Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Avebury Henge: A stone circle to rival Stonehenge

Avebury Henge
Ancient Britons were an industrious lot. 4,000 years ago, around the same time they were piling up huge stones on the Salisbury Plain to create Stonehenge they were doing more or less the same thing 12 miles (20 kms) to the north to create the stone circles of Avebury Henge. Although a lot less popular than its more famous cousin, Avebury Henge is in many ways more interesting. For one thing you can walk right up to the stones and touch them. For another, once you have paid to park, the site is free - although there is a way to see Stonehenge for free which is almost as good as the paid entrance.


I don't mean to suggest that Stonehenge isn't great - it is! If you have never seen it put it on your list but don't miss Avebury - Neolithic Britain at its best.

Avebury Henge 


The World Heritage site at Avebury consists of three stone circles. The main circle is the largest stone circle in the world. The stones surround and are so intertwined with Avebury village that it is hard to tell where the village ends and the circles begin. The site is also huge. The circles are enclosed within a ditch and embankment some 14-18 feet (4.2 - 5.4 metres) high which surrounds an area of 28.5 acres (11.5 hectares). To get a real perspective on the site you probably need a helicopter but that would ruin the fun of following the lines of megaliths to see where they lead.

Avebury Stones
Avebury Henge - World Heritage Site


Who built the Avebury Stone Circles, and why?


The circles were built from about 2850 BC to 2200 BC.  Neolithic (New Stone Age) inhabitants of Britain probably intended the henge to be used for rituals or ceremonies. The exact purpose of the circles and exactly how they were erected remains a mystery. Contrary to popular belief neither Avebury Henge nor Stonehenge was built by Driuds.  Druids lived during the Iron Age (between 800 BC and 43 AD in Britain). By the time they came along both Avebury Henge and Stonehenge were a couple of thousand years old.

How many standing stones can you see at Avebury?


Originally there were between 500 and 600 standing stones in and around Avebury, including West Kennet Avenue, Falkner's Circle and Beckhampton Longstones. (For information on West Kennet Avenue see later in this article).  By 1900 only 23 were still standing. In the 1930s a number were excavated and placed upright again making a total of 74 standing stones today.

What is a henge?


Surprisingly, a henge is not a stone circle but rather a word which describes a circular bank and ditch. Many henges enclose stone circles but not all. The Thornborough Henges in Yorkshire don't, for example.

Avebury Stones
Avebury Henge

How do you visit Avebury Henge?


Getting to Avebury


Self Drive - Avebury is two hours from London by car along the M4. If you don't hit too much traffic you can do it in a day trip. Bristol, Salisbury and Oxford are all much closer, within about an hour.

Take a Tour -  I am a fan of Get Your Guide tours simply because they generally have free cancellation up to 24 hours before the tour starts - always check the terms and conditions yourself. It is nice to know you can cancel or reschedule if you need to.


Parking at Avebury Village


Parking at Avebury Village is strictly controlled. Signs warn tourists not to park on the village streets. The site is managed by the National Trust which provides a car park for the extortionate sum of £7 (2019). The fee is waived for members of the UK National Trust and English Heritage. You can join the National Trust on the spot. Be warned, free parking no longer extends to affiliate National Trust organisations so if you are a member of the National Trust in New South Wales (Australia) as we are, be prepared to pay.


Avebury Stones
Avebury Henge

Finding the stones


There is a footpath which leads from the car park to the village. After parking your car follow the path to High St, turn right and you will see a field on your right with a line of stones. The entrance is just before The Henge Shop. Once you have seen the stones in the field come back to High St, cross the road and walk down the lane opposite where the footpath from the car park came out. This will bring you to a set of wooden stairs leading up to a line of the stones in a field behind the Alexander Keiller Museum. From there walk back to High St either across the field or back down the lane and head due east toward the intersection of High St and Beckhampton Rd. Cross High St and enter the field on the east side of Beckhampton Rd where you can't miss another spectacular line of stones, complete with sheep grazing up against them. There is a public footpath which loops through the field and around the stones which allows you to get right up to them.

If you don't want to follow my directions, don't worry. Keep your eyes open and watch where the other tourists are going. It is all quite compact and fairly obvious once you are there. You can see the lines of stones on the map below. they look like dots standing in lines.




Alexander Keiller Museum


Alexander Keiller was a wealthy Scottish archaeologist who was the driving force behind the excavation of the Avebury stone circles in the 1930s. The museum is worth visiting if you have the time. Adult entry costs £4.40 and is free if you are a member of the National Trust or English Heritage.

Avebury Manor and Garden, where Keiller lived while he excavated Avebury Henge is also owned by the National Trust and is open to the public. Its restoration was showcased in the television series 'To the Manor Reborn'.

Avebury Manor
Avebury Manor

West Kennet Avenue Stones


Do not miss West Kennet Avenue. West Kennet was originally an avenue of 100 pairs of standing stones forming a 1½ mile  (2.4 km) corridor. Standing in two parallel lines, they are spectacular and perfect for amateur photography.

West Kennet Avenue Stones are free to visit.

Directions to West Kennet Avenue Stones


Leave Avebury village via Beckhampton Rd and then the B4003 heading south. You will see the stones on your right about 1 mile (.8 km) down the road. There is pullover parking from where you can take a short walk across the field to get up close.


West Kennet Avenue
West Kennet Avenue standing stones.

West Kennet Long Barrow


West Kennet Long Barrow is a 4,500 year old neolithic burial tomb. Originally containing 36 bodies it is now empty and open to the public. Built into a mound on a high point in the surrounding fields, it is worth visiting just for the view and is a great place for a picnic. The day we visited there was a group of people meditating, cross-legged above the tomb entrance, adding to the ancient, mysterious feel of the site.

West Kennet Long Barrow is free to visit.

Directions to West Kennet Long Barrow


If you are coming from West Kennet Avenue continue due south on the B4003 and turn right on the A4. The West Kennet Long Barrow carpark is half a mile (.8 km) from the intersection of the B4003 and the A4. The A4 leads to London, so if you are coming from London stay on the A4 and watch for the car park on your left half a mile after you pass the B4003.

The long barrow is a quarter of a mile along a foot path which leads due south from the car park. About half way along the path doglegs. Turn left and then after about 55 yards (50 metres) turn right up the hill.

West Kennet Long Barrow
West Kennet Long Barrow. The group sitting on top were meditating, or conjuring up spirits, or something.





Silbury Hill


What can I say - it's a hill! A fascinating, mysterious, ancient hill, but a hill nonetheless. Silbury Hill is about the size and height of the Egyptian pyramids and is the largest artificial hill in Europe. It was probably built about 2400 BC. No-one knows why.

Directions to Silbury Hill


Silbury Hill is on the right about 500 yards (300 metres) past the West Kennet Long Barrow carpark along the A4 heading west. The carpark is past the hill.

There is no public access to Silbury Hill but it is right next to the A4 and you can see it clearly from West Kennet Long Barrow and carpark if you don't want to stop a second time.

Silbury Hill
Wilbury Hill as seen from West Kennet Long Barrow



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Avebury Henge



12 comments:

  1. Never heard of Avebury Henge yet I was at Stonehenge several years ago. Wish I'd known. Love the idea that you can walk right up and touch the stones. Thanks for all the tips about visiting the stones.

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    1. I would never tell anyone to go to Avebury instead of Stonehenge, unless they really, really, really hate crowds but there was something very magical in being able to get so close to the stones.

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  2. Fascinating! You brought back so many memories for me. As a child we lived quite near Avebury and I can remember being taken to the Henge and also to the nearby Barrows. I couldn't remember the history, but eerily enough from my child's eye I was there once again in your photos.

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    1. I am glad you enjoyed the memories. I am fascinated by anything neolithic.

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  3. I like that you (and the sheep) can just amble up to the stones at Avebury henge. I think the reason I like the henges and other similar sites around the world is that I wonder what went through peoples' minds to spend so much effort moving these huge stones into their positions.

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    1. Haha - I know what you mean, about moving the stones. Why not just sit and enjoy the landscape! You are the first person to mention the sheep. I thought I would get a barrage of 'how cute' comments about the sheep.

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  4. Love hearing about this Stonehenge alternative. I'd be touching the stones! Loved being part of the National Trust when I was van-living in Britain too.

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    1. Sadly, we won't join the National Trust again. It is too expensive to join if you are in the UK as a tourist just for a week or two. We are members of our local Australian National Trust which used to give us reciprocal rights. However reciprocal members no longer get free parking and at some National Trust sites like Avebury the amount you pay to park is effectively the entrance fee.

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  5. These ancient sites are so intriguing! We had not heard of Avebury Henge, but it looks like a great afternoon spent communing with the ancients. And the sheep. :) Thanks for the info - something new to add to our ever-growing list!

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    1. The sheep were great. I love ancient sites. I am trying to convince hubby to visit the stone circle on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland - so far without much luck but I am still trying!

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  6. I agree Avebury Henge is spectacular. The best advice is to allow plenty of time to absorb it all.

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    1. Absolutely. We got stuck in awful traffic leaving London and were a bit stressed by the time we got there. I am already planning a return trip when we can take it all more calmly.

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