For those of you that feel that, during this modern age, there is no room for mystery and spirituality, I would ask you to visit Stonehenge and its surroundings in the beautiful county of Wiltshire, England. Stonehenge and its neighbourhood will fill you with wonder, remind you of the power of legend and renew your childlike curiosity about the past!
Situated on the Salisbury Plain, Stonehenge is just the most famous of the wonderful sites that await you in this incredible landscape. This area has been inhabited since the Mesolithic Period; a full 20,000 years ago. There is not a single square meter of ground that has not been shaped by humans. During the Neolithic Period, about 6,500 years ago, the region was a centre of religious observance and entered its heyday of monument building.
You may have grave concerns about entering here!
During ancient times, the regions and its monuments were a matter of curiosity and legend. It is no coincidence that King Arthur and his mentor Merlin are associated with the area. In one famous legend, Merlin caused the stones to be transported magically from Mount Killaraus in Ireland as a monument to Britons slain by devious Saxons. Archaeological and linguistic evidence shows that this area was a major dividing line between Saxons and Britons and was probably the site of skirmishes. During the 17th and 18th Centuries, antiquarians became interested in the area and surveys shows a myriad of Stone Age sites scattered around the landscape. In fact, from the hill where Stonehenge perches, there are over one hundred identified Stone Age features within sight including dozens of burial mounds, processional avenues, former wooden monuments and standing stones. Today, we have no real idea why the region was subject to such monumental effort during times immemorial but we can enjoy the sense of wonder that we all feel when we walk in the literal footsteps of our ancestors.
Reaching Stonehenge is easy by car or motorcoach from London Heathrow Airport. The 90 minute ride from the airport is right down the M3 and then the A303. In fact, Stonehenge is right beside the road. You travel up a low rise, crest the top of the hill and Stonehenge is immediately to your right. The road is so close, that there is talk of building a tunnel of many kilometres under the site so that there is an undisturbed vista from the hill where the monument stands.
Here’s a Pro-tip: During the long days from June to August, the area of Salisbury Plains is transformed into the legendary “Summer Realm”. The stars seem closer to the earth. While the area is beautiful in every season, it is gorgeous during this time.
There are so many cool sites to see in the area. I recommend you put on a pair of good walking boots and check out the following locations:
- Stonehenge – this is one of the most recognised monuments on the entire earth. Full of mystery, it is a powerful place that will thrill you. The bluestones that make up the smaller circle within Stonehenge are from the Preseli Mountains in Wales. They have special exothermic properties and feel colder than the tall Sarsen stones that surround them. This is a magical place!
This is my friend, Rocky’s, favourite place!
- Woodhenge and Durrington Walls – this site is the companion to Stonehenge that was once built completely in wood. The two sites were linked by a processional avenue along the river Avon.
- The Salisbury Museum – this excellent facility contains artefacts from the area including, my favourite, the grave of the Amesbury Archer. A man of 35-45 years old was buried with great honour in a grave that contained hundreds of goods, including three copper daggers, the oldest known example of metal work in England. DNA analysis has shown that the Amesbury Archer was not from England but was born near the Alps in continental Europe.
Avebury out-henges Stonehenge!
- Avebury – this lesser known site is, in my opinion, much more impressive than Stonehenge. The massive excavated circle is still imposing with deep ditches that have partially been filled in by erosion but are still difficult to scale.
Inside the enormous circle (many times bigger than Stonehenge) there were once hundreds of standing stones that were about eight meters above and below the ground. Early Christians were afraid of the site’s powers and built a crossroads inside to try to tame the power of the old gods.
- Silbury Hill – A short distance from Avebury is an impressive manmade hill. This 129 foot tall, UNESCO World Heritage site was created by individuals bringing baskets of earth from their homes – sometimes hundreds of kilometres away – in order to build up the mound over centuries. Literally, thousands of families shaped the land by bringing a portion of their own homes to this inspiring site.
- West Kennett Long Barrow – on a rise a short distance from Silbury Hill is a burial mound that was used for centuries by families in the region. This impressive shaft construction can be visited inside today and shows that our ancestors revered this land.
There are many other sites of interest in the region including Salisbury Cathedral, the Uffington Whitehorse, the castle at Old Sarum, the Caen Hill Locks, the Devil’s Den, Longleat and many, many more.
Here’s another Pro-tip: I’d suggest taking a day or two each time you’re in the region to visit a new site. There are so many that you’ll only enjoy them over successive trips. Wiltshire is a county that will always call you back!
Being a rural and farming area, expect the food to be fresh, wholesome and plentiful. Here are my favourite places to eat in the area:
- The Red Lion in Avebury – this is one of my favourite pubs because it is located at the crossroads inside the Avebury ring. The food is excellent and plentiful. My favourite is the steak and ale pie.
- Anokaa in Salisbury – this upscale venue has the best Indian food in the region. The chef uses only the freshest ingredients and the restaurant’s speciality is vegetarian dishes.
This hearty dish will cure what Ales you!
- Sapore D’Italia in Marlborough – I love this upscale Italian restaurant which has one of my favourite pizzas in all of England!
Being a semi-rural location, you don’t expect a variety of nightlife beyond the local pubs, but there are some cool venues in the region. Here are my favourites:
- Maul’s Wine & Cheese Bar – this upscale venue has excellent quality wines and knowledgeable experts to help you with selections.
- Salisbury Arts Centre – this exhibition space is downtown and close to the cathedral. It has cool and thought-provoking exhibits and, during the summer, it is often the venue for comedy acts.
- Vestry Bar – this cool cocktail bar has excellent mixologists that produce both classic cocktails and potent potables using local ingredients
If you’ve been trekking all day, you’ll want someplace nice to rest. The area around the Salisbury Plain has excellent B&Bs and guest houses that offer beautiful settings at affordable prices. Here are some of my favourites:
- Manor Farm B&B – Salisbury Plain is the area for a good bed & breakfast and this is one of the best. It is right outside of Marlborough and perfect for exploring the region. Expect a profound quiet to settle over you while you sleep and then awake to a hearty Full English breakfast.
Silbury Hill was made like ice cream: one scoop at a time!
- The Chapter House – this grill-house and pub has picturesque rooms to rent and is only a five minute walk from the cathedral. The restaurant and pub onsite are great and then you can stumble up to your comfortable room for a good night’s sleep.
- Websters Bed & Breakfast – this beautiful property is one of my favourite in the region. The venue offers friendly and helpful service in a quiet landscape and beautiful setting.
The Salisbury Plain around Stonehenge is a magical landscape that will enchant you while relaxing you to your core. Exploring this landscape on foot is an experience that will renew your faith in the magic of nature and our fabulous ancestors!