I was in the UK, I had access to a car, I was traveling with a friend from Brighton to Bath and Stonehenge was along the way. Why not stop and see this mystical area where Druids used to gather on solstices, celebrate marriages and sacrifice virgins.*
When we arrived to the road off the A303 where Stonehenge lies, I’d just completed my first two hours of driving manual on the left side of the road ever. I was ready for a break, and ice cream. Yes, Stonehenge has ice cream.**
I pulled into the parking lot at the National Trust site where a cute (for a Brit) young man asked if I had a pass.
“No.” I laughed. Mostly because, I mean, do I sound like I’m from here?
“You could at least pretend.” He joked.
“Oh! Yeah, totally. I have a pass. Yes.” I joked back.
“Okay, go ahead,” he smiled at me and waved us in.
I parked the car and sighed. Not for finally making it to one of the wonders of the world, but for finally being able to take my hands out of their death-grip on the steering wheel. Driving on the left, in a manual drive car and going around a roundabout for the very first time was one of the scariest/ most stressful moments of my life. Perhaps it too is something I can check off my bucket list.
After our ice cream was devoured and £7 entry was paid, we picked up our audio tour and headed towards the busloads of tourists.
You’re not allowed to get very close to Stonehenge, as some bad apples ruined it for everyone. Now, you wander around the stones counter-clockwise stopping at various points where you’re supposed to listen to info-logues.
After taking the mandatory “Facebook profile” shots (one arm in the air looking back on me and Stonehenge – or more realistically, the sky or grass and part of my face) I began looking at the second most interesting thing about Stonehenge: the people it attracts.
There was one man, about thirty years old, who looked to be meditating by himself on the Western side of the site. I tried to watch him and penetrate his thoughts, but I’m no mind reader. He sat cross-legged in jeans and a t-shirt for a long time. I began to assume he was not meditating but simply taking respite away from his family.
It was people 60 years old and more who seemed to enjoy the site the most, maybe because they knew more about its history or that they had more respect for wonders, or had paid £60 for the daytrip and damn it, they were going to appreciate it. They walked around slowly, intensely listening to the audio tour about the history of the site and the theories about what it all meant and how it came to be.
Of course, there were the stereotypical Americans with big bellies, socks pulled up to their knees and cameras hanging from their necks. More interesting than the loud-talking yanks were the fence voyeurs: people who pulled their car to the side of the highway, reached their camera’s over the chain-linked fence to capture their check on the bucket list. Been to the side of the road, snapped that.
While wandering around these large stones in the middle of the English country side I found myself hoping for a life changing moment. Expecting that this sacred wonder would provide some kind of spiritual awakening – at least a sensation, a glow, or a feeling- but, I felt nothing. I wandered around this historical site, looking more at the other people that came here than the stones themselves, and I’m okay with that.
We exited through the gift shop, as you’re always required to do, passing up commemorative Stonehenge mugs, pens, key chains, calendars, coasters, books, book marks, posters, stuffed animals, snow-globes and cotton jumpers with Stonehenge embroidered across the chest as if it was a major university.
More important than the information I learned, more satisfying than getting free parking from a cute bloke is that after 8 trips plus a year of living in the UK I can finally check Stonehenge off my list.
* I didn’t learn that much from Stonehenge about what is was all about. If you want to educate yourself please visit the official Stonehenge site HERE.
**I’m lactose intolerant so I had a Popsicle but it doesn’t have the same ring to it as stopping for ice cream.