government has ignored advice from both Unesco and the independent panel who presided over a six-month examination.”

Mr Holland added: “I urge everyone who cares about the Stonehenge world heritage site to support this legal action.

“There is still a chance to stop the bulldozers moving in and vandalising our most precious and iconic prehistoric landscape.”

Highways England and English Heritage support the scheme, which is expected to begin in 2023 and take five years to complete.

SSWHS, a new organisation set up by supporters of the Stonehenge Alliance, has begun a fundraising campaign to pay for the legal action. In its letter to Shapps, the organisation said the proposals were in breach of Unesco’s world heritage convention.

RELEVANT STONEHENGE NEWS:
Stonehenge tunnel: Legal challenge to ‘destructive’ plans. BBC NEWS
The Stonehenge Tunnel Debate – the good, the bad, and the ugly. STONEHENHGE NEWS BLOG
Stonehenge tunnel faces legal challenge as campaigners say minister wrongly overruled expert advice. THE TELEGRAPH
Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site. CROWDJUSTICE
Campaigners launch legal challenge over Stonehenge road tunnel. THE GUARDIAN
Stonehenge tunnel: Legal challenge to destructive plans. INSIGHT NEWS REPORT

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Ancient Skies: Stonehenge and the Moon.

29 11 2020

Whereas we can be sure that Stonehenge related directly to the Sun, its possible associations with the Moon remain much debated. Claims made in the 1960s that the monument incorporated large numbers of intentional alignments upon significant solar and lunar rising and setting positions are undermined by the archaeological evidence and are also statistically unsupportable.

The full Harvest Moon setting over Stonehenge. Photo credit to Stonehenge Dronescapes

Nonetheless, some tantalizing strands of evidence remain. Chief among these is the orientation of the Station Stone rectangle. While its shorter axis simply follows the main solstitial orientation of the sarsen monument, its longer axis is oriented southeastwards close to the most southerly possible rising position of the Moon (most southerly moonrise). It has been argued that the latitude of Stonehenge was carefully chosen so that these two directions were nearly perpendicular, but the perfect location would have been further south, in the English Channel.

In any case, the precise location of Stonehenge was actually fixed by the pre-existing earth and timber monument upon whose remains the stones were constructed. The sightlines along the sides of the Station Stone rectangle were not (quite) blocked out by the sarsen monument. This suggests that they were of enduring significance.

The lunar phase cycle (“synodic month”) averaging 29.5 days is, for many indigenous peoples, the best-known cycle in the sky. The position of moonrise (moonset) moves up and down the eastern (western) horizon during a slightly shorter period – the “tropical month” of 27.3 days. Its phase is related to the season: the most southerly Moon is full around the summer solstice and new around the winter solstice. For the most northerly Moon the opposite is true.

Before the stones arrived, there was no evident solstitial orientation at Stonehenge. Yet after the earthen enclosure built several centuries earlier had fallen into disuse, and the timber posts standing in the Aubrey Holes had rotted away, a few people came here to make offerings of animals, tools and even human cremations. These were placed in the ditch, in the (now empty) Aubrey Holes, and were not placed randomly. There are concentrations in the directions of most northerly and most southerly moonrise, suggesting that Stonehenge and the Moon the motions of the Moon were a concern even at this early stage. (See the discussion on major and minor lunar standstills in the panel “Ancient Skies”.)

Fred Hoyle famously endorsed the idea that the 56 Aubrey Holes could have been used to predict eclipses by moving marker posts around according to certain rules. This idea does not stand up to scrutiny. For one thing, this could only predict eclipse danger periods – very different from predicting actual eclipses, for which the device would have been unreliable. For another, there exist several other Neolithic sites containing pit circles and they have widely ranging numbers of holes. Finally, the Aubrey Holes most likely held a circle of timber posts, predating the later constructions in stone, that mimicked older woodworking techniques.
SOURCE: Stonehenge and Ancient Astronomy. Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site

Stonehenge sky visible around the world.
Enjoy a personal Stonehenge sky all year round, thanks to a new live feed of the sky above the ancient monument. The live feed gives us a chance to see the sky above Stonehenge from within the monument, whenever you like. On the website, we can gaze at the sky above the stone circle and track the path of other planets in our solar system. You can visit the website at any time of the day or night to see what it’s like inside the stone circle, with 360 degree views.
Experience it for yourself at www.stonehengeskyscape.co.uk

Relevant Stonehenge Links:
Stonehenge and other stone monuments were probably used for special moonlit ceremonies. STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Stonehenge and Ancient Astronomy. STONEHENGE AND AVEBURY WORLD HERITAGE SITES
Stonehenge Full Moon Guided Walking Tours. Explore the landscape with a local historian and astronomer. STONEHENGE GUIDED TOURS
Stonehenge Dronescapes. Amazing photos of Stonehenge. STONEHENGE DRONESCAPES
Celestial Stonehenge. The Moon, Planets and Stars. ENGLISH HERITAGE
Moving on from Stonehenge: Researchers make the case for archaeoastronomy. STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Stonehenge: The ancient SUPERCOMPUTER used to track movement of the universe. THE DAILY EXPRESS
Visit Stonehenge with an expert tour guide. STONEHENGE TOURS
Full Moon Rise at Stonehenge. SILENT EARTH
U.K Moon Phase Calendar. MOONPHASE

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The Stonehenge Tunnel Debate – the good, the bad, and the ugly

22 11 2020

Plans for the two-mile road tunnel through the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Stonehenge approved by Grant Shapps, the UK transport secretary, on the 12th November made major international news recently. Amid such a blizzard of information and attention it is sometimes hard to discern the truth. 

There are countless news features, websites, and forums discussing the tunnel – and although some are more objective than others, one has to always be mindful of the (hidden) agenda of the particular newspaper, website, blog, or forum – and in the case of mainstream media, who is funding them. Here, the intention is to provide a clear overview of the facts and a summary of both sides of the debate. There is so much heated rhetoric out there – the various stake-holders inevitably dig in and defend their position, sometimes without being able to see the other side. Within the echo chamber of social media especially, it is easy to become entrenched within a particular paradigm, one that reaffirms prejudices and demonises those who do not share it – one could call it ‘tunnel vision’.

So, first, let’s take a quick look at the facts. 

Key information

  • The so-called ‘Stonehenge Tunnel’ has been approved, costing around £1.7 billion. The proposals were first submitted in 1991.
  • In 2014, the Government announced that it would invest in a fully bored tunnel of at least 2.9km to remove much of the A303 road from the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.
  • Following a process of consultations, planning, design nd public examination, funding for a two-mile tunnel was confirmed in the March 2020 Budget and agreement from the Secretary of State for Transport that the tunnel could go ahead was confirmed on 12 November 2020.
  • The A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down upgrade will include: eight miles of dual carriageway; a tunnel at least two miles long underneath the World Heritage Site; a new bypass to the north of the village of Winterbourne Stoke; junctions with the A345 and A360 either side of the World Heritage Site.
  • Fieldwork is due to start in late spring next year, with the main five-year construction phase expected to start by 2023.

Now, let’s consider the arguments for the planned tunnel.

For

  • Restoring the integrity of the site: ‘English Heritage wants to see the monument reconnected to its ancient landscape and the negative impact of roads within the World Heritage Site reduced. Great strides to achieve this vision have been made in recent years, including the removal of the old Stonehenge visitor facilities and the A344 road from the landscape.’
  • Removing the pollution (visual, auditory, olfactory) caused by the traffic on the A303. English Heritage advocates the tunnel, so that the ‘intended landscape setting’ can be ‘understood  and appreciated in context, without the experience being ruined by traffic.’ Certainly, the removal of the A344 and the shoddy former visitor centre, with its notorious underpass, has had a significant positive impact on the site. Seeing the turfed-over section of the A344 is heartening to see, and it considerably enhances the area around the Hele Stone especially, which used to be cheek-by-jowl with the traffic and the fence.
  • A boost to the economy.  Business Live claims ‘Stonehenge tunnel could bring £4bn boost to South West economy’, through increased visitor numbers, footfall, and cash-flow.

Now, let us consider the arguments against the plans.

Against

  • Increased traffic jams and pollution caused by the major disruption of the busy A303.
  • The impact of tourism on a major attraction caused by this during the ongoing impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, which has seen a massive drop in overseas visitors, and many businesses struggling to survive. Would international visitors want to visit a building site? Their first impressions of Stonehenge would be ugly roadworks and interminable traffic jams.
  • Destruction of the integrity of the site and its priceless, irreplaceable archaeology. Rescue Archaeology said it was: ‘A sad day for our archaeological heritage’. In a letter to The Times, academics said the proposed tunnel would cause “permanent irreversible harm”.
  • Whose  intended landscape? English Heritage’s wish ‘to see the stone circle returned to its intended landscape setting’ can be challenged – what is the ‘intended landscape’ they describe? For millennia humans have been altering the landscape. The ‘countryside’ is very much an artificial construct (as WG Hoskins and Simon Schama have pointed out). Are EH planning to return the landscape to unenclosed wild wood and heath? Unlikely. Aesthetically, it would be closer to the aesthetic of a country park, with demarcated routes, manicured turf, and excessive signage. 
  • Exclusive access to a site bequeathed to the nation. English Heritage already earn millions from the site – it is a vital ‘cash cow’ that supports all their other sites, many of which remain free – but the tunnel would deprive travellers in the area of even a glimpse, a view that makes a journey along the A303 special and one of Britain’s best-loved roads.
  • Fossil-fuel vehicles to be phased out. If one of the main arguments for the tunnel is the reduction of traffic noise and fumes, it is important to consider the recent government plans to ban the sale of all petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030. A stream of virtually silent electric vehicles will not impair the site in the same way, and would be less destructive to the environment that carbon emitting vehicles bottle-necked into a tunnel, or slowed down into traffic jams by its construction and ensuing delays. 
  • An ill-use of vital resources. In a time of pandemic and with the looming impact of Brexit on Britain’s food supplies, £1.7 billion could be better spent on hospitals, vaccine-distribution, and food banks.
  • Cronyism. One could also ask who will be receiving these lucrative contracts? Is it just another example of cronyism, with those in government creating spurious contracts for their well-connected friends? If that sounds too much like a conspiracy theory, consider what has happened with the massive PPE contracts handed out this year – often resulting in a vast waste of tax-payers money at a time when countless lives depend upon such resources.

Conclusion

Having considered both sides of the debate, and looked at all the available facts, it is clear there are far more negatives than positives. Considering the huge outcry from both the public and experts, and the massive public relations disaster it has already caused common sense would suggest a reconsideration of the plans. Perhaps the best thing now – to limit damage and further expense – is simply to bury them. It would not be the first time such ambitious plans have been jettisoned – during the 1970s a major tunnel project was planned for the city of Bath. The idea was to channel all the traffic assailing the city underground, yet after expensive plans, and consultations, the project was deemed non-viable and forgotten, and it remains in the archive as a curiousity – one of history’s white elephants.

References:
The Stonehenge tunnel: ‘A monstrous act of desecration is brewing’ – THE GUARDIAN
Stonehenge tunnel ‘would destroy 500,000 artefacts’ – THE TIMES
A303 Stonehenge DCO granted – A sad day for our archaeological heritage – RESCUE ARCHAELOGICAL TRUST
The proposed name of the Stonehenge tunnel has been announced. THE HERITAGE TRUST
Why a Newly Approved Plan to Build a Tunnel Beneath Stonehenge Is So Controversial – THE SMITHSONIAN
Controversial $2 Billion Tunnel Near Stonehenge Approved, Causing Backlash – HYPERALLERGIC
Rival factions battle for soul of Stonehenge – THE TIMES
A303 Stonehenge Tunnel explained: Plans, route design and more – THE SALISBURY JOURNAL
STONEHENGE & A303 – ENGISH HERITAGE
Stonehenge tunnel could bring £4bn boost to South West economy – BUSINESS LIVE
The Conservative Case for the Stonehenge Tunnel | Henry Dixon-Clegg – THE MALLARD
The Knotty Problem of the A303 and Stonehenge. – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG

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Stonehenge Winter Solstice 2020 – LIVE STREAM

19 11 2020

For everyone’s safety and wellbeing, this year’s winter solstice celebrations at Stonehenge have been cancelled. English Heritage will be live streaming the event for free online.

Watch the winter solstice LIVE from Stonehenge, wherever you are in the world!

People from across the UK and around the world will be able to watch the 2020 winter solstice at Stonehenge for the first time.

While many fans of the event are heartbroken over its cancellation, please do not travel to Stonehenge this winter solstice, but watch it online instead.

English Heritage cameras will capture the best views of Stonehenge, allowing you to connect with this spiritual place from the comfort of your own home.

Stonehenge Winter Solstice Celebraions 2019

The winter solstice will be streamed live on Facebook, with the event listing available here – 

WHAT TIME WILL IT BE LIVE?
Sunset is at 16:01 GMT on Sunday 20th December. Sunrise is at 08:09 GMT on Monday 21st December. They will be live for about 45 minutes before and after.

The Winter Solstice is traditionally celebrated at Stonehenge around 21st December. Thousands mark the shortest day and longest night.
The exact time of the winter solstice varies each year and it can be on any day from 20st to 23rd December. The solstice is the point in time when one hemisphere of the planet reaches the point tilted most towards the sun and the other is tilted furthest away. In the northern hemisphere, that gives us the winter solstice in December whilst in the southern hemisphere it is the summer solstice. After the shortest day, the days start getting longer and the nights shorter. Stonehenge is carefully aligned on a sight-line that points to the winter solstice sunset.

If this has whetted your appetite and you want to experience the 2021 winter / summer solstice or the spring / autumn equinox and learn more about the other monuments in the surrounding landscape, then check out Solstice Events UK and Stonehenge Tours who offer exclusive guided tours with transport.

Stonehenge Winter Solstice Links:
Solstice at Stonehenge. From Past to Present. – click here
What has Stonehenge got to do with the winter solstice? click here
Celebrate Winter Solstice at Stonehenge – Click here
Stonehenge, the Winter Solstice, and the Druids – Click here
Winter solstice 2020: Why do pagans celebrate the shortest day of the year? click here
Special buses planned for Stonehenge during Winter Solstice – CLICK HERE
Respecting the Stones.  Managed Open Access – Click here
Stonehenge Solstice Tours – Stonehenge Guided Tours

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2021 / 2022 Stonehenge Opening Hours, Entry Prices and Tickets.

15 11 2020

Stonehenge Opening Times and Entrance Prices.
English Heritage advise to expect a visit to last around two hours. Please see the table below for opening times for 2021 / 2022, with some seasonal variability, and entrance prices for adults, children and consessions.

The English Heriatge Stonehenge Exhibition and Visitor Centre

27th March 2021 – 28th May 2021, daily 9.30am – 5pm
29th May 2021 – 31st August 2021 , daily 9am – 7pm*
1st September 2021 – 31st March , daily 9.30am – 5pm*
25th December 2021 closed
(The last admission time is two hours before closing time of Stonehenge)

*Opening times on the summer solstice (20th – 21st June) and the winter solstice (21st December) are subject to change.

Stonehenge Admission Prices 2021 / 2022
Off-peak (27th March 2021 – 28th May 2021 / 1st September 2021 – 31st March 2022)
Adult: £19.50 |Concession: £17.60 | Child: £11.70

Stonehenge Admission Prices 2020 / 2021
Peak (29th May 2021 – 31st August 2021)
Adult: £20.00 | Concession: £18.00 | Child: £12.00

A Stonehenge shuttle transports you 2km between the Visitor Centre and Stonehenge

The English Heritage Visitor Centre at Stonehenge is located 2 kilometers from the monument. This is your entry point to Stonehenge and the place where you pick up your tickets, souvenir guides and optional audio guides. The new Visitor Centre also offers a modern exhibition with prehistoric objects on display, and a spacious café and gift shop. A Stonehenge shuttle transports you between the Visitor Centre and Stonehenge (included in your ticket price).

If you come by car you will park in the car park outside the visitor centre. It is free for people purchasing tickets to enter Stonehenge, there is a charge if you are not. Tour buses have their own separate coach park.

All Members of English Heritage or National Trust must show a valid membership card on arrival to be granted free parking and site access.

To enter the Stonehenge Exhibition at the Visitor Centre you need a full ticket to Stonehenge, anyone can access the café, gift shop and toilets though, for free.

Very Important!  Book Your Stonehenge Tickets in Advance 
To be assured of entering Stonehenge the best way is to reserve timed tickets in advance on the English Heritage web site or if you need more flexibility and without the time constraint you can purchase discount advance Stonehenge tickets here

Tickets to Stonehenge are booked by half hour time slot, the website showing you how many tickets are still available for your chosen date and time.

Note: you cannot reserve tickets on-line on the day of your visit, you must reserve before midnight latest on the day before. Only a very small number of tickets are held back each day for walk-up visitors.

For more information please visit the official English Heritage website.  If you are looking to book a coach or walking tour of Stonehenge, we recommend using Stonehenge Guided Tours or Stonehenge and Salisbury Guided Tours

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Stonehenge News: Controversial A303 Tunnel Plan Approved by Transport Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

12 11 2020

A controversial plan to dig a £2.4bn road tunnel near Stonehenge has been approved by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

Decision goes against recommendations of planning officials and is opposed by environmentalists and archaeologists 

The A303, a popular route for motorists travelling to and from the south west, runs within a few hundred metres of the world heritage site.

The plan to build a two-mile (3.2km) tunnel out of sight of the monument was approved despite objections.

Campaigners said it was a “complete violation” and “international scandal”.

Transport minister Andrew Stephenson announced the decision in a written statement to the commons.

Sarah Richards, the Planning Inspectorate’s chief executive, said there had been a “great deal of public interest in this project”.

She said: “A major priority for us over the course of the examination was to ensure that communities who might be affected by this proposal had the opportunity to put forward their views.

In a statement on Thursday, the Planning Inspectorate’s chief executive, Sarah Richards, said: “There has been a great deal of public interest in this project.

“A major priority for us over the course of the examination was to ensure that communities who might be affected by this proposal had the opportunity to put forward their views.

“As always, the Examining Authority gave careful consideration to these before reaching its conclusion.”

Stonehenge Tunnel News Links:
Stonehenge A303 tunnel plan approved by transport secretary – BBC NEWS
Stonehenge tunnel: Government approves controversial bypass near ancient site – THE INDEPENDENT
Transport Secretary approves plans for controversial Stonehenge tunnel – LBC
Tunnel to be built under Stonehenge after getting green light – THE METRO
Stonehenge tunnel plan gets go-ahead from Grant Shapps – MSN
BREAKING NEWS: A303 Stonehenge Tunnel approved by Secretary of State for Transport. – SALISBURY JOURNAL

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Early British Aviation at Stonehenge.

7 11 2020

Eagle-eyed visitors to Stonehenge’s impressive visitor centre will spot the poignant memorial, which is a reminder of the site’s long association with the military, in particular its aviation wing.

The memorial commemorates the site of an early military aviation accident on 5th July 1912, in which Capt Eustace Loraine and his passenger Staff Sgt Richard Wilson became the first members of the newly formed Royal Flying Corps to die while on duty. The memorial stone was moved in 2012 from Airman’s Corner to make way for a roundabout, as part of the access for the new visitor centre.

The area’s connection with aviation took off in the 1880s, when reconnaissance balloons belonging to the Royal Engineers could have been seen ascending over the ancient landscape, alarming locals and livestock. From 1897 the War Office started buying up large tracts of land around Stonehenge. They had been using Salisbury Plain for some time for training exercises. The relatively level area around the stones and its remoteness were just what they needed. The Royal Engineer aeronauts bagged the first drone-style aerial photograph of the famous monument in 1906. Three years later aeroplanes arrived on the plain when the wonderfully-named Horatio Barber, a pioneer aviator, rented a strip of land at Durrington Down (now known as Larkhill) and made test flights. The following year military hangars were constructed there. When the British government realised the military application of aeroplanes the Royal Flying Corps was formed. The air arm of the British Army went on to become the Royal Air Force. In its early days flimsy low-powered biplanes (with a maximum speed of 70 mph) were used for observation, with the co-pilot hanging precariously over the side of the cockpit to take photographs – a hazardous occupation, especially with bullets flying! Casualties and fatalities were high – but 80% were caused by mechanical failure and pilot error. One observer who survived, was the remarkable OGS Crawford, who went on to photograph much of Britain from the air after the First World War – and in doing so revealing many hitherto hidden prehistoric monuments and medieval ‘ghost villages’ hidden beneath the crops except from the air when the conditions were right.  It was Crawford, employed by the Ordnance Survey, who in his aerial surveys, revealed the extent of the Stonehenge Avenue. He worked with fellow archaeologist and marmalade heir Alexander Keiller to conduct an aerial survey of many counties in southern England. Together they raised the finances to secure the land around Stonehenge for The National Trust.

After the devastating bombing raid of summer 1917 by Germany on mainland Britain, when 162 people were killed in a daylight raid in London, the government increased the production of planes, with an especial emphasis on bombers – as war took to the air in a full-blooded way. More airfields were needed for this increased fleet, and Stonehenge was developed as a major aerodrome – in 1917 a 360-acre site was constructed, straddling either side of the A303: one side was the Main (or Day) Camp, the other the Night Camp – the latter was ostensibly for nocturnal missions, but soon both were used, as activity increased. The former RFC training site became the No. 1 School of Aerial Navigation and Bomb Dropping. Handley Page bombers were soon seen rumbling off the airstrip from early 1918 as Britain’s bombing campaign began in earnest. Preparing pilots and spotters for the Western Front, training was intensive and demanding. One of the notorious challenges was known by the airmen as ‘Head in Bag’, which was designed to test a pilot’s ability to fly in a straight line while having their head covered by the observer.

After the Armistice, operations at the Stonehenge aerodrome were slowly wound down, and by 1921 had all but ceased, as concerns for the preservation of the monument and its landscape grew. In 1927 the Stonehenge Protection Committee was set up, and by the early 1930s the aerodrome’s buildings had all been dismantled and removed. And so, military aviation at Stonehenge ceased, except for the occasional fly-by.

So, any who visit Stonehenge, especially around the time of Remembrance Sunday, should pause and spend a moment reflecting on the lives of the brave airmen and personnel who endured hardship, tragedy, and death to keep our skies and coastline safe.

GUEST BLOGGER: Dr Kevan Manwaring is an author, lecturer, and specialist tour-guide. His books include The Long Woman (a novel which features Stonehenge and Avebury) He is a keen walker and loves exploring the ancient landscape of Wiltshire, where he lives with his archaeologist partner

Stonehenge Aviation Links:
First World War Stonehenge Aerodrome | ENGLISH HERITAGE
Stonehenge and Salisbury Military Itinerary – VISIT WILTSHIRE
Stonehenge: Did WW1 Pilots Want the Stones Knocked Down? – BBC
Airman’s Cross | The Accident – THE SARSEN
World War One – The Battle for the Skies – HISTORIC UK
Stonehenge And Salisbury Plain Military History Tour – STONEHENGE TOURS
How Stonehenge site became the world’s largest military training camp – BBC NEWS
Military Commemoration in the Stonehenge Landscape – ARCHAEO DEATH
The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum – SALISBURY MUSEUM
Early military ballooning – RAF MUSEUM
Royal Flying Corps – NATIONAL ARMY MUSEUM
The Army Flying Museum. The Museum holds an extensive collection charting over 100 years of the British Army in the air – MUSEUM
Stonehenge from the Air. Fly over historic Stonehenge and look down upon four thousand years of history from the open cockpit of your Tiger Moth – GoFlyUK
Visit Stonehenge with a specialist guide – STONEHENGE GUIDED TOURS
WWI practice tunnels found under Salisbury Plain – BBC

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Coronavirus: Stonehenge Winter Solstice gathering cancelled by English Heritage.

5 11 2020

Thousands were expected to descend on the ancient monument on the 21st December to celebrate the winter solstice but English Heritage, which manages the site, has cancelled the event following government advice on coronavirus.

The winter solstice is one of the rare occasions that English Heritage normally opens up the stones for public access

Traditionally about 5000 people have gathered at the Neolithic monument in Wiltshire, on or around 21st December, to mark midwinter. English Heritage will be live streaming the winter solstice event for free online. Visit their FACEBOOK page for details

English Heritage Website states:

Winter Solstice sunrise to be live streamed from Stonehenge

Owing to the pandemic, and in the interests of public health, there will be no Winter Solstice gathering at Stonehenge this year. The Winter Solstice sunrise will instead be live-streamed from the stones on the morning of the 21 December. It will be easy and free to watch on the English Heritage social media channels.

We know how appealing it is to come to Stonehenge for Winter Solstice but we are asking everyone to stay safe and to watch the sunrise online instead. We look forward to welcoming people back for solstice next year.

Visit the English Heritage website for more information

The Winter Solstice is traditionally celebrated at Stonehenge around 21st December. Thousands mark the shortest day and longest night.
The exact time of the winter solstice varies each year and it can be on any day from 20st to 23rd December.
The solstice is the point in time when one hemisphere of the planet reaches the point tilted most towards the sun and the other is tilted furthest away. In the northern hemisphere, that gives us the winter solstice in December whilst in the southern hemisphere it is the summer solstice. After the shortest day, the days start getting longer and the nights shorter.
Stonehenge is carefully aligned on a sight-line that points to the winter solstice sunset.

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COVID-19 UPDATE: English Heritage has made the decision to close Stonehenge until 3rd December 2020.

2 11 2020

Due to the coronavirus, English Heritage has said it will be closing Stonehenge until the 3rd December 2020

Statement from English Heritage:

Stonehenge is closed temporarily because we cannot open in a way that is compliant with government guidelines. We look forward to re-opening as soon the restrictions are lifted, and you can still book for visits from Dec 3rd. While we’re closed, we’ll still be bringing you all the fascinating stories of Stonehenge and you can even take our virtual tour from your sofa! https://eht.social/3k3QmJP

If you made a booking that now falls within our closure period, you’ll be automatically refunded within 10 working days. Thank you to everyone who has visited us while we’ve been open, as a charity we really do value your support and we’re looking forward to welcoming you back soon. Stay safe!

English Heritage will be keeping a selection of their sites open for local visitors and Members during November. Please do bear in mind the government’s latest advice on essential journeys when planning your visit.

Find out which places are open and how to book: https://eht.social/32jZVOI

People with pre-booked Stonehenge tickets which are cancelled will be automatically refunded. Vist the English Heriteage Face Book page for more details.

Official Guidance for Heritage Locations 

Some heritage locations can still be visited because they are outside, as long as the current social distancing rules are observed. These include historic parks, gardens, landscapes, and ruins and monuments open to the elements, even where these are paid-for attractions. You should only visit them with:

  • the people you live with
  • your support bubble
  • or, when on your own, one person from another household

Children under five, as well as disabled people dependent on round-the-clock care, are not counted towards the limit on two people meeting outside.

Roofed historic buildings and fully-enclosed spaces will be closed, although their attached grounds, including car parks, toilets and outdoor play areas, can remain open. 

U.K National restrictions begin in England from 5th November. Find out about the new restrictions and what you can and cannot do. Until 5th November, follow the local restrictions for your area.

In the mean time Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest Stonehenge news and daily photos. You can also view the ‘sky above Stonehenge’ on their live English Heritage Skyscape website.

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