Work to realise the long-held vision to return Stonehenge to a more tranquil setting and improve its visitor facilities has officially started on site today.
Successful fundraising also means that virtually all of the total project cost has now been secured with only £500,000 left to raise, English Heritage has announced.
Contractor VINCI Construction UK has taken possession of the site at Airman’s Corner, 1.5 miles to the west of the stones, to start construction of the new exhibition and visitor building out of sight of the stone circle.
In September, the Highways Agency will start work to upgrade Longbarrow Roundabout prior to the closure of the A344 in April 2013.
The £27-million project is financed almost entirely by Heritage Lottery Fund money, commercial income and philanthropic donations including significant gifts from the Garfield Weston Foundation, Linbury Trust and the Wolfson Foundation.
The project, developed with the support of the National Trust, Wiltshire Council, the Highways Agency, and Natural England, will transform the setting of Stonehenge.
The section of the A344 which currently runs past the monument – almost touching the Heel Stone - will be closed and grassed over, reuniting the stone circle with its ancient processional way and the surrounding landscape. The remaining part of the A344 will be closed to public vehicles, and will become the route of a new visitor shuttle service to the stones.
The existing outdated facilities, car park, fences and clutter near the monument will be removed. Visitors will be welcomed at the new facilities located at Airman’s Corner and, instead of approaching the stone circle from the east on a busy road, they will approach over chalk downland from the west either via a 10-min journey on the visitor shuttle, or on foot.
A visit to the stones will, for the first time, be enhanced by a large exhibition curated by English Heritage experts which will tell the story of this complex site and its relationship with the wider landscape. It will feature important objects excavated near Stonehenge on loan from the Wiltshire Heritage Museum and the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum.