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Does Stonehenge really deserve it's popularity?

Does Stonehenge really deserve it's popularity?

Old Nov 14th, 2010, 09:39 AM
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Does Stonehenge really deserve it's popularity?

Stonehenge seems to come up frequently on these forums as one of the most popular sights for overseas travellers visiting England - something that's always intruiged me. I live about 50 miles away from Stonehenge and have been there a few times in the past twenty years, usually with visitors to the area. We also went there this morning, after we happened to spend the night at a nearby hotel outside Salisbury (the rather snazzy Holiday Inn on the A303).

Despite the miserable weather (cold and occassionally very heavy downpours), Stonehenge was still very busy with people from all over the world, especially US and Japanese tourists. The small car park was already full and those in cars were forced to park in the overflow car park (basically a muddy field). The queue for tickets took a good 15 minutes, needless to say standing in the rain. Having handed over our £6.70 each to English Heritage we were in, and armed with the basic map of the site (which contains virtually no historical information, though you can pay extra for an audio headset), we set off through the tunnel under the road for a circuit of the stones.

There is no information centre there to explain the historical context of the stones, the various theories behind its existence or the enigma about the origin of the stones and their transportation to the site. There are just a few tatty 1970's style prefabricated buildings (ticket office, gift shop and takeaway food stall) and the stones themselves.

Now, you could say it's not every day you get to see something constructed by human beings some 5000 years ago, but... the stone circle is a lot smaller than you might imagine and the visitor facilities are, I'm sorry to say, a bit of a national embarrassment. As we got back to the car, I couldn't help thinking what a let-down it must seem to all the foreign visitors who'd come there from Osaka or Chicago - many of whom would have spent a lot of money (and time) to travel down from London on a coach tour.

There was a plan to spend £25M on a new visitor centre, but this was I believe cancelled earlier this year due to UK government cuts. So we're left with the remarkably poor facilities that have been there for most of my lifetime, which simply don't do justice to the historical significance of Stonehenge or meet the expectations of today's international travellers. OK rant over - if you have a deep-rooted interest in prehistory or archaeology, or you just happen to be passing by, then do come and visit Stonehenge. Otherwise consider carefully if you really want to spend your hard-earned money and time on making a special detour.
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Old Nov 14th, 2010, 10:00 AM
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If it didn't, people wouldn't go there. There are some things that just seem to be marked as top tourist attractions, and tourists go to them. I presume most are satisfied, or it couldn't possibly continue. After all, no one is forcing anyone to go.

I don't really think popularity is a matter that can be measured in terms of being deserved or not. You couldn't pay me to go to many things that are very popular (ie, wax museums), yet a lot of tourists want to go to them. There are many other things in the world that are immensely popular that I think are rubbish (ie, certain TV shows), but it doesn't matter as it isn't a matter of merit. Popularity is defined by people who choose to visit or view something. In fact, being popular isn't a laudatory term, it's related to what is liked by the common man or something like that.
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Old Nov 14th, 2010, 10:05 AM
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I make the effort to visit the site on every trip to the UK and never regret it.
The mystery of Stonehenge is still there for me and I hope to have the opportunity to visit again.
Yes, the visitor facilities are inadequate, but the effort and expense to visit is not wasted as there is much more to see in the area.
Stonehenge is one of those places you either feel or you don't.
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Old Nov 14th, 2010, 10:53 AM
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Being in and among the stones was so powerful that it used to make the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Then, in the late 70s I think, it was roped off and you could only view from a polite distance ... I went back one time, but the magic was gone for me ... "just" an amazing piece of human history and mystery now. (Yes, I know, by roping it off, future generations can continue to look and wonder. Fair enough.)
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Old Nov 14th, 2010, 10:57 AM
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I thought the best view of Stonehenge was from the road above it, approaching the site from Salisbury. I went once because I was in Salisbury and had a car. I would not return to Stonehenge as it didn't have much interest for me.
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Old Nov 14th, 2010, 10:59 AM
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Stonehenge is one of the few prehistoric sites I remember hearing about in school, and I assume it is the same for many of the other overseas visitors. I didn't realize until relatively recently how many other prehistoric stones were strewn about Europe. I love seeing these old monuments to early civilizations, and there are just not as many of them in the US. I have been to sites of stone circles in Scotland and in Portugal and enjoyed the experience.

Now that I know there are more isolated and less touristy ways to experience the old stones, I do not feel a strong need to see Stonehenge. Does it deserve its popularity? I can't say, but I do understand why people go there.
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Old Nov 14th, 2010, 11:02 AM
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We reserved an after hours tour that let us go inside the ropes and walk amongst the stones. We thought it was an awesome experience. That said, if we had only been able to walk around the perimeter, the experience would have been much less impressive. And I agree that the facilities are pretty underwhelming considering that Stonehenge is such a major attraction.
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Old Nov 14th, 2010, 11:08 AM
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Go to Avebury instead.

It's much larger than Stonehenge, much more impressive (IMO) and way more powerful than Stonehenge. You can park in the village, walk among the stones (amid the sheepsh*t!), touch the stones, hug the stones, climb on the stones if you want to, sit in the Devil's Chair, visit one or both of the two museum exhibits. And then there's the amazing East Kennett Long Barrow a mile or so down the road - being INSIDE one of the oldest man-made structures on this planet is a feeling I find indescribable. Silbury Hill is literally just across the road, and can be climbed. The Sanctuary is up another hill close by, and there are chalk White Horses in abundance.

Not forgetting some very pleasant pubs close within a few miles.

And all this barely 10 miles off the M4 at junction 16.

I think Avebury has so much more going for it than Stonehenge, but then it's harder to get to on public transport, so thankfully there are many fewer visitors to spoil it's very special magic.
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Old Nov 14th, 2010, 11:20 AM
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Of course Stonehenge is "worth" it --- if one thinks it is. Different strokes for different folks.

Perhaps some of your sense of the place is tarnished by proximity. Sure, when I first went there in the 70's you could wander in and among the stones. Very low key but magical. I have photos of my ex and our airedale and scottie sitting on one of the stones.

The experience now is not what anyone could call magical (except for the inner access visits offered by English Heritage) but many people's bucket lists of iconic ancient sites include the pyramids at Giza, Machu Pichu, Ankor Wat some Greek/Roman treasures, and yes, Stonehenge.

They are not 'wrong' and neither are you.
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Old Nov 14th, 2010, 12:24 PM
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I agree with Janisj's firt paragraph on the "worth it" comment.

I also visited Stonehenge at a time when we could get up close and personal, and having read up on it before going, yes, it was indeed magical.

This summer I did not go -- my husband and son had not seen Stonehenge before and both wanted to go, so I booked them on one of those 1/2 day tours when we were back in London -- which based on my review of costs using public transport & entry fees, was really the cheapest way to go. I declined joining them because I knew it would be different now, and might take away the magical memories I will retain as long as I live. Now, they had a great time and were glad that they visited in a kind of "let's go see the Grand Canyon" kind of experience. Magical for them? Nope. And best for me, I got a half day ON MY OWN to do my "things I like to do alone in London" as well as have a coffee with my old boss.
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Old Nov 14th, 2010, 03:14 PM
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My husband and I went to Stonehenge for all the reasons mentioned, and though it was roped off, we intentionally went at the end of the day so that there would be fewer people. We both were impressed by the site - its grandness and the sheer mystery of its design. Even though we were unable to walk through the stones, we were definitely up close and personal.

We did go to Avebury the next day, and enjoyed it as well, though the impact isn't as startling as it is so much more spread out. Still, the fact that you can just walk around the extensive site and walk right up to the stones makes it much more intimate.

We also went to Castlerigg stone circle, near Keswick, which was our favorite for both siting and design.

But, like arriving at the Grand Canal of Venice for the first time, seeing Stonehenge was exhilerating.

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Old Nov 14th, 2010, 04:47 PM
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Yes, I think it's worthwhile seeing. Afterall it's over 4 or 5 thousand years old and a mystery that is being unraveled as to why it was built. Actually I've heard that Merlin from King Aarthur's court had something to do with it.

I took my wife and kids to see it a while back and they enjoyed it a lot. Afterwards we visited Glastonbury and Avebury. It was a great day trip from London for us all and one we will always remember. If I ever have another holiday in England I will definetly visit it again. Lovely country surronding.
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Old Nov 15th, 2010, 04:58 AM
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It depends how you like your experiences packaged - or if you want them packaged at all. As a discrete, off-the-bus-inspect-exit-via-the-giftshop-on-the-bus, experience, it hasn't (for all sorts of reasons) kept pace with many others that have had major investments put in.

But it is possible to appreciate it a lot more if, for example, you get the chance to view it from a distance within the context of the overall landscape. Either go down the slope, across the fields, from the carpark, and then come up again from the bottom, and see how it hovers on the horizon, or cross the road and up the slope on the other side, and see how it suddenly seems to disappear and reappear in the landscape. From a distance, it looks proportionately much larger, by the way - and if you choose your angle of view, the traffic on the road disappears, and the people around it might be from any age.

But, yes, it does take that bit of effort; but then, so it does to get to places like the Ring of Brodgar or Callanish.
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Old Nov 15th, 2010, 05:37 AM
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You could use this very same argument when discussing just about ANY travel destination, including London and New York IMO...if you like a place then you like it and I suppose if you asked an individual who likes Stonehenge I bet they feel it DOES "deserve" its popularity so what is the point of even asking?
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Old Nov 15th, 2010, 06:05 AM
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Patrick, your description is wonderful.
Stonehenge, in my opinion, should be viewed within the context of other ancient sites, including the many, many stone circles. Alone, one might wonder if it is anything important, but together with the many other remaining circles and burial places, it is remarkable.
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Old Nov 15th, 2010, 06:11 AM
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The former rector of our church who was raised in the area said that the only way to see Stonehenge was during a nocturnal thunderstorm. He said that would make the hair on your neck stand up.
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Old Nov 15th, 2010, 07:36 AM
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You could ask this same question about a couple of girls I went to high school with. I did see one of them during a midnight storm, and I swear that the hair on my neck stood up.
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Old Nov 15th, 2010, 07:51 AM
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I agree with Dukey1 - you could say that about any major sight. But we still have those sights on our lists, don't we!

As a teenager I visited Stonehenge when you could just pull off the side of the road, hike on over to the stones and walk around. I thought it was very cool. Just last month I walked around the Cromlech of Almendres (7000 years old)outside Evora Portugal. 95 stones, much smaller stone, but still that same amazing experience. You drive up, there's nobody there, you park under some trees, and walk around to your heart's content. I'd recommend that as well.
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Old Nov 15th, 2010, 09:55 AM
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Minor correction:

"...though you can pay extra for an audio headset..."

The 45 minute audio guides (available in a number of languages and with a special commentary for visually impaired visitors) are included at no extra charge.
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Old Nov 15th, 2010, 10:00 AM
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I'm happy to do a drive-by from the public road.
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