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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Summer Discoveries at Stonehenge Stone Circle

13 09 2013

Two ditches belonging to the Stonehenge Avenue buried beneath the modern roadbed of the A344 have been uncovered during works to decommission the road as part of English Heritage’s project to transform the setting and visitor experience of Stonehenge.

The two ditches represent either side of The Avenue, a long linear feature to the north-east of Stonehenge

The Avenue, severed by the A344, will be reconnected to Stonehenge soon

The Avenue, severed by the A344, will be reconnected to Stonehenge soon

linking it with the River Avon. It has long been considered as the formal processional approach to the monument and is aligned with the solstice axis of Stonehenge. But its connection with Stonehenge had been severed by the A344 for centuries as the road cut through the delicate earthwork at an almost perpendicular angle.

The two ditches were found in excavations undertaken by Wessex Archaeology in their expected positions near to the Heel Stone, about 24 metres from the entrance to monument.

                                                  

Missing Piece in the Jigsaw

Heather Sebire, properties curator and archaeologist at English Heritage, said: “The part of the Avenue that was cut through by the road has obviously been destroyed forever, but we were hopeful that archaeology below the road would survive.  And here we have it – the missing piece in the jigsaw.  It is very exciting to find a piece of physical evidence that officially makes the connection which we were hoping for.”

Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust Archaeologist for the World Heritage Site, said “This is a once in several life time’s opportunity to investigate the Avenue beneath the old road surface.  It has enabled us to confirm with total certainty for the first time that Stonehenge and its Avenue were once linked and will be so again shortly.”

The Avenue is difficult to identify on the ground but is clearly visible on aerial photographs. Once the A344 has been restored to grass in the summer of 2014, interpretation features will be put in place to clearly mark out the solstice alignment to enable visitors to appreciate the position of the Avenue and its intimate connection with and significance to Stonehenge.

                                                         

Parchmarks discovered at Stonehenge by staff Simon Banton and Timothy Daw © Simon Banton/English Heritage

Parchmarks discovered at Stonehenge by staff Simon Banton and Timothy Daw
© Simon Banton/English Heritage

Parchmarks at the Stone Circle

The recent prolonged spell of dry weather has also led to some exciting discoveries within the stone circle. Two eagle-eyed members of staff spotted some dry areas of grass, or parchmarks, amongst the stone circle in July. After investigation by English Heritage experts they seem to be positions of three holes where stones 17, 18 and 19 might have stood on the south-west side of the outer sarsen circle.

Susan Greaney, senior properties historian at English Heritage, said: “There is still debate among archaeologists whether Stonehenge was a full or incomplete circle, and the discovery of these holes for missing stones has strengthened the case for it being a full circle, albeit uneven and less perfectly formed in the south-west quadrant.”

NOTE: This story as reported in the Guardian on 9 September contains a number of inaccuracies. The article, including the headline, failed to distinguish between fact and interpretation, and presented one expert’s view as established fact. It also gives the impression that the expert’s view has been adopted by English Heritage. This is very confusing. English Heritage is firmly of the view that Stonehenge was built as a prehistoric temple aligned with the movements of the sun, contrary to what was implied in the article.

Professor Mike Parker Pearson’s theory about the naturally formed ridges is interesting, but is by no means established. English Heritage’s role was to record any archaeology that survived under the A344 and present the results of the recent discoveries clearly to the public. English Heritage’s interpretation of Stonehenge in general will be presented at the new visitor centre due to open in December 2013.

Article Source from English Heritage: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/about/news/summer-discoveries-stonehenge/

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