Around the 22nd December each year, many visitors from around the world gather at Stonehenge in the early hours to mark the Winter solstice and watch the sunrise above the stones. During this time ticket holders have special access to walk among the stones, which is normally prohibited during normal opening hours. When visiting Stonehenge in public opening hours the nearest visitors expect to get to the stones is around 10 yards — as a barrier surrounds the stones. Therefore, the summer and winter solstice events at Stonehenge may be popular with those aiming to try get up close to the mysterious prehistoric monuments.
In efforts to preserve the monument, the English Tourist Board, the local council and the government have partnered together to launch the Stonehenge Environment Improvement project. This project is on-going and involves creating a new visitor centre and landscape improvement works which are both environmentally sustainable and may support to preserve the World Heritage Site monuments. During the winter and summer solstice, there are a number of rules in place to ensure the stones remain undamaged.
The origins of the winter solstice event stem from ancient pagan celebrations and the event marks the shortest day of the year. According to the official Stonehenge tour website, there may be a druid ceremony and festivities following sunrise at the stones. This includes traditional folk music and dancing to celebrate the turning of the seasons. During the winter solstice, visitors may only access the inner circle of the stones for 2 hours as the sun rises, highlighting the efforts from the English Tourist Board to preserve the ancient monuments.
Stonehenge is situated far from any public transport links and the nearest town is Salisbury. Many tour operators such as Solstice Tours operate coach tours which incorporate both the stones and local points of interest in Salisbury. Therefore, it is possible Stonehenge stimulates tourism in the local area as tourists may travel to view the stones and stop by towns such as Salisbury on the way.
Salisbury has a few attractions that may draw in tourists visiting from Stonehenge. The Salisbury Cathedral was built between 1220 and 1258 in a gothic architectural style. It is home to the world’s best-preserved Magna Carta and Europe’s oldest working clock. The cathedral also presents a variety of art and offers tourists the chance to climb the cathedrals iconic spire and view Salisbury from the peak. Other points of interest in Salisbury include the Salisbury Museum, which houses one of the most extensive collections of Stonehenge and prehistoric artefacts. There are also guided walks available from Salisbury Information Centre, which provide knowledge of the history of the town.
For tourists wanting to visit Stonehenge, the winter solstice event offers the opportunity to get up close to the stones and be a part of an exclusive event which may only happen once a year. Many tour operators offer coach tours starting from London to Stonehenge, however visitors may make their own way there. It may be worth checking out Salisbury to view the Magna Carta at the cathedral or organising a cycling tour via Heritage Cycle Tours to Stonehenge. Regardless, there are daily services running from Salisbury town centre to Stonehenge for those who wish to pass through the town.
With preservation projects in progress aiming to improve on visitor facilities and maintain the stones, it is clear Stonehenge attracts a large number of tourists and may remain a popular attraction for those visiting England in the future. Stonehenge may also stimulate tourism in nearby areas such as Salisbury, providing a constant stream of visitors and potential customers for local businesses in the town.
What impacts may tourism have on a historic site such as Stonehenge?