Stonehenge sheds its tourist trappings

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 December, 2013, 10:29pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 December, 2013, 5:03pm


After thousands of years, Stonehenge has had a makeover. But visitors may initially feel something is missing: the prehistoric monument itself.

Tourists now arrive at a gleaming new timber-and-glass visitor centre some 2.4 kilometres from Stonehenge. The famous stone circle tucked into the rolling green landscape is nowhere to be seen.

It's a teasing introduction to the site, where new facilities and landscaping are designed to "restore the dignity" of Stonehenge, and transform the way more than a million visitors a year see it.

Simon Thurley, who heads governing body English Heritage, said visitors would now be able to see the stones "free from the clutter and rubbish" that have been built up around them.

The new centre houses a 360-degree Cinerama-style "virtual tour" of the monument, along with an extensive exhibition about the Neolithic Britons who built Stonehenge starting 5,000 years ago. Workers will dismantle the old ticket office and other nondescript structures clustered beside the monument. A busy road that ferried thousands of cars a day past the stones is being closed and grassed over.

The idea is to return Stonehenge, 130 kilometres southwest of London, to its rural landscape. Visitors will be bused to the stones on a special shuttle. Or they can walk, exploring paths and an ancient processional approach route that for years has been cut in half by asphalt.

Stonehenge, which archaeologists agree is a temple of some sort, was built in three phases between 3000BC and 1600BC.