Apart from the inevitable weather erosion and environmental change, Stonehenge has remained as it has for thousands upon thousands of years. To hear it has been given a ‘makeover’ might, then, strike one as fairly odd. Indeed, it conjures images of the stones being restored or rearranged, of a new Stonehenge for the modern age; all smooth curves and polished surfaces. Of course this would never happen, yet Stonehenge has indeed undergone a recent and extensive makeover. But it is not the structure itself that has been altered, but rather that a new, multimillion pound visitor centre and museum has been constructed nearby.
After many years of wrangling over planning permission, scheduling, and the facility’s design and layout, the new centre, costing a total of 27 million pounds, finally opened in December of 2013. The building, designed by architect Denton Corker Marshall, is constructed of grey-tinted glass, steel, and wood. Its understated and fairly unobtrusive presence – it is invisible from the stones themselves, and indeed barely detectable from as close as 100 yards – allows it to blend naturally with the environment, and offer minimal disruption of the landscape.
Inside the centre, one is greeted first with the site of a skeleton unearthed in one of the nearby burial mounds (actually even predating Stonehenge), complete with a (partially) reconstructed face. Beyond can be found various objects found at the site, including flints and other rudimentary tools, and early manuscripts recording the structure. The exhibition hall displays numerous fascinating objects that have never previously been exhibited, as well as loan material from other museums in the region. There is also a magnificent exhibition which tells the history of the site, as the millennia since Stonehenge’s birth, providing spectacular images of the monument phasing through sunrises, snow, rain, night and day.
The building also provides the site with some much needed facilities, such as a café, baby-changing room and gift shop. Visitors can begin their trip at the centre, before being driven in groups by plush Land Rovers up to the stones themselves. This arrangement definitely allows visitors to get the most from their trip – the excellent educational experience in the museum and exhibition areas really whets the appetite for viewing the stones themselves, and certainly makes the moment all the more special when it comes.
Entry is currently priced at around £15 – almost double the price of entry previous to the construction of the new centre, but certainly worth it considering the extra dimensions the site now possesses. There is an option to pre-book online, which will at least help you shave a bit of the fee. The facility is supplied by a fairly extensive car park, which certainly improves access to the area.
Although expensive, the centre adds immeasurably to the Stonehenge experience and no tour to Stonehenge would be complete without it, and will no doubt pay off in years to come by securing the financial stability of the site, and thus by extension, the future of the iconic stones.