I had made sure to book all the tours online before we left for our trip to the UK. One of these tours, was the Stonehenge Special Access Tour.
I had chosen this specific tour because it would allow us to actually see Stonehenge up close. I had no idea just what an amazing tour it would be.
Maiko and I sat by the steps of the Guildhall in Market Square Salisbury. We had arrived 10 minutes early and were trying to guess who else was part of the tour. Five minutes later, another Asian girl approached us and asked if we were here for the Stonehenge tour. We said yes and invited her to sit with us. She introduced herself as Oriana, and we started chatting.
At 3PM, a bronze Chrysler Grand Voyager pulled up right in front of us, and a silver haired man in a grey sweatshirt hopped.
He introduced himself as Pat Shelley, and told us he was our tour guide for the day. We had to wait for two other ladies who were joining us for the tour. They arrived a few minutes later and the six of us piled into the van. The lone male in the group, Patrick rode shotgun beside Pat. Janet and Valerie rode in the middle and Maiko, Oriana and I (the three Asians) rode in the back.
Oriana’s bubbly character reminded me of our other best friend. I told Oriana that she reminded me of my other best friend Lena Chen and we were all pleasantly surprised that their families both originated from Taiwan and shared the same last name!
As Pat drove out of Market Square, he started his tour by officially introducing himself. He said that he has loved Stonehenge ever since he could remember—even becoming a great collector of all things Stonehenge. “I’ve got mugs, magnets, pens and several snow globes of Stonehenge,” he said happily.
Pat also said that he was featured in the PBS special on Stonehenge, as one of its leading experts. He was part of the great archeological dig that has greatly shed some light on the mysterious monument.
Pat also explained that Stonehenge would be our last stop for the day. Since we were part of the special access tour, we would only be allowed inside once Stonehenge was closed to the general public. Since that was three hours away, we had some time and Pat had planned the tour so every sight we saw would build up our excitement in seeing the stones up close.
Once we finally were in Stonehenge, Pat promised that we would have more appreciation for the monument’s history, and that we would know more than the 99% of the people who visited Stonehenge for the first time.
I could see he loved the stones, and what he was doing so I knew I was in for a treat that day.
As we left Salisbury, we passed Old Sarum, the site of the original city.It was an iron age hillfort and was occupied by the Romans, Saxons and Normans. As we passed by the ancient ruins, Pat told us of Old Sarum’s classic motte and bailey design built by the Normans. He spoke about its significance in history and why the site was later on abandoned, and the city moved to New Salisbury.
We headed towards Stonehenge along the Woodford Valley. Rolling hills and green pastures surrounded the narrow road we were on.
We passed the Manor House which is an historic house which has been around for centuries.
Pat stopped on the road briefly to point out a strange sight–a camel resting in the middle of a field. Pat said that Therese the Camel was a celebrity in Salisbury, and often invited to take part in various Nativity plays.
Therese the Camel, Salisbury
The van stopped further down the road and Pat pointed to a fabulous Elizabethan Manor—which apparently was home to a former English Teacher and now a famous musician called Gordon Matthew Thomas Summer, aka. Sting.
We craned our necks from the van, hoping to get a glimpse of sting but of course the house was too far away.
We saw several thatched roof houses, which Pat said were protected as historical sites. The thatched roofs last about 50 years and cost about £25,000 or more to replace. So really, only the rich could afford to live in these cottages. He also said only certain workers who specialized in thatched roofs could perform the specialized task of replacing the straw.
We also saw this old school caravan—which they used hundreds of years ago and was still in relatively good condition.
We continued the tour, passing through the town of Amesbury. I was particularly excited to catch a glimpse of my main character’s house, and the town which Maiko and I would be visiting soon!
Just north of Amesbury, we had our first real stop of the tour. Located 2 miles northeast of Stonehenge in the parish of Durrington, this World Heritage Site called Woodhenge is neolithic class henge.
Back when it was brand new, Woodhenge had actual timbers rising from holes in the ground. To mark the spot where the henge once stood, the world heritage site erected concrete stumps, color-coded according to the type of wood that once stood there.
Pat told us of Woodhenge’s history and its significant relation to Stonehenge. Woodhenge was used by the Neolithic/bronze age people for rituals related to life, while Stonehenge was used for rituals related to death.
Pat pointed to a mound covered by flint stones. He said this was where they had found the remains of a Neolithic boy during the archeological dig at Woodhenge.
Pat led us out of the Woodhenge gate, across the road into another gated area known as Durrington Walls.
Featured in PBS’s Secrets of Stonehenge, Durrington Walls has been the subject of a major archeological dig during the last five years by the Stonehenge Riverside Project.
With Maiko’s help, Pat showed us a map showing the aerial view of what the general area of Woodehenge, Durrington Walls and Stonehenge looked like in the old days.
He pointed to the slopes of the bank and the ditch surrounding us and said that these are the only things remaining of Durrington Walls today. Two road pass through the henge today—an old toll road and a modern banked road. The land was owned by the military and barracks were constructed in the northeast side of the henge in the past.
The land we stood in however, is owned by the National Trust and is part of the Stonehenge Landscape property. People can easily visit the place as there are no entrance fees.
The archeological dig uncovered several Neolithic villages within the area, as well as an avenue leading to Stonehenge. This is an important find, as it gives us a greater idea about the people who built Stonehenge.
Pat even showed us pictures from the dig.
After a short lecture on Durrington Walls and its connection to Stonehenge, we walked back to the van and Pat drove us to Stonehenge.
I caught my first glimpse of the great stones and my heart beat faster.
First glimpse of Stonehenge
Stonehenge figures greatly in my own book, as Will and his friends discover that it’s actually a portal to the Otherworlds. I was so eager to see the stones up close and Pat’s lectures were fueling my excitement.
In the Spring, Stonehenge is open to the public until 6PM. We got there at 4:15PM, and Pat led us through the ticket gates and told us that we had about 30 minutes to buy from the gift shop, as it would be closed during our inner circle tour.
Maiko went around the shop and took a video of the surrounding area, knowing that I might need it as reference for my book.
I bought several souvenirs for me and family members back home. I would have bought more if time permitted, and if I wasn’t so worried about running out of funds before our tour was over.
From 4:45PM – 6PM, Pat took us on a walking tour of the area surrounding Stonehenge. We walked across the landscape and saw some barrows (or burial mounds) up close.
We stopped to sit on the grass near one of these mounds and Pat told us about the different kinds of barrows and what was said to lie beneath them.
We walked further into the landscape, trying to avoid the many sheep droppings that littered almost every square inch of the area.
We saw part of the Cursus, an unusual monument that runs for 1 ¾ miles across the landscape. It dates back to 3000 BC but its purpose and use is unknown.
We walked to the bottom of the Avenue that runs up to Stonehenge. The Avenue was built around 2400 BC and connects Stonehenge with the River Avon 1.5 miles away.
Pat led us to a part of the field where he made us face him and made us promise not to turn around until he told us to. He promised to give us the best view of Stonehenge. He explained where we were in relation to the Avenue and Stonehenge, and then finally made us turn around.
Excited, we turned around and saw—
Confused, we looked at Pat. Pat told us that our ancestors took the journey we were taking now, and that over that hill, we would experience what they must have experience as they made the journey to Stonehenge thousands of years ago. He advised us to keep our cameras ready, and that we should keep our cameras set on a wide angle to get the best effect.
I kept my camera trained on the hill before me. I walked up the path, and the tips of the great Stonehenge come into view. As we continued to walk on the Avenue, Stonehenge continued to grow closer and larger.
It was such an amazing sight and the sheep droppings I was stepping on was quite forgotten.
Maiko unfortunately missed half of it, as she made the ultimate sacrifice and went back to the van with Pat to get me some batteries for my dying camera.
Our walk up the avenue ended by a fence. Across the road from us was Stonehenge. Oriana and I took pictures of each other with Stonehenge in the background.
Then the rest of us joined up with Pat at the parking lot. We took pictures in the parking lot while we waited for Stonehenge to empty.
We were the first ones allowed inside the gates at 6:15PM, when Stonehenge was officially closed to the general public.
Seeing the stones up close for the first time took our breath away!
Pat led us to various spots within the stones and gave us a detailed account of its history—from the building of the first bank and ditch 5000 years ago, until it was abandoned 1400 years later. Pat even showed us how the stones must have looked thousands of years ago when it was brand new.
Pat knew many fascinating things about Stonehenge and his tour was just chocful of information. We learned about the neolithic people who built Stonehenge–how they manually dragged gigantic sarsen stones for miles and miles and shaped them using rocks; how Stonehenge was built over several generations, and what Stonehenge was possibly used for. He told us about Stonehenge serving as a great astronomical observatory, and about how Stonehenge wasn’t really a henge at all!
He warned us not to touch the stones and pointed out the moss that grew on the stone’s surface as a result of the bacteria from the many human hands who have touched the great stones.
He also knew the best photograph locations and pointed it out to us.
Before he ended his lecture on Stonehenge, he took out two L shaped wire hangers and told us all about the magnetic lines of spiritual power—or the lay lines. He demonstrated how the wires would cross at a certain spot in Stonehenge and even asked us all to try it out.
After the fascinating experience, he gave us some time to enjoy the stones on our own. Maiko and I took tons of pictures!
At 7PM, we all had to say goodbye to Stonehenge. We trooped back into the van, tired but happy from the amazing tour. We made sure to take a picture with Pat so we could remember our great tour guide.
We said goodbye to Stonehenge and headed back toward Salisbury.
Pat dropped Patrick off at the train station, where he would take the train back to London. Janet and Valerie hopped out near the New Inn to have some dinner. Oriana went with us to Qudos. After Maiko and I checked in and took our big bags up to our room, we met up with Oriana and walked to Da Vinci, which came highly recommended by Pat.
We had a great Italian dinner, exchanging stories about our travels and chuckling about how Pat always got our names mixed up (he would call me Maiko and he would call Janet Valerie).
By 10PM, our eyes were drooping, and after exchanging email addresses Maiko and I said our goodbye to our new friend Oriana.
The Stonehenge Special Access Tour was definitely the highlight of our England Trip. I came away from it with great knowledge about Stonehenge, and even more ideas for my book.
949 total views, 10 views today