Work to transform Stonehenge, which officially started on site in July last year, is progressing well. At Airman's Corner, 1.5 miles to the west and out of view of the Stones where the new galleries and facilities will be located, the sensitively designed building comprising two "pods" which will house museum-quality exhibitions, a spacious café with indoor and outdoor seating, a bigger shop and dedicated education space, is taking shape.
Main contractor Vinci Construction is about to erect a 'bird-cage' scaffold which will be used to install the undulating canopy roof, a distinctive feature of the building's design. The future visitor car park and coach park, with capacity for 500 and 30 vehicles respectively, have been laid out and are clearly visible.
Uplifting the Whole Experience
Loraine Knowles, Stonehenge Director at English Heritage, said: "The construction of the visitor building is just one aspect in transforming what is widely agreed to be an unsatisfactory tourist and cultural experience. The way in which people visit Stonehenge in the future will change: we will be uplifting the whole experience to a level that befits this extraordinary and important monument not just upgrading the visitor facilities, important though those are."
Precious objects on loan from the Wiltshire Heritage Museum and the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum are currently being conserved by English Heritage staff ready for display. They will form the centrepiece of the permanent exhibition at the new building, helping to tell the story of Stonehenge in vivid detail.
In March volunteers will help with an archaeological experiment at Old Sarum Castle near Salisbury where prototypes of Neolithic houses excavated at Durrington Walls will be built. The lessons learned from this experiment will inform the reconstruction of three Neolithic houses at the outdoor gallery of the new visitor centre in Spring 2014, offering visitors a glimpse of the lives of prehistoric people.
Road Running Past the Stones to Close in June
The A344 road between Stonehenge Bottom and Byway 12 will be closed at the end of June, once the new roundabout at Airman's Corner is operational. Work will follow to remove the fences along this section of the road and the road surface itself will be removed and grassed over. This is central to the vision of returning Stonehenge to a more tranquil and dignified setting.
No part of the Stonehenge operation will close while the works are being carried out, and the switchover to the new visitor centre will happen overnight. Until then, access to the existing Stonehenge car park will continue along the A344 but from the west via the A360 and Airman's Corner.
Opening in late 2013
The date of the opening at the end of 2013 will be announced later in the year. Once the new visitor building is up and running, work will start on removing the existing outdated facilities, building a small, security 'hub', tucked into the landscape and the car park will be grassed over. The restoration of the landscape near the monument will be well underway by summer 2014.