‘You off to Stonehenge then?’ A young British lass has dropped onto the hostel couch beside me. Frizzy, copper hair; freckly complexion, pronounced cheekbones, eyes that tend to squeeze shut when smiling; looks about eighteen. She’s gazing at the brochure in my hands, the one I’ve been periodically glancing at while eating my evening meal – bland, hostel-grade spaghetti bolognese.
‘Yep,’ I nod my head. ‘I’m going tomorrow. You already been?’
‘Yer, I went today. Not been before then?
‘No, my first time.’
‘Me too.’ I must look shocked as she rushes to explain herself. ‘I’m from the north. My school had an excursion here when I was a kid but I missed it.’
‘Oh. How was it then?’ I try to sneak in a quick mouthful of spaghetti while she answers.
‘It was great. I mean, it was raining when we got there. Really raining too, not this wispy stuff. She points to the window, to the drizzle hitting the glass. ‘So, like, we just sprinted around. You know the site is in a big circle right? And we just kind of sprinted around the edge. It was like being in school athletics carnival or something. It was really funny.’
‘That’s a shame,’ I say, swallowing down another mouthful of pasta. ‘Are you going to go back and see it again?’
‘Go back? What for, man? We saw it. That’s the important thing, right?
‘I guess so.’
She smiles, squinting her eyes, a disarmingly charming gesture, then gets up and joins her friends who are heading towards the bar.
I try to think what I’d do if I were in a similar situation. If it were to pour with rain when I arrived at Stonehenge, would I go back and see it again? I’d like to think I would, to show the site the respect it deserves, but in all likelihood I wouldn’t. I’d probably chalk it up to bad luck, and continue with my travels as planned. Can’t expect to have good weather all the time.
But at least I’d have the decency to be upset about it. 😀
What is Stonehenge?
A ring of standing stones, each 4.1 metres high, 2.1 metres wide, and weighing 25 tonnes. Stonehenge was built in stages, and continually modified and worked and rebuilt over the millennia. The standing stones, which date to around 2000 BCE, are positioned in a cryptic but clearly deliberate circular pattern; the function of which no one is entirely clear on.
There are many theories floating around regarding what Stonehenge might have been used for. There are some who believe it was a place of healing (similar to Bath or Lourdes). Others think it was a spiritual site, used for ancestor worship, or that it was involved somehow in a complicated death ritual. Or it might be a kind of proto-calendar developed to predict the solstice and equinox. Or just a convenient place to celebrate harvest festivals and the like.
Considering Stonehenge was in use for so many millennia – there is evidence of human activity here dating back to 8000 BCE – there is a good chance that it was used for some or all of these things at various points in its long and convoluted history.
In the 12th Century CE a legend was concocted by Geoffrey of Monmouth – a major fan of the tales of King Arthur – who claimed the standing stones were put there by Merlin with the aid of a giant.
The idea that druids were somehow involved with Stonehenge is a relatively recent development. In 1905, a mass initiation ceremony involving 259 members of the Ancient Order of Druids was performed at Stonehenge; the members donning white robes and fake beards for the occasion.
Practical information and how to reach Stonehenge:
Stonehenge is approximately 140 km from London. There are no public transport options to reach the site.
The easiest way to reach Stonehenge on your own is to catch a train to Andover or Salisbury and organise a taxi or tour/shuttle service from there. Read more transport info here.
Read more on Stonehenge in the UNESCO World Heritage listing.