Stonehenge has been on our days out wishlist for a long time and now we are English Heritage members we decided to take the hours drive north to visit.
Luckily we managed to dodge the Dorset Steam Fair traffic, as it was going in the opposite direction, but did get to see a couple of steam engines trundling along on route to the event.
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in Amesbury, near Salisbury and is somewhere we have driven past many times and you can see the stones from the busy main road.
We arrived to find a small queue to get into the carpark, as during peak times a £5 refundable parking charge is collected on arrival. This is refunded at the admissions point when purchasing your ticket, but English Heritage and National Trust members are exempt from this charge.
Unsurprisingly, being the height of the school holidays in August, there was a queue to get in; one for English Heritage members and the other for tickets on the gate and it took us about 20 minutes to finally get inside.
We picked up our audio guides and made the decision to see the stones first and hopped straight on the visitor shuttle which takes you 1.5 miles up to the stones. You can walk from the visitor centre if you prefer and the shuttle also stops halfway up, so you can walk through the woods and through the ancient landscape, which is what we did.
If you are able to make this 15 minute walk to the stones, I highly recommend you do it as you are able to view some information tables with points of interest along the route and it’s a fascinating walk.
We have never really given a second thought to the landscape as we whizz past it in the car, but along this walk you get to see several round barrows – earth mounds, usually covering one or more graves or burials and surrounded by a circular ditch.
It was here the audio guide really caught the kids attention as the kids version gave them all the information I read in a Horrible Histories style. Sebby excitedly pointed to the round barrow and told me “there are dead bodies in there”.
The kids then spotted Stonehenge itself on the horizon and started running towards it.
I have to admit that my heart sank a little when we arrived at the stones as it was packed and I was worried that we wouldn’t get to appreciate the stones.
What we found, however, was a well thought out, wide concrete path that circled around the stones, with a grassy area where people could sit and enjoy a picnic.
The stones and the circular ditch, which is part of the original low earthworks are all roped off at knee level, giving you an uninterupted view of the stones. There are also boxes with numbers positioned at intervals, telling which section of the audio tour to listen to.
Eliza loved the fact that the audio tour told her “secrets” that adults were not allowed to hear.
We learned that there are of two types of stones, the larger sarsens and the smaller bluestones.
The Sarsens are found locally on Salisbury Plain and Marlborough Downs, but the Bluestones were brought in all the way from Wales.
What impressed us the most, is that the Stone Circle is a real masterpiece of engineering, and building it would have taken huge effort from hundreds of well-organised people using only simple tools and technologies, plus the monument is aligned to the movements of the sun.
The stones were shaped and set up to frame at least two important events in the annual solar cycle – the midwinter sunset at the winter solstice (21st December) and the midsummer sunrise at the summer solstice (21st June).
We spent a good 90 minutes exploring the site, before catching the shuttle bus back to the visitor centre, where we wandered around the Neolithic houses which have been laid out to show how the people who built Stonehenge would have lived.
The kids all declared that the beds were very uncomfortable.
Also outside the visitor centre is a replica Sarsens stone, set on top of an example of how they would have tried to move the stones, which weigh on average 25 tons each.
Lets just say we didn’t manage to move it!
Inside the Visitor Centre is a huge shop, cafe and a museum. As you enter the museum you watch the seasons pass and take a trip through time with an incredible audio-visual 360 degree view from inside the stones.
The museum then takes you through the history of the site, with models of how it would have looked in different periods of its history, plus 250 archaeological objects and treasures discovered in the landscape surrounding Stonehenge.
Stonehenge is a fascinating day out for kids and adults alike and we were there for around 3 hours. The kids preferred the outdoor activities to the museum and I strongly recommend you get the audio tour to get the most out of your day.
A family ticket to Stonehenge is £50.70 (with Gift Aid £55.90 ), however it is included in an English Heritage annual pass which costs £99 for the year and gives you entry to over 400 historic places. Use code PART16 for 20% off plus Top Cashback to get 5.25% cashback too.