Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Stonehenge and Avebury Rings

The very first blog page I did was about an impromptu visit to Stonehenge. The page is long since gone but I wanted to revisit the site because it was before the new visitor centre was opened and I wanted to tie it in with a visit to Avebury Rings which was, ahem, a stones throw away.


With the weather set fair I booked my visiting slot (which you previously didn't have to) and as a National Trust member I got in without charge to this English Heritage site. The guy in the ticket office said that because it was a quiet day I could do the stones visit or visitor centre at any time but I'd booked the first slot to make sure that the amount of folk at the ring was minimal.

The cursed M25 had slowed my journey and I'm guessing that I caught the second shuttle of the day (they run every five minutes) as there were a few folk already there so I decided to do the first circuit and get the shots and then cruise round at my leisure thereafter. Having been before I did a second circuit and headed back and it was only when on the shuttle back that I realised that there was a free phone app that I could have downloaded beforehand.

When the shuttle alights you are guided back to the centre through the shop (neat hustle), I walked briskly through but before I left the site I tried and purchased some Christmas Mead. It was rather nice and, minus the spices, proved that I had made a decent brew myself recently.

And onto the visitor centre. After passing through a near 360 degree display depicting the site 'back in the day' it was onto the artefacts. They are largely arranged in central cases and there is a fair bit of stuff in them but it gave me the feeling that there is a lot of space not filled with anything, although to be fair the space is probably filled with tourists in the high season.

After a quick look around the 'construction workers huts' (which where either shut or had  a sparse amount in) and a nosebag in the car I set off to the National Trust run Avebury Rings which took me through part of an army range and I had the bizarre experience of an armoured personnel carrier giving way to me as it venture across to the other side! 

Just before reaching the car park I pulled over to take a picture of Silbury Hill which is Northern Europe's biggest man made mound. There is some uncertainty as to it's use and  I love that we don't have all the answers about the ancients and what they did.


As this was a quick jaunt after Stonehenge I hadn't read up about the site and  was genuinely surprised at the size and scale, and I've now discovered that it is indeed the biggest ever stone circle site. The village of Avebury is a quintessential  one with some chocolate box houses but it is pretty much sited within the rings with several roads crossing it too so it is carved up between several fields.

 I'd recommend walking boots or wellies and I'd also suggest a little more time than Stonehenge too because it isn't as compact and indeed you can go in and amongst the Avebury stones which adds a little mood to the walk, only shattered by a brief 'Whump, whump' from the nearby army range, and an incessant whirr from an army helicopter just after. I rather like the above left hand side picture with an ancient and modern place of worship together and indeed Avebury chapel (out of shot) is partly built of sarsen stones, the smaller modern pillars denote where stones have been removed.

After visiting both the main attractions I have to say that I think Avebury has the edge; don't get me wrong the Stonehenge site is brilliant and Avebury, ahem, didn't run rings round it but it is rather touristy with coach tours arriving in fair number as I left, and of course a shop with every conceivable souvenir item stamped with the iconic image. I'd say the shop and café make up half of the new centre. The Alexander Keiller museum barn wasn't open on the day I went which was a bind, this only left the stable gallery to visit which lost out to a drink in the café. It was only when I returned home that discovered that this was the building with the artefacts in and not the barn...Read up first is the lesson to learn I guess.

The journey revealed more isolated stones and barrows (man made burial mounds) and I've often wondered what our countryside would look like when it was much more wooded than it is now, but equally what would the Wiltshire area have looked like with all the henges and barrows in place?

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