On one of our days in Bath, we took a half-day Mad Max Tour to Stonehenge and Lacock. We had planned on taking the full day tour to Stonehenge, Lacock, Avebury and The Cotswolds. However, because only 12 of us had signed up, they would only provide the half day tour. It was fine. It was a sunny day and perfect for an outdoor tour. We'll just have to come back to see Avebury and The Cotswolds another time.
I was very excited to see Stonehenge, a World Heritage Site. It sounds corny, but I've wanted to see it since I built a model of it in third grade. My interest was also peaked when Stonehenge was mentioned during a discussion of Ley Lines on my visit to Sedona, Arizona two weeks before traveling to Bath.
Ley lines were (re)discovered in the modern age at the beginning of this century by Alfred Watkins, author of The Old Straight Track. First in the Herefordshire countryside, and later throughout Britain, Alfred Watkins noticed that beacon hills, mounds, earthworks, moats and old churches built on pagan sites seemed to fall in straight lines (ley lines). His investigation convinced him that Britain was covered with a vast network of straight tracks, aligned with either the sun or the path of a star. Although traces of this network can be found all over the country, the principles behind the ley system remain a mystery.
According to Watkins, Stonehenge is at the crossing of several ley lines. One runs from the center of the monument exactly 6 miles to the well at the center of Old Sarum. From there, another 2 miles to the chapter house of Salisbury Cathedral, another quarter mile to an old ruined chapel, and a final 3 miles to Clearbury Ring, and Iron Age hill fort. The alignment is exactly 90 furlongs in length.
Stonehenge was constructed between 3,000 BC and 1,600 BC in three phases out of Bluestone, Sarson and Welsh Sandstone. A number of the stones were carried hundreds of miles over land and sea. Antlers and bones were used to dig the pits that hold the stones. It has been estimated that the three phases of the construction required more than thirty million hours of labor.
The following is from the Encyclopedia Britannica:
The Stonehenge that visitors see today is considerably ruined, many of its stones having been pilfered by medieval and early modern builders (there is no natural building stone within 13 miles [21 km] of Stonehenge); its general architecture has also been subjected to centuries of weathering. The monument consists of a number of structural elements, mostly circular in plan. On the outside is a circular ditch, with a bank immediately within it, all interrupted by an entrance gap on the northeast, leading to a straight path called the Avenue. At the center of the circle is a stone setting consisting of a horseshoe of tall uprights of Sarsen (Tertiary sandstone) encircled by a ring of tall Sarsen uprights, all originally capped by horizontal Sarsen stones in a post-and-lintel arrangement. Within the Sarsen stone circle were also configurations of smaller and lighter bluestones (igneous rock of diabase, rhyolite, and volcanic ash), but most of these bluestones have disappeared. Additional stones include the so-called Altar Stone, the Slaughter Stone, two Station stones, and the Heel Stone, the last standing on the Avenue outside the entrance. Small circular ditches enclose two flat areas on the inner edge of the bank, known as the North and South barrows, with empty stone holes at their centers.
Why Stonehenge was built is unknown, though it probably was constructed as a place of worship of some kind. Notions that it was built as a temple for Druids or Romans are unsound, because neither was in the area until long after Stonehenge was last constructed. Early in the 20th century, the English astronomer Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer demonstrated that the northeast axis aligned with the sunrise at the summer solstice, leading other scholars to speculate that the builders were sun worshipers. In 1963 an American astronomer, Gerald Hawkins, purported that Stonehenge was a complicated computer for predicting lunar and solar eclipses. These speculations, however, have been severely criticized by most Stonehenge archaeologists. Most of what has been written about Stonehenge is nonsense or speculation, said R.J.C. Atkinson, archaeologist from University College, Cardiff. No one will ever have a clue what its significance was.
Stonehenge and the nearby circular monument of Avebury were both added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1986.
Unfortunately, the public is no longer allowed to get close to the stones during normal operating hours. Visitors stay on a path that goes round the outside of the stone circle. Because of this, I had heard it was disappointing. However, I thought it was fine. The site is still amazing. We rented the audio guide. It was well worth the small charge.
You can have access to the stone circle during Stone Circle Access visits, which are offered outside of normal opening times for one hour and is for a maximum of 26 people. These must be pre-booked and pre-paid. This is not a guided tour and, because the visits are out of hours, there are no audio guides available. The gift shop and shack shop are also closed. To enhance your Stone Circle Access visit, you can pre-order a guidebook which will be ready for you at the time of your visit. If you have a stone circle access reservation, you can also visit Stonehenge during normal opening times on the same day for no additional cost and make use of the audio guides.
After spending an hour or so at Stonehenge, we were taken to Lacock Village, a National Trust Village, that dates back to the 13th-century. During the Middle Ages Lacock became a prosperous and thriving town through its wool industry. It has remained unchanged over the centuries and has many charming lime-washed, half-timbered and stone houses.
Dog-powered Turnspit at the George Inn
Lacock Market Square
Many a drunk spent the night in this little jail
Quaint Street in Lacock Village
Stone Cottage in Lacock
House used in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
House used in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
Lacock Work House (just as might have been found in a Dickens novel)
Lacock Village has been used as a set in many films and television movies including:
The tour we took was recommended by Rick Steves in his book, Rick Steves' England. I found this guidebook to be extremely helpful in planning our trip and worth the investment.
VisitBath, the official tourism web site for Bath, also has an excellent information about tours departing from Bath to explore the West Country, including the Cotswolds and Stonehenge.
about Stonehenge, Ley Lines. Lacock Village, Avebury, and The Cotswolds
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