Stonehenge is one of the world's precious prehistoric sites. Standing on Salisbury Plain in England's Wiltshire County, it is made up of earthworks surrounding a circle of large standing stones. The ceremonial landscape contains more than 300 burial mounds and major prehistoric monuments such as the Stonehenge Avenue, the Cursus, Woodhenge and Durrington Walls.
Archaeologists believe the standing stones were erected around 2200BC, and the surrounding circular earth bank and ditch have been dated to around 3100BC. It is thought to have evolved from a simple bank and ditch in the Neolithic period and is characterised by wooden materials. The very sophisticated stone circle was built on the axis of the midsummer sunrise and rearranged several times during the Bronze Age. As with most mysterious and historic sites, Stonehenge is considered sacred.
The site is the subject of many myths and legends and no one really knows how or why it was built, though there are many theories. The engineering feat is still bewildering. It pre-dates the Egyptian, Mycenean, eastern Mediterranean and druid influences, so was probably conceived and built by Britain's own indigenous people.
Stonehenge and the Avebury henge monuments were added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites in 1986 and more than a million visitors stream there each year to ponder one of the world's most ancient creations. The site covers 2600 hectares and is owned by English Heritage, the National Trust, the Ministry of Defence, farmers and householders. Stonehenge itself is owned by the Crown.
There is evidence of occupation from the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age through to the Bronze Age a period of nearly 7000 years.
Many different people and groups have a special interest in the site druids, pagans, other spiritual groups, archaeologists, historians, environmentalists and simply just those coming to look. Druid groups often attend Stonehenge on calendar events such as the solstices and equinoxes to celebrate the changing seasons.
Some people go just because of the plant life. There are rare sedge grasses and tiny slow-growing yellow and grey lichens growing on the stones.
The medieval town of Salisbury on the banks of the River Avon is just 13km south of Stonehenge and is the best place to base yourself when visiting the sacred area. It is regarded as one of England's most beautiful cities and has much history and intrigue.
Built on an Iron Age hill fort at Old Sarum, it was moved 3km in its entirety in the 1200s. The external appearance of many of the half-timbered buildings has changed.
Though the external appearance of most of the half-timbered buildings have changed there are still some fine examples of the internal construction to be seen. The old market town is an interesting destination and is filled with Tudor inns, tearooms and friendly English pubs.
Salisbury is a fine example of a planned medieval town and has much the same layout today. Built on a grid system of 21 "chequers", it is said that if Bishop Poore, who designed it in the early 1200s, were to come back today he would still be able to find his way around the city!
The town's main attractions include the Cathedral, which was built in 1200. It has England's tallest spire and holds one of the four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta dating back to 1215. There are just four of the original thirteen copies remaining.
There is also Mompesson House, a Queen Anne-style house built in 1701. It has a walled garden and is open to the public between late March and late October. There are two interesting museums: the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum in a medieval building known as the King's House; and the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment Museum in a 1254 building. Market day livens up the city centre each Tuesday and Saturday.
Haunch of Venison is Salisbury's oldest hostelry. Its enormous oak beams pre-date the building by several hundred years and are thought to have come from early sailing vessels.
The first record of the hotel is circa 1320 when its building was used to house craftsmen working on the cathedral spire. Its use as a brothel in the 14th century caused embarrassment to local and visiting clergy, so a tunnel was built between the tavern and the church.
For 200 years, stories of the Venison being haunted have circulated. Visitors have said they experienced strangely cold feelings, and staff are frustrated when items vanish, only to reappear weeks later. The "House of Lords" is on the upper floor and was built to accommodate higher clergy orders.
It is thought there are two wandering spirits: the Grey Lady searching for her child and the Demented Whist Player who is tormented by the loss of his hand, severed in a card game due to cheating. In the "House of Lords" is a mummified hand discovered in the 19th century, which may belong to the ghost. In March 2004 it was stolen, feared never to be returned, but reappeared in mysterious circumstances six weeks later.
Light meals are served in the downstairs bar and there is a substantial restaurant upstairs.
The family-owned Cholderton Rare Breeds Farm Park and Rabbit World is a converted milk dairy farm set in beautiful countryside on the Wiltshire and Hampshire border, 6km from Stonehenge.
Hostel accommodation is available and visitors enjoy animal feeding, tractor trailer rides and pig racing! Saddleback pigs race down a track and over jumps. Rare breeds are the main attraction of the farm as the owners work towards preserving them for future generations. Apart from the saddleback pigs, they have golden Guernsey and Bagot goats and beautiful Eriskay ponies, more rare than the giant panda.