Since the closing of the road / opening of the new visitor’s centre I had been keen to re-visit Stonehenge. Not to look at the stones but the new exhibition centre.
The visitor’s centre is very easy to access and looked quite impressive on the approach to the large car park. Despite the foul weather the car park had several coaches and many cars already parked up. Several groups of school children excitedly waited with their teachers for their turn to board one of the land trains.
Karen went for a much needed coffee whilst I headed for the ticket booth. The lady looked a little surprised when I said I only wanted a ticket for the exhibition centre and not to see the stones themselves but a ticket was duly issued. It is nearly £20.00 per adult to see the stones and exhibition – I have no idea how much it would be to just see the exhibition. Fortunately I have a CADW card so admission was free for me.
As you enter the building you first come to a 360 degree surround visual display of what it is like to be in the centre of the stones at the mid-summer / mid-winter solstice. The film is run on a loop and I thought it was well done although it only lasts a few minutes (ship ‘em in – ship ‘em out) came to mind.
From here you enter the main exhibition room which has another large visual presentation along the far wall and several displays along the other walls. There are (I think) 8 free standing glass display cabinets in the centre of the room which were really interesting. I particularly liked the pretty ‘ceremonial’ mace head. The ‘reconstructed’ head of the controversial skeleton on display is excellent and very life-like. I spent quite a long time moving slowly from cabinet to cabinet.
There is a lot to see – pottery, bone tools, stone tools, flint arrow heads, flint scrapers etc.
I then went out the back door to have a look around the reconstructed round houses. The rain continued to pour and as such there were few people about. The replica (fiberglass) megalith on the wooden sledge was impressive and gives a good idea of the scale involved in moving these massive stones. You can even test your strength in trying to move it!
There was a private event going on in one of the huts and a flint knapping demonstration in another. I spent a bit of time chatting to an E.H. chap in the other round house who explained to me how they built the hut and showed me the clever way they made the door. A small mouse scuttled past – not a bad place to live!
I then headed for the café to meet up with Karen and we finished our visit with a look around the shop. The shop is much bigger than the old one and you can buy just about anything with a Stonehenge theme – a Stonehenge snow globe anyone? Some of the prices were eye watering and clearly aimed at the overseas market – an engraved glass vase £500.00, a limited edition teddy bear for £110.00………. I decided not to bother!
All in all I was very impressed with the new visitor centre and it is certainly much better than the old one. However, I did come away with a few negatives.
Firstly, with the exception of the chap I was speaking to in the round house, all the staff I encountered seemed quite miserable? There was little interaction with visitors and very few smiles to be seen. Everything seemed a bit much trouble. I know not everyone is happy in the job all the time but it is a lot of money to visit Stonehenge so a smile and a friendly face wouldn’t go amiss!
Also, when we were sat in the café we looked outside to see children trying to keep out of the rain (and keep warm) whilst eating their sandwiches. Why hasn’t E.H. provided a ‘school room’ where children can eat their sandwiches in the warm and dry on days like today? I am sure Stonehenge generates enough income to pay for one. Most large ‘attractions’ (which is what Stonehenge is) have these facilities. Perhaps I am doing a disservice and they do have one but I didn’t see it?
Even if you have been before the new visitor centre / exhibition room makes Stonehenge a place to re-visit. Just make sure you take plenty of money with you.
Posted by CARL
16th October 2014ce