“What is a henge?” asks Henry (5) as we drive to Stonehenge in Wiltshire.
Not long after we arrive we discover that it is in fact a circular enclosure. That’s what is great about days out like this, you learn something and there is plenty more to pick up during the day.
It is a World Heritage Site and so it is popular compared to other English Heritage sites. There’s an interesting exhibition about these 4,500 year old stones and what visitors like William Wordsworth and Thomas Hardy thought. “Pile of Stone-henge! So proud to hint yet keep thy secrets,” wrote William Wordsworth in 1794. “A very Temple of the winds,” added Thomas Hardy in 1891.
The thing about Stonehenge is that nobody really knows why it was built. Was it worship the sun in the winter and summer, was it a means of border control or was it just a bit of fun? But as with all good ideas it was modified over time to give us what stands today. Stones erode and so some have been removed. “When I was young I visited Stonehenge and climbed all over the stones but you can’t do that these days,” one of our neighbours informed us before our journey. Yes, this is true but you can still get pretty close.
We enjoy a walk across fields to get to the magnificent site; a chance to ponder how the stones got to this destination. To think that all these thousands of years ago people calculated exactly where the sun would rise and actually moved such enormous rocks into position is quite incredible. We would struggle to do this today with all our technology and machinery.
There are two types of stone used here: sarsens; a hard sandstone and bluestone; a volcanic rock.
It is awe inspiring to stand before such an age old structure. That it welcomes a million visitors a year is quite something but imagine how many must have visited since it was first fenced off in 1901. As we enjoy a carefree stroll we can’t help imagining how the rocks were transported here, from as far away as Wales, too. Despite the difficulties associated with international travel Japanese, American and German tourists walk past us and it is a pleasure to hear their conversations even if we can’t understand them.
We are able to picnic in the presence of the Neolithic stones, which gives us chance to contemplate a little. We discover that in the Bronze Age burial mounds were built nearby. As we munch it becomes clear that jackdaws, rooks and crows are plentiful here and even tame; one of the English Heritage staff feeds them and a rook lands on her hand. We also see some delightful little starlings and even a hare, which the children adore because it reminds them of their pet rabbits, Sorbet and Brulee.
Back at the visitor centre there is a chance for the children to try their hand at being archaeologists where they unearth a skeleton and shoes and they create a story about the person. We also get chance to explore the types of houses that the henge builders might have lived in. The small doors, just fine for the children, remind us of how tiny our ancestors were.
All in all a hugely enriching day out that truly inspires the whole family.
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