I must’ve heard the ‘they’re just rocks’ and that it is ‘rather underwhelming’ and the notorious ‘far too overpriced’ at least 10 times when discussing Stonehenge. At first, I agreed with all the notions, and I had been to Avebury already so I didn’t feel too upset about not going.
N.B. The last time we were here in March, James’ second or third cousin once removed? (sorry guys still confused) Cormac and his fiancee Carrie were kind enough to take us on a day trip to Marlborough and then Avebury. Avebury’s Stone Circle is actually extremely larger than Stonehenge, such that you can’t even tell your standing in a circle unless you look at it aerially, and it is completely FREE, and you can even touch the stones! It seems the locals tend to favor Avebury as opposed to Stonehenge. Here are some photos of Avebury from our last trip:
Anyway, it kept irking me that I was all the way here in England, in driving distance of one of the Wonders of the World and I wasn’t going to do it. When would I have this opportunity again? With that in mind, I decided if I could find an affordable option, I would do it, if not then not a big deal since I saw Avebury Stone Circle. After some searching, I found a Stonehenge Tour that departed from Salisbury, and at just £28 pounds you got transport from Salisbury to Stonehenge, an audio guide, access to Stonehenge, access to Old Sarum and the Salisbury Cathedral. In addition, I managed to find a £15 return ticket to Salisbury, making the trip a total of about £45. Based on what I saw online, this seemed to be the best deal for me because not only was I able to do Stonehenge, but I got access to another historic site and could make a day trip out of it and visit the town of Salisbury as well. Done deal.
Myself, James and our friend Noor, who we actually met while doing laundry in our dorms, decided to go on the trip together. When we got to the train station and looked at our seat reservations we were pleasantly surprised to find we were somehow in first class. I scanned our tickets, again and again, to make sure there wasn’t a mistake, but somehow my cheap £15 ticket managed to get me a first class seat. I’m not even going to question it. We gleefully found our seats and enjoyed our two-hour train ride in luxury. Free wifi, charging ports, cushy and spacious leather seats. To top it off, you get complimentary snacks. Tea and coffee, biscuits and pound cake yum. Ugh, my heart says travel first class every time but my wallet says no. After a pleasant ride, we were in Salisbury and had to wait maybe 15 minutes outside of the station before the next tour bus arrived to take us on our tour.
I’m really glad we did the audio tour because I feel that if I had seen Stonehenge without knowing all the information that went with it, I would’ve been underwhelmed and dissatisfied with my purchase, and truly felt like they were just rocks. However finding out at these rocks were brought from Wales, and Avebury (ayyy) via boat and on land rolled on logs was really interesting to learn. Some other interesting facts we learned was that they believe the circle was actually never finished and that’s why it seems dismantled at some points, as opposed to the common misconception that it was completed and then fell apart. Also, there IS a front and back entrance of the circle, indicated by locations of the rocks (odd for a circle to have a back and front entrance..) Additionally, though it is thought that it was used to keep track of something by using the sun, there is also speculation it is very sacred and used as burial grounds since many bone remains were found around and near the structure. Likewise I naively never thought about this, but the rocks aren’t just sitting on the surface, they were actually dug into the ground to hold them in place. Additionally by using some sort of infrared machine they were able to detect wooden structures below Stonehenge and possible further burial sites. Pretty interesting stuff. Lastly, one interesting bit of information, that we actually had found out previously from Cormac and his mum Teresa, was that during the annual solstices, the Stonehenge site is free to access for the use of religious rituals and worship ceremonies, keeping homage to its original purpose.
Surprisingly it was not extremely crowded, and with a little persistence, and me politely asking a group of obnoxious girls to move over so the rest of us could take photos, we managed to get some decent shots of Stonehenge. Maybe it was because it was an early, brutally cold Sunday morning, or maybe because it was the day after Nov 5th and a lot of people were out the previous night celebrating. Whatever the reason we were happy we didn’t have to deal with crowds. When you actually get to the Stonehenge welcome center, after paying for and showing your tickets and collecting the handheld audio devices (if you paid for audio), you still have to walk about a mile and a half down a pathway before reaching the famed circle. Fortunately, for those like myself, there’s a nice shuttle bus that will drive you to the stones and let you out just outside the walkway to enter the stone circle. It was really, really cold and I swear that’s the only reason I took the bus – not because I’m lazy.
We probably spent about an hour walking around the circle. Not necessarily because of the size, realistically we could’ve taken 5 minutes and walked around the circle, but more so because we were trying to get photos and listening to the audio tour along our walkway of the circle. An interesting fact about the Stonehenge site is that it isn’t the only site to see. There are a ton of other sacred sites spread across the acres of land on which it is located on, but truthfully we were too cold to walk around and see the others so we decided to hop back on the shuttle and check out the exhibits at the welcome center. The exhibits held some of the bones excavated in archaeological digs of Stonehenge, along with various rocks used to “cut” the large rocks, and pots and vases presumed to have been used during sacred rituals. We also found an exhibit that stated that about approximately a 100 people are needed to pull one of the stones, and you can see how much strength your pulling registered on the scale. I didn’t even register a person.
After this, we decided we had our fill of our Stonehenge and went back to our drop off point to wait for our tour bus so we could continue. Our next step was Old Sarum. Old Sarum was once a town, which was chosen as the site following the Norman Conquest by William the Conqueror. A castle, Cathedral, and massive moat are main features of what the site used to be, however, the town was then dismantled so the rocks could be used to build the current town of Salisbury. It originally was a fort during the Iron Age, then was occupied by the Romans, and then taken over by William the Conqueror.
Whilst walking through the ruins, we read various signs pointing out where the remnants of the Cathedral were located (pictured above). Additionally, we were able to walk through the Royal Castle, or what’s left of it. I can officially say I’ve been inside a castle, checking that off my bucket list √. We also saw what were the remains of the royal toilets, some poor person had the delightful job of scooping out the feces and from the ground whenever the King wasn’t around, yuck.
After Old Sarum, we decided it was time to head back into the city center and check out the Salisbury Cathedral. What is interesting about this particular cathedral is that it actually has the tallest spire in all of Britain. Fun fact, during the second World War, pilots were instructed NOT to bomb the town of Salisbury, specifically the Cathedral, because they used the Spire as a landmark to geographically orient themselves while in air. Essentially they used to fix their locations, before heading to other towns that they were targeting, due to this the town of Salisbury was mostly spared of bombings.
The Cathedral is actually free to tour, and you do not need to pay, however, you can choose to leave a donation as is the case for most free points of interests. If you get there during the hours of noon and 3, you can actually climb the spire on a guided tour, free of charge. However, the space for it is limited as they limit the number of people that can climb the Spire a day to limit the wear and tear on the tower. As it is quite popular, it is recommended to organize this in advance of going to the Cathedral. We got there too late and had failed to organize it in advance so we missed this opportunity. Though I think I’m okay with not climbing the tallest spire in all of Britain. I can only imagine myself crawling on my hands and feet up the last few steps towards the top, out of breath and sweating. An interesting fact that we learned about the Spire was that it is structurally so heavy, it is actually weighing down the columns that support it, and you can see the columns bending beneath its weight. I imagine there will have to be repairs done in the future to fix this issue.
The inside of the Cathedral itself is rather beautiful. Though I am not of the faith of Christianity, I can’t always help but admire the beauty of the Churches and Cathedral’s here in Europe. So much time and effort went into building them.
Whilst walking through the Cathedral, James saw a plaque that he made me take a photo, because he takes none, that he thought exemplified his and his twin brother’s life mottos. Pictured below.
This Cathedral, in particular, is home to a few gems. One being the world’s oldest working clock, the second being one of the four remaining copies of the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta, for those that don’t remember their middle school history, is a famous charter that establishes the major principle that every person is privy to the law and must obey it, even the King. Additionally, it established basic rights, such as the rights of individuals, the right to justice and the right to a fair trial. It is kind of surreal to see such historic, and important documents in their original state. Though as goes with many of these documents, you can’t take photos of it. Instead, I took a photo of the tent that said the Magna Carta was within it.
The Magna Carta itself is amazing. All written on sheepskin, with impeccable penmanship. Each page took about 2 days to finish, whenever mistakes were made they would just be scraped off with a knife and then continue with their writing. What I found amazing was how straight and immaculate the document’s penmanship was, though I guess if you take 2 days to write a page there’s no reason it shouldn’t be.
After looking at the document we went inside the Cathedral to view it further, and we were promptly informed that the Cathedral was going to be closed to visitors soon as an Evensong was about to take place, but we were welcome to stay and watch it if we would like, and there would be refreshments after. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that our ears perked up at the mention of free refreshments. Noor who also didn’t grow up in a Church had viewed one Evensong before and said it was quite nice to see, so on her word we decided to stay and check it out. I should mention I had no idea what an Evensong even was, but as the name suggests its a lot of singing. I was really surprised at how “angelic” the choir boys sounded, and amazed at how high their voices could go. It gave me chills hearing their voices, the only time my voice ever got that high it was in the shower, and it never sounded that pleasant. The service itself was mainly dedicated to giving three individuals awards, for their outstanding service in the community and church.
Following the hour-long service, we went over to the refreshments area where directly across the spread was a table filled with the most beautiful glass objects.
The spread was lovely and included wine, squash, water, garlic balls, chips and salsa, cheese sticks, grapes, and cheese. However met the rudest, and possibly the daftest caterers ever. The people that viewed/participated in the service were the ONLY ones in the Church. When people went over to get some food the caterers asked them if they were part of the organization and confused everyone and then promptly told them they weren’t allowed to have the food. Like hello, we were the only ones in the Church, of course, the food was meant for us. After they turned us away I decided to ask one of the Ministers and clarify if the refreshments were for us, and when I was positively told yes to help myself to as much as I want, I walked over with a smirk on my face and informed the caterers we were allowed to have the refreshments as it was meant for us. One particular staff member from the catering company had a real stick up her butt and just shot Noor, James and I dirty looks and whispered to her friends while pointedly staring at us making comments as we ate. I so badly wanted to go up to her and explain her position since she didn’t seem to comprehend it. Hired to work FOR the Church to serve and cater to its GUESTS, not turn them away and be rude. Regardless, we made sure to eat until we were full (hey free dinner), thanked the Ministers on our way out and then left the Church to proceed to the train station.
A shot-minutes wait, and another first class trip, with more complimentary drinks and snacks, made for a lovely train ride home. Minus the snotty catering staff, the day was a very nice day, filled with lots of firsts.
Total Cost for James and I = £86.40
- Train Tickets: £30.40 altogether
- Stonehenge tour: £28 ea. = £56
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