Tag Archives: English Heritage

Adventures in England: Old Sarum & Stonehenge

Old Sarum and Stonehenge

With good friends of ours from D.C. visiting, we wanted to take a little trip through England and see some new places!  Our friends spent a few days in London on their own, so we had time to branch out a bit and explore some other sites we’d all really wanted to see.

We rented a giant van that could fit all of us and went on a road trip across England.  The drive was part of the fun — it was so absolutely great to spend uninterrupted hours with friends we miss!

road trip

Our destination was Cornwall, but we planned a few stops on the way at Old Sarum and Stonehenge.  We have an English Heritage membership, so admission into both places was free for our family.  Our friends bought a 2-week membership for less than the cost of admission into one of those sites, so it was a great investment.  We have loved having this membership and have tried hard to make use of it whenever possible!

Old Sarum fields

Old Sarum is an Iron Age hill fort on the Salisbury plain.  It is built up on a huge hill with an  impressive wood bridge you have to cross to enter, and overlooks this vast and gorgeous plain stretching out all around it.  The ruins of the castle were really cool and we were able to climb and explore freely. 

climbing at old sarum

There were also archery demonstrations, which the kids loved.  It was all a bit humbling too, to stand in the ruins of a castle built 1000 years ago by William the Conqueror.  We spent a few hours there, then had a picnic lunch and headed off for Stonehenge.

archery at old sarum

When you visit Stonehenge, you have to purchase tickets for a specific time slot.  We bought ours in advance, which meant we didn’t have to wait in line when we got there.  We got the audio tour devices too, so we’d have a better understanding of what we were seeing.  We only got a few though, not one for every person.  My kids tend to play with the headphones more than actually listen to the audio tour, so my advice is to get one or two for the adults and then once you’ve listened to the description, relay what you’re seeing to the kids in your own words.

The actual monument is about a mile away from the Stonehenge visitor center, and there are buses running in between shuttling visitors back and forth, or you have the option to walk across an open field to the site.  We chose to walk — we’d been in the car long enough and everyone was happy to get out and let the kids run.

walking to stonehenge

I’d heard Stonehenge wasn’t really that cool, that it was right off a main road and you could see traffic, that there were other, more authentic and less touristy sites that were similar and better.  I found it to be completely amazing though — far more impressive than I expected. 


First, the size of the stone plinths is hard to really describe (look how small the people are in the picture above, and they’re standing right next to the stones!).  They are massive and placed so precisely; it’s very difficult to imagine how they were ever put into place without the use of major machinery.  Second, they are ancient to the point of being difficult to comprehend; they’ve been standing there for about 5,000 years.  And finally, the capstones that lay on top like a bridge from one column to another, are fitted together like legos — a bump on top of each vertical stone fits smoothly and precisely into a divot on the horizontal stone.  It was astonishingly huge and impressive and gorgeous. 

everyone at Stonehenge

Both these sites were so unique and so interactive and active — there was no sitting around and the kids were always able to move and run and explore (although you can’t touch Stonehenge, but it’s surrounded by a massive open field perfect for running around in).  And all the kids were impressed by both places, from the 5-year old right up to the 11-year olds, and all the children in between.   I think it’s so good for them to get a sense of history as often as possible and both these sites absolutely delivered in that regard.

After Stonehenge, we loaded back into the van to head to our ultimate destination: Cornwall!


Adventures in England: Dover Castle

Dover mainIn October, Matt’s parents came to visit and we all went away on a long weekend trip to Dover on the southeast coast of England.  Dover is known for it’s awe-inspiring white cliffs, atop which sits the amazing and imposing Dover Castle looking out across the English Channel at France.

english channel from castle

We opted to travel to Dover via train — it didn’t take much longer than driving, and we didn’t have to worry about directions and fitting eight of us into one vehicle.  The train trip from London to Dover was about 2.5 hours, and we were all able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.  It was a great decision and it made the trip so much more enjoyable.  

Dover Castle is perched at the top of quite a tall hill, so we took a cab from our hotel rather than hike up there.  Even so, we had to climb a pretty steep incline once we got into the castle grounds.  It’s an English Heritage site, so admission was free with our membership.


The oldest parts of Dover Castle were built by the Romans over a thousand years ago, and some sort of fortification has stood on that spot since then.  It is an enormous complex and there was so much to explore, from the underground tunnels used in WWII to the huge and imposing main castle to the ancient Roman Lighthouse and the sprawling grounds.  It was a full day trip and throughout the entire day, the children (and the adults) were enthralled. 

The modern areas of Dover Castle were used right up through the second World War.  Pop Pop gave the boys a lesson in artillery that I think was highlight for both he AND the kids.


IMG_5817We began our day touring the tunnels dug deep into the hillside and cliffs.  During the tour, we learned about Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of the Allied Troops from Dunkirk, France.


I really did not know enough about this historical event, but it saved the lives of over 300,000 British and French soldiers and was a major turning point in WWII.  The tour, which took place in the very underground tunnels where the operation was planned and carried out, was informative, captivating, and moving.  Even my two youngest were able to understand what happened, even if they couldn’t grasp the enormity of it.  It was one of my favorite parts of the entire weekend.  


You could explore almost the entire castle, which was absolutely larger than life.  We saw the interior kitchens and the enormous dining halls with fireplaces that seemed big enough for all 8 of us to stand in together and the huge bedrooms hung with tapestries.


Then we climbed to top of the castle walls where the views in every direction were nothing short of breath-taking… 

IMG_58814 kids Dover Castledover castle

Scattered across the grounds were smaller buildings and giant stone walls, an ancient lighthouse and a gorgeous church, military office buildings and residential homes, some over a thousand years old and some less than one hundred years old. 


The boys, with newly acquired swords and shields, did their best to reenact some of Dover’s more epic battles.

20151024_151836We walked and walked and walked that day, up hills and down stairs, through tunnels and across fields.  It was definitely a physical adventure. 


We absolutely loved Dover Castle, and are planning to go back again in the summer and maybe take the ferry across the channel to France where we’re hoping to explore Normandy.  Dover was one of  our favorite trips so far, and the Castle was just day one.  (I’ll write another post about the White Cliffs — they deserve their own description.)

Also, our first castle tour in England was pretty amazing. 


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