Are you up to see new things, meet new people, shake up your thinking? If so maybe your kids are too? Here’s a day trip or mini break idea for going to Salisbury and Stonehenge in Wiltshire. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, who also writes interviews for the revamped Islington Faces Blog website (do go have a look!).
A few months ago I resolved to have an adventure every Sunday. As I live in London and rarely seem to leave it you will already have guessed that my definition of what makes an adventure is quite easy to achieve. I do not have to spend six months planning the route and another chunk of time negotiating how to put my life, family, job etc on hold while I walk backwards across the Amazon, carrying a fridge wearing a onesie.
I want my adventures to be something that I don’t do very often, at least a bit memorable and involve some physical effort. I want it to be my adventure not me paying for a cinema ticket.
This week was half term so Nell and I decided to take a mother/daughter mini break. My husband stayed at home to supervise our eldest, Lola, doing her A level revision. Actually Lola doesn’t need much supervision but it seems only fair to offer her copious amounts of food when she gets bored of her own cooked beans, toast or pasta. The dog stayed home to keep Dad & daughter company.
Life detail sorted meant Nell and I could book an AirBnB in Salisbury, cycle around the lanes (see this post here) and then go and look round Stonehenge.
Looking at the most iconic of British sites – Stonehenge with its 3000 plus years of history – is not a cheap outing. As a family we’ve been there before too, staying at the YHA in Salisbury and then getting a bus out to the stones for the English Heritage members only 8am viewing. Lola could remember doing this, but it was a total blur to Nell who I guess was about four years old at the time.
Stonehenge is magnificent. And the new Visitor Centre set someway back from the Stones and the busy A303 makes the visit far better. We took a bus from Salisbury rail station. This cost £15 for adults, £10 for children return (EH members get free entry) rather than the £35 package that gave you travel and entry to Stonehenge, Old Sarum and Salisbury Cathedral. (The cathedral is actually free, although you are supposed to pay a £10+ donation to go in). The double decker bus journey was hilariously bad – on the way out it was very late leaving and the loudspeaker commentary inaudible. I can’t imagine Brits (unless they are like me without a car) tolerating the “traveller” mode you need to approach this journey with. But… the staff were friendly and it worked well on our return journey with the OId Sarum stop off. It’s also perfect for the Italian school parties and other budget conscious travellers.
With 1.3 million plus visitors a year Stonehenge is of course crowded. But apart from the queues to swap pre-purchased internet tickets and for the loos the whole system worked brilliantly. There’s a model Neolithic village by the centre with some very creative swirly thatched roofs. Also an excellent museum which mixes history, time team style reconstructions (the face of a man whose skeleton dating back 5,500 years was found in the area which has already found at least 4 modern men who could be his look alike) and a rather sardonic commentary about past visitors’ taste for Stonehenge memorabilia. One man in the early 1900s bought the stones on an unplanned trip to Salisbury. Others were content with “lurid” pink and green china mugs and memento plates. Nell loved the reconstruction and was able to ask loads of questions to the excellent wandering English Heritage guide. Why is his eye colour blue? How do you know he grew up in the area? Etc Etc.
We lazily took the courtesy English Heritage hopper bus up to the stones, rather than walking (which would have been fun too). At the stones a local farmer and her dad were selling the first season’s strawberries. Armed with a box of fruit we spent an hour looking, sitting and clicking the free audio guide to find out more about the various stones. And then we walked along the footpath – about 20 minutes- across the downland with larks trilling above us back to the visitor centre.
Next stop was Old Sarum. This is an amazing place to visit – an old ruined castle with a surprise on either side – a grass airfield where helicopters were practicing landing and taking off .v. the outline of the immense old cathedral which was replaced by the speedy building of Salisbury Cathedral.
Old Sarum is not at all busy, a shame really, but we managed to walk in on a day a re-enactment was taking place which meant we caught a glimpse of medieval knights fighting on foot. As it was the end of the day, about 5pm, some of the re-enactors were buying treats for their kids/selves in the little shop. It was fun seeing Medieval ladies pull out their debit card to pay for mini milks and magnum.
Technically this wasn’t an adventure – but it felt like one to us. Why? We saw and photographed some very special places. We talked to various new people (including an Italian family with a young baby; two Hong Kong visitors; English Heritage staff; bus drivers). We navigated to new places. We sought out new things to eat (bought from the stalls in Salisbury Market Square). And we came face to face with a 5,500 year old man: who looked just like us. Going to Stonehenge was a brilliant experience for a history-loving teenager, and a lot of fun to do together.
Useful info (Salisbury and Stonehenge OS map 130/Explorer)
- English Heritage – annual membership from £43.50 (but it’s going to be more!)
- Stonehenge (open 9am-8pm)
- Book a Stonehenge Tour bus from Salisbury railway station to and from Stonehenge (stopping at Old Sarum).You can do this on line or from Salisbury Tourist Information Centre.
- The 333 has a special summer solstice service (£10 return), for June 21-22.
- Use the Cat Tavern, 11t South Western Road, Salisbury, SP2 7RR (just by the railway station) to store your bags so you don’t have to lug them around (£4 a bag) which is open from approx 8am to 11pm. Tel: 01722 327955