Stone Circle (“Special”) Access

20 08 2017

Before 1978 you were free to walk around inside the stone circle at Stonehenge once you’d paid your admission fee. The lack of any guards overnight meant people also hopped the fence once the site had closed.

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Stonehenge at dawn.  A special access ‘inner circle’ visit at sunrise.

Finally, in response to the over 800,000 annual visitors, access was restricted. An article entitled “Heritage Under Siege” in New Scientist (Sept 27th, 1979) reports the Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings as saying:

“The whole problem of Stonehenge is numbers … all through the year. What menaces Stonehenge are the millions of feet (and hands) of the ordinary visitors.”

… and continues:

“An archaeologist calculated that if each visitor walked around the central area just twice during his or her visit, the effect would be the same as having one man standing on each square foot inside the ring and jumping up and down on that spot 62 times every day throughout the year.”

After March 1978, everyone was banned from inside the circle – including archaeologists and other researchers, much to their annoyance. Department of the Environment officials said that the plans to allow out-of-hours access to “those with a special interest” had to be abandoned because the custodians were unwilling to work overtime. And so it remained for a long time.

Eventually things changed and these days it’s possible to book to go inside the stone circle on what is called a “Stone Circle Access” or “Special Access” visit. These are one-hour long slots before and after the monument is open to the public during the day, and a maximum of 30 people are allowed inside at a time.

You can book as an individual, or via a tour company who may (or may not) provide a well-informed guide to show you some of the hidden features that you might otherwise miss.

Once inside, if the light’s right you can pick out some of the hundreds of examples of wrencarved initials and names on the stones. One of them might even be that of Christopher Wren – a local lad who made good and went on to design the new St. Paul’s Cathedral after the Great Fire of London in 1666.

One thing that a lot of people fail to notice is the sound of the place – there’s a definite sense of entering into an enclosed, peaceful space a soon as you come in through the primary entrance beneath the central lintel of the three on the northeast side of the circle.

It’s only when you’re up really close to the monument that the epic scale of the stones really strikes you – the tallest one is over 7m from grass to top, and there’s a further 2.5m in the ground. Weighing in at over 40 tons it’s a beautifully shaped monolith that was part of the tallest trilithon on the site. Sadly its partner upright fell and broke long ago, leaving the lintel they both supported lying on its side in the southwest part of the central area.

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The bluestones, though much smaller than the sarsens, are still impressive rocks – the tallest one stands leaning in front of the highest sarsen stone and has a wide groove worked all the way down one edge. No-one knows why.

There are a few rules – no standing on the stones, no touching them, no smoking – but apart from that you’re free to wander around and properly appreciate both the enormity of the large sarsen blocks, the elegance of the bluestone pillars and the ingenuity of the builders who created the monument over 4,500 years ago.

If you have the chance, by far the best way to see Stonehenge is through a Stone Circle Access visit.  

Stonehenge Guided Tours pioneered these Stonehenge access tours and offer frequent scheduled coach tours at sunrise and sunset. They can often arrange private custom inner circle tours with expert guides.  The Stonehenge Travel Company are based in nearby Salisbury and are considered the local Stonehenge experts.
Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

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The Stones of Stonehenge. A new web site with a page devoted to each stone at Stonehenge.

11 02 2015

Strange as it may seem, there isn’t a useful reference work that shows photographs of every stone at Stonehenge from all (easily) available angles, until now.  The website is a work in progress toward that end. Not all stones currently have pages, but eventually they will have.

Stone Numbering System

The numbering system for the stones is that devised by W.M. Flinders Petrie in the late 19th century and which is still in use

Heel Stone

The HeelStone (or HeleStone or HealStone) is a natural stone that has not been worked or tooled.

by researchers and archaeologists to this day.

Petrie carried out one of the first highly (and dependably) accurate surveys of Stonehenge and decided that all previous systems of numbering the stones were inadequate in one way or another.
He resolved to number the stones in ascending order clockwise from the main axis of the monument and beginning with the sarsen immediately to the east of the axis in the outer circle as seen from the centre. This is Stone 1. All the actual and supposed positions of sarsen stones are numbered, whether or not there is a stone (or fragment of stone) at or near the position.
The horizontal lintels of the outer sarsen circle are numbered by adding 100 to the number for the higher of the two uprights that support each one. So the lintel supported by Stones 4 and 5 is numbered 105, and that supported by Stones 21 and 22 is numbered 122.
There is a single exception to this rule for the lintel spanning Stones 30 and 1 across the main entrance into the monument which is numbered 101 rather than 130. This is because the number 130 is already in use for the neighbouring lintel that is supported by Stones 29 and 30.
The bluestones of the circle within the sarsen circle are similarly numbered clockwise from the main axis beginning with Stone 31. In the case of the bluestones, Petrie did not assign numbers to the supposed positions of any that are missing.
The sarsens in the horseshoe of massive trilithons are numbered clockwise starting from Stone 51 round to Stone 60. Their respective five lintels (or “imposts” as Petrie called these huge lintels) are numbered 152, 154, 156, 158 and 160.
The bluestones of the innermost horseshoe arrangement are numbered clockwise from Stone 61.
The Altar Stone is Stone 80. The two remaining Station Stones outside the circle are numbered 91 (eastern stone) and 93 (western stone). Station Stones 92 and 94 are missing. The Slaughter Stone is Stone 95 and the Heel Stone is Stone 96.
Fragments of stones which are clearly associated with each other are given alphabetical indices, for example Stones 55a and 55b are the two parts of the broken fallen sarsen upright of the Great Trilithon.

Image credit:

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge News Blog








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