Stonehenge: A Visit to the Neolithic Stone Monument in Wiltshire with a Pembrokeshire Bluestone History

stonehenge: a visit to the stones


Stonehenge

Stonehenge is a fantastic day out if you’re planning on a visit, or indeed, passing through the wonderful Wiltshire countryside. As a company with roots in West Wales, its a point of huge pride that Pembrokeshire is linked to the historic site. It’s been found that Pembrokeshire has direct links with the Amesbury attraction. In fact, Pembrokeshire stone helps form part of the magnificent Neolithic monument.

The site of Stonehedge is world-famous, originating as a ceremonial centre in pre-historic times. Thought to be around 5000 years old, as the stones date to 3000 BC. It has been remodelled several times.

Stonehenge Monument in Wiltshire by Thom James

The circle formation of the upright stones is curved, with the stone lintels being mortice-and-tenoned to the upright stones. Some weigh in at over 50 tons apiece.

But the fact remains that these stones have a special connection to our home county in Wales, with the thinking that the nomadic tribes that settled in what is now Wiltshire, and who formed the original megalith, were from Pembrokeshire and they used stones from their homeland to pay homage and keep deep-rooted connections with the Welsh land.

Archaeologists from the University of Southampton, discuss:

“Geologists have long known that 42 of Stonehenge’s smaller stones, known as ‘bluestones’, came from the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire. Now a new study published in the journal Antiquity pinpoints the exact locations of two of these quarries and reveals when and how the stones were quarried.”

Theory

Pont Saeson in the Preseli mountain range are where bluestones are thought to have originated from. This is significant and also a little strange. Typically, tther discovered neolithic sites of prehistoric importance all trace their stone’s heritage to within a radius of just 10 miles. However, there is a 140-mile distance between Craig Rhos-y-felin in the Preseli’s and the current resting site of the Preseli bluestones at Stonehenge.

So were the ancestorial founders of the stones, so keen that they made the seemingly impossible task of moving such stones this distance (220km) a reality?

This is disputed as Pont Saeson is found to the north of the Preselis, across some pretty treacherous terrain. So some believe it’s unlikely that it would have been feasible to navigate the stones across the landscape to here. There is a theory that they were brought on a raft, through the Bristol Channel. Again, this is disputed on a sheer implausibility of getting the enormous rocks to the coast, in order to transfer them to the current site.

An alternative theory was that ‘nature drove the stone to Stonehenge, in the path of an Ice Age glacier, although the absence of any other Welsh rock in the region seemed to have ruled out the possibility’. [Source: BBC]

We may never know, but thankfully research continues to be carried out by some cleverer people than us!

Stonehenge as a Pilgrimage

So, a visit to Stonehenge by our team felt very much like a sort of pilgrimage. One that is needed to get a sense of the stones and their significance upon the South England landscape.

Until recently you used to be able to amble amongst the stones, but sensibly, the World Heritage Organisation saw fit to limit this access a few decades ago. So, though you cannot fully immerse yourself in the giant rocks does not for a second diminish their majesty. And such is understanding for the need to preserve the sanctity of the stone monoliths that it hardly makes a difference.

Welcome to Stonehenge at the entrace to the English Heritage site by Thom James

The lead up to the site is almost as much fun as getting to see the stones close-up. Upon driving towards them, depending on the cross-road you take, you will actually pass them in all of their glory.

Upon arrival at the visitor centre, which is around a half-mile away from the Stonehenge site, you find an impressive structure greeting you, and of course, the abundance of tourist from a multi-coloured flag of nations. The fantastic new Visitor Centre is also an exhibition space, which includes a 360-degree virtual experience of the stones – which in some way helps mop up the fact you can no longer stand amongst them. There are also over 250 objects of international importance on display, as well as a model village, and the reconstructed face of an Early Neolithic man is a true highlight.

Impressive Sight

Stonehenge Monument in Wiltshire by Thom James

The immediate surroundings of the stones are also undergoing dramatic improvement so it’s more worth a visit with kids than ever as they explore the amazing facts about the history of Stonehenge.

You pick up directions and a site map at the Visitor Centre. You then make your way to the rear of the centre where you can either pick up the road to walk or wait for the free shuttle bus. This will transports visitors to the start of the trail that leads to the stones.

There are plenty of visual aids and fact boards around the stones. You can also purchase an audio accompaniment that you control at various points as you circumnavigate them.

To walk from the visitor centre can take 20-30 minutes depending on how brisk you decide to take it. If you stop off on some of the fields recommended on the way, will take a little longer.

At the stones, you can please yourself on how long you spend. Stopping to take in the information signs and walking the circumference of the stones will take half an hour. But that’s if you bolt it around. Spend some time really gazing at the stones. Take in the information set out properly try and understand the monoliths from every angle. Most people, a tour guide tells us, will spend around an hour and a half at the site of Stonehenge.

Stonehenge as a Place of Worship

Stonehenge was by all accounts always a place that druids would worship at. The main stones and the Heel Stone arch in opposition to the sunshine at the Summer Solstice. They align with the sun at the time of the Winter Solstice. There are also several burial mounds. The discovery of animal bones lead to theories that pagan rituals were carried out here. However, as ancient druids or site users never kept records so it’s real origins are subject to speculation.

Druids and neopaganism play at the heart of these theories. It’s widely thought and corroborated that the layout of Stonehenge allows for an ‘observatory’, giving the site a celestial heritage. That could have allowed its users throughout the years to use the site to predict celestial events. Equinoxes, solar eclipses and other events could have then been linked to relevant religious rituals.

One thing is for sure, is that it would have been a magnificent place to gather. The links to the Order of Druids still remains today, though their ceremonies have been widely limited since the mid-80s.

After a quick shuttle back to the visitor centre, there is an opportunity to take a walk through the museum. You can take the 360° visual tour, and also visit the Neolithic village which consists of 5 replica houses.

There is also a monolithic stone replica where you can have a go at ‘pulling’ the weight of the stones. Based on your pull force, a digital output will tell you how many ‘you’s are needed to move a stone.

After a few attempts, the best we could get was 95 ‘us’s were needed to move the massive rock.

A great day out

Stonehenge then is a great day out and it’s not because of the visitor centre and cafe. It’s real history here; British history. It was amazing to find out all about the Welsh links. But the stones themselves really speak for themselves.

There is a wonderment to them; how did these gigantic stones make it to this mound? How were they erected and placed in such a way? And how did 42 smaller rocks from Pembrokeshire make it nearly 150 miles east to the site?

The wonder never goes away, so as days out go, it’s one of the best out there. And it is, out there!

Top Tip:

Bring cash for the car park. The charge to use the car park next to the visitor centre. The cost is around £5. However, when you buy official tickets for entry, this is discounted back to you. But you will need the cash to pay the warden first so make sure you have some change with you.

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