Edit Blog Post
Published: September 22nd 2014
It's always quite embarrassing, upon meeting people from other countries who gush about how lucky I am to be English and live near so many amazing historical sites, to be asked, 'So how many times have you been to Stonehenge?' Well, the answer to that would be...er....never.
Even more embarrassing is that I don't even live somewhere inaccessible in the wilds of Scotland, I live about three hours' drive away from arguably England's most iconic site and I still haven't made it yet. Some people's excuse being that it isn't exciting to travel in one's native country - I actually think I've probably seen other countries in far more detail than I have my own.
So, on the way down south to Devon we finally decided to book in a slot to visit Stonehenge. Having been warned that Stonehenge is completely lacking in atmosphere, infested by crowds of tourists and overshadowed by the noise of the motorway, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. After all, when you've seen something a thousand times in pictures and on television it never seems to live up to the hype when you see it in person, especially taking environmental factors into consideration (examples;
India in the sweltering heat when you have food poisoning, Sistine Chapel with a pre-recorded message telling everyone to shut up and not take photos playing constantly, Pyramids with a Sainsburys and millions of tourists right outside them.)
It wasn't as bad as many people claim, I think the typically English weather and the fact we got there very early had protected us from swarms of tourists. And for something that is considered one of Britain's premier tourist attractions, it had a rather abandoned feel to it. The tiny English Heritage gift shop and car park being the only, rather apologetic, way of knowing where it was. Apparently the £11 million redevelopment plan involving a huge visitor's centre a mile away from the actual site in a bid to make it more isolated and 'atmospheric' has gone the way of the dodo.
I hate to be dismissive of something that is universally regarded as impressive, but the whole thing wasn't exactly overwhelming. Egypt has the Pyramids, Jordan has Petra, China has the wall, Peru has Machu Picchu...and England has a bunch of rocks in a field. Perhaps at Solstice, or if you had the chance to re-enact the
final scene of Tess of the D'Urbevilles, and actually go inside the stones, it would be more impressive. However, with the backing track of the nearby motorway, and the constant reminders not to go inside the cordon, it wasn't exactly the wonder of the world it might have been.
Woodhenge (the rather impressive name for the since-destroyed wooden version of Stonehenge) was equally underwhelming. Especially with the delightful addition of a used condom right on top of the centre-piece - some people have a very unusual way of celebrating history!
West Kennet Barrow (row of standing stones) seemed far more impressive, and Avebury has the delightful feel of a village completely unaware that someone decided to build it right on top of a stone circle (if you can ignore the plethora of tourist-trap shops).
I'm going to have to try a return visit later in life when I'm not so built-up for disappointed. It's the problem with constantly being told something is amazing, only to be disappointed by reality.
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