When is the best time to come to Britain? Where is your favourite place? Aside from being asked where to find a bathroom, these are some of the more general questions I get asked. I enjoy showing off the delights of the British Isles and at this time of year I get to enjoy them when they are more intimate and also on those intermittent sunny days when the sunlight is low in the sky nature provides a spectacular glow to the countryside.
If I am honest, if a place doesn’t appeal to me, I rarely go back, although a recent visit to a castle in the midlands recently changed my initial first impression of it and seeing a medieval castle at the end of a short winter day as the sun goes down, was a site to behold.
The winter equinox has only recently passed by and we are now on the upward slope to longer days and hopefully warmer weather with the promise of the summer to come. The downside of a winter visit to the UK is that the days are short and you have to maximise your efforts to make the best of the day (although not quite as extreme as my recent visit to Iceland with dawn at 11:00am).
Imagine the scene then, you’ve raced around Windsor Castle, taken the scenic route through the countryside to Stonehenge and arrive late afternoon on one of the shortest days of the year. There’s a story to unfold which I always like to cover before actually reaching the stones. When we finally get there we follow the path around the stones. We quickly scotch the “it’s such a shame that you can’t walk up to the stones,” comment as the way the path has been laid out, with clever use of a the camera lens, your memories will appear as if no one else was there. Our circumnavigation of the path ends as the light fades and as we join the bus back to the Visitors Centre. As we arrive, 25 druids greet us banging drums and eagerly awaiting their out of hours tour. Surreal.
The strange dichotomy of Stonehenge (not Stonehedge or even Stone Hedge) is that, as a guide, you have to keep abreast of the research as our understanding of it is regularly being challenged. Take the headline news two years ago when it was announced that 60 other stones had been found at a nearby settlement, the place known as Durrington Walls. The headlines were quick to announce it but not so quick to admit that the readings were wrong. After a more detailed excavation, it transpired that the initial findings were merely signs of soil disturbance, probably from farming at some point in the past 3000 years (and more likely the last 70 years).
Stonehenge is around a two hour drive from central London. (2 hours each way). I often combine a day out with a visit to Windsor or Salisbury. My favourite combination is a visit to the stones at Avebury , a pub lunch and a visit to Avebury Manor, as I feel this almost completes the picture. (It also defeats the Stonehenge UFO argument).
So, when is the best time to visit Stonehenge? I have been at dawn on a summer’s day (by special arrangement), on a bleak rain swept winter’s day, at dusk and on a peak season summer’s day. When is the best time? I’m still working on it.