It wasn’t until we decided to visit England when I looked up information about Stonehenge. We’re talking about 7 days before arrival. -___-
First, I learned that advanced ticket purchase was required, specifically during the high season. Fortunately the chilly air and biting wind of early March meant it was still the low season, and there were plenty of tickets available. However upon further research I quickly discovered that ticket holders could not actually walk up to the stones; viewers could only spectate from behind a roped barrier during a thirty-minute time slot. I was advised to book the earliest ticket possible; increasing crowds later in the day only diminished the experience.
Then I learned of the Stone Circle Access Pass. Here are the details: no more than 20 or 30 people in a group, access in the early morning or early evening (not during regular hours), a 1-hour visit, and £30 per person for an up-close experience with the henge. Oh, and typically a 2-month advance reservation. It was Friday noon when I inquired about Stone Circle Access Passes for that following Monday. I figured there would be absolutely no chance of availability but I knew it wouldn’t hurt to ask. Lo and behold, there were 6 slots left for 6:45am that coming Monday!!! Have I mentioned how much I love traveling during the off-season?! Last minute sunrise at Stonehenge during clear weather? YES. OH MY GOD, YES!
After a full day in London, we drove to the nearest town to Stonehenge called Amesbury and spent the night in a free parking lot. Little did I know that there was a dirt road just outside of Stonehenge that allowed free car camping. There was even a tent along the road! We wish we had known about it. Imagine waking up to a view of Stonehenge right outside your window! I am sharing it here in the event anyone else has the opportunity to camp near Stonehenge.
We never knew that Stonehenge literally sat along the side of the freeway:
When we arrived to the visitor center, we saw that we were only an intimate group of 16 people. Wow. (There was another Stone Circle Access group at 8am and 4pm, both which were maxed out with 20 people.) Not only were we going to witness the sun climb behind Stonehenge, we were also the smallest group! I couldn’t have been happier. (When we returned later that afternoon, Stonehenge was swarmed with people.)
Sunrise at Stonehenge:
Our time concluded at 7:45am, still well before the opening of the visitor center and museum. We ran errands in nearby Salisbury and returned to Stonehenge later that afternoon to soak in the historic details at the new museum. There was even a display of what homes once looked like during the time Stonehenge flourished:
Next on our itinerary was the much lesser known Avebury Stone Circle, the largest henge in Britain just a short drive north of Stonehenge. (Stonehenge is the most complex henge, while Avebury is the largest.) The Avebury Stone Circle is so spread out that even a town with shops, a museum, and restaurant exist within the henge! Thanks to its unpopularity, the only other spectators were locals walking their dogs—no tour buses and masses of people at all! Plus, it was completely free to walk amongst the stones, although the tourist parking fee of £4 offset the free admission.
Hard to imagine that people dragged these massive stones to their current location today:
Even harder to imagine people manually digging gigantic ditches such as these using only primitive tools like antlers:
While I’m glad we visited the Avebury Stone Circle, I can’t recommend visiting unless you can drive yourself. Only local buses head to Avebury from Salisbury, which are unfortunately infrequent with journeys longer than they should be.
Everything about Stonehenge and Avebury was fortunate for us. From the last minute detour to England, to the last minute Stone Circle Access Passes, and to the rare sunny weather, we knew how fortunate we were that the chain of events fell into place and we savored every minute of it.