The Winter Solstice at Stonehenge seemed like an auspicious day to visit this ancient and mysterious place.
Only trouble is that a howling storm has swept in from the Atlantic to flood most of the south of England. The stream across the road from The Swan is running high and fast. The swinging sign of The Swan can’t drop to the vertical, and the grassed picnic area and car park next to the stream are covered with water. However, as this is the only opportunity to visit Stonehenge before heading to London for Christmas with family, the excursion proceeds.
Under a leaden sky, the drive along the narrow country roads to Stonehenge is slow. The roads don’t have shoulders, which means water runs off the higher fields, which are totally saturated, across the road to the lower fields. Wherever there is a dip in the road, it is flooded. Vehicles coming in the opposite direction send sprays of muddy water over the hire car. Bare branched trees whip around in the strong, gusting wind. Everything is sodden and grey. Including my mood. Misting rain becomes suddenly heavy, reducing visibility, then returns to misting rain again revealing the famous stones on a nearby hillock.
There’s a huge car park and a brand new visitor centre some 150m from it. And the sky opens again. Oh joy of it all! Manage to pull a spray poncho on before getting out of the vehicle and heading down to the visitor centre. The wind is relentless, gusting to 45mph.
The brand new centre is a kilometre from Stonehenge. It has a shop and cafe on one side, exhibition space on the other and a covered central space which includes the ticketing booth, creating a massive wind tunnel. The ticket sellers, even behind the glass windows, have trouble holding on to tickets and cash when the wind whips under and through the pay dish. They are clad in extreme weather gear.
The exhibition is impressive – spacious, informative, interactive – with a considerable collection of artefacts. Then out into the storm for the 4WD ‘train’ ride to the archaeological site. Only trouble is – where do you catch the ride? There are no signs. What’s the difference between the green train and the red train? One’s faster than the other i.e. 10 minutes versus 3 minutes. What the? To add to the confusion there is a group of young Korean travellers who are getting their ‘bunny ear’ photo moments every few yards – in front of entrances, toilet doors, exits or thoroughfares.
Finally into a carriage for the trip to Stonehenge proper, stopping in a flooded gravelled turning area. The rain is hammering down and the wind has not abated. A cheerfully stoic young Englishman, in wet weather gear, bare headed and with rain running down his face, indicates the path to follow to the site. Then the wind really picked up! The rain was horizontal, blinding and stinging one’s skin like needles. It was only possible to walk on a short concrete path. The full circled grass path was closed because it was utterly sodden.
You had to lean at 45 degrees into the wind to prevent yourself being blown off your feet! Furthermore, you are no longer able to enter the stone circle, there was no possibility of finding shelter there. Managed to get to the Heal Stone and look across the axis of the site, something that very few people did that day. Glad to have seen the place from that angle, because it gives a better understanding of the site than does the concrete path. After a short while, returned to the 4WD pickup point, waited in the pouring rain (there is no shelter) before returning to the car, sodden and needing a hot shower and stiff drink back at the pub.