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Harry Potter set, Gothic cathedral and an Iron Age village: 10 reasons to visit Wiltshire

THIS beautiful leafy county has more to offer than the historic site of Stonehenge

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument built from gigantic stone slabs around 5000 years ago [GETTY]

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument built from gigantic stone slabs around 5000 years ago [GETTY]

1. Wonder at world-famous Stonehenge. The mysterious, magical stone circle dates back to 3100 BC and now has a revamped visitor’s centre to help bring history to life. english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/Stonehenge

2. Climb the 332 steps to the top of Salisbury Cathedral tower for a great view. Salisbury’s pointy gothic cathedral has the tallest tower in Britain.

3. Meet a real film star. Picturesque Lacock village is a firm favourite with film and TV producers. The village’s historic buildings have starred in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice and Cranford and in screen in the Harry Potter film, The Half-Blood Prince and Wolfman.

4. Take the family on a day trip to the Iron Age settlement of Old Sarum. Just two miles from Salisbury, it marks the site of the original cathedral and the Romans, Normans and Saxons have all left their mark on the fort. The gift shop even sells wooden bows and arrow too to take you back in time. english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/old-sarum

5. Shop in Kate Middleton’s former neighbourhood. Marlborough is where she went to school and the market centre boasts great tea shops and an interesting selection of independent and interesting upmarket shops.

6. Go back in time to see the oldest working steam engines in the world at Crofton Beam Engines where the 200-year-old engines pump water to the highest point of the Kennet and Avon Canal. Marvel at the historic architecture and picnic in the grounds. croftonbeamengines.org/index.html

7. Discover the walled garden or take the kids to learn to climb a tree and be amazed by the world-famous Stourhead gardens which have been stunning visitors since they first opened in the 1740s. nationaltrust.org.uk/stourhead

8. Enjoy a cruise along the canal at Bradford on Avon. Barge trips leave from the lock, just outside the town centre, all year round. visitwiltshire.co.uk/explore/towns-and-villages/bradford-on-avon-and-trowbridge

9. Tuck into pheasant, smoked salmon and traditional desserts of rhubarb or sticky toffee pudding at the recently revamped Methuen Arms in Corsham, just eight miles from Bath.

10. Walk the footpath up to Chernhill Down to come face to face with the giant white horse carved on the edge of the hill. The chalk horse was cut in 1780 and you’ll find it off the A4 just east of the village of Cherhill.

Full article By: Anne Gorringe:  http://www.express.co.uk/travel/shortbreaks/473383/10-things-to-do-in-Wiltshire

Link: www.VisitWiltshire.co.uk

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Stonehenge: no more going round in circles

After decades of delay, Stonehenge’s new visitor centre finally opens to tourists today. So has it been worth the wait? Simon Calder takes a tour round this gateway to the Neolithic past

Stonehenge 2013

Stonehenge 2013


The ancients might be amused that the problem of “What shall we do with Stonehenge?” has lasted about as long as Neolithic man took to construct England’s emblem in the first place. Conflict between the preservation of this astonishing temple to the sun and the demands of tourists, motorists and the military is as old as the Wiltshire downs. But from this morning, the struggle may be over.

“Standing here now it is hard to describe the feeling of relief, excitement and elation that I feel,” says Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage.

“Here” is the new visitor centre, gateway to the nation’s most significant ancient site. Late Neolithic man bequeathed us the only lintelled prehistoric stone circle in the world – and the lintels are responsible for the allure. While Scotland has more impressive stone circles, at Callanish on Lewis and Brodgar on Orkney, the structure here resembles a series of doors that invites the onlooker to gaze in on the past. But how to make sense of it all? Interpretation for the million-plus annual visitors to Stonehenge has, up to now, been dismal.

Among the many planning outrages that were being perpetrated in the Sixties, Stonehenge escaped relatively lightly. While Euston station was being demolished and Plymouth city centre was being constructed, the 4,500-year-old circle of English “sarsen” stones and Welsh bluestone was given a 1968 upgrade of its own. The quasi-military bunker has served, for 45 years, as a visitor centre in the loosest sense of the term. Hemmed in by car and coach parks, it felt like a suburban muddle rather than a gateway to the past – more Penge than henge. Its doors closed yesterday, thank goodness, and from this morning the site will be treated with more dignity.

The elegant new visitor centre is a post-modern solution to a prehistoric problem. It is the heart of a much-delayed £27m package of improvements designed to rescue the temple complex from centuries of abuse. The director pronounces herself “hugely pleased” with the results. “It’s such a beautiful building that sits so well in the landscape,” says Loraine Knowles.

Were I called upon to sum up the design in three words, they would be “Nordic airport terminal”. Which suggests either that the needle-thin columns soaring to perforated eaves like a deconstructed Rubik’s Cube are a touch adventurous for Wiltshire, or that I have spent too long hanging around Tromso and Turku. The materials, though, are strictly local.

The platform upon which the new tourist temple sits has travelled far less distance than the stones – it is a limestone raft quarried near Salisbury. And the wooden benches in the light, spacious café look as though they may have been purloined from the branch of Wagamama in the same city. But high-spec furnishings are the least you’d expect after paying £14.90 to get in – up from £8 since yesterday.

After experiencing the breathtaking new exhibits on the south side of the terminal – sorry, visitor centre – however, you will probably judge the 86 per cent admission hike to be fair. Expertise, electronics and hard cash have combined to explain the Stonehenge saga eloquently.

Over a few centuries, archaeologists’ understanding of the “what”, “when”, “how” and “why” of Stonehenge has steadily refined – but until the 21st century the notion of “who” has been as opaque as the morning mist.

“In the past 10 years, our understanding of Stonehenge has been revolutionised,” says Simon Thurley.

Today, the visitor gets to stand amid a virtual stone circle at the start of the exhibition area, as projectors play a continuous cycle through the seasons of Stonehenge, catching the rising sun on the summer solstice and the setting sun of midwinter. Then the scale of the sacred engineering is explained: 35-ton lumps of ultra-hard sandstone – known as sarsen – were dragged south from the Marlborough Downs, while smaller slabs of bluestone were fetched from the Preseli Hills in west Wales, 150 miles away.

The building of a temple, initially for cremation ceremonies, was carried out with only the most rudimentary of tools; antlers were a favourite for earthworks.

But what did the builders of Stonehenge look like? English Heritage has commissioned a best guess. A Swedish expert in forensic reconstruction has created a handsome, bearded head from studying a skull found on the site.

The final element of the visitor centre is an area for temporary exhibitions – the first of which is an enchanting account of how Stonehenge has been interpreted over the centuries. Medieval man believed it to be a marvel brought by Merlin from Ireland. The circle was also attributed over the centuries to Romans and Druids, before finally being marked down as the work of good-natured ancient Britons.

The visitor centre is opening just in time for this Saturday’s winter solstice – and not a moment too soon for anyone, such as Dr Thurley, who agrees that the presentation of Stonehenge has been “a national disgrace”. That was the term used by the Public Account Committee 20 years ago. Since then, successive governments have come up with a range of proposals that typically involve doing to the A303 what Neolithic man did to the deceased: bury it in the downland.

The main road between London and the South-West still rumbles above ground, 200 yards south of the stone circle, but at least the A344 has closed. Previously, the short-cut from Amesbury to Warminster tore along the northern flank, but now the two-mile highway is no more. The busy junction with the A303 has been grassed over, a mere 29 years after Lord Montagu, the first chairman of English Heritage, called for its closure.

The former roadway has been put to use to provide access to the stones. Tourists are towed to the periphery aboard the sort of sightseeing shuttle normally found at the seaside.

If you book an early-morning or after-hours tour with English Heritage, you can enjoy a gratifying close-up of ancient Britain. Daytime visitors are kept at much more than arm’s length. But that distant encounter is at last properly poignant. “It allows us to reunite the stones with the grass downland,” says Dr Thurley.

The low roar from the A303 may still be too close for comfort, but no longer is the ancient stone circle trapped in the headlights of progress.

Travel essentials

Getting there

By road, the new visitor centre is a mile north of the A303 on the A360; the postcode is SP3 4DX.

The nearest station is Salisbury, on the London-Exeter and Bristol-Southampton lines. Buses run to Stonehenge.

Getting in

The site opens 9.30am-5pm daily, though over Christmas and the New Year there are some shorter hours and closures; see bit.ly/GoStone. That is also the place to make advance bookings, which English Heritage says will be mandatory from 1 February. The advance adult admission is £13.90, or £14.90 for walk-up arrivals.

Aricle by Simon Calder : http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/uk/stonehenge-no-more-going-round-in-circles-9011327.html

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Major source of Stonehenge spotted dolerites located

Researchers have uncovered in west Wales, another major source of one of the bluestone types found at Stonehenge.

Experts have argued that the large sarsen stones at Stonehenge are local to the Salisbury Plain area. However, the origin of the smaller bluestones has been the topic of research for many years, although there has been little refinement of the research conducted by geologist Herbert Henry Thomas in 1923 about their original sources.

The new paper by Dr Richard Bevins (Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales), Dr Rob Ixer (Institute of Archaeology, UCL) and Professor Nick Pearce (Aberystwyth University), will soon be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Carn Meini bluestone.  Image: Ceridwen (Wikimedia, used under a <a href='http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/'>CC BY-SA 3.0</a>)  <img width="88" height="31" alt="" src="http://i.creativecommons.org/l/by-sa/3.0/88x31.png">

Carn Meini bluestone. Image: Ceridwen (Wikimedia, used under a CC BY-SA 3.0)

Spotted dolerite location

In 2011, Bevins and Ixer confirmed for the first time the exact location of some of the bluestones known as rhyolites (a type of silica-rich igneous rock). Their research identified the source of the stone to the prominent outcrop of Craig Rhos y Felin near Crymych, Pembrokeshire. Now – along with Pearce – they are confident of the location of another major type of bluestone – the spotted dolerite (a type of relatively silica-poor igneous rock containing distinctive alteration spots).

H.H. Thomas from the Geological Survey published a paper in The Antiquaries Journal in which he claimed to have sourced the spotted dolerite component of the Bluestones to hilltop rock outcrops, exposed in the high Preseli, to the west of Crymych in west Wales. Specifically, he thought that the tors on Carn Meini and Cerrig Marchogion were the likely source outcrops. He went on to speculate about how humans had transported the stones to the Salisbury Plain, favouring transport across land rather than a combined land and sea journey. As a result of Thomas’s views recent archaeological excavations have concentrated on finding Stonehenge-related quarries at Carn Meini.

The current findings conclude that the majority of the spotted dolerites analysed actually come from Carn Goedog which is about 1.5km away from Thomas’s originally proposed site of Carn Meini. Image: National Museum Cardiff

The current findings conclude that the majority of the spotted dolerites analysed actually come from Carn Goedog which is about 1.5km away from Thomas’s originally proposed site of Carn Meini. Image: National Museum Cardiff

Carn Goedog

Using geochemical techniques, Bevins, Ixer and Pearce have compared samples of rock and debris from Stonehenge with Thomas’s findings and also geochemical data published in the early 1990’s by Richard Thorpe and his team from the Open University. The current findings conclude that the majority of the spotted dolerites analysed actually come from Carn Goedog which is about 1.5km away from Thomas’s originally proposed site of Carn Meini.

Dr Richard Bevins (Amgueddfa Cymru) who has been studying the geology of Pembrokeshire for over 30 years said:

When the first part of our research was announced in 2011, we communicated our commitment to continue to work in the area and we have added to that initial work with papers in 2012 and 2013. I am very pleased that we have continued to revisit the area and be able to further study the standing stones and debris from Stonehenge!

“The geology of Pembrokeshire is unique, which is why I have spent so much time in the area. The area has much to offer in helping us understand what happens when magma is erupted from underwater volcanoes, and how those igneous rocks are transformed by the effects of increased temperatures and pressures during later mountain building events. Equally interesting of course is the fact that these igneous rocks have been used in the construction of Stonehenge and only once we know their correct geographical origins can we fully interpret the archaeological significance.

“I hope that our recent scientific findings will influence the continually debated question of how the bluestones were transported to Salisbury Plain.”

Continue the research

Dr Rob Ixer who studied his first Stonehenge bluestone twenty-five years ago said:

As this and earlier papers show, almost everything we believed ten years ago about the bluestones have been shown to be partially or completely incorrect. We are still in the stages of redress and shall continue to research the bluestones for answers. This paper is a very important component  of this search and must re-direct us (and others) to relook at the standing stones, their debris and possible quarry sites so that we can correctly determine their origins.”

Source: National Museum Cardiff

Cite this article

National Museum Cardiff. Major source of Stonehenge spotted dolerites located. Past Horizons. November 20, 2013, from http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/11/2013/major-source-stonehenge-spotted-dolerites-located

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