Stone circle in a landscape with blue sky and white clouds
England,  History,  Monday walks,  Sunday Stills

A visit to Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain

Nowhere in England is the summer solstice more famously celebrated than at Stonehenge. This ancient site has been a place of worship and celebration of the solstice for thousands of years. Every midsummer it draws crowds, some committed Druids, others merely curious observers, to watch as the sun rises behind the Heel Stone to the northeast, and its first rays shine into the heart of the stone circle.

Many different theories have been put forward about who built Stonehenge, when, and why. Some say it was a Druid temple; some, an astronomical computer for predicting eclipses and solar events; and some, a place where ancestors were worshipped. The interpretation which is most generally accepted today is that it was a prehistoric temple constructed to align with the movements of the sun.

Stone circle in a landscape with blue sky and white clouds

What is undisputed is its significance. It is the only surviving lintelled stone circle in the world and considered the most architecturally sophisticated. It was constructed on the site of one of the largest cremations cemeteries known in Neolithic Britain.

Stone circle in a landscape with blue sky and white clouds
Stone circle in a landscape with blue sky and white clouds

The stones used in its construction were brought here over long distances; in particular the famous bluestones which came from the Preseli Hills in Wales, over 150 miles (250km) away. And those stones were dressed using sophisticated techniques, and were erected using precisely interlocking joints, unseen at any other prehistoric monument. If you are interested there is a full history of Stonehenge on the very informative English Heritage website.

Stone circle in a landscape with blue sky and white clouds

Note the passing A303 main road in the image above; there is talk from time to time, but so far nothing more than talk, of moving this away from the monument or building a tunnel.

Visiting Stonehenge

As a child Stonehenge was a familiar sight as we passed by on our way to holidays in Devon or Cornwall. On one occasion we stopped to visit. Back then there was no fancy visitor centre and no restrictions on access to the stones. Somewhere there is an old photo of me and my sister standing right next to the megaliths. While this is no longer possible (except for the carefully controlled access during the solstice event and special premium-priced experience visits), recent developments have ensured that intrusions such as car parks have been distanced from the stones. Instead, today visitors park some distance away, near the modern and very informative visitor centre, and are bussed to the monument. There a grassy path leads around the perimeter; while the limitations placed on access ensure people-free photos are possible for anyone with a small amount of patience.

Stone circle in a landscape with blue sky and white clouds

So last year on our way home from Dorset we stopped to visit, just as I had long ago with my family. The shuttle bus dropped us off near the stones and we strolled all the way around, taking photos from all angles.

Stone circle in a landscape with blue sky and white clouds

It was early November and a perfect day, and perfect time of day, for photography here. The sun was low enough to cast interesting shadows; the clouds scudded across the blue sky; a few crows wheeled overhead or settled on the massive stones in photo-worthy poses. Forgive me then if I share rather too many images from this shoot!

Stone circle in a landscape with blue sky and white clouds
Stone circle in a landscape with blue sky and white clouds

Our walk also took us out beyond the stones to see the famous Heel Stone. This is also sometimes referred to as the Friar’s Heel, because of a folktale attached to it:

The Devil bought these stones from an Irish woman, wrapped them up, and carried them to Salisbury plain. One of the stones fell into the river Avon, the rest were brought to the plain. The Devil declared that, ‘No-one will ever find out how these stones came here!’ A friar retorted, ‘That’s what you think!’ At this, the Devil threw one of the stones at the friar and struck him on his heel. The stone stuck in the ground and is still there to this day.

Large stone in a field with a bird on the top
The Heel Stone
Large stone with stone circle beyond
The Heel Stone
Part of a stone circle

After completing the circuit around the stones we considered walking back to the visitor centre rather than taking the bus, but there was a sharp wind blowing across Salisbury Plain, and we had a table booked at a local pub for lunch. So we decided on the warmer, faster option!

However we made sure to have a look at the museum where, among other things, I was delighted to see a temporary exhibition about people’s memories of Stonehenge, staged to mark the 100 years it has been in public ownership. The many family photos submitted reminded me of my own long-ago visit! The exhibition has since finished but the old photos have been archived on the English Heritage website: Stonehenge 100.

I’m sharing our visit for Terri’s Summer Solstice Sunday Stills theme, and doubling up with Jo’s Monday Walks. I hope they both will enjoy wandering around this special site with me.

I last visited Stonehenge in 2021 when all these photos were taken

69 Comments

  • Marie

    We visited on the October midterm break some years ago – weatherwise it wasn’t bad and it wasn’t crowded which was great. Your photos, as always, are wonderful…..

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Yes, I reckon that’s a good time to go – certainly avoiding the August crowds is a must. Going quite early in the day as we did helps too, and while part of me bemoans the fact that you can no longer go right up to the stones as you could when I was a child, I have to say it make it much easier to get good photos when people milling around them!

  • Anne Sandler

    Oh my Sarah what a bunch of beautiful images of Stonehenge. You couldn’t possibly post too many. My first thought of the heel stone was that it was a pointer for the circle. Maybe having something to do with time? A faith ceremony? Again, great photos. Almost like being there.

  • Annie Berger

    We did a very long bus tour out to Windsor Castle, Bath, Salisbury Cathedral, and Stonehenge at the end of the day. Insane but still worth seeing an incredible sight
    Loved your photos and description. Even though that was my second time there – the first was in 1974 – I don’t remember hearing a thing about the Heel Stone do glad you mentioned it.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Gosh, that does sound insane! I always think the tours that try to include Bath with Salisbury and Stonehenge are doing too much, but to include Windsor too is crazy! Did you have any time to enjoy the places? Bath alone needs two days!

      • Annie Berger

        More than a tad crazy, you’re right, but at least I’d previously visited all those places except Salisbury Cathedral and in far greater depth. This is what people would have called a whistle stop tour way back when!

  • SoyBend

    It’s an impressive sight, even if no one is sure of its original purpose. Your pictures are great, Sarah! I would have taken a lot too.

  • photobyjohnbo

    We are flying into London in October for a cruise. We are planning a couple of extra days before the cruise starts, if things work out anyway. Stonehenge is on my list of things to see.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      It’s definitely worth seeing. But if this is your first time in London there is so much to see in the city itself that I don’t know that I’d recommend taking a whole day out to go elsewhere! Depending on your timing and other plans of course, but do message me if you fancy meeting up for a drink one evening while in town?

  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    On one of the many times we’ve passed and/or visited Stonehenge, one was when we spent a hiking weekend in Stockbridge. Our longest hike included Stonehenge, but also Woodhenge not far away, do you know about that? It’s a low level wooden replica – but intriguing because although it’s been proved to be of considerable age, no one has teen able to trace who made it or how it came to be there.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I do know about Woodhenge (and it’s covered in the museum here) but I’ve not seen it for myself – something for the list next time we’re in the area!

  • Christie

    An amazing walk around the stones, Sarah, and still a place I have to visit. Stonehenge is actually the culprit of my wanderlust, which started with my Grade 5 English book🙂 Of course we were not even allowed to think of traveling at that time, but well, I shall visit it one day!

  • Ju-Lyn

    A fabulous walk around the stones! I’ve visited smaller stones in Scotland, but never Stonehenge – thank you for this treat!

  • rosalieann37

    We visited 22 July 2002. It was a hot (for England) sunny day and there were hordes of people there. The recorded message things were either all out, or their batteries had run down. We got one from someone who was leaving the site. My husband listed to it – I was too impatient to listen so I don’t know what it said. I thought the heel stone was called the Frog stone because it was supposed to have a frog face. i thought it looked more like a moray eel, but I guess there wouldn’t have been many of them around for a comparison

    We had a full day that day. We had been staying in London, so we rode the tube out to West Ruislep with our suitcases, our daughter picked us up (she said she wasn’t driving in to London to get us), and we visited Salisbury Cathedral. We had lunch there. Then we went to Old Sarum to look at the cathedral from a distance. I had been looking at paintings by Constable of the cathedral, so I wanted that perspective. After that we went to Stonehenge, and then on to Avebury before we went to our daughter’s rental house in Cheltenham.

      • rosalieann37

        We were there with our daughter and grandson – he was 6 or 7. Avebury was his favorite. I had never heard of it until our daughter told us about it. I wasn’t really able to see Avebury close up – my husband walked the circle with our daughter, but even back then (I was only 64) I wasn’t able to walk well enough to see it except from a distance.

  • wetanddustyroads

    It doesn’t matter from which angle you take a photo of Stonehenge, every one is as good as the next! Thank you for taking me on a stroll around these magnificent stones … there’s no two stories about this: It’s impressive (and so are your photo’s)!

  • Sandy

    Excellent photos Sarah … but you are perpetuating a myth which I fully believed before I visited Stonehenge years ago. Based on pictures like yours and moves like 2001, I believed that these were massively huge stone monoliths. I was expecting skyscraper size edifices where I would look like an ant in Manhattan. During my first ever trip to England, I took the 2 (or was it 4 hour?) drive to Stonehenge, tramped through wet and abysmally cold plains to see these stones which were considerably smaller than New York building. You can say my expectations were misguided. But much like the internet today, back then Hollywood was my reference for truth. I saw it a movie, so it must be true!

    Kidding aside, I see that you do include a black bird in your photos. Using that a reference, it’s obvious that these stones are not a big as skyscraper …. unless these are really really big birds ???

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Really?! I guess because I’ve known this site since I was a child I find the stones massive enough as they are. Consider that they were moved here all the way from Wales by people who had only the most basic of tools! And if you look carefully there ARE some people in my shots, as well as the birds 😆

  • sustainabilitea

    This brings back good memories of my visit there in the mid-seventies when you could still go right up to the stones. Our younger daughter and I visited many years later when that was no longer possible, but it was still impressive.

    janet

  • the eternal traveller

    It’s such a fascinating place. We took our girls there in 1999. There was no visitor centre and a path went right around the stones, but not up too close. I would enjoy visiting again and seeing the museum.

  • Rose

    Stonehenge is such an intriguing place. It’s interesting to read about the various ‘guesses’ of what it represents.

  • Anna

    I remember doing the stonehenge day trip from london 20 years ago…. And being soooo disappointed we couldn’t go closer and touch them! Still an amazing place to see though! The history you’ve described is just so special!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you for visiting and commenting 🙂 These photos were taken on 1st November last year and I had to be careful not to include too many people even then!

  • margaret21

    Gosh, it’s years since I’ve been there. In fact you could still approach and climb all over everything, though there was little, if any interpretation. Thanks for this updated visit and … Happy Solstice!

  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    Never too many pictures, Sarah! We enjoy seeing every one of them, and Stonehenge is on our “to visit” list for if we ever get to England. We appreciate your perspective, both written and through your lens.

  • Terri Webster Schrandt

    I’m glad you shared this, Sarah! What an amazing history Stonehenge has, and a perfect post to commemorate the solstice! How cool that you randomly drive by there. Your pictures are lovely and give me added incentive to put this visit near the top of my bucket list.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Terri 🙂 Pretty much anyone driving from London to the West Country will pass by here or close to here. And it’s one of the most popular day trips from the capital too. There are loads of ancient monuments in Wiltshire, many of them of just as much significance to historians as this is, but Stonehenge is one of the most visually interesting and certainly the best known!

Do share your thoughts, I'd love to hear from you!

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