England #26- Stonehenge and the Barge
Tuesday, May 9, 2017 – we were off to Wiltshire! Specifically to Stonehenge, with stops in Alton Barnes, Avebury and Marlborough. We’ve been to all of them before, but I can’t get enough of Wiltshire, and I think it’s safe to say neither can Kim. Or Baker B, who was with us in 2013 and spent his whole trip in the Wiltshire area. Wiltshire is packed with energy – standing stones, crop circles, white horses… full of weird mysterious stuff and history – my favorite things!
We went to Stonehenge way back on our first trip, Kim and I did, in 2010, and wanted to see it again because it’s undergone massive changes since then. Well, not Stonehenge itself, of course, but the surrounding area. In 2010, I was astonished to find it right between two busy roads. Here’s a picture of it back then – the A303 went around to the north and the A344 to the south, and both were very close to the stones. This is the A344- you can see how close it is!
Then they had a massive renovation, built a new visitor center a mile away from the stones (the old one was right beside the stones), and closed the A344. It’s still the road for the buses from the new visitor center, but the rest is grassed over. The busy A303 is still there – we drove by Stonehenge on one of our other days via the A303, and said, “OMG there’s STONEHENGE!!!” – but there are proposals to build a tunnel running south of the stones to hide it.
This is the new visitor center. It’s not very pretty – I’m sure the idea was for it to blend in with the landscape. But it’s got tons of windows so is very nice inside. And has lots of interesting displays.
Things that have been said about Stonehenge:
I loved the display of old photos and old souvenirs. For some reason I really like considering tourists from the past.
And they have this really great wall of postcards sent over the years. This is just a tiny bit of it:
There are reconstructions of Neolithic houses right outside the visitor center.
We walked to the stones from the visitor center. You can also take the bus. It’s about a mile, and a very nice walk. There are tumuli along the way – mounds of earth raised over graves, aka barrows. Wiltshire has zillions of barrows.
There’s Stonehenge, way off in the distance! It seemed shockingly tiny, walking up to it from afar.
That’s where the visitor center used to be- now it’s a bus drop-off area. I think they are actually trying to make it less obtrusive too.
Nobody really knows why Stonehenge was built, or who built it. It was constructed in stages from 3000 BC to 2000 BC – the stones were set up around 2500 BC. It may have been a burial ground, and probably was a religious site. There’s definitely a celestial aspect to it- it’s aligned to the winter solstice sunset and the summer solstice sunrise. Nobody knows how the stones got there, or how they were set up- some of them came from Wales, 200 miles away. Aliens??
However they arrived, and whatever they were for, it’s very impressive.
Unfortunately you can’t go up to the stones, due to vandalism and erosion. Except at the solstice, and Baker B got to go to the summer solstice and mingle with a million druids when we were there in 2013 and Kim and I were still in London- I’m still jealous! But the ropes are very unobtrusive and you can still get pretty close. Oh, the other kind of sad thing is that you can’t go up to it anymore without buying a ticket, which was twenty pounds – it was SIX pounds in 2010, but they have been doing an awful lot of work. And ours was included in our English Heritage pass- one of the main reasons we got it. But it’s fenced all around now at quite a distance away, so you can’t just hop out of your car and take a look. We ran into a couple of guys who were trying to do exactly that and were being thwarted by fencing everywhere they went. The only way to get anywhere near it is via the bus drop-off area where you hand over your tickets. You also need to book in advance now.
We thought we’d just spend an hour or so, since we’d been there before, and then go on to Alton Barnes and to Avebury. We ended up being there for hours, what with the new visitor center to tour and the hike over there. We rode the bus back to save time (and Kim’s knee).
Stonehenge from the bus! It’s really impressive to see, but I have to admit I prefer Avebury. Avebury also has standing stones all over the place, and you CAN go right up to those. Stonehenge is very touristy, as hard as they’ve tried to NOT be touristy. Avebury is a little town in the midst of a whole bunch of standing stones, and is much more accessible.
We kind of just made a big circle with this day’s travels. Stonehenge is about an hour from where we were staying, in Peasedown St. John, and then we went to Alton Barnes to have lunch at the Barge, because we’d gone there about a million times on our last trip and LOVED it — and then continued on up to Avebury and Marlborough.
I have just gotten a horrible shock, though, by looking up the website for The Barge. It’s CLOSED. It’s for sale!! The Barge is a 200 year old pub on the Kennent and Avon Canal, and used to be a Crop Circle/UFO Hotspot. All the Crop Circle/ UFO fanatics would hang out there, and camp in their field. (Wiltshire is a hotbed of crop circle activity). We went there nearly every day we were in Wiltshire on our 2013 trip, and Baker B went every day by himself the first week (he was staying in Devizes while Kim and I were in London). The food was great, the beer was even better. And the area is gorgeous, full of canal boats and right beside the Alton Barnes White Horse.
We did kind of get the impression that the Barge was going …. downhill. It had changed owners very recently. The original owners ran it through all the UFO/Crop Circle years, from 1992 until… okay, I’ve just done a whole lot of googling and apparently the Barge has had new owners quite a few times since the ones who started the whole crop circle connection thing (I think they ran it till 2010 or so but haven’t been able to verify that and am tired of googling) .. but the happy news is that there is currently a community effort underway to buy it. Of course I think Baker B and I should buy it – we could run a pub in the wilds of Wiltshire! And we could pay, oh, $500 for it!! Maybe not a million. But it’s probably best if someone who knows what they are doing takes it over.
Our adorable car in the suspiciously empty car park.
The Alton Barnes White Horse! Of all the many mysterious White Horses in Wiltshire, this is my favorite.
Canal boats at The Barge.
And…inside. We were disappointed to find that the new owners were trying to underplay the crop circle/UFO connection. They had changed the names of the beers (Croppie, Alien Abuction… a few others) and gotten rid of the area map with crop circle pins. That didn’t seem like a very good idea. And clearly it wasn’t. But they did at least still have the amazing ceiling painting.
LOL, and still had the signs for the Croppie! And they were still serving the green Alien Abduction beer, although they had renamed it to something that had nothing to do with aliens. But… still green.
We sat where we could look at at the white horse-
We were unimpressed because although we got there at 3:00 or so, they weren’t serving food – they were having a big party at 8:00 and weren’t serving anyone else. Despite it being five hours later, and having no signs/warnings to that effect. So we couldn’t get anything to eat. Other than potato chips, and we had a REALLY hard time even getting those, even though there was a big basket full of potato chip packets behind the counter. I asked repeatedly if we could please just buy some crisps- using British terminology!! – and pointed at the crisps and gestured to the crisps… the guy behind the bar was Italian and they had turned it into an Italian gastropub, which would have been fine had he also spoken English and could figure out that we really really really wanted a couple of packs of the crisps beside his elbow. Because we also really really really wanted some of their excellent beer and I did not want to drink that on an empty stomach.
We finally did manage to break the language barrier enough to get some crisps. And I got a pint of 1810 although it had a different name that I don’t remember now. Kim ordered a Ginger Beer, since Ginger Beer was on the menu and on previous trips we’ve both fallen kind of in love with ginger beer. I’d never had it before going to England, although now I do occasionally find it in stores here. Never in bars, though.
Kim’s ginger beer was bizarrely teeny. Like, five ounces. And after she went back for a second one, marveling at how she couldn’t even tell she’d had any alcohol… she discovered that was because she hadn’t had any alcohol. Her ginger beer was completely without alcohol.
Well, after THAT we ended up driving to Marlborough for actual dinner. I will say that we visited the Barge again on our last night in England, and had a really nice meal, although it was not without issues. So, not shocked that the Italian Gastropub Barge didn’t make it.
LOL, according to my handy paper journal, we went to Avebury after The Barge and THEN to Marlborough, so it was quite awhile before we had real food. We ate at the Royal Oak in Marlborough. I had Shrimp Scampi and chips and decided that although it was very good, I’d had more than enough fried food at that point.
I really do love Marlborough, though. We stayed right outside Marlborough in 2013. I could live there.
Our trip to Avebury was very quick, and since it was late when we got there and everything was closed or closing, we decided (with delight) to go back again later in the week. So I will wrap those entries together. Soon.
I would want to stay in Wilshire too. And your observations are priceless. Thank you for sharing.