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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!