Grand, centuries-old cathedrals distinguish Great Britain’s cities and towns, providing spiritual nourishment to those who visit. These places of worship seem ancient almost beyond imagination. But long before Gothic cathedrals…long before recorded history even, Britain’s stone circles were this land’s sacred spots.
Stonehenge is the most famous of these — and has a new visitors center to serve nearly one million annual sightseers. As old as the pyramids, this site amazed medieval Europeans, who figured it was built by a race of giants. Archaeologists think some of these stones came from South Wales — 150 miles away — probably rafted then rolled on logs by Bronze Age people.
Most believe stone circles functioned as celestial calendars, and even after five thousand years Stonehenge still works as one. As the sun rises on the summer solstice (June 21), the “heel stone” — the one set apart from the rest — lines up with the sun and the altar at the circle’s center. With the summer solstice sun appearing in just the right slot, prehistoric locals could tell when to plant and when to party.
Despite the tourist hordes, Stonehenge retains an air of mystery and majesty (partly because smartly designed barriers, which keep visitors from trampling all over it, foster the illusion that it stands alone in a field).