Stonehenge Stone Circle

I have been to Stonehenge many times, my first visit was sometime in the 1970s before there was a fence around the stones. The second time was in the 1990s when I was working as a delivery driver and happened to pass by and so I stopped and took a few photos through the fence. In 2000 I took my son there and we went in and walked around the stones. On the summer solstice 2005 (21st June) I watched the sun rise with 21,000 others at Stonehenge, my write up and photos is HERE. There was some beautiful drumming, horn blowing, tambourine playing and singing that welcomed the sun as it rose.

 

I gave up spending Summer Solstice at Stonehenge after the 2007 mid-summer gathering due to the sheer amount of people there and the huge police presence. I have spent some very nice Equinoxes there and Winter Solstices. In fact it is worth knowing that there is only 4 times a year that you can enter the stones for free, the two solstices and the two equinoxes. Summer Solstice is very busy and more recently the cost of parking has been almost as much as a normal entry fee to the stones. English Heritage and local authorities have made it increasingly difficult to park anywhere nearby for free or for anyone in live-in vehicles to stay overnight nearby. Despite this a visit to Stonehenge is always an amazing experience at a site so steeped in history.

Stonehenge is not the largest stone circle in the world but it is the only one that has lintels around the top, making it unique. Before Stonehenge was built thousands of years ago, the whole of Salisbury Plain was a forest of towering pines and hazel woodland. Over centuries the landscape changed to open chalk down-land. What you see today is about half of the original monument, some of the stones have fallen down, others have been carried away to be used for building or to repair farm tracks and over centuries visitors have added their damage too. It was quite normal to hire a hammer from the blacksmith in Amesbury and come to Stonehenge to chip bits off. As you can imagine this practice is no longer permitted! 

Stonehenge was built in three phases. The first stage was a circle of timbers surrounded by a ditch and bank. The ditch would have been dug by hand using animal bones, deer antlers which were used as pick-axes to loosen the underlying chalk and then the shoulder blades of oxen or cattle were used as shovels to clear away the stones. Excavations of the ditch have recovered antlers that were left behind deliberately and it was by testing their age through radio carbon dating we now know that the first henge was built over 50 centuries ago, that is about 3,100 BC. That's where the mystery begins. We haven't just found old bones, around the edge of the bank we also found 56 holes now known as Aubrey Holes, named after the 17th century antiquarian, John Aubrey, who found them in about 1666. We know that these holes were dug to hold wooden posts, just as holes were dug later to hold the stone pillars that you see today. So this was the first stage built about 5,050 years ago, wooden post circle surrounded by a deep ditch and bank.

Then about 4,500 years ago, 2,500 BC and about 2,400 years before the Romans set foot in Britain, it was rebuilt. This time in stone, bluestones were used which are the smaller stones that you can see in the pictures. These came from the Prescelli Mountains in Pembroke, South Wales 245 miles (380kms), dragged down to the sea, floated on huge rafts, brought up the River Avon, finally overland to where they are today. It was an amazing feat when you consider that each stone weighs about five tons. It required unbelievable dedication from ancient man to bring these stones all the way from South Wales.

Before the second phase of Stonehenge was complete work stopped and there was a period of abandonment. Then began a new bigger, even better Stonehenge, the one that we know today- this was approximately 4,300 years ago, about 2,300 BC, the third and final stage of what we see now. The bluestones were dug up and rearranged and this time even bigger stones were brought in from the Marlborough Downs, 20 miles (32 kms). These giant sandstones or Sarsen stones, as they are now called were hammered to size using balls of stone known as ‘mauls'. Even today you can see the drag marks. Each pair of stones was heaved upright and linked on the top by the lintels. To get the lintels to stay in place, the first wood working techniques were used. They made joints in stone, linking the lintels in a circular manner using a tongue and groove joint, and subsequently the upright and lintel with a ball and socket joint or mortice and tenon. This was all cleverly designed on the alignment of the rising of the mid summer sun.

The area is not special just because of the stones or the archaeologically rich landscape it sits in, but because of the plants that grow there. There is rare sedge grass and even the yellow and grey patches on the stones are tiny, slow growing plants called lichens.

Below are a selection of photographs from my visits there from 1995-2017.