I’d had so many people tell me about their lackluster experiences of driving past Stonehenge and looking for a few moments through a chain-link fence that I wasn’t particularly enthused about bothering at all. But L’s stories about her day in Wiltshire with Pat Shelley (and a subsequent perusal of the many 5 stars on Tripadvisor) inspired me to fork out what seemed like a lot at the time. I know from the experience of many cliche tourist destinations that a great guide makes all the difference. KJM could certainly tell you about the difference between the Kremlin with Tatiana versus Aleksander.
As many other reviewers have said, Pat makes the effort to make every trip personal and like a temporary family of travelers, by knowing everyone’s name and finding out all about them. His impressive memory obviously also extends to his knowledge of Stone[not a]henge (in-joke, you’ll find out!), and he’s been on the scene for so many important moments in the area’s archaeological history that you can tell this topic is in his blood, and I can see him doing these tours until the last moment he is able.
The real difference is that you actually learn and think about what you are looking at, you see other examples of henges and other landscape adaptions (e.g. the ‘cursus’, a most inaccurately-named archaeological feature) of the time, and this puts it all into a pre-historical context that a tourist-laden spot can’t do. You also get to trapse around a field of sheep and manure – closed-toed sturdy shoes advised, my jandals definitely not. The end-goal of this is that you end up walking up to Stonehenge from the exact same angle that we know – from the discovery of ‘The Avenue’ – that the original occupiers approached the monument from, offering a glimpse of a time we can only wonder about. I don’t want to spoiler anyone’s visit, but it is certainly more impressive to watch the stones appear with the sunset behind them as you mount the hill, until you approach along the ley-line (mystics swoon), than to rubberneck on the drive through.
Being a poor traveler, I understand if price is prohibitive, but if you actually have any interest in Stonehenge and are not just blithely ticking it off the list of must-sees, then I recommend you wait until you can afford it.
My favourite Pat-ism: Ditch-Bank-areaofflattenedland-bank-dtich!