Having finished with Silbury Hill, I realized that I had overshot a small, unmarked road that angled up into Avebury itself. Doubling back a short distance we swung onto that road and were amazed to shortly find ourselves driving by these two long lines of standing stones. As it turns out, these stones mark one of two known avenues of standing stones associated with the Avebury stone circle, this avenue running for about 2.4 km (1.5 miles) from the Overton Hill Barrows area. It is formed by two roughly parallel rows of standing sarsen stones dating from the Late Neolithic period. This best-preserved part of the Avenue is the first 800 metres stretch nearest to Avebury, thanks to the efforts of Alexander Keiller who excavated here in 1930s, erecting the stones or replacing them with concrete markers. On reaching Avebury, the stone circle could be entered via avenues on the four points of the compass, with this route being one of the main ones.
We stopped the car in a small parking lot beside the highway, entering the long field through a stile and had our first 'touch' of a 4000 year old standing stone - something we could not do at a roped-off Stonehenge!
The first of the attractions around Avebury that caught our eye were the Overton Hill Barrows, several of which are located at the top of a hill beside the A4 highway as we neared the village. I pulled into a parking area close to these mounds for a closer look. It turned out that the sheep pasture was fenced off with a locked gate, so I had to settle for a distant shot of these old structures, dating back some 4000 years. A 'barrow' is a mound of earth and stones raised over a burial site. The most famous of these near Avebury is the West Kennet Long Barrow, very close to Silbury Hill (see next tip), with ancient skeletons having been unearthed within. While at the Silbury Hill, we could see the silhouette of the West Kennet Barrow on the skyline with ant-like groups of people slowly walking toward it across a trail on the open downs. In fact, although I did not know it at the time, where I stood looking at this Overton Hill Barrow was on the same trail, called the Ridgeway. This 87-mile (137-km) route along the high ground between Overton Hill and Ivinghoe Beacon, Hertfordshire is reputed to be the oldest road in Britain, with its useage dating back to the time of these Barrows.
Having entered the tiny village of Avebury by passing through its encircling ring of standing stones near the clump of trees in the photo, our first order of business was to find a parking spot and then a bite to eat for a late-lunch. This accomplished, we walked straight out of The Red Lion pub, crossed the street and we were amongst the standing stones you see here!
Information on these stones from the Kennet District Council web-site states: "The Avebury henge is one of the largest known examples of its class and the stone circle which runs around its interior is the largest stone circle in Europe. The henge enclosure consists of a roughly circular ditch and outer bank enclosing an area roughly 11.5ha. The ditch measures 23m wide at its top and originally had a flat bottom 10m wide and between 7m and 10m below the ground level, cut into the natural chalk. There were four causewayed entrances into the interior, all roughly aligned with the cardinal compass points. The outer bank which was built with the material excavated from the ditch, measures between 22m and 30m wide at its base and stood up to 5m high.
Within the enclosure stood a stone circle of some 100 stones, built c.2,500 BC. Inside the massive circle stood two further stone circles. The northern circle contained 27 stones and had an inner horseshoe of stones known as the Cove. The southern circle of 29 stones included a 6.4m high stone known in recent times as the Obelisk. These stones all came from the sarsen “fields” within 3km of the site, mostly on the Downs to the east.
The monument remained little affected by ... later human activities until in the 1700s a concerted effort was made to remove the stones by breaking them. Excavation has shown that earlier attempts to bury and remove stones were also made and one such action resulted in the death of a Barber Surgeon in c.1300 AD." By the way, sarcen stones are even harder than granite and were also used to construct Stonehenge.
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 number of houses within the roughly 1400-ft (428-m) wide circle of stones is not very large and they are clustered along the sides of the east-west streets within the circle, while the highways pass through on the north-south axis. Avebury is a typically quaint little English village and the houses are quite picturesque. We parked partially on the side-walk (as is the custom) just to the left of these buildings and then walked up past them to the pub for our meal. This view was taken as we returned to the street from the large open grassed area by the standing stones. Although many of the buildings were of red brick construction, this one has a small building using large stone blocks for a part of it's walls. Could these be from the many standing stones that were broken up many years ago by the locals for use in their fences and walls?
Considering that this is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the crowds were not too bad at all for a Sunday afternoon in mid-December!
What could be better? An official World Heritage Centre that has free access at all hours. Mystical and magical it's arguably far more attractive a place to visit than the more famous Stonhenge which is still suffering from arguments over the best way to develop and improve access for visitors.
It's a massive site covering 28 acres to it's fullest extent, which comprises concentric circles of stones, banks and ditches and avenues. Difficult to do it justice as no single photograph - unless taken from a helicopter - can capture all the ancient megaliths in one fell swoop. It's getting on for 5000 years old and 'experts' will be arguing about it's original purpose for the next 5000. This is what comes from civilisations who selfishly forget to develop writing skills and don't bother jotting things down for future generations. Dashed careless! I only hope that 'Da Vinci Code' fellow doesn't give us a book on the subject.
About a mile north of Avebury lies Silbury Hill, the largest megalithic construction in Europe – it is the tallest prehistoric man-made mound in Europe. It is on a base covering 2 hectares (5 acres) and is 130ft high. Archaeologists believe that Silbury Hill was built around 2700 BC – a date comparable with the building of the pyramids. The base of the monument is a 550ft diameter and is a perfectly round shape. It is likely that the time it took to build Silbury Hill was 30-40 years.
Noone really knows what it was used for - some believe it was for burials, however no evidence of this has been found.
Silbury Hill is located opposite West Kennett Longbarrow. Due to erosion you are not allowed to climb Silbury Hill and at the end of May 2000 it suffered from a lot of damage caused by heavy rain.
It will be obvious to everyone except those chaps suffering from mystical myopia, that up to this point in time the massed ranks of tree-huggers have hogged all the publicity within the world of New Ageism. Upon visiting Avebury seize the opportunity to portray them as a 'splinter' group and cuddle a calciferous deposit instead. Admittedly wearers of thin outer garments will receive a shock if they brazenly choose to fling themselves at a boulder on a frosty morning. Some might find the feel of cold stone upon the flesh as invigorating as an icy shower (boarding school survivors take note) whilst ladies who are unused to the status of 'Earth Mother' might be better advised to don a protective sports bra before enduring an embrace. That being said, on a hot Summer's day it is rather refreshing!
To be quite honest, many of the Avebury stones are not ideally suited to those seeking to bestow a full 'bear' hug. Indeed unless you are spectacularly enormous personage a partial canoodle is the best you can hope for. Perhaps you should head for Hove and practice on one of our many small pebbles first?
Running from the stones and the henge is West Kennett Avenue, which is 1.5 miles long, made of pairs of standing stones. You need to cross over the road and walk away from the stones in order to not miss this. Many people do miss it as it is not in the same area as the stone circle.
There are approximately 200 longbarrows in Great Britain. They were generally built as communal graves.
West Kennet Longbarrow is situated 1 1/2 miles from Avebury. It is over 100m long and is one of Britain?s longest chambered long barrows. Excavations in 1859 and 1955-56 discovered 46 burials of all ages. The construction commenced in 3600 BC and it was in use for about 1000 years. It is now covered with turf but originally it would have had bare chalk sides.
There are great views of Silbury Hill from on top of the mound. Admission is free. This is my husband standing at the entrance way.
This stone is also called the Diamond stone because of it’s shape. This is the largest of the stones in the stone circle weighing 60 tonnes. It is one of the few stones that has remained standing since it was first placed there over 4000 years ago. Unfortunately this stone has lost it’s partner in 1722 when it fell and was destroyed. It is said to cross over the road at midnight searching for the lost partner.
We stayed in the Keiller room, which is named after a man who owned the village and who resurrected the stone circle. It has a lovely view of the stone circle from two different aspects, one to the front and one to the side. It has a nice, cosy feel to the room with exposed beams.
You can go into the burial chambers, of which there are 5. They only extend to 1/8th of the longbarrow’s length. (About 30ft). You can often find offerings such as perfumed candles and dried flowers that people have left inside the chambers. There is some light inside as 2 little skylights have been built into the roof.
The stones are over 5000 years old. There has been much speculation about the purpose of the stones. It was probably used as a religious and ceremonial centre. Some people believe that they were used for the observance of fertility rites and there are two basic shapes to the stones, thought to represent male and female.
It is thought that the two inner circles were completed around 2600BC. The stones were transported from the Marlborough Downs, probably on wooden rollers. This must have been a huge task as some of the stones weigh over 40 tonnes, more than those at Stonehenge. Originally there were around 100 stones, but now there are only 27.
There has been some damage to the stones over the years; the worst destruction happened in the 18th century when a farmer broke up the stones to use for building materials for the village of Avebury and farm buildings.
The reason for visiting the tiny village of Avebury is to see the stones. My daughter and grandson really like this place better than Stonehenge because you can get up close and personal with the stones. I found Stonehenge easier to see myself because it was difficult for me to walk far on uneven surfaces.
The story goes that while returning from a day's hunting one winter's evening in 1648, John Aubrey had an epiphany - the earthworks and stones in Avebury were an ancient Druid temple.
William Stukeley in the early 18th century saw the distressing destruction of numerous stones by farmers intent on clearing the land for fields. In 1743, he published "Abury, a Temple of the British Druids". This book mapped all the stones surviving at that time.
The Avebury complex covers about 28 acres partially overlapped by the village and dates to around 2500 BC. There is a huge circular earthwork ditch, originally about 30 feet deep, and bank about a quarter of a mile in diameter which encloses an outer circle of standing stones. Within this outer circle are two inner circles, both about 340 feet in diameter. The northern inner circle only has a few stones remaining.
Avebury is particularly busy at the summer solstice. Regular bus services operate to Avebury from Swindon, Marlborough and Salisbury
From the NT (I think at the museum) you can get a "Walking around Avebury" guide which features six local walks; from property or NT Wessex office (£2.50 plus 50p p&p)