Social media have brought me to all kinds of special places around the world. I have been invited to conferences, expositions and even space launches, meeting the most wonderful and passionate people you can think of. I am really lucky to live in a vibrant online community, where my virtual friends are also my real friends. It was through one of these communities that I received an invitation to visit Stonehenge in England, several months ago. I had been to Stonehenge before and remembered it as a crowded place, where tourism had taken over from magic and history. A tourist trap, hardly recommendable to traveling friends. This invitation was different though. It was for an after hours visit in a small exclusive group of social media friends. And even more special, it was outside the season where they normally organize these VIP visits. So obviously I accepted, but still without fully realizing what this meant.
I decided to combine this trip with some business I had in London and to drive myself. It ended up being a long drive, going straight from a wintercamping trip on the Dutch island of Ameland to this adventure in England. A long drive, involving two ferries on one day. Getting off a small island in the very North of the Netherlands in the early morning, driving over 500 kilometers south to the DFDS ferry terminal in Dunkerque, France, and then taking another ferry accross the English Channel in the afternoon. Here is my report:
After a long drive I arrive at the DFDS Seaways Ferry Terminal in Dunkerque, France. At this point you cross the UK border, albeit technically on French territory.
Driving through the mouth of the “Dunkerque Seaways”, one of the two ferries operating the DFDS Seaways Dunkerque-Dover route. This crossing has often very good deals and only takes two hours. There is even wifi on board, so in combination with a meal and a short stroll, this makes for a convenient way to travel to the South of the UK.
We start our ‘Wiltshire day’ in Lacock, a picturesque village in the heart of Wiltshire. Apparently some of the Harry Potter movies were filmed here. The Lacock Abbey is also home to the Fox Talbot Museum, after one of the inventors of film photography who lived here.
After our visit to Lacock we drive on to the market town of Devizes, where we visit the Wiltshire Museum. This museum tells the history of the stone age in this region. We even get a behind-the-scenes tour in the museum library, which holds all important historic archaelogical archives related to the many stone age finds, including the Avebury and Stonehenge Circles. Museum director David Dawson shows us some valuable 19th century records of excavations of the sites.
After the museum visit we have a quick dinner at a local restaurant, before driving to Stonehenge. We have been given special VIP passes to display in our car windscreen, so we can stay after closing hours. After the shop closes and all tourists have left, English Heritage guide Simon Banton takes us through the tunnel to the monument. Normally access is restricted to the paved paths, but we are free to roam. In the meanwhile Simon tells us about the stones.
It is a very rare treat to be welcomed inside the stone circles. As long as we don’t touch the stones or ruin the grass, we can go where we want. Our 20-person group takes this opportunity to snap many pictures of ourselves in this special place.
A very special experience indeed.
The entire group of lucky invitees, an international group of amateur astronomers (and professional astronomers, sorry Nick), archaelogists and space communicators.
Another group shot inside the circle, at twilight.
My best experience is when I leave the group and stroll inside the circle all by myself. I made this 180 degrees panorama while standing near the center of the inner circle, without anyone else near by. Only very few people get to experience being alone at this mystical spot. An emotional experience so rare I didn’t even dare putting it on my bucket list… Wow.
One of the group members brough this lantern, providing a very special effect in this very special place.
The sun has set when we leave. We leave the stones for the night, where they make a magical foreground to the dark grey and clouded sky. A magical experience indeed!
Although these after hour VIP tours are rare, you may be able to get this opportunity of a lifetime yourself too. Check the official English Heritage website for all information regarding access and special events at this magical place.
Also make sure you visit the wonderful little Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. And when there, why not visit the movie town of Lacock and its famous Lacock Abbey?