Stonehenge has always been a place I’ve wanted to visit. I know some people say it’s not worth visiting since it’s “just a bunch of rocks in the middle of nowhere,” but I think anyone who holds that mentality doesn’t properly understand the site’s mystery and ingenuity, which are what make Stonehenge so interesting.
To experience both Stonehenge and the nearby town of Bath, I booked a combo tour from Premium Tours Ltd. Departing from London in the early morning, the two hour bus ride was perfect for intermittently catching up on some sleep and admiring the rolling greens of the British countryside. As we neared Stonehenge, our tour guide directed our attention to the pigs in the fields on the side of the road and pointed out their little circular huts that were called “pigloos.”
Our guide explained the story and known history of Stonehenge, stressing that it was not built by the druids – as is commonly thought – but she mentioned that the druids do now use Stonehenge for rituals, especially on the summer and winter solstices. Essentially, research and archeology has been able to discover enough evidence that we know when Stonehenge was built (around 3100 BC), and roughly how it was built (see below), but not why it was built or how it was used.
There was a spot at the visitor’s center where you could touch and feel the difference between the two types of stones used in Stonehenge, Sarsen and Bluestone. A stone also was set up with a rope where you could try to see if you were able to move the stone, which weighs about 28 tonnes – obviously, not something that I with my weak upper body strength could even dream about being able to move. Actually feeling what 28 tonnes feels like makes it even more astonishing to imagine how ancient civilizations were able to construct Stonehenge without any advanced tools. The only resources they had were wooden sledges which were pulled over rollers or along rails to move the massive stones from miles away.
After a short tram ride to the actual site of Stonehenge, we were able to get pretty close to the structure itself, as well as admire it from all angles by walking around it. I personally think it was cool to see in person, especially after having the tour and a bit of the history behind the site in my mind to provide context.
After spending time at Stonehenge, we continued on towards Bath, passing through the Cotswolds region of England. Our guide informed us the name of the region comes from “cot” referring to the sheep enclosures that dotted the countryside and “wold” meaning “bare hill,” referring to the rolling hills of the region. We passed by houses that our guide pointed out as having traditional thatched roofs.
As we approached Bath, we were met with a beautiful view of the buildings below as we descended from a higher elevation into the valley that housed Bath. Our guide informed us that most of Bath’s buildings are made from the local, golden-coloured, Bath Stone, and my friends and I agreed that the beautiful color of the local stone gave the whole town a quaint, aesthetic appearance.
We stopped at Cafe Retro for a lunch that consisted of warm, filling comfort food – I ordered a croque madame with potato and leek soup and we finished up the meal by trying a warm Bath Bun, which is a sweet yeast dough bun topped with sultanas, candied fruit, and crushed sugar. It’s said to have been created in the 18th century by the same man who created Bath Oliver Biscuits. I really love trying local foods; I had never even heard of Bath Buns prior to visiting but they were really good and I would definitely get one if I ever happen to be back in Bath.
After our very satisfying lunch, we walked toward the Roman Bath Museum and passed by a cute little stand that invited passerby to donate some pence or pounds in exchange for a photo taken on a 100-year-old camera.
Passing by the cathedral, we witnessed a wedding taking place – the second time I’ve seen a wedding so far in a picturesque place during my time abroad (the first being in Positano).
We entered the Roman bath museum and were surprised to see that the baths were a deep green color, with the water flowing up from natural hot springs. The green was a beautiful contrast with the yellow stones of the building.
In Roman times, the town of Bath was called Aquae Sulis, meaning ‘hot waters.’ The whole Roman baths site includes the main bath pictured above as well as other baths and temple complexes built around the hot spring. Romans would come from all around to visit the baths for their healing powers due to the minerals of the natural hot water (more on this healing power later).
I didn’t fully remember the history surrounding the site from my prior years of history class, so I was glad that the exhibit did a great job of explaining everything. I hadn’t even remembered that the Roman Empire stretched all the way to Great Britain, but the Roman baths were indeed built as part of the Roman Empire, which truly was massive – the picture below depicting the expanse of the empire astounded me with its size.
Adjacent to the main bath, we were able to visit the steam rooms, akin to modern day saunas. The floors of these rooms were held up by pillars of bricks so that the heat from the ground would get trapped underneath and naturally heat up the floor and subsequently the room.
We walked around the main bath again and saw a stream of the hot mineral water so we proceeded to dip our hands in it and it indeed was extremely hot – I can only imagine how relaxing and cleansing it must have been to be able to soak in the baths back in the age of the Romans.
Near the exit of the Roman Baths, there was a spout of water that invited visitors to taste the mineral-rich hot spring water that was believed to have immense healing powers. My friends and I each took a cup of the Bath water and upon tasting it, it was clear that it differed from normal water – the taste was so strong and rich. The plaque on the wall informed us that while normal water like Evian has 320 minerals and San Pellegrino has about 948 minerals, the Bath natural mineral water has 2,270 minerals. That’s a mind blowing difference!! I really wonder how much healthier we all would be if we drank Bath mineral water all the time. A quote on the wall attested to the healing powers:
“If they can’t be cured by drinking and bathing here, they will never be cured anywhere.”
After our great historical learning experience at the baths, we walked to a famous bridge in Bath, Pulteney Bridge. It’s unique for having shops built across its full span on both sides.
We walked across it and bought some pastries from a shop on the bridge – a strawberry-rhubarb cake and a toffee “flapjack” which, unlike American flapjacks meaning pancakes, was an oatmeal-consistency type of mini cake.
As we left Bath and started our 3-hour journey back to London, we once again saw a gorgeous view of the countryside and the houses below.
Back in London that night, I met up with my aunt who lives in London and we ate at a vegan restaurant called Farmacy. The food was good and it was great to see and catch up with my family living abroad who I don’t get to see so often. We also got gelato after dinner which was surprisingly actually on par with some of the gelato I’ve had in Italy.
One shocking thing to me about London is just how expensive public transportation can be. My single tickets to and from dinner were around $7 each, which is exorbitantly expensive compared to a $2.75 subway one way trip in NYC. Even with an Oyster card, public transportation is still not that affordable in London, which makes me grateful for NYC subways even thought they’re nowhere near as nice, often delayed, and in desperate need of update and renovation. I guess those are the tradeoffs we make for relatively cheap transportation.
Once I met up with my friends again, we went out to experience the nightlife near Piccadilly Circus and I had a lot of fun dancing with my friends and mingling with British locals.
Overall, it was a fantastic day full of admiring the ingenuity of ancient humans in Stonehenge and Bath, seeing my family, and enjoying time with my friends.