Years ago, I lived near Stonehenge. It was one of those places that we visited regularly. Especially when friends came to stay. One of the advantages of being local, was that you knew the best time to visit. I’m not sure if it was a well kept secret, but during the winter months, on one day a week, you could go right up to the stones. No barriers.
(My mother and my two sisters in the middle of Stonehenge – December 1984)
There was a little wooden shed among the stones, which an official sheltered from the weather and was on hand to answer questions. I guess also to make sure we didn’t damage the old stones. I think that is snow in the background.
This was Stonehenge to me.
Years later, I visited the stones again, with my husband, over several summer solstices. Carrying a babe in a sling and holding tight to the hand of our toddler. Again, we could go right up to the stones. It was a different experience. Instead of a few hardy locals, now the stones were thronging with masses of people and noise. Drums, singing and horns. Everyone waiting for the sun to rise. It was different, to say the least, but the stones were still the stones.
It has been a few years, but this weekend we took all three children to Stonehenge. First time we had seen the new visitor centre. Very different. We parked up and headed to the centre. It is run by English Heritage. National Trust and English Heritage members can go in free. The £5 parking fee is waived too. It is refunded for everyone when they buy the entrance ticket to the site.
There is a fleet of shuttle buses that must spend all day, busing people to and from the centre to the stones. Alternatively, you can walk the 1 and a half miles, as we did, over the Stonehenge Landscape route.
It became a competition. Who would see Stonehenge first. The younger two raced each other. It was so funny watching them. Every now and again, they would try to push the other one off the path, to gain an advantage. I don’t think they noticed how far we walked, or ran, in their case. I think this is the best way to reach the Stones.
A low rope fence shows visitors where to walk, but is ground hugging enough not to intrude on the view. We walked around the stones, but never among them. There were a lot of people going round, but not enough to feel crowded. No problem getting a family photo in front of the stones.
I couldn’t help chuckling at how many people walked around with their backs to the stones. Taking selfies of themselves in front of the stones. That was different. I wonder if they turned round and saw them for real.
Back at the visitors’ centre, we went round the museum which gives a wonderful surround experience as if you are standing in the middle of the stones, through the ages. Going back, to see it with all the stones in place. Also artifacts dug up. Setting the scene. Answering questions.
Including how many friends you would need to bring along to help you move one of those great, big stones.
I loved going back again. It was different, but the stones were still the stones.
I’ll go again, I’m sure. We will probably drag the children back to see the sunrise sometime soon, for the summer Solstice, because everyone needs to do that once. Or maybe more.
Linking up to #CountryKids. Have you been out and about recently?
So often when we go exploring, as a family, I’ll be the one at the back. Left pointing a camera or reading an information board. That’s me. Sometimes one of the children will walk with me, but often my photos will show my family in the far distance. Just the back of them.
Sometimes, I’ll catch them on film
misbehaving having fun. I don’t mind. Especially when we are visiting standing stones. I love seeing them chasing around among the stones. While I’m left to enjoy them. Something rather magical about having a stone all to yourself, even for a brief moment. For a stone hugger like me, it is bliss.
This weekend, we went to Avebury. It is one of my favourite places. I love walking around the stones. I don’t think I could ever grow bored of looking at them. The patterns and shapes. Often a dramatic sky behind. I feel hugely fortunate that, at various times, I’ve lived a stones throw from different standing stone sites: Avebury and Stonehenge included. The luxury of visiting whenever I could and seeing them through the seasons.
I now live a bit further away from Avebury, but still love visiting. This weekend we packed everyone in the car and headed back to Avebury. The first time I visited Avebury, I was the age of my eldest daughter. In those days Avebury Manor was privately owned. Beyond the “Private” signs, the manor always looked intriguing. Smart cars parked up in the drive, suggesting a glamorous lifestyle that I could only imagine. It would have been wonderful just to peek in.
The house was bought by the National Trust in 1991. Rented out, restored and opened in the years that followed. Then last year, the manor house was reopened again with a twist. This time people are encouraged to sit on the seats, pick up the kitchenalia and even add a few stitches to a modern sampler. Basically make yourself at home. If you remove shoes, you can even climb into the four poster beds.
As we left the manor, my 9 year old commented how nice it was to be able to touch things in the house. Too true. Unlike any of the other stately homes we’ve visited. Not only could I peek in through the windows of the Manor, after all these years, but I could actually have a fleeting taste of living there.
The Manor may be an amazing experience, but it will always be the stones that draw me back. Standing alone, for 5500 years.
Oh yes, I should just add that I did wear my new handknitted, odd sock walking socks to walk around the stones, and I can vouch that they were excellent to walk in. In fact my husband has suggested that we should have a drawer of odd handknitted socks. It would save time by eliminating the need to match them.
Now that’s a thought.
I admit. I was hoping to go somewhere last weekend that didn’t mean big crowds but still with a nod to Halloween. My children have reached the stage where dressing up as witches and following pumpkin trails, in broad day light…it’s just not going to happen. (After dark is a whole different matter!) We chose to avoid the obvious National Trust properties and tried our luck with Lytes Cary down near Somerton, Somerset.
It is a small property, with an interesting garden. Showing the children a medieval hall and how it had been added to, was on my list. They enjoyed wandering around the house and hearing the stories about some of the objects. I was intrigued by the brandy warming table. Ingenious!
The boy was interested in two unusual, elizabethan looking ladies, made out of leather, in one of the rooms. About a metre high. The guide told him a couple of theories about them – servants moved them round so their shadows, cast by the fire, deterred burglars, or being the fourteenth person at the table. Why two? A lady can’t possibly be seen in the same dress two days in a row.
It was the garden that the children really enjoyed. There are lots of high hedges and topiary. Breaking the garden up into rooms. The children could go off and explore without us. Playing an unofficial game of hide and seek.
“Oh there you are,” as I look up from taking another photo. Only to see them disappear again.
For the end of the season, there was still plenty of interest in the gardens.
I’m not sure if I missed a herbal garden, but I had hoped to see one. In the house, they have one of the few copies of an old herbal remedies book, Niewe Herball, which a former owner Henry Lyte translated. Maybe I missed the herbs, but I did see the book.
We did find medlars on one tree, alongside blossom. They also have apple and quince trees. I couldn’t resist making sure everyone breathed in a little bit of the quince fragrance. I miss our tree. It’s been a few years. Youngest wanted to know if it was meant to have fuzz on it. Oh yes.
I quite like the idea of adding a medlar tree to our little orchard.
We were too late to hunt for conkers. Hoards of other children had beaten us to them. Not that it stopped the children searching through the empty cases, just in case. They tried to catch leaves as they fell from the impressive avenue of broadleaves.
They may have grown beyond the fun trails offered, but put the children in a landscape with trees and a place to run, and they will have fun. Our trip had the perfect balance of autumn and interest for my growing family.