Sunday, August 11, 2013

Why You Should Skip Stonehenge

To some, what I am about to say will be sacrilege. I am going to tell you why you shouldn't bother visiting that ultimate image of old Britain: Stonehenge. Yes, I've been there and yes, I had a wonderful time, but would I recommend it?


Better here than in the flesh?
In a perfect world, this would be your trip to Stonehenge, and incidentally, this is how my visit went. Arrive in Amesbury the night before and find somewhere to stay. Enjoy a pleasant meal ... ok this did NOT happen for us. We ended up at a Little Chef in the pouring rain eating sausage and mashed potato flakes that floated in a pool of greasy gravy while the woman at the next table changed her baby's diaper on the dining table and then threw the dirty diaper on the floor next to us so she could finish her meal!

But back to your ideal trip... enjoy a pleasant meal and retire for the night. The next morning you awake, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Having stayed so close to the Stonehenge site, you are the first to get there, and enjoy a peaceful half hour wandering among the stones, taking in the peace of the Salisbury Plains, before departing as the first tourist coaches arrive for the day.

We were lucky.

Here is how your day is more likely to go:

You stay in London, or perhaps the New Forest the night before. You wake, have a relaxed breakfast, and head to Salisbury. Several miles away, you suddenly stop, bogged down in traffic. Rush hour, perhaps? Nope. Stonehenge traffic. Forget looking at your map for an alternative route. If you are visiting in peak season, the roads are all backed up for several miles as tourists slow down to gawp, take pictures, and, if they're lucky, eventually reach the entrance to the parking lot. Locals must hate their daily commute with a passion.

Once you reach the site, you will be faced with a parking fee. If you pay to go into the attraction, this fee will be discounted off your ticket price. But the purpose of the fee is clearly to make sure that even those who want to stop, snap a picture, and maybe buy a souvenir without going in, still pay their share. So you decide to go in. You will pay what is really quite an exorbitant fee - £8 for adults - to see some rocks. Now don't get me wrong - Stonehenge is beautiful and historically significant, but it's much more beautiful on the postcards. Once you've paid your money, you realize that you are surrounded by hundreds of other tourists, all trying to get their pictures taken. Oh, and remember those images of it standing on an isolated plain? There are major roads running either side of the site. Peaceful reflection has been replaced by commercialism and hordes of people.

Where to go instead?


Just a couple of miles down the road (but in the opposite direction of the Stonehenge-seeking traffic) is the far less well-known Woodhenge. Obviously the original wood has long since rotted away, to be replaced by concrete markers, and it is not as impressive visually as its stoney cousin. However, it is much more complete in layout, is virtually tourist free, offers wonderful views of the surrounding countryside, and is free.

Old Sarum
From there, head another couple of miles toward Salisbury for another English Heritage-owned site - Old Sarum. Entry is less than half the price of Stonehenge but I find the ruins of the fort much more interesting. The site once housed an Iron Age fort, which over the years, was rebuilt by Romans, Saxons, and Normans. In addition to viewing the remains of the castle which once stood here, you can also see the foundations of the area's original cathedral (while looking down at the more modern 12th century Salisbury Cathedral).

Foundations of the original cathedral
There are plenty of walking trails in and around the fort, offering stunning views on all sides.

Looking down across Salisbury and the Cathedral (home of the Magna Carta)

So ultimately, you could have a stressful time reaching an overcrowded and overpriced tourist attraction, or you could spend a few hours in a more relaxed, but just as interesting setting.

I know which one I'd choose.

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree Fiona! My Mum lives down the road from Stonehenge... so we have found various routes around it so we don't get caught in the snarled up traffic. It is a NIGHTMARE!!