I recently visited the Stonehenge landscape. I went inside the stones for the first time, walked from Stonehenge back passed the Cursus Barrows and Fargo Plantation, an exploration of the Visitor Centre and then on to to the Winterbourne Stoke barrow group. I then visited the King Barrows. There are further walks you can take around the Stonehenge landscape: managed by the National Trust.
En route, I took some long-distance zoom-shots of Stonehenge and its immediate environs. These photos (below) reveal some key points about Stonehenge’s landscape setting. Everyone is obsessed about access to the stones themselves, and seeing them up close is indeed an experience. However, you can appreciate so much about the monument from a distance by appreciating its broader landscape context:
- The landscape around Stonehenge reveals a complex story of activity from the Mesolithic, and monument-building, ceremonial activity, settlement and farming from the early Neolithic, through the mid-late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, and indeed on through the later Bronze Age and Iron Age. The latest prehistoric phases of landscape activity, and the Roman and medieval landscape, are omitted from the heritage narrative for visitors. However, this later history is fascinating too, as is the post-medieval and contemporary use of the environs of the stones. By getting out into the environs you can see the many other monuments that accrued through the area: the long barrows, Cursus monuments, the Avenue and other henges, round barrows of different types and so on. One can also appreciate how these monuments are connected, or become connected, whether by design or happenstance. In the first view here, you can see Stonehenge, including the Heel Stone to the right. Also, on the skyline, the Iron Age hillfort of Yarnbury Camp and the A303 passing to its left. The trees in the background at the Winterbourne Plantation and you can see the lights of the roundabout adjacent to the Winterbourne Stoke long barrow.
- The heritage experience of Stonehenge has been transformed, with the old road and visitor centre closed. However, this view below shows Stonehenge from the walk to the Cursus Barrows and you can see the closed tunnel. What is it now used for?
- From between the Cursus Barrows and Fargo Plantation, you can see the heritage experience and animals of Stonehenge – jackdaws, sheep and molehills. Also, the visitors and the shuttle bus. You can also see the modern electric pylons and a prominent Early Bronze Age barrow top-right on Coneybury Hill to the SE of the Stonehenge landscape. The zoom lens juxtaposes the stones with the plantations on Coneybury Hill, which gives a far more wooded feel to the monument than one experiences in the open grassland landscape of today.
- Finally, back on King Barrow ridge, a wider view of the Stonehenge monument shows the Early Bronze Age barrow in the foreground, the approach of the Avenue from the right from Stonehenge Bottom, and a wider sense of the expansive landscape. Also, a key point for me is that to be at Stonehenge is to be seen. The perambulation of modern visitors might not be fully reflective of communal gatherings at the monument in the prehistoric past, but it does give a sense of the potential of the location for highly public gatherings of many thousands. There is also something incredibly devotional about the carefully circumscribed movement of the modern visitor: modern pilgrims to a heritage shrine.