Avebury stands in the shadow of its famous neighbour at Stonehenge. Whilst it is might be relatively busy on a summer’s day, visit in October to April and you might well have the place to yourself. The site is probably at its most photogenic at these times. If you are lucky enough to visit on an autumn morning when there is a morning mist enhancing the mystery of the stones, you might capture some magical photos. If you are looking for other nearby subjects, St James Church and the 16th Century Avebury Manor are worth exploring.
There are no restrictions on the site and you can wander around freely. Unfortunately a main road runs through the middle of the site. I wasn’t paying attention to it and I later found a stray bus had spoiled a couple of my photos.
History of Avebury
The Avebury Stone Circle was built around 2500 BC. It now surrounds the village of Avebury in Wiltshire. Although the stones used are smaller than those at nearby Stonehenge, the circle itself is wider. The stones are unhewn. Their natural shapes, some thin and slender, some wide and squat may possibly be representative of male and female figures.
The stones were hauled from Marlborough downs, probably by the Beaker People. These settlers take their name from the sophisticated pottery they made and often buried with their dead.
The stone circle stands inside a great earth bank about 1400 feet in diameter and encloses the remains of two smaller circles.
The rich archaelogist Alexander Keiller excavated the area around the village of Avebury in the 1930s after buying much of the village. He re-erected and restored the great circle of stones, revealing one of the most important neolithic sites in the whole of Europe. The Henge at Avebury is the largest prehistoric stone circle in the world.
When he started work only 15 stones remained standing. Superstitious villagers smashed many of the stones in the 18th Century, believing that the circle had been used for pagan sacrifice. Keiller re-erected more than 20 of the stones and marked the holes of missing stones with concrete pillars.
Many of the finds from the excavations are on display in the 17th Century threshing barn and stables in the small on-site museum.
Keiller wanted Avebury to be preserved for the nation and in 1943 the National Trust bought the site, along with nearby Windmill Hill. The National Trust manages a number of sites in the area including the Sanctuary, Silbury Hill and West Kennet Long Barrow in agreement with English Heritage.
Avebury is just off the A4361 and B4003, 5 miles west of Marlborough. There are plenty of brown signs directing you to the site. Entrance to the site is free, although the site’s car park is quite expensive unless you are a National Trust member in which case it’s free.
Other Neolithic Sites nearby
This was originally a complex circular arrangement of timber posts, these were later replaced by stones. Construction started about 3000 BC. Its function remains a mystery. Large numbers of human bones have been found on the site, along with food remains which suggest the site may have been used for death rites and ceremonies. The Sanctuary was later connected to Avebury by West Kennet Avenue so it was obviously a very important place.
This is Europe’s largest artificial mound. The height and volume of Silbury Hill are similar to some of the Egyptian pyramids. Built out of chalk blocks the hill rises to a height of 40 m. It was probably completed in around 2400 BC. No burials have ever been found so its purpose and significance remain unknown.
West Kennett Long Barrow
This is one of the largest, chambered Neolithic tombs in Britain. It is one of a handful of sites where you can actually go inside the Barrow. Built around 3650 BC, it was used as a burial chamber, with nearly 50 people buried here in separate chambers.
Windmill Hill is a classic example of a Neolithic ‘causewayed enclosure‘, with three concentric but intermittent ditches. Animal bones have been found here. These seem to suggest that feasting, rituals or animal trading were carried out here.
West Kennett Avenue
This ‘avenue’, originally had around 100 pairs of standing stones, which form a winding mile and a half link between the structures at Avebury and The Sanctuary.
A circular walk from Avebury to The Sanctuary, West Kennett Long Barrow, and Silbury Hill.
From the Avebury Stone Circle, this walk goes along West Kennett Avenue and up to the Ridgeway with views of ‘the Hedgehogs’ and a number of ancient burial mounds. The route visits The Sanctuary, West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill.
The Explorer OS127 Ordnance Survey map covers this area. The map displays the area around Marlborough & Savernake Forest. With this map, you also get a code for use on your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet.
Avebury to The Sanctuary
Starting in the Avebury car park follow the signs to the village. At the road turn right and right again into the ring of stones. Follow the stones around to the left. Cross over the main road into the next part of the ring of stones and bear right to climb the bank. Go down the other side towards a gate. Go through the gate, cross the road and into the field. Walk down the avenue between the stones. (West Kennett Avenue)
At the end of the avenue go through a gate, cross the road and follow the path opposite. Cross into the next field and follow the field edge slightly uphill to the boundary. Turn right onto a track leading up to the ‘hedgehogs’. These are old burial mounds with clumps of trees growing on them. Follow the path as it bears left after the hedgehogs and then turn right onto the Ridgeway.
The Ridgeway is one of the oldest thoroughfares in Britain and is a National Trail. You soon reach the A4 and Overton Hill. This is where the Ridgeway starts its 87-mile journey to Ivinghoe Beacon in the Buckinghamshire Chilterns.
The Sanctuary to Avebury via East and West Kennett
Cross the main A4 with care. On the right is the Sanctuary another Neolithic site. Continue downhill on a path that leads to a bridge that crosses the River Kennett. Cross the bridge and continue on into the village of East Kennett. At the end of a house wall on your right, take a narrow footpath that follows the wall and leads out onto a lane. Turn right and walk through the village. Just before crossing the river, turn left down a track.
Just after a junction where another less used lane goes left lookout for a footpath on your right. There is a sign but it is hard to see. Follow the path up the hill towards West Kennett Long Barrow Once you have visited the Barrow rejoin the path. At a tree, turn left and continue to once again reach the A4. Cross the A4 and continue onto the path on the opposite side of the road.
Over on the left rises Silbury Hill. There is no access to the hill so you can only enjoy it from a distance. Continue to follow the footpath to reach Avebury and your starting point.
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