England’s ancient (and I mean ANCIENT) past is well documented, most notably at the world-famous neolithic (“new stone age”) site at Stonehenge, but did you know that there are other sites that are equally impressive just over twenty miles away at Avebury? Stonehenge deservedly receives much of the press, but while it is among the most advanced expressions of neolithic architecture, Avebury is by far the largest. The sheer scale of Avebury is so massive that within its henge and stones, there is a village and even a pub! Located near the lovely town of Marlborough in Wiltshire, England, Avebury is actually a complex of Neolithic sites that include the dramatic and mysterious Silbury Hill and the stunning West Kennet Long Barrow. Each of these incredible monuments is within a short and pleasurable walk from Avebury village.
Popular Stonehenge is a must-see attraction, but there are some considerations to be aware of. While expertly presented, Stonehenge can be incredibly crowded and without a special ticket booked very far in advance, you cannot get close and touch the stones themselves. In addition, there is a hefty admission fee (over 20 British Pounds) to consider, and while many (Carl and myself included) feel it may be worth it, those of us on a budget might feel their money could be better spent elsewhere. At Avebury, you can get right up to the stones and walk freely in between the megaliths. Even better, Avebury and the surrounding sites are free, but you’ll need to pay for parking. Perhaps the greatest value to visiting Avebury is that you get to see at least two other amazing sites, West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill. To get the most out of your visit to Avebury, an overnight stay is recommended (so you won’t have to rush), but all three sites can be done in a few hours if pressed for time.
AVEBURY STONE CIRCLE
Built in stages starting in approximately 2850 BCE, and measuring a massive 1,088 feet in diameter, the stone circle at Avebury is a marvel of neolithic engineering. The stones themselves range from 12 to 18 feet tall and weigh as much as 40 tons! Originally there were 100 stones, but over many centuries they were repurposed as building materials for local buildings or damaged due to their ancient pagan association. While the true purpose of this site is not truly known and has been lost to the fog of time, it is generally believed to be (like many other stone circles) a “celestial calendar”, although there are legends that infer that it was used for reportedly “nefarious” intentions. There is even a stone called the “devil’s chair” and if you need The Evil One’s advice, circle the stone “widdershins” (counterclockwise) 100 times and he just may appear…
WEST KENNET LONG BARROW
Constructed during the early neolithic period in 3650 BCE, this enormous prehistoric tomb is one of the most impressive and best preserved in Britain. Designed as a communal burial place, a barrow is an elongated mound of earth (or a mixture of chalk and earth) set on top of a wood or stone “house” for the Dead. Over thirty people were originally buried here and their remains were found in five chambers within the barrow. Strangely, this huge tomb was only likely in use for one or two generations. On a more lighthearted note, an incredibly cute French Bulldog named Sandwich (RIP sweet boy!) made my acquaintance on the top of the barrow. It was far from an eery and creepy scenario that day as it was an unseasonably hot and sunny May afternoon, and the poor pup was super thirsty, and luckily our hero had a spare bottle of water for him. So instead of pondering the mysterious ancient qualities of the barrow, or a frightening Tolkienesque meeting with a Barrow Wight, I instead had a wonderful encounter with a fantastic little canine buddy!
The enigma that is Silbury hill has confounded archaeologists for centuries. Nobody truly knows why this massive 131-foot-tall mound of earth and chalk was built. Constructed in approximately 2400 BCE (contemporary with the most identifiable portions of Stonehenge, the iconic sarsen stones), legend says that legendary warrior king Sil is buried within, mounted on his warhorse. Later accounts say that Sil and his horse were made of solid gold. Regardless of its intended purpose or who is supposedly buried there, Silbury Hill has an unusual magnetism to it. When I visited last in May 2019, I felt an intense pull to be near it, and once at the base of the hill, feelings of joy and warmth came over me, welcoming me “home”. Whether you believe in that sort of thing or not, Silbury is well worth the visit.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
A truly memorable way to experience this fantastic trio of sites would be to do the approximately three-mile “loop” walk. CLICK HERE For a detailed and very well-done itinerary of this walk.