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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Events at Stonehenge: Up Close

4 01 2015

Stonehenge: Up Close

Gain a rare and fascinating insight into the famous World Heritage Site with an exclusive tour around the site led by one of English Heritage’s experts. The event starts with exclusive early morning access to the stone circle at Stonehenge accompanied by our expert.

Stonehenge Landscape

Following a light breakfast, we will then go on to explore key archaeological sites including Durrington Walls, Woodhenge and The Cursus to learn more about the archaeological landscape and investigate work that has taken place in recent years.

There is plenty of walking, sometimes over uneven ground on this tour, so we have graded it as moderate access.

15th January 2015 SOLD OUT
9th February 2015 SOLD OUT
9th March 2015

Heaven and Earth Tours
Special evening bookable tour learning about the stars and planetary movements and how early man may have utilised them.

24th January 2015
21st February 2015

How to Book
Tickets are available to purchase by calling the English Heritage dedicated ticket sales team on 0370 333 1183. (Mon-Fri 8.30am – 5.30pm, Sat 9am – 5pm) Visit their website here

There are tour operators who offer special access trips and include transport from London.  Visit Wiltshire have links to local tour operators offering inner circle tours from Salisbury

Merlin at Stonehenge
The Stonehenge News Blog





Heaven and Earth Stonehenge Access Tour

18 11 2014

A special early evening bookable tour, learning about the stars and planetary movements and how early man may have utilised them. Over 12’s only, under 16’s to be accompanied by an adult.

stonehenge-stars1This event is next Saturday (to include a special access visit to the stones), all about the stars and planetary movements and how early man may have utilised them.

Each person is required to bring a torch.

How to Book: Call the English Heritage customer services team to book : 0870 3331183

November 22nd is also the ‘New Moon: In astronomy, new moon is the first phase of the Moon, when it orbits closest to the Sun in the sky as seen from the Earth. More precisely, it is the instant when the Moon and the Sun have the same ecliptical longitude. The Moon is not always visible at this time except when it is seen in silhouette during a solar eclipse or illuminated by earthshine. See the article on phases of the Moon for further details

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge News Blog





Inside Stonehenge – From Rubble to Riches

15 06 2013

When dealing with prehistory (before the written word) arguments will abound as to ‘who, when and why’, and no more so than the famous monument on Salisbury Plain, the circle of stones known the world over as Stonehenge. 5,000 years ago, give or take a decade, work began here with an initial earth bank and ditch with some form of wooden structure within. Debate continues as to what exactly was placed within the earth circle and further debates are put forward about the various phases of constructing the stone circle, where the stones came from and the importance of the Moon and Sun in the process of worship at the site. For a lot of day trippers it’s Stonehenge’s iconical status that brings them here in their thousands whether they are familiar with the documentaries churned out by travel channels, read Tess of the D’Urbervilles or have watched National Lampoon’s European Vacation.

Stonehenge inner circle tourMost visitors will arrive by private car, organised tour bus or public transport. In the latter case the local Wilts and Dorset bus service provides an easy link with Salisbury railway station and connections from London and other parts of Britain. Most people feel they’ve ‘done’ Stonehenge in an hour. For some, there is surprisingly little else around and the visitor centre itself seems inadequate for the amount of tourists that travel here. There is a good explanation for that – it’s a sensitive site. It isn’t always possible, nor often allowed, to create large permanent structures such as a restaurant and museum in an area where evidence of Neolithic and Bronze age cultures lay buried within every square foot of ground. Discussions have been under way for over a decade as to improving the site, building a visitor centre a mile east near the main road and burying that very road under a two mile tunnel. These discussions continue. [April 2010 update – a new Visitor Centre is planned, and should be open by summer 2012.] You can find out more about Stonehenge, and see important collections from the World Heritage Site, at Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes and Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum.]

For the time being visitors will have to make do with very little shelter if the weather proves inclement. Restrooms (including disabled) are available at the foot of the car park and there are others at top of the car park to the right of the entrance, before one walks down the ramp to purchase tickets. These are accessible by going down steps. Before heading down to the ticket booth, two stones are standing to the left. The smaller one is a Bluestone (Dolerite) used in first phase of stone circle building at Stonehenge and possibly from the Preselli Mountains in South Wales. The larger one is a Sarsen (Quartzite Sandstone) used in the later phase of construction. These sample stones are not taken from the circle and you are able to stand next to, touch or drape yourself across them for photographic purposes. Down at the foot of the ramp is the ticket kiosk and a small cafe. Only a somewhat limited collection of outdoor seating is provided, complete with flocks of starlings ready to swoop down on any crumb or morsel dropped by a hungry day tripper. Cheese and bacon scones, rock cakes, ice cream and hot and cold drinks are available. As the site has a captive audience sandwiches are priced higher than the average shop, ditto the plastic cups of grapes or strawberries.

The gift shop is only available to those that have paid the entrance fee and entered the site. Here you can purchase calendars, books, paperweights, fridge magnets, T-shirts and all things of a Neolithic nature.

A free audio tour for paying visitors is available but during summer weekends they can be hard to get hold of, especially if you find yourself arriving just after a couple of coach loads of day visitors from London sandwiching Stonehenge between a morning at Windsor Castle and an afternoon in Bath. Access to the inner circle is available prior to the main site opening or just after closure. Arrangements for a ‘Special Access’ visit can be made through English Heritage or one of London’s day trip tour companies that pre-book inner circle visits on a daily basis. Other than that regular visitors are kept behind a small rope fence, which helps keep other tourists from walking in front of that all important shot.

While circumnavigating the site and listening to the audio tour one may be left wondering how many people visit this site and pay their £6 to get in. 800,000 people, rising to possibly one million by the end of the decade, make the journey to Stonehenge every year boosting the turnover of English Heritage and helping the conservation of other historically important places. One may also be left wondering, what if someone wrote down “today I’m going to build one of the best stone circles in the country” would we still be debating the purpose and timeline of this impressive site?

Full article: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Travel-g528762-d188527/Amesbury:United-Kingdom:Stonehenge.html

Stonehenge








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