English Heritage venture to attract visitors from around the world

Wiltshire Times: The Stonehenge exhibition and visitor centre opened today as part of a £27 million project by English Heritage The Stonehenge exhibition and visitor centre opened today as part of a £27 million project by English Heritage

The long-awaited Stonehenge exhibition and visitor centre opened today as part of a £27 million project by English Heritage.

However the position of the centre around a mile and half away from the stones and the cost of entrance has caused some people to question if it will be a success.

Visitors will be ferried between the sites on carriages pulled by Land Rovers with entrance tickets for the visitor centre at £14.90 for an adult.

English Heritage is confident the visitor centre, made possible by a £10m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and donations from a number of trusts, will excite visitors from all over the world.

But Jack Ozanne from Sutton Veny, near Warminster, said: “These slow trains will deter coach trip operators as each visit to Stonehenge will take much longer to complete.

"So perhaps numbers of visitors – at £14 a pop – will reduce significantly in 2014.”

Exhibits will include the reconstructed face of a 5,500 year-old man buried in a long barrow near Stonehenge. 

There will also be original objects used in Stonehenge’s construction, 14th century manuscripts which are among the earliest known drawings of the monument, Roman coins and jewellery, and early surveying equipment.

A 360-degree virtual experience will let visitors ‘stand in the stones’ before they enter the gallery.

This three-minute film, based on state-of-the-art laser scan images of the stone circle, will transport the viewer back in time through the millennia and enable them to experience the summer and winter solstices.

Dr Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, said: “At last, visitors to Stonehenge will be able to get a sense of the people who built this monument, of their lives, their deaths and their ceremonies.

"Visitors will, for the first time, learn the astonishing history of the stones and will see objects, many never seen before, that will bring the stones to life.

“Instead of just a stopover or a quick photo opportunity, we want our visitors to step back in time and into the shoes of those who created and used this extraordinary place, to marvel at original everyday objects they used, to walk the surrounding landscape as they did, and to sit in the dwellings that they would have built.

"It makes the real encounter with the stones themselves so much more exciting.”

Culture secretary Maria Miller said: “A huge amount of work has gone into getting this right and making sure people can see the stones and their story in a whole new light.”

English Heritage said the new entrance charges will include both a visit to the stones and the new visitor centre.

It will be possible to book time slots for visits in advance after February 1 but until then people can just turn up. At the moment it costs £8 to visit just the stones. Members of English Heritage are admitted free.

The road between the stones and the centre was closed from today to all traffic except the special carriages carrying visitors between the two sites.

Visitors can get off the transport at the half way point if they wish and walk the last 15 minutes to the stones so they can take in the atmosphere.

A spokesman said: “We have had a lot of discussions with coach operators and they are building in the extra time the visit will need into their timetables so we do not expect any problems.”

However, the new centre has caused controversy. On Tuesday, families living nearby protested at the site, saying it could cause more traffic congestion on the already crowded A303.

Today druids protested against the inclusion of ancient human remains among the exhibits.

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