Two years ago I took a trip to the UK and included a day trip to Stonehenge. When I told people about this trip, they almost always had a response of their experience. Either they’ve been to Stonehenge, know someone who’s been to Stonehenge, or heard about it some other way. And then they’d tell me:
- “the visit was years before they roped it off – it was too crowded.”
- “the visit was after they roped it off – couldn’t get close enough.”
- “drove by it – the stones seemed small, nothing spectacular.”
- “why go to to Stonehenge when there are other, more accessible, stone things in ____.”
Then they would all agree, as if in unison even though these conversations happened separately, “Stonehenge is a bit overrated.”
I took their message to heart.
My trip to Stonehenge
I’d already visited the UK five or six times when I went with a friend. My friend, who was going to the UK for the first time, included Stonehenge on her list of places she’d like to see. This seemed as good a time as any to check it out.
My only Stonehenge stipulation was that I didn’t want to see it from a distance. I wanted to get as close as possible. I then spent an obscene amount of time trying to figure out how to make that happen.
At the time, Spring 2014, there were several tour companies promising “stone circle access”. Each had them different days of the week, some were already all booked up, and some were only seasonal.
We picked the best one for our schedule. Then crossed our fingers.
The Stonehenge Tour
Our trip to London included several day tours and Stonehenge’s tour was right in the middle of it. We’d had a decently exhausting walking tour the day before. And a food walking tour scheduled for the next day.
Obviously, this was a bus tour. And, for adventurous types, buses that aren’t public transport feel like cheating. We were wary of how good the tour would actually be, would it be rushed? Would it be boring? What if I read the paperwork wrong and we weren’t really going to get to the stones?
I think we realized right away that the tour was going to be very cool and pretty rushed. Our tour guide was filled with information about everything we were about to see, everything we were seeing, and everything we just saw. The build up for Stonehenge, though, was perfect.
After leaving Oxford, he started setting the scene for Stonehenge. The mystery of the stones. The history of the stones. The theories. The distances these rocks travelled. And why it’s an important structure today.
Arriving at Stonehenge
Getting access to the stone circle at Stonehenge is not a spontaneous activity.
It’s governed by English Heritage, which is in charge of many of England’s historical and cultural sites.
Rule #1 of accessing the Stonehenge stone circle
The visit can only happen before and after the Visitor Center’s normal operating hours. This means early in the morning, or late in the evening.
For us this rule meant that we would be arriving on site right as the shop was closing. We knew this in advance, but we all wanted to get inside for a souvenir. Because chiseling off a piece of the stones is strictly prohibited.
We also didn’t get to tour the displays the Visitor Center has to explain the background. We did get a nice explanation, but based off of what I’ve seen online, the exhibits are super cool.
But that’s ok. We were going to get access to the STONE CIRCLE.
The Stonehenge staff loaded us into a smaller bus and we headed to the stones. The trip was longer than I expected. For good reason. The modern museum facilities are far enough away, and kind of hidden behind a small hill, that you can’t see it from the circle. This, coupled with the fact that the only man-made structure nearby was the ropes and a road off in the distance, gave the stone circle a certain ambiance. We imagined Stonehenge from the perspective of what it has been for centuries.
For those who have driven by only and feel that it’s unimpressive. You’re right. The intention of keeping it far away is so that the Stonehenge experience is special. Something that can’t be felt from far away.
Approaching the stone circle
My friend and I were the first off the bus. We headed to the empty stone circle. There was no one around the roped perimeter. No one inside the roped area, save for the two security guards.
Rule #2 of accessing the Stonehenge stone circle
Groups are limited to 30 people for an hour. For our tour, it meant that they allowed access to half of us for 30 minutes, then the second half went in for 30 minutes.
Inside the Stonehenge Stone Circle
For about 15 seconds my friend and I were the only people inside the stone circle.
And that was cool.
And then it filled up to the 25 people our tour allowed. And the tour guide. And the two guides. So 28 people.
Stonehenge is huge and 28 people in the interior and 25 people all the way at the barrier is still nothing. Our guide let us walk around and observe and that’s what we all did. Camera’s ready. There was only one main rule inside the stone circle.
Rule #3 of accessing the Stonehenge stone circle
Don’t touch anything!
So, we couldn’t touch anything. That’s ok. We could walk under the huge rocks, get really close, and really see the damage that these rocks have suffered from pre-protection days.
By the way, I’m sure going into the stone circle years ago was not fun. It wasn’t regulated then and the crowds probably made it really difficult to enjoy.But these small groups really made it special. It was so quiet. We could look at a large stone and really examine it without worrying about someone pushing in front of us.
Also, those other stone structures people will tell you are cooler than Stonehenge? Maybe. I love cool rocks anyway. But, the reason Stonehenge is so popular is because it’s the only structure that had a rock laying across the top of two others. And with this tour – we got to walk under that!
Outside the Stonehenge Stone Circle
When we switched places with the rest of the tour group, we walked around the barrier. Unlike most tours that visit Stonehenge during the day, the rope barrier wasn’t THAT bad. There were only 50 of us total. We never felt like we were overcrowded. We had the space and time to take things in.
However, one benefit of going to Stonehenge during the day is that you can get an audio guide to explain everything. We had to rely on remembering what our tour guide told us. There were a lot of details to shuffle through. Our tour guide was accessible, but everyone had questions. But, in the end, that’s ok.
If I had to choose between a day trip with the audio guide, or an after hours trip with stone circle access… I’d pick the stones every time. Even after getting close to the stones, I hated having that rope barrier. I just wanted to get closer. The experience of Stonehenge from many feet away is just not the same.
Finishing up at Stonehenge
After the second group finished, we took our final pictures of the emptied stones, and took the bus back to the visitor center. Where we all agreed, as if in unison even though we were all separated, “Stonehenge is so underrated.” Stonehenge, if done right, is so cool.Want to get access to #Stonehenge's Stone Circle? Read this. #travel Click To Tweet
Want to do this trip?
I don’t blame you.
Here are three tours offered by Viator that give you access to Stonehenge’s Stone Circles: (these are affiliate links)
Please note that tours fill up quickly, and there are several times throughout the week and year that Stonehenge does not allow access. Check your schedule and their schedule closely.
So – what about the history, mystery, and theories of Stonehenge
Tune in later this summer as I talk about some of the fascinating stories behind STONEHENGE. And, of course, make some book recommendations.
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