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

Relevant Stonehenge Links:
Stonehenge and other stone monuments were probably used for special moonlit ceremonies. STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


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.

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 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 – 

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:
The Rebirth of the Sun: the Winter Solstice at Stonehenge – Click here
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
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!

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:

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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Forest of the Sarsens: birthplace of Stonehenge

29 10 2020

An amazing archaeological survey confirms West Woods as ‘the most likely source area for the sarsens at Stonehenge’, a connection long anticipated by 16th Century antiquaries and more recent megalithic investigators.

West Woods, a handsome sweep of beech woods sweeping off of the Marlborough Downs, were originally part of the Royal Hunting Forest of Savernake, until the bounds were altered in 1330. It is bisected by the mysterious Wansdyke earthwork – a ditch which runs to the edge of Bristol and was possibly a demarcation of the southern extremity of the Danelaw. This runs the length of the woods – half hidden beneath the stately canopy of beech trees like Kipling’s ‘Way Through the Woods’. On the southern edge, near Clatford Farm, there stands a long barrow. Bronze Age microliths have been found, and the woods have long been a source of charcoal. These days it is popular with walkers, cyclists, and runners – with two trails: the Wansdyke Path and the White Horse Trail, wending their way through it.

          It was in the midst of the summer lockdown this year that a remarkable discovery occurred – one that had long been intuited (as early as the 16th Century by the antiquarian, William Lambarde) and investigated by modern antiquarians like Hugh Newman, Nicholas Cope and Andrew Collins, for it is common knowledge that the area north of West Woods – up Clatford Bottom to the Downs, is festooned with sarsens, or ‘grey wethers’ (as they were referred to locally, due to their resemblances to grazing sheep – especially on a misty day). The remarkable clustering of glacial erratic that line the dry valley below the Ridgeway, Julian Cope named the ‘Mother’s Jam’. To behold it is to see the workshop of Avebury – Stonehenge’s sister site. To wander amongst them is to wonder what vision inspired the stone circle builders to attempt to move and fashion them with such colossal skill and effort.

          From a sample of 20 potential sites ranging from Norfolk to Devon, the team (Nash, Ciborowski, Ullyott, Parker Pearson, Darvill, Greaney, Maniatis, Whitaker) discovered that the stones of West Woods matched most closely the core sample originally taken from Stonehenge in 1958 and lost until 2018. Five other sites covering the sarsen fields were also surveyed all the way up the ‘valley of the stones’ (as I call it), but at West Woods the team struck gold.

          During a recent visit to the woods – one after heavy rain – the extreme slipperiness of the soil was noted. This seems to be an especial quality of the chalk – as anyone who has walked the Ridgeway would know – and it is tempting to speculate that it lended itself to the transportation of the massive sarsens (some weighing up to 30 tonnes). Although a huge amount of man power would have been required to pull the sarsens along, once traction was achieved, the slipperiness of the chalk (kept wet if not by nature, then by much ‘donkey work’) would have done the rest. Sliding the sarsens along a smooth muddy channel – whether on a raft, rollers, or rushes – would be a lot easier than trying to move their dead-weight over rough ground. As with the theory of a hovertrain – do away with friction and you can go so much faster.

          One also needs to consider the hollow way that descends from West Woods, then over the Wansdyke past Knap Hill down into the Vale of Pewsey – and, pre-canal, days, all the way to Salisbury Plain… straight to Durrington, with its workers’ camp, where the sarsens were dressed before floating up the Avon to the Avenue. This is the most direct route still.

          A distance of 25 km as the crow flies is still considerable, but not impossible – and you don’t need Merlin’s magic to move the sarsens either!

          So, West Woods becomes part of the Stonehenge landscape and legendarium – and is worth a visit any time of the year, as a place of sylvan beauty and a special atmosphere all of its own. The stones would pre-date the existence of such a forest (although wildwood existed, it would have been more likely scrubby heathland, especially when humans started to settle down in the area, requiring timber for firewood, fencing, building materials, and wood-henges, like the one at the Sanctuary, near Avebury, and the other at Durrington), but something of the Neolithic mystery of the place has been absorbed by the beeches. In the Celtic ogham tree-alphabet, Phagos, relates to learning – and etymologically ‘beech’ and ‘book’ are connected. Beech bark was used as an early form of parchment. And so, in a way, a beech wood is a kind of library. Who knows what other secret knowledge it stores, awaiting the curious?

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), Lost Islands, Turning the Wheel: seasonal Britain on two wheels, Desiring Dragons, Oxfordshire Folk Tales, Northamptonshire Folk Tales, and more. He is a keen walker and loves exploring the ancient landscape of Wiltshire, where he lives with his archaeologist partner.  

Origins of the sarsen megaliths at Stonehenge – SCIENCE ADVANCES
The Stonehenge sarsens — did they come from Overton Down / West Woods? On this evidence, probably they did. THE SARSEN
The Sarsens of the West Woods – STONEHENGE MONUMENT BLOG
Megalithic Specialist Tour Operator. STONEHENGE GUIDED TOURS
Stonehenge: The Sarsens Originated from West Woods, Wiltshire – SCIENTIFIC EUROPEAN
Archaeologists discover likely source of Stonehenge’s giant sarsen stones – THE GUARDIAN
Stonehenge: Mystery of where giant rocks came from SOLVED as scientists pinpoint exact Wiltshire wood – THE SUN
Visit Stonehenge, Durrington Walls, Woodhenge and West Woods with a private guided tour from Salisbury – THE STONEHENGE TRAVEL COMPANY

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Stonehenge Myths: Aliens

20 10 2020

One of the more out-of-this-world theories that coalesce around Stonehenge is that it was built by aliens, or is in some way connected with extra-terrestrial intelligence. 

Does this look like an alien ship? ‘Flying saucer’ UFO is captured hovering over Stonehenge, claim conspiracy theorists

Although easy for most of a critical persuasion to dismiss or even to scoff at as an example of the credulity of some people on a par with the Flat Earth Society, the association is worthy of discussion for the very fact it exists as one star in a whole constellation of theories which the world-famous site has attracted. The alien theory has arisen through a combination of factors:

  • The paucity of written records about the purpose of Stonehenge, originating as it did in 3 phases over a 1500 year period from 3100-1600 BCE in the Neolithic.
  • The association of monoliths and stone circles with extra-terrestrial life in popular culture (e.g. Captain Kirk and co. leaping through a supersized Men-an-Tol in the 1967 Star Trek episode, ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’;  the mysterious monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s film of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which turns out to be a galactic portal; the stone circle of ‘Milbury’ – filmed in and based on Stonehenge’s sister site of Avebury – in the 70s childrens’ classic TV serial, Children of the Stones, which turns out to be conduit for sinister alien intelligences from beyond a black hole).
  • The ‘ancient astronaut’ theory perpetuated by Eric Von Daniken in his 1968 cult classic book, Chariot of the Gods, and by ‘alternative history’ authors such as Graham Hancock since. In a nutshell, Von Daniken’s hypothesis is based upon misinterpretations of Mayan iconography, and selective ‘mysterious’ landmarks around the world (e.g. Nazca lines) in a classic example of confirmation bias.
The phenomenon of strange lights witnessed at Stonehenge and ancient sites

Augmenting this already potent stew we have also factor in the historical fact that Salisbury Plain has had over a century of early, experimental aviation – with some of the first test flights taking place (sometimes with catastrophic consequences, as the memorial to two tragically killed early airmen by the Stonehenge Visitor Centre attest). A squadron of the embryonic Royal Air Force, the Royal Flying Corps, was based close to Stonehenge – indeed so close, that at one point the pulling down of the iconic stones was proposed because they were considered a flying hazard to the low-flying, low-powered aircraft. Much of Salisbury Plain is owned by the Ministry of Defence. It is crisscrossed by a network of tank tracks, and sections of it are still occasionally closed off for firing practice. Not far from Stonehenge is Porton Down, home of a biological testing centre. The deserted village of Imber, evacuated by the MOD for use in preparation for D-Day, became an Urban Warfare Unit – access is allowed only once a year for a special service in the church, but the villagers were never allowed back. So it is not surprising that with covert military operations, ghost villages, and frequent reports of unexplained lights in the sky, that the area around Stonehenge is in effect a British ‘Area 51’.

‘UFO’ snapped hovering over Stonehenge being probed by alien investigators

 The phenomenon of strange lights witnessed at ancient sites – stone circles in particular – is well-documented by the likes of Paul Deveraux, who suggests that these ‘earthlights’ are a result of geomagnetic pressures which the stone monuments of the ancient were expressly designed to somehow channel. Anyone who has photographed such places only to find their shots populated by distinctive orbs would no doubt agree that there is something there. It is tempting to think that these lights may have at one time been the cause of cautionary folklore and folk tales about the so-called ‘little people’ commonly believed to be connected with such liminal places, and with a shift into the technological paradigm of the 20th Century, these were reframed as ‘little green men’ instead, especially after the Post-War advent of Atomic testing and explosion in UFO sightings in the heights of the Cold War paranoia. When one surveys the Stonehenge landscape and beholds ‘saucer’ barrows and enigmatic lines in the land (e.g. the 1.9 mile long Cursus) it is all too easy to get carried away. It is perhaps no coincidence that the heavy usage of psychedelics at Stonehenge, especially during the dozen years of the Stonehenge Free Festival, has helped sear into the consciousness of many a stoned pilgrim the possibility of an alien presence or even purpose behind the immemorial monument.  For these the sarsens became interstellar portals and like a lysergically-influenced astronaut, it would be easy to exclaim with some earnestness: ‘My God, it’s full of stars.’

Whatever the various factors which have led to the myth that ‘aliens built Stonehenge’, or that it is some kind of star gate, and however fanciful such notions might seem, we cannot rule out entirely the possibility the existence of extra-terrestrial life – for in an infinite universe all things are possible. To lockdown the numinous, the magical, and the mysterious with a reductive empiricism is missing the point of such sites – which were surely designed with some wish to instil awe and wonder into their beholders. Nothing that took 1500 years to build is going to be purely practical. It was an act of faith over several generations. And, as Shakespeare said: ‘They are more things in Heaven and Earth … than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’

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), Lost Islands, Turning the Wheel: seasonal Britain on two wheels, Desiring Dragons, Oxfordshire Folk Tales, Northamptonshire Folk Tales, and more. He is a keen walker and loves exploring the ancient landscape of Wiltshire, where he lives with his archaeologist partner.  

*7 Ancient Sites Some People Think Were Built by Aliens – NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
*’UFO’ snapped hovering over Stonehenge being probed by alien investigators – THE EXPRESS
*Weird Wiltshire Day Trip. U.K Crop Circle Tours – STONEHENGE GUIDED TOURS
*Giant crop circle appears in field next to Stonehenge just before Summer Solstice – SOMERSET LIVE
*Black ‘flying saucer’ UFO is pictured hovering over Stonehenge – THE METRO
*Has UK’s biggest mass UFO sighting case finally been solved? – THE EXPRESS
*Ancient Aliens: The Purpose of Stonehenge – HISTORY.COM
*Stonehenge was ‘alien construction site’ or eerie ‘ancient burial ground’ – most bizarre conspiracy theories revealed – THE SUN
*UFO over Stonehenge? U.K. releases trove of X-files – CBS NEWS
The Mystery of Stonehenge, Ancient Petroglyphs and Crop Circles – ANCIENT ORIGINS

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