Kids in Museums Reviews Editor, Kim Biddulph, was extremely excited to visit the revamped Stonehenge visitor centre and show her four year old daughter the iconic stones.
I have been following the news stories about the building and opening of the new visitor centre at Stonehenge with great interest as I studied archaeology at university and managed to get a special pass to walk inside the stones. Who would have thought that the US President would once follow in my footsteps!
The old visitor centre had been an embarrassment, looking as it did like a temporary classroom from the ’60s. The world class monument now has a world-class visitor centre, located a mile from the stones. It has made it even busier than ever on the A303, but once we managed to pull in to the car park it was well managed and easy to park.
The new building looks amazing and will look even better when the trees have a grown a bit. The queues are long, so I recommend booking in advance. Beyond it is the route to the stones, either in the land train or a walk through the prehistoric landscape past a round barrow cemetery. We almost didn’t go, though, as there’s so much to see at the visitor centre itself. Walking into the exhibition, it takes your breath away as you enter a space with a 360 degree view of the interior of the circle. Not only do you see Stonehenge as it is now, though, the view evolves from 3000 BC to today and, at one point, shows you the famous view of the midwinter sunset aligned through the Great Trilithon. It was great to show my daughter the development and significance of the stones. Through into the next room are objects found on site and nearby, with touchable versions for curious hands to feel.
She was slightly underwhelmed by the stones themselves. Back at the visitor centre are reconstructed Neolithic houses based on those excavated at nearby Durrington Walls. They may have been where the workers on the last major phase of construction at Stonehenge. What struck us was how small they were, in contrast to the stones. My daughter loved going in each one and seeing the beds and the cupboards with replica pottery vessels and other domestic objects on them. She had her turn trying to move a replica sarsen stone, but I’m not sure she quite got the point. Older children, especially those starting to study the Stone Age at school from this September, will get more out of a visit.
The children’s activity book we bought for £1 was a great way to bring the Neolithic to life for my little one. It has stickers to populate a scene of Neolithic worship at Stonehenge, and the builder’s village at Durrington Walls. We discussed what life was like at the time and what kind of things people might have been doing at Stonehenge.
Adult entry to Stonehenge is £13.90, and £8.30 for 5-15 year olds. A family ticket for two adults and up to three children is £36.10. For more information and online virtual tours see http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/stonehenge/?lang=en.