“ World Heritage Site. One of Europe's largest prehistoric stone circles. „
I have always been facinated with ancient history, particularly stone circles. I love their mysticism and try to visit as many as I can when on my travels. One of the most interesting places I have ever been to is Avebury in Wiltshire. This quaint little village is home to the largest ancient stone circle in the UK.
I knew about this place before I ever went there and was so excited to be finally able to see the stones. The guide books told us to go to Beckhampton and take the road there up to the village, but the day we went we kind of got lost and boy, am I glad we did!
We were staying in Marlborough so we took the A4 which is the main road to Beckhampton. We got as far as West Kennet (the village just before you get to Beckhampton) and saw a small road sign for Avebury, so decided to take that. I'm so glad we did, because for me, THAT is the right way to see Avebury's stones for the first time.
You drive along a small country road which has a beautiful patchwork of fields either side. Up the hill and round the corner, suddenly you see them.....a vast avenue of standing stones....majestic....haunting! Stone after stone, standing there as they have done for the past 4000 years, guiding you to the village of Avebury. That is the way the ancients wanted people to arrive.....that is why they created the avenue.....as a pathway to something very special.
As you reach the end of that road you come to a sharp corner and then you see the main field of stones opposite you. At this point it is very tempting to drive across the road and go through the village, past the stones, but it is best to turn left and take the road back out and you will come to a small car-park. From here you can walk to the village along a narrow path.
The stones loom up as you come into Avebury. Unlike Stonehenge you are allowed to walk right up to the stones and touch them if you desire. The energy of this place is awsome! It has something that just calls you back! For me, it feels like coming home every time. I can't explain it.
The stone circle encloses the whole village and it is totally accessible by foot. Probably best to wear some good boots in wet weather as it does get a bit muddy.
There is a very good visitor centre which charts the history of Avebury, plus a couple of lovely gift shops and a decent pub too, so good facilities.
Avebury can get a bit touristy so try and see it at an early part of the day. The best time to see the stones is early morning, when the sun is shining and the fields a bit misty.
If you are into ancient sites then this is perfect. A gentle walk around the stones it very thought provoking and very peaceful. The information around it is emense and the books you can buy are vast but just being there is perfect.
The mystery surrounding the site is intereging and you can spend many an hour just wandering around the area thinking what it could have been. The Ridgeway path is close to here and is perfect for walking the dog if you like to be far away from everyone. A perfect walk is from the nearby Barbury castle along the Ridgeway and to Avebury. You are very unlikely to see anyone but are asured to see outstaning views, unless it is really foggy but even then the atmosphere is so great that it doesn't matter.
It really is worth a trip to this area, you will not be dissapointed.
I grew up not far from Stonehenge and so tended to take for granted the idea that everyone had ancient stone circles nearby. As a small child we would drop by 'the henge' now and then, climb over the stones, wander around, look at the graffiti thoughtlessly scratched on them and then jump back in the car and keep going. Today it's a very different matter - the stones are under the kind of control that makes a high security prison look like a more relaxed and attractive option for a day out. Once you've seen Stonehenge once, there's not really much reason to go back again. However, the same can't be said for the much bigger, possibly much older, and infinitely more accessible stone circle at Avebury. We tell tourists to skip Stonehenge (or take a telephoto and shoot it through the fencing) and go to Avebury instead for an altogether more emotional and spiritual visit.
I give out this advice but I'm ashamed to say that until a few months back I hadn't actually ever had a good look at Avebury. It was a place I would just drive through and make a mental note that one day I really should stop. I had a boyfriend back in my student days who swore blind that his clapped out old Renault 5 stopped coughing and spluttering for at least 15 minutes after he parked it in Avebury, but that was just rubbish. His old car never stopped wheezing like an old man with emphysema the entire time he had it but he liked to believe in the magical 'power of the ring'.
What makes Avebury so much more exciting and interesting for me (and many others) is that it's not a big stone ring on a hillside miles from anywhere like Stonehenge. Instead it's a stone ring with a village slap bang inside and around it. People live here; they get up in the morning, they take the bus to school, they shop in the store, go to the pub, eat, drink, sleep and go to the bathroom within an ancient stone circle. At risk of underplaying the impact of this can I just ask "How cool is THAT?" Avebury ring is less of a monument and much more of a large ever-present part of the village population integrated into every aspect of the place in a way that Stonehenge could never be. And since it's currently preserved for the nation thanks to the National Trust and is the nearest such property to my sister's house, we decided to drag her and her partner and her crazy dog over to have a proper look.
Since you don't know where my sister lives, that's not the most useful description of the location. I'll try to point you in the right directions. It's in Wiltshire not far from Malborough, Swindon or Chippenham. For me it's the wrong end of Wiltshire that I know less well than the South of the county. Coming from outside the area, the quickest route is probably to take the M4 to Swindon and turn in the opposite direction to Swindon (generally speaking - Swindon is better driven away from rather than towards).
Our plans hadn't been entirely smooth and we were a lot later getting to Avebury than we'd planned. We found the National Trust car park and saved about £5 because we're members but were warned that we didn't have too long as the car park would be locked at about 6pm. This is something I quite liked about the town - the locals don't mind all those mystically inspired tourists wandering around or leaning on stones, playing guitars and smelling of patchouli but they'd very much appreciate that you kindly pack up and leave them alone in the evening. That seems fair to me. However if the history is important to you and you want to know how Avebury fits into the broader spectrum of ancient history, there should be plenty to keep you interested. I hold up my hand and confess I wasn't there to learn - I was there to enjoy a sunny afternoon and soak up the atmosphere. It's been there for five thousand years and nobody's conclusively worked out what it's all about yet, so I can delay finding out too much for another day.
Finlay the dog is an old chap and has slowed down a lot but I like the think that the power of the ring put a teensy little bounce in his step and a little more perk to his ears. We followed the path from the car park towards the town centre, stopping off to look at a rather dull exhibition housed in a rather beautiful old black barn. I'll be honest, we only went in because our Trust membership meant that it was free. You don't go to an outdoor attraction to shut yourself up in a barn with no windows.
From the visitor centre we then set off to walk around the ring. Keep the stones on your right and just keep going - it's a circle so for once I'm not exaggerating when I say that you really can't get lost. Roads cut through the centre of the village so several times we had to detour from the circle to find the path to the next field, but it was such a beautiful day and we were so happy to be in such a special place that it wasn't a problem. Some people seem to be immensely offended that the 21st century world impacts on the Rings but for me, that really is part of what makes Avebury so different and special - old and new, spiritual and practical all rubbing shoulders.
We watched tourists trying to set up photos suggesting they were either propping up or pushing over stones, we ran up and down a few earth ditches but mostly we just marvelled at our astonishing luck in getting one of the summer's best days to truly admire the beauty of the English countryside.
As we headed towards the town centre my sister exclaimed over the view in front of us. "You've got to get a shot of that" she told me, pointing ahead. "You've got ancient standing stones, an old thatch roofed pub and a double decker red bus. Nobody will ever believe you got so many Anglo-clichés all in one go". I think she had a point. It's the UK equivalent of finding a geisha and a sumo wrestler sitting under a full-blossom cherry tree with Mount Fuji in the background.
We continued around the rest of the ring, stopping to watch a younger more energetic dog running up and down the ditches and then dropped in to the village shop for some excellent ice-cream before heading back to the car and escaping before we were locked in for the night. Who knows what strange things might have happened if we'd not got out!
Avebury is a popular, picturesque village on the outskirts of the historic town of Marlborough, and is very popular during the summer solstice as an alternative to Stonehenge.
The village is easy to get to by bus, car or on foot and houses dainty boutiques, cute cottages and a great pub, The Red Lion, once hailed as the most haunted pub in Britain! (See the internet for more info on that one!)
The Avebury stones, unlike Stonehenge, are directly accessible, it is even possible to sit and picnic around the stones. However, the pub does serve great quality, simple pub food for those who fancy eating out.
During the summer solstice the village is packed full of a number of characters and has a completely different, yet still mystical atmosphere. It can get very busy so it is advisable not to travel by car during this time, and if you aren't interested in sharing the village with hippies and new age movements i'd advise avoiding the village all together as it is less the quiet and picturesque village that it is the rest of the year.
Avebury is a popular destination for a nice stroll or to see the fantastic stones scattered around. In the summer months it could be nice to take a picnic with you, and sip at a glass of wine under a shady tree while enjoying the views. Alternatively, you can visit the only pub in Averbury, one hailed the most haunted pub in Britain.
Not only will you meet friendly locals but also many other tourists, and quite often a lot of motor bikers! As a tip, I would advise the fish and chips at the pub, simply lovely. Transport to the area is very simply from Marlborough with buses running hourly. If you aren't too keen on the bus a taxi shouldn't cost more than £10. If you are feeling brave or just enjoy walking it is possible to walk to Avebury, which may mean you feel as though your lunch is more of a reward when you finally get there!
If you need a place to stay, Marlborough is probably the best bet as it is the closest and probably nicest place in the area. A visit wouldn't really last longer than four or five hours, but those who are less keen on scenery may be even quicker!
Avebury is a tiny village in Wiltshire, just West of Marlborough and about a 45 minute drive from Bristol. To get there by car you need to take the Bath road (A4), the A4361 and the B4003. I had the eventual pleasure of visiting last year for the day, after hearing much about the place for years from a friend who lives nearby.
Now I don't know what I was expecting but it certainly exceeded my expectations!!!
The stone circle at Avebury is the largest in Europe (427m/1401ft in diameter) and make up part one of the 14 British World Heritage sites. The stones are aged approximately 5,000 years, there are lots of them and they are HUGE, ranging in height from 2.1-5.5m (7-18ft). One great stone circle encompasses the centre of the entire village, enclosed by a ditch and a bank to the outer sides of the stones themselves. The stones are made from 'sarson' rock and weight as much as 40 tones, they have been dragged at least 2 miles and then lifted into place which what much have involved a colossal, organised human effort. The outer main circle was once made up of at least 94 stones, of which sadly now only 27 remain and many of these were re-erected in the 1930s by the archaeologist Alexander Keiller.
The loss of many of the stones is a consequence of rule under the Christian Church who wished to remove the evidence of 'pagan' religions and the poaching of the stones for their value for building. Small markers have now been placed to mark the spots where historians believe the removed stones once stood. Thankfully in the early 18th centuary a gentleman called William Stuckley was responsible for the protection and eventual upkeep of the stones. But don't worry there are still more than enough stones still standing to admire!
Within the main outer circle are two inner circles, both about 340 feet in diameter. The northern inner circle, of which only a few stones remain, apparently consisted of two concentric circles; an inner one of 12 stones and an outer one of 27 stones. At the centre of the northern circle stood a trio of very large stones, two of which survive, called "the Cove." At the centre of the southern circle stood a tall stone over 20 feet in length called "the obelisk."
The stones do not just enclose the village but also spread to either side, not in a circle but following a curved double path either side of the village, apparently placed so as to align with the sun. These sites are named the sanctuary and West Kenton Barrows and can be seen as approached the village by car.
If you are visiting Avebury I would recommend parking outside the village in one of the laybys near to these outlying stones and walking the mile or so into the village. That way you get to admire the stones, to enjoy the a walk and to avoid the hefty parking fees you'll endure once inside the village!
Aside from the stones Avebury itself is ridiculously quaint; almost every other house is thatched with a rose garden and a cat in the window. There is a gorgeous local church and the tourist information centre is in the Avebury Chapel Centre. There is also the old manor house and gardens (admission £4 for adults, £2 for children) and a site museum (admission £3). The museum is particularly interesting for those who want to know more about the history of Avebury. Interactive and audio-visual displays are used to tell the story of the monuments and it is a worthwhile visit.
In addition they are a number of shops selling tourist knick knacks, a cafe and a couple of pubs if you fancy a drink or a bite to eat (one is meant to be haunted) and all the usual amenities. I was surprised by the number of bikers (that's motor bikers) in the area, this may have been a consequence of the fact that it was a beautiful bank holiday when we visited.
The countryside and the area around Avebury is also stunning: rolling, undulating hillside, ideal for walking and I'm sure there is an abundance of information of the web if you are interested in walking in this area. Stone Henge is also only 20 miles or so away to the South, although personally I think Avebury is a much more impressive site and the City of Bristol just a 40 minute drive to the West.
In summary, Avebury is truly a beautiful and amazing place, the stones are an impressive and majestic site and I would definitely recommend the village as an interesting and quaint place to spend a day. The only disadvantage is the ammount of tourists that flock here but I still think that Avebury deserved a whole five stars.
If you are interested in having a look at some pictures try one of the following sites: