Location: Near Amesbury, Wiltshire, Southern England
Post code SP4 7DE
Having punctuated the journey from the west country to London and the south east at Stonehenge, I’ve become accustomed to the sight of the stones. It’s a route I take occasionally and the monument, for me, is an ideal ‘half-way’ land-mark.
These rocks of ages preserved for eternity, provide an excuse to rest and refresh for a moment before heading onwards into the other extreme of the thoroughly modern jungle of London and the south east.
Contented with the facilities as they were, it was with some scepticism that I learnt that there was to be a new make over costing £27million. This was to involve a huge parking area with a visitors centre and ‘road-trains’ ferrying visitors to and from the monument on a 3 mile round trip.
Added to this, the short road which turned off the A303, leading to the monument, was to be completely removed and grassed over to give the impression that it was never there. This would mean that I could no longer park within sight of the stones and partake of refreshments before moving on.
All I could think at the time was that this was going to be a ruinous attempt to commercialise the monument and it would cheapen the whole character of the area at huge cost. What was a simple stop over with the bonus of appreciating a close view of one of the world’s most extraordinary ancient monuments was set to become a much more elaborate affair and difficult to get at.
However the new facility opened in December 2013 and I was thrilled and relieved by the tasteful way in which the whole project managed to amalgamate the ‘mega-ancient’ with the modern architecture of the visitor centre.
The aim, apparently, was to design a building that blended in with the gently rolling hills of the region to the point where it is almost invisible. To this end I’ll say ‘Yes’, they’ve done it. Positioned at a discreet distance from the monument, the journey from the modern visitor centre to the ancient stones is a journey 4,000 years back in time.
The visiting experience does run the risk from weather dependency. However, on a fine day, visitors have the option of walking the 1½ miles from the visitor centre to the monument.
Alas the stone circle is roped off to ensure its protection but if you visit at the time of the summer or winter solstices, and equinoxes, special provision is made at dawn. These are the only occasions when you can walk among the stones.
The visitor centre has a packed souvenir shop and a café that can boast locally sourced food.
In the museum area there is an animated visual display which gives the impression of standing in the middle of the stone circle using state-of-the-art graphics that present a condensed view of the monument through the ages. Further into the museum is a display of artefacts and information offering the current theories that prise open the mystery of Stonehenge.
Outside in the grounds, you can’t miss the Neolithic, thatched round-houses; built by volunteers. You can go inside them and talk to volunteers who are there to answer questions.
The ‘new’ Stonehenge has to be a destination for anyone with an interest in the earliest of Britain’s history.