If you like the outdoors, rolling hills and natural beauty there are few places better than Avebury. Arguably more impressive (and interactive) than Stonehenge, as the National Trust websites states, "you can visit the stones 24 hours a day"!
You can also visit the nearby Avebury Manor, museum and interesting Henge shop for naturalist trinketry and more:
In this area are lots of crop circles, chalk white horses (such as Uffington) which could be visited in the same day.
You can get a drink and food (two meals for £9.99 in November 2014) at the Red Lion where there is also some parking. There was a long waiting time to the food here however and a busy lunchtime service so I'd recommend taking some of your own mead and sandwiches.
The manor dates back to the sixteenth century, but has changed over the years. The National Trust, which owns the manor, recently undertook a major project (which was the subject of a BBC TV programme: 'To the Manor Reborn') to restore the manor by recreating interiors from different points in its history.
Instead of the usual 'look, don't touch' attitude, visitors are actively encourage to touch things: pick up the telephone, play snooker on the billiard table, try out the bouncy 'exercise chair' in the dining room and sit on the chairs. Beware of the bed in the Tudor bedchamber - it's much harder to get out of than you might think!
As well as the manor house and gardens, there is also a museum in the stable block about the archaeological discoveries of Alexander Keiller.
The manor is open every day except Wednesdays. Admission to the house is by timed ticket only. You need to collect your timed ticket from the ticket office in the barn when you arrive - they cannot be booked in advance.
There is a tea room and shop on site.
The Stone Circle at Avebury dates to about 2800 BC. It consists of a Great Outer circle which is 335m in diameter, a Northern Inner Circle 98m in diameter, a Southern inner circle 108m in diameter and two avenues : the West Kennet avenue and the Beckhampton Avenue. Of the Great Outer Circle only 27 stones remain, but concrete pylons indicate where other stones once stood. These were removed by the church in the 14th century as part of its campaign against paganism. The stones are considered to be male [long] or female [diamond shaped] and thus suggest the site had a fertility significance.
Although the village was built in the Middle Ages and some of the stones from the neolithic circle were used to build some of the buildings, it is worth seeing some of the attractive houses. As in other parts of Wiltshire, thatched roofs are a familiar sight, and make me trigger happy with the camera.
I didn't have the chance to see all the village, but what I saw I liked.
This large man-made hill was constructed about 2500-2800 BC It is a mysterious Neolithic monument, the largest prehistoric monument in Europe. It is 40m high and covers 5 and a half acres.. The top is flat. It has been suggested that it would have taken 500 men working continuously 15 years to make. It has been likened to the Great Pyramid at Giza, Egypt, and like it thought to have been a burial mound , or an observatory. No human remains have been found.
Archaeologists and engineers say it was made in stages. About 2660 Bc a 5.5 m mound was made, capped with chalk rubble, then it was built up with a covering of chalk excavated from a 7m deep ditch surrounding the base of the hill. Finally 6 concentric steps or terraces of chalk, covered with chalk rubble, flint and finally soil were made. Only the upper level is visible on the eastern side,a terrace about 5m below the summit.
Many theories exist as to what the mound was built for. Although no grave has been found. Many think it is a burial mound for a chieftain named Sil, other suggestions are an observatory, a sundial, or because of its proximity to other sites that it it is on a ley or dragon line.
The mound is fenced to prevent further erosion from people climbing it. A 20 car carpark is nearby.
The next thing that caught our attention, as we drove a few miles directly south of Avebury on the A4 highway, was the huge mound of Silbury Hill suddenly jutting up out of the landscape! It was hard to miss seeing it, and its regular conical shape immediately suggested that this was not a natural hill. We stopped the car for a look, but actual access to the hill is forbidden. It turns out that Silbury Hill is Europe's largest prehistoric artificial mound, with testing indicating that it was built about 4300 years ago, near the end of the phase that was characterized by the building of the nearby even more famous standing stones.
The dimensions of the mound are quite impressive at 40-m (130-ft) high and with a base diameter of 160-m (520-ft). Various digs and explorations of Silbury Hill over the past 150 years indicate that the vast majority of the mound is comprised of a circular chalk cone stair-stepped up to a 'point' in 5 layers. This chalk inner structure is covered with an outer skin of gravel, earth and grass giving the stepped-construction the smooth appearance of a hill. Based on the volume of material involved, it is estimated that it would have taken labourers between 40-50 years to build the mound.
Inside the very heart of the structure, at ground level, the probes have revealed two more much smaller mounds. The innermost one is made of turf and is surrounded by a wooden fence. Covering this small mound is a chalk mound 3.5-m high and 20-m in diameter which has a circle of sarsen stones leaning on it around its bottom edge. The larger mound covers both of these smaller ones.
Although no definite reason has been determined for the building of Silbury Hill, excavations in 1723, 1776, 1849 and 1967 have turned up, from the innermost mound, 'caudal vertebrae of the ox, or perhaps the red deer, and a very large tooth of the same animal'. Finds such as this suggest a ritual purpose for the mound rather than as some sort of fantastic burial site such as inside the pyramids of Egypt.
The circles themselves are what most people come for and they are split up in four sections with the main road and the village in between the sectors so that you really need to fly over it to appreciate the size and perfect circle. All sectors have their share of impressive stones and there is a mound encircling them all which has footpaths on top so you can easily walk around it all and look down at this fascinating monument. It is only when certain parts might need a rest from all the visitors that a section might be closed off in the sense that you're asked not to walk through it. There are also a couple of circles within the main one. It is amazing to think that this place is around 6000 years old and therefore considerably older than Stonehenge. The travelogues below show you stones from all sorts of angles and sectors :))) Avebury as a historical site was in fact discovered in 1649 when the antiquarian John Aubrey was out hunting and all of a sudden "was wonderfully surprised at the sight of those vast stones of which I had never heard before." Mr Keiller who later bought the land and manor house here is the most famous name when it comes to restoring Avebury though. You can read more about him in a tip below.
We never made it here but it would be stupid of me not to mention this famous monument amongst the Avebury sites. It is a long barrow found between Avebury itself and Silbury Hill and is thought to be the longest barrow of its kind in Europe. Burials happened here 3700 B.C. along with various ceremonies that we know nothing about but which included fire. Inside are galleries, similar to many other barrows in this part of England, and excavations revealed that people were buried according to gender and age.
With the same entrance ticket as the above barn, this is a small but much more interesting museum about Avebury. Here you will find skeletons, pottery and other actual finds from the area as well as maps and explanations of the circles, Sidbury and West Kennet Longbarrow and theories as to who might have lived here and why they erected these huge monuments. You also get to know a little about Alexander Keiller of the famous marmalade family who himself settled for archaeology and spend hours and hours of his life as well as lots of money on restoring the stones and making them known to a general public once he had bought Avebury Manor house.
People are so struck by the stones that they often forget to look at the rest of the village. That is a shame as for instance the church is very pretty. What you see today is from the 16th century but there has been a church here for around 1000 years. The font includes some serpents being calmed, and as serpents often symbolise pagan things, it is thought that this has to do with the history of Avebury.
Absolutely amazing in size, you're not surprised when told that it is the largest man made mound in Europe. No one knows exactly what it was used for and excavations have not revealed any graves inside which is otherwise common with mounds. The hill is comparable in size to some of the Egyptian pyramides and on top of that it was just built using deer antlers to dig out the soil, and other simple tools. A truly astonishing achievement 2350 B.C! As the hill is protected you cannot climb it but let me tell you that it is impressive enough from a distance - and I've seen a lot of later age Viking mounds in Scandinavia!
The Barn Gallery is indeed a gallery about Avebury, with various exhibitions on the stone circle, who might have lived here and what has been found. It is housed in a wonderful and massive old barn which was once a part of the manor house nearby (see off the beaten path tip) and I must say I was more impressed by the barn than by the exhibition but there are sometimes theme days for children and so on and our daugher enjoyed some interactive displays on graves, geology and such. There is an entrance fee but that includes the nearby museum (below). I wish I could have been here at night as then the four species of bats living in the barn of course wake up :) Next to the exhibition is the vegetarian Circle cafe where you can also find ice cream. There is also a National Heritage shop opposite.
The West Kennet Avenue has its name from the fact that it is an avenue of stones in a long, long line from Avebury and down towards the West Kennet Longbarrow where there used to be a sort of temple like building of which nothing remains. It is in fact the first part of the Avebury complex you see if you approach the village from Marlborough and you marvel at the many stones in two straight lines without realising that you haven't seen anything yet :))) It is thought that the avenue was built as a processional road, perhaps for burials or maybe seasonal religious procedures. ISome stones have been put back in place having been thrown down or moved in medieval and later days before Avebury's cultural importance had been recognised. The picture here shows a meadow with some of the stones more visible than others in the haze.
Also in the middle of nowhere, near Avebury, you will find the Cherhill White Horse. It is the work of Dr Christopher Alsop of Calne who cut it in 1790. The horse consists of chalk with a concrete eye. The eye was once made of old glass bottles, but the bottles were taken away by visitors as souvenirs. Although they were replaced several times, it was decided in the late 20th century to replace it with a concrete eye.
Close to the horse, you will see Lansdowne monument, an obelisk erected in honour of Sir William Petty, a physician and surveyor.
There are several white horses in this area, most of them from the 18th century. Only a single one (Uffington) is around 3000 years old.
Avebury's stone circles are far larger than Stonehenge. There is a large stone circle of around 100 stones which were put along an artificial ditch of natural chalk. This ditch is between 10 and 6 meters high and encloses further cirles. This large circle is considered to be Europe's largest stone circle. Within the large circle, two smaller ones are situated with 27 and 29 stones respectively. Only a couple of stones are still standing today, but can see markers on the places where the stones were supposed to be. During the centuries, most stones were removed, escpeciall after such moument's were delared as "the devil's work" by the pope.
A famous story is the one of a barberg surgeon who was suppsoed to have died in the 14th century crushed by a stone. His remains were re-discovered in 1983, but disappeared for some time during the chaos of WWII. In 1998, the bones of the barber surgeon were re-discovered and examined. He was most probably not crushed by a stone, but buried next to it.
There is a so-called avenue leading for the stone circle away to a neolithic sanctuary on top of a hill. This avenue has a length of around 2,5 km (1,5 miles). Another sight associated to Avebury is Silbury Hill, Europe's largest man-made artificial mound. Theories say that fertilization rituals took place on that hill.
Avebury itself and the naolithic monuments are open for visitors during daytime. They are free of charge, although you may be charged for parking, depending on where you would like to store your car. Please keep in mind, that you have to walk a lot, if you want to see everything. The stone circles are huge and there is a road corssing the area. And of course: Beware of the sheep. Not of the sheep themselves, but of everything they leave behind...