Thursday, June 11, 2009


Have you been to Stonehenge? Perhaps on one of the many tours offered to this magnificent English prehistoric monument in Wiltshire? I have managed to visit twice, and within a couple of months of each other. Believe me that walking inside the circle is an almost spiritual experience.

First Visit

I first went in July of 2007. We were visiting a customer in Andover, which is a nice little train ride from Waterloo Station on the South Bank of the Thames. Very pleasant going back and forth. We taxied to the customer site and back to the station, and when we arrived at the station we realized that we had several hours before the last train and we asked a local taxi driver what it would take to get to Stonehenge? He said something like 20 minutes and he would take us and wait for about 50 quid I think it was.

Well ... we weren't about to pass that offer up. So Rick, Nick and I hopped in and off we went. It was a grey day, so we didn't know what to expect, but it was still plenty stunning when it came into view. From a ways off, it's pretty tiny looking, and the circle itself is really not very large in diameter at all.

Since this was midday, the usual rules were in effect in that you pay your 15 pounds (approximately) and then go for a long walk around the pathway, which varies from about 20 feet to 50 feet from the stones. Not bad, and with my telephoto I was able to get some nice shots.

An interesting view of the stones from a long way off ...

A couple of shots that were processed for drama, since the cloudy skies suck all the life from almost any an image. Stonehenge is a beautiful structure and screams for a beautiful sky ...

And of course my friends, Nick and Rick, in that order.

Once we were done, we walked back to the parking lot, got into our taxi and off we went to catch the train. That was at the end of a long trip, as we had already spent 2 days at the Dublin lab speaking with colleagues in two days of intensive meetings.

Second Visit

I went back to Stonehenge in September of that same year. I was invited to speak at the Rational Software Developer Conference UK Edition, and since I never pass up a few days in London, off I went.

But I knew I would have a day off in the middle of the week with a customer meeting at the end of the week, so I booked a premium tour of Stonehenge, Lacock and Bath. This is a small group tour that is carried in a coach (think Greyhound Highway Bus) with a tour guide and a driver and is granted access to the stone circle itself for almost an hour.

I was staying at the airport this time (the only time in 5 trips where I have not stayed on the South Bank for some of all of the trip) and had to catch a taxi in the middle of the night to Victoria Station to catch the bus. It arrived more or less on time and we set off in the dark. It was light by the time we passed Windsor Palace on the way out of town and was approaching 9am as we arrived at Stonehenge.

The day was really foggy, but it seemed to miraculously lift as we approached. And wow! I was just as blown away as the first time. But this time we were led together by security directly into the middle of the circle and cast loose to do as we please. The first thing I went for was the classic sunrise shot, as the sun was just peeking over the stones and looked pretty amazing. I have printed and processed many versions of that shot over the last few years, but one of the nicer renderings I have is this one, with huge color shift to the yellow.

Forgive the pride, but I *really* like this shot.

Meanwhile, I was carrying the D70s with ultra-wide angle lense (Sigma 10-20) on it and thew D2Hs with the 18-200VR on it. Both performed well enough but my back really paid the price. This was a lot of equipment slung about my neck *all* day ...

I shot most images at wide and ultra-wide, trying to capture the vastness of these stones. They are as huge as you might imagine.

And with the D70s, I got the ultra-wide shots ...

The next stop on the tour was Lacock Village, where the first two and the most recent Harry Potter movies were shot. The Lacock Abbey contains the original black cauldron I believe. This was less intense than the stop at Stonehenge, but certainly no less interesting.

A very simple building, and sadly we were to early for it to be open. But all was not lost, for this village also contains the George Inn, the pub with the longest continuous liquor license in all of England. Since about 1200 I believe. We went there for an incredible English breakfast where they simply brought you food until you could eat no more. I found this the most relaxing part of the tour, as we had nothing to do here but rest and enjoy the fabulous food.

It's a pretty little village and well worth seeing.

Finally, on to Bath. A fairly long ride ... luckily, the premium tour buses are very comfortable ... we approached the west end of the country here, indeed we saw Bristol on the coast as we left for London later on.

This city is, of course, the famous site of the Roman Baths where you can walk on thousand year old Roman pavement, but the city became a World Heritage Site in 1987 and contains a lot of other interesting architecture as well as a couple of Universities and so on.

We were dropped at the front of the Roman baths, which happens to share a site with Bath Abbey, another wonderful sight. I chose to tour the baths first, and they were impressive to say the least. I would have loved to be there in the evening to catch that moment when the water and sky are in balance and the reflections simply glow. Another time perhaps ...

The Roman pavement showed some very interesting architecture down below. For example, they used stones to suspend floors and allow cool air to flow underneath, thus keeping the room above comfortable. Here are the stones without the suspended floor in one such spot.

Of course, I am a sucker for churches and it wasn't long before Bath Abbey grabbed hold of me. The Abbey shows up here just beyond the baths. This put a perfect cap on the tour, as I had already shot many images in Southwark Cathedral on the south bank of the Thames.

What can I say? Beautiful, like all English churches from what I have seen.

The trip back home was almost 3 hours, grueling actually after such a long day. One young girl cried all the way back because she had left her camera in a shop and someone had nicked it. This camera contained most of the images she had shot on her tour of Europe over the summer and this was the *last day* of her entire trip. I sh*t you not. It remains one of the saddest moments I have ever witnessed in my entire life.

I suggest that you consider one of the premium tours the next time you are in London. And please note that they do not run all the time. I was incredibly lucky that one of the tour dates coincided with my off day, else I would have missed the Stonehenge sunrise.

And finally, when in England, please remember to mind the gap. You will be forgiven for jeering at that one ...


sarsen56 said...

Great Images, especially the Stonehenge sunlit close-up shots which are superb. People may think it's easy to photograph the stones, but I'm sure you will agree that to do credit to their size is not an easy task - well done!

Kim Letkeman said...

Thank you very much. I agree that the stones are enormous and once inside the circle, rather in your face. I am very pleased to have had time to work out a few angles that caught some of their majesty.

Denise Todd said...

Amazing and wonderful photos you got here! I really like your eye for detail. :)

Kim Letkeman said...

Thanks so much Denise.