We finally made it to Stonehenge yesterday; it’s been on our Places to Visit in England list since we arrived in September 2011. We didn’t want to visit too early in our tour, lest we end up with numerous houseguests who wanted to go as well. (We visited the Great Buddha in Japan about half a dozen times, and are determined not to be so repetitive here in England.) My mom has been the first visitor to show any interest in Stonehenge, so I made arrangements to get us access to the inside of the stone circle before regular opening hours. It was a treat to be so close to the giant stones with only about twenty other visitors, rather than being confined to the roped-off pathway outside the circle with the hordes of foreign tourists that were arriving by the busload as we left.
I am glad that I’ve finally been to Stonehenge, and getting up at 4:30 a.m. to arrive in time for the special access inside the stones was well worth missing forty winks. But I have to say that the whole experience left me a little underwhelmed. Stonehenge looks so big and dramatic when I see it in magazines or travel guides and appears to be set in the middle of a huge field, far from the intrusion of the modern world. In reality, the diameter of the circle isn’t nearly as wide as I expected, although the stones themselves are massive. I was taken aback by the two busy roadways between which Stonehenge is nestled–I suspect some major retouching to remove cars, fences, and power lines in published photos. I admit to also being a tad disappointed not to feel some kind of spiritual pull standing inside the ancient circle; I’d been prepared for a primal stirring of the soul thanks to countless theories about the original purposes of the temple and reports of the Druid rituals that take place there in current times.
All in all, I think my expectations of this UNESCO World Heritage Site were unrealistic. For anyone who has not yet visited Stonehenge, I suggest trying to forget all you’ve seen and read about the monument before you go. Definitely book the inner circle special access before or after regular visiting hours if you can manage it, then walk in with an open mind and simply marvel at the architectural feats that created the temple and soak in the more than 5000 years of mystery and history contained within the concentric circles of earth and stone.