Friday, 6 July 2012

Stonehenge is like Disney World. No. Really.

Yesterday was the realization of a major childhood dream of mine. Ever since I first learned about Stonehenge I have wanted to visit. It's a place of magic, a place of mystery and a place of romance for someone like me who is in love with both history and fantasy literature. It's a dream location.
It was certainly an amazing day. We didn't just see our first World Heritage Site. We also learned a lot about what this whole process is going to be like.
(Please note this is a long post)

The ticket in!!!

I honestly didn't know what to expect at Stonehenge. It's been several years since they stopped allowing people to go up to the stones themselves because people were stealing bits and pieces and destroying the integrity of the site. Which I think is really sad. Just because people couldn't keep their hands off the stones now no one gets to see them up close. 
(Actually that's not entirely true. You can arrange private tours if you do have the money but I won't tell you how because I'm jealous and poor so there. Also there are events for the summer solstice and the winter solstice but those are also very special cases.)

We took a bus there. Now, I was very upset about this but I'll explain later why it was the BEST IDEA EVER.

Anyway we took a bus there and getting off the bus the first priority was the bathroom. For those concerned the bathrooms are sparse but also very nice. So no worries there. Then it was in line for our tickets. Then around down through the gates and up and around and then there it was.

Stonehenge, Wiltshire Countryside, near Salisbury
Here is where I explain the slightly odd title. I am a huge fan of Disney World. I know that the world doesn't look like they make it look, all pleasantly wonky lines with everything looking simultaneously brand new and old. However, the only thing I could think when I first saw the stones was that they looked imagineered and I wanted to know if I was in the right place.

You can't get too close to the stones so they look much smaller and there are so many people. So. Many. It's terribly hypocritical to complain because I was one of them but I just have to wonder what it would be like with no one around.

Now, I in no way mean to be ungrateful or sound like I didn't enjoy my day. I enjoyed it immensely. It's just something I never really thought about when we started planning these trips. I, as a romantic, imagined seeing these places as they were in their original state and that's simply not possible. Matt claims it's because there are too many people in the world. I think he's right. There are so many of us milling about and who are we to deny anyone their access to their heritage?

Complain as I might about tourists you bet your sweet ass we took pictures...

The options for getting to Stonehenge are actually quite diverse. If you are able to drive in the UK, Stonehenge is about a two hour drive from London. It's mostly a straight shot on the M3; just follow the signs to Salisbury. Matt and I are not so lucky as to have a car so we had to look to public transport.

The next thing we looked at were times for the Southwest Train Line. Trains run from London Waterloo Station approximately every half an hour and end up in Salisbury an hour and a half later. From there you can catch a bus to the stones. This is a slightly more expensive option - about £50 combined PER ADULT - and we found that the busses don't run very frequently. However, you get to see Salisbury so if you're not like us and can get up early to start a long day out then you may really enjoy this option. Please note we also don't have £50 each to spend on a day out... that bag up there totally has two pack lunches in it.

It was an amazing idea to take a tour bus and I highly recommend using Evan Evans Tours and their Stonehenge Express tour (only £29 each). Matt will be pleased if I put it in writing that he was right so here it is: Matt was right. Not only was booking a tour the cheapest of the options it was also the easiest way to see Stonehenge without a car.

We simply took the tube to Trafalgar Square, met the bus at the visitor center on Cockspur Street at mid-day (after a lovely coffee basically next door), sat on an airconditioned bus for two hours and there we were. Now, you only get an hour and a half on site but we found that there was more than enough time for us to enjoy the site, eat lunch and hit up the gift shop (oh yeah). An added bonus? The price of the bus ticket ALSO COVERS THE COST OF ENTRY TO STONEHENGE. Perfection.

Despite our wonderful bus being made by Mercedes-Benz (!!!!) and really comfortable (specifically for Matt's leg) even though it was full; it was an amazingly grueling day. I don't think that Matt and I ever realized how much work this massive task we have set before ourselves would take. There will certainly be good and bad days and there will certainly be some terrible travel stories to go with each place (Have you seen what rush hour traffic, fueled by people leaving Wimbledon, on the tube is like? You do not want to EVERSEETHATEVER.)

You might also notice that I haven't said anything about visiting Avebury which is part of the World Heritage listing. It's really impossible to see it using public trasport. The national trust website is very vague about how to use public transport ("buses pass by frequently" - super helpful guys). The only real way we would suggest is driving. And since we can't, it's one for another time

Not seeing Avebury and still having a lovely day also taught us another tried and true lesson: Quality NOT Quantity. To do this and do this right we must always remember to pace ourselves and make sure that we give ourselves the chance to really take in what we are seeing and the experiences are a creating.

Yesterday we stood only feet away from a place that has seen 5,000 years worth of history. That's an amazing thing and giving it it's own day was the best thing we could have possibly done.

An absolutely wondrous day <3

x T

Number 1 done :)

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