Ticking Stonehenge off your bucket list.

30 11 2019

For people across the world- Stonehenge is a must see location, it’s majesty as well as it’s mystery has made it a mainstay on everyone’s bucket list. 

Stonehenge sunset

However, here lies the problem. Is Stonehenge merely a pretty collection of stones which need only be sited to be ticked off the list? There is no doubt that the site itself, taken as it is, is fulfilling. However- the occasion of ticking such a magnificent and ancient spectacle off a list of things to do on this earth before you die, should be done properly. The site and the whole surrounding area deserve more than tentative voyeurism. To truly ‘tick off’ Stonehenge, one must engage with its history its myths and crucially observe the entire  surrounding area which is a veritable tapestry of Neolithic history. A tapestry which considered in its entirety enriches the ultimate site to see- Stonehenge itself. 

I want to take you on a preliminary journey around Neolithic Wiltshire’s most fascinating sites- all a walking distance from the stones, which an expert guide can take you on for a holistic experience- Weaving together the history and myth of this most beautiful landscape.

On ground level-  you and the stones in front of you, it is hard to appreciate anything else. However, imagine you could fly straight up in the air and take a birds eye view- looking down on the ancient henge and its famous stones- so they are a wonderful miniature series of concentric circles…

…then go higher and take in more and more of the landscape and you’ll notice the ground is littered with meaningful scars- tell tale signs that the entire area surrounding Stonehenge has been heaving with meaning for 5,000 years. 

Luckily the wonder of the modern day means we needn’t defy gravity to appreciate the Neolithic saturation of the landscape- a simple satellite picture reveals all the key location you need to visit.

stonehenge-map

Durrington Walls 

Starting 2 miles east of the stones with Durrington walls. This was once a Neolithic settlement and may have even been the largest village in Northern Europe sometime between 2800-2100 B.C.

Woodhenge 

Heading immediately south from Durrington walls we soon will encounter Woodhenge, the elemental antithesis of Stonehenge itself. Sadly, due to the nature of wood,  the former structure has long since rotted away. This ancient site may well have been lost forever if it wasn’t for aerial photographs which revealed dark spots in wheat crops. These dark spots signalled the former post holes of large wooden posts which formed the ancient structure. Today the post holes have been filled with concrete to partially recreate the previous composition of woodhenge. It represents a magnificent symbiosis of past and present, modern techniques ensuring the survival of ancient monuments and their memory and preserve the heritage of Wiltshire .

The Cursus

Around 4000 years ago from our aerial view the Cursus would have been a bright white scar across the land, thanks to wiltshires famously chalky ground. In the Neolithic period the cursus was a 3k avenue cut into the earth for an unknown purpose.

The cursus is so named because the famous antiquarian William Stuckley and the Cursus’ discoverer- imagined roman chariots riding along its length (cursus meaning race course in Latin). Although the earth is no longer dredged along the cursus it still makes a fascinating route to wander along and to ponder, with its purpose still not totally understood

The Cursus group

At the west end of the cursus you might expect to get a good view of the Stonehenge- however your view is blocked. Instead you  are met with the curious view of a ridge of land, topped with a barrow; a Neolithic burial mound. Between the west end of the Cursus and Stonehenge itself lie the ‘Cursus Group’ an assortment of sixteen  of these Neolithic round barrows. The land literally bulges with history at this point- on top of the ridge you can see the land ripple with various barrows as you survey it- before your eyes are drawn magnetically to the stones themselves. But before you reach them it is fascinating to hear the tales of the barrows, how they had once concealed pottery, weaponry and even jewels for thousands of years.

Beyond tales of treasures it is edifying for those who wander the mounds to ponder their ancient logic- for there certainly appears to be a system- but it is yet to be determined. 

Stonehenge Avenue

Heading East from the swollen turf of the Cursus barrows you will intersect the penultimate Neolithic wonder of our imaginary tour. Like the Cursus, Stonehenge Avenue is an ancient Avenue, stretching for 3 kilometres. And like the cursus Stonehenge Avenue would have been an brilliant white scar on the earth- an alabaster pathway connecting Stonehenge with the river Avon. 

Today the avenue is still recognisable, If a slightly more furtive path then it once was but is nonetheless the pathway to the enigmatic stones, linking up with the henge as though drawn on by a higher being.

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Photo taken by Stonehenge Dronescapes. Visit their Facebook Page for more amazing photos of Stonehenge and Wiltshire.

Stonehenge Stone Circle

At last you reach the stones themselves. The colossal upright sarsen stones, rendering you minuscule in comparison- whilst the horizontal blue stones, quarried from South Wales, add the real dimension of wonder to this wonder of the world. The stones are the crowning sight to this antiquarian tour of Wiltshire’s Neolithic sights. 

Words can hardly to this magnificent structure justice and it really must be beheld to be appreciated. What is certain is that the truest appreciation of this cultural icon is ascertained through a thorough engagement with its surroundings- appreciating the wider history and indeed mystery of the land and truly attempting to cast your mind back to the remote past; ticking Stonehenge off your bucket list in the process.

Relevant Stonehenge Links:
English Heritage – Interactive Maps of the Stonehenge Landscape – click here
Stonehenge Guided Tours – The Stonehenge Touring Experts – click here
National Trust – The Stonehenge Landscape – click here
Stonehenge – Neolithic / Bronze Age Henge and Stone Circle. Click here
Salisbury and Stonehenge Guided Tours – The local megalithic tour operator – click here
Stonehenge Dronescapesclick here

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LECTURE: The Stonehenge Landscape – 31st January

24 01 2015

There will be a lecture by Sharon Soutar of English Heritage at Devizes Town Hall, Wiltshire, England from 2:30 pm on Saturday, 31 January 2015.  

20141227_083502With the construction of the new Visitor Centre at Airman’s Corner it was vital that Stonehenge and its surrounding landscape were re-presented with the fullest and most up-to-date information available. Fantastic as it may seem very few of the monuments, not even Stonehenge itself, had been surveyed to modern standards. To rectify this English Heritage set up a project to significantly enhance the record and understanding of all upstanding archaeological monuments within the World Heritage Site. The fieldwork was conducted between 2009 and 2012 and the book is nearing publication, while a number of research reports on the different areas are available through the website (see below).

The fieldwork covered just over 15% of the World Heritage Site in detail. It included Stonehenge, the Greater Cursus and all of the principal barrow cemeteries and incorporated sites later in date, such as the medieval settlement earthworks at Lake. English Heritage surveyed almost half of the known or suspected round barrows within the WHS; nearly all of those surviving as earthworks. At the same time colleagues looked at the historic buildings, added high resolution Ground Penetrating Radar [GPR] to complement earlier geophysical surveys and took new photography of the landscape and artefacts found within it. ~English Heritage also commissioned a laser scan of the stones and surrounding henge.

Sharon will describe some of the important discoveries resulting from the project and take a look at the more surprising aspects of the field archaeology in the Stonehenge landscape.

Sharon is a landscape archaeologist specialising in the survey and visualisation of heritage landscapes and data; from maps and site plans right through to infographics. After a number of years interpreting and mapping archaeology visible in aerial photographs and lidar data for different parts of England she was lucky enough to join the team investigating the Stonehenge WHS landscape.

The project webpage is: www.english-heritage.org.uk/professional/research/landscapes-and-areas/archaeological-field-survey-and-investigation/stonehenge-landscape/

The project monograph is due for publication in the spring of 2015:
Bowden, M.C.B., Soutar, S., Field, D.J. and Barber, M.J. forthcoming. The Stonehenge Landscape. Swindon: EH.

The 1:10,000 scale map – Stonehenge and Avebury: Exploring the World Heritage Site is available in our shop www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/stonehenge-avebury-map

The various Research Department Reports are available through: research.english-heritage.org.uk

Booking:

Essential. To contact us, either:
* Tel: 01380 727369 to book and pay using credit/debit card (Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm preferred)
* Send an e-mail
Visit the Wiltshire Museum website: http://www.wiltshiremuseum.org.uk/events/index.php?Action=2&thID=972&prev=1

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