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Avebury
  1 introduction
2 history
3 sights & sites
4 getting there
5 practical info
6 links
7 travel article
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My Favourite Planet > English > Europe > United Kingdom > England > Avebury
Avebury Sights and sites of Avebury page 3
photo of Silbury Hill, West Kennet, Wiltshire

Silbury Hill, West Kennet. Panoramic view from the Waden Hill footpath to Avebury.
Suggested 1 day route:
1. Avebury village

2. Alexander Keiller Museum

3. Avebury Henge

4. West Kennet Avenue

5. the Sanctuary

6. Swallowhead Spring

7. West Kennet Long Barrow

8. East Kennet Long Barrow

9. Silbury Hill

10. Beckhampton Avenue

11. Windmill Hill
If you have more time, visit these nearby attractions:
Winterbourne Monkton

Wiltshire Heritage Museum
 
Apart from the museum, all of Avebury's monuments are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and are free of charge.

The best way to visit the sights is by using the network of signposted footpaths. There are so many ancient structures around Avebury, not to mention the local villages and towns, that we have limited this section to the top 11 which can be visited in a day, depending on the weather and your stamina.

We have suggested a route starting at Avebury village and the Alexander Keiller Museum whose exhibition helps put the monuments, history and landscape into perspective. On the other hand, you may just want to get out there and enjoy the the sights and countryside.

Read about Avebury's historical backgound
on Page 2: a brief history of Avebury

Details of individual sights and monuments
can be found with the corresponding photos
in the Avebury photo gallery.
1. Avebury village  
During the 6th century AD pagan Saxons planted a farmstead to the west of Avebury Henge and founded the village. The henge's outer bank and ditch provided a ready-made defence. Roads appeared from the cardinal compass points, meeting as a staggered crossroads in the middle of the henge, and the village spread along the east-west road, the High Street.

Avebury remained a small farming village, although its gradual growth and development over the centuries encroached on the ancient monument.

After buying the land in 1934, the marmalade heir and archaeologist Alexander Keiller began demolishing some of the village's buildings and removing the trees and fences dividing up the henge. What remains today are the 11th century Church of Saint James, the 18th century United Reformed Church (formerly the Free Church, now called Avebury Chapel which houses the Tourist Information Centre, see address on page 5) and a number of houses and farm buildings buildings dating from the 17th - 19th centuries. Most of the land and many of the buildings in Avebury are now owned by the National Trust.

Although Avebury receives many thousands of visitors every year, it has retained a low key approach to tourism without commercial razzle-dazzle. One of its selling points is that this is the only place in which you can eat in a restaurant, drink in a pub and sleep in a room inside an ancient stone circle. The overall impression you get of the place is a friendly, quiet and dignified English village. The old buildings, the ancient monuments and the surrounding countryside definitely give it a unique charm.

In summer it can get quite busy, especially during the Summer Solstice (around 20 - 22 June).

Further information and photos of Avebury village:
gallery pages 58 - 65.

Information about travelling to and around Avebury:
page 4: how to get to Avebury.

Information about disabled access, eating,
drinking, shopping and accommodation:
page 5: practical information.

United Kingdom flag
Avebury

gallery

Swallowhead Springs, Wiltshire at My Favourite Planet

Swallowhead
Springs
 
West Kennet Long Barrow, Wiltshire at My Favourite Planet

West Kennet
Long Barrow
 
Silbury Hill, Wiltshire at My Favourite Planet

Silbury Hill
 
West Kennet Avenue, Wiltshire at My Favourite Planet

West Kennet
Avenue
 
Avebury Henge, Wiltshire at My Favourite Planet

Avebury Henge
 
Avebury village, Wiltshire at My Favourite Planet

Avebury village
 
Marlborough White Horse, Wiltshire at My Favourite Planet

Marlborough
White Horse
 
Swindon, Wiltshire at My Favourite Planet

Swindon sunset
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2. Alexander Keiller Museum
Alexander Keiller Museum, High Street, Avebury,
Wiltshire SN8 1RF, England.

Tel: +44 (0) 1672 52 92 03

National Trust website

Housed in the thatched 17th century Barn Gallery and Stables Gallery, the museum is named after the marmalade heir Alexander Keiller who bought the land on which Avebury Henge stands and restored it in the 1930s. Exhibits include local archaeological finds and interactive displays.

The museum also has a shop and a vegetarian restaurant
(see page 5: practical information).

Opening times:

April - October 10 am - 6 pm every day.

November - March 10 am - 4 pm every day.

Closed 24–26 December and 1 January.

Barn Gallery may close in very cold weather.

Museum, shop and restaurant closed 3 December
and during weekdays 11–22 January 2010.

Admission:

£4.20, children £2.10, family £10.50,
family (1 adult and 3 children) £7.50. Groups £3.60.

English Heritage and National Trust members free.

Reduced rate when arriving by bicycle or public transport.
(National Trust members receive a £1 voucher.)

Parking in Avebury, see page 4: how to get to Avebury.

Avebury Manor next to the museum is also a National Trust property. The 16th century house and its garden are open to the public, though because it is used as a private residence access is restricted to short guided tours at specific times.
 
3. Avebury Henge
The enormous Henge at Avebury is in the middle of a large area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, containing many ancient monuments collectively known as the Avebury Complex. It is understandably Avebury's central attraction, and although it may not be as famous as Stonehenge, 32 km (20 miles) to the southeast, it is older, larger and at least as beautiful and fascinating.

Particularly popular is the fact that the Henge and the other sites are open and accessible, with no admission fees, closing times or fences. The gigantic stones themselves seem to exert a magnetic attraction on visitors, and many can not resist touching or even hugging them. And who can blame them?

Building of the henge began between 2900 and 2600 BC, although the use of the site may be even older.

A large round area of flattish land was surrounded by a deep ditch and a high outer bank of earth. Around the edge of the area 98 large sarsen standing stones (megaliths = large stones) were arranged in a circle within which were two smaller stone circles and other features. The ditch and bank were interrupted by four causeways (entrances) roughly north, south, east and west of the henge.

The Henge itself is believed to have been the focal point of large-scale religious ceremonies and rituals during the Neolithic and Bronze ages. There are many theories about its possible use as a place of worship, an astronomical observatory, a centre of science, learning, pilgrimage and cultural assembly and even extra-terrestrial activity. However, as the people who built and used the Henge left no written or pictorial clues, we do not know who they were or what they did there.

The Avebury monuments lay forgotten for many centuries, and many have been badly damaged by centuries of farming, building and wiful destruction by superstitious locals.

Restoration work by Alexander Keiller in the 1930s, and further work since have helped to give vistors an impression of the Henge's eerie majesty.
  photos of Avebury Henge, Wiltshire at My Favourite Planet

Further details
and photos:

Avebury
photo gallery
pages 45 - 57
4. West Kennet Avenue
West Kennet Avenue is thought to have been a 2.3 km long Neolithic processional way between Avebury Henge and the stone circle known as the Sanctuary (see below) on Overton Hill, although it is not known in which direction the processions proceeded. Constructed around 2400 BC, long after the Sanctuary and the Henge, the 15 metre wide Avenue was lined by 100 pairs of large standing sarsen stones, between 1,2 and 4 metres high, arranged along roughly parallel rows.

At the time of John Aubrey's visit in 1643 nearly all the 200 stones were still intact, but by the 1720s, when William Stukeley came here, only 72 had survived destruction or burial by locals. In the 1930s, when Alexander Keiller began excavating and restoring the Avenue, only 4 stones were left standing. It is thanks to Keiller's work that today's visitors can appreciate something of Avenue's original grandeur.

Walking southwards along the Avenue from Avebury Henge you pass through a broad valley, with Waden Hill (191 metres high, Saxon for heathen) to the west and to the east Overton Down (called Hackpen Hill by Stukeley and subsequent cartographers) along which the ancient Ridgeway passes.

The footpath along West Kennet Avenue starts at the southern edge of Avebury Henge on the west side of the modern B4003 road to West Kennet village. The road follows the downhill route of the Avenue southeastwards, but crosses it just before West Kennet. It is then crossed by the main A4 road and the smaller road to East Kennet. This all means that to follow the West Kennet Avenue path from Avebury Henge to the Sanctuary you have to cross the road four times.

The A4 is a particularly busy road, so take care crossing it. Those of us who do not live in Britain (or other countries which drive on the left) keep having to remember to look right before stepping off the curb.
  photos of West Kennet Avenue, Wiltshire at My Favourite Planet

Further details
and photos:

Avebury
photo gallery
pages 23 - 44
5. The Sanctuary
The Sanctuary on Overton Hill, at the southeastern end of West Kennet Avenue, 2.5 km from Avebury, is a complex Neolithic stone circle whose function is unknown. Building began around 3000 BC and later the timber posts of the two concentric circles were replaced by stones. The diameter of the outer circle was about 40 metres.

In the early 1720s the antiquarian William Stukeley made drawings of the Sanctuary, one of which he titled: "The Hackpen or Snake's Head Temple on Overton Hill, called the Sanctuary." Despite his outrage at the destruction of the stones around Avebury he was unable to prevent the annihilation of the Sanctuary which was complete by 1725.

The Welsh-born archaeologist Mrs. Maud Cunnington (1869-1951) rediscovered it in 1930 and carried out excavations. An enormous quantity of human bones and remains of food were found at the site.

Today the positions of the stones and wooden posts are marked by colour-coded concrete blocks. As with Windmill Hill (see below), there is not much to see at the site itself, but the views from Overton Hill of Silbury Hill and East Kennet Long Barrow help the visitor to appreciate the scale and topography of the Avebury complex.

From the Sanctuary a footpath leads south then west over the River Kennet and towards Swallowhead Spring.
 
6. Swallowhead Spring
Swallowhead Springs are one of the main sources of the River Kennet and are thought to have been sacred in ancient times.

The Kennet is fed by several springs and streams, particularly the Sambourne and Winterbourne streams which flow south from near the villages of Uffcott and Broad Hinton and merge to the west of Avebury village. The Kennet continues to run south until Swallowhead Spring where it turns westward on its way to join the River Thames at Reading in Berkshire.

From Swallowhead Spring, a footpath heads uphill southwards to West Kennet Long Barrow and East Kennet Long Barrow.
  Photos of Swallowhead Springs, Wiltshire at My Favourite Planet

Avebury
photo gallery
pages 2 - 5
7. West Kennet Long Barrow
West Kennet Long Barrow is 2.4 Km south of Avebury and less than a kilometre from Silbury Hill, across the A4 road and along a chalk path. You can hardly see it from the road as it sits low just beyond the top of a grass covered ridge.

The 100 metre long Neolithic collective tomb was built of sarsen stones around 3600 BC, 400 years before the first stage of Stonehenge, and was in use for over 1000 years.

Visitors can enter the impressive chambered long barrow and see the huge stones used to build the roof, walls and five separate burial chambers.
  Photos of West Kennet Long Barrow, Wiltshire at My Favourite Planet

Further details
and photos:

Avebury
photo gallery
pages 6 - 17
.
8. East Kennet Long Barrow
East Kennet Long Barrow is actually larger than West Kennet Long Barrow and is thought to have been built around the same time. However, it has not yet been thoroughly investigated and at present all that can be seen of it is a long mound covered by trees.

The tomb is about 2 km southeast of West Kennet Long Barrow. If you have the time, energy and curiosity it is a good walk, otherwise you may want to head back north towards Silbury Hill.
 
9. Silbury Hill
This enigmatic conical structure is said to be the largest man-made prehistoric mound in Europe at 39.6 metres high, 167 metres in diameter at its circular base and 30 metres across its flat top. It covers over 2 hectares and is estimated to consist of 340,000 cubic metres (500,000 tonnes) of local chalk and soil. It was originally surrounded by a ditch.

It has been estimated that the construction of Silbury Hill took 4 million man-hours of work.

The first phase of construction has been dated to 2660 BC, contemporary with the Royal Graves at Ur in the Euphrates Valley and 100 years before the Great Pyramid of Giza. Two further building phases resulted in a stepped pyramid of six concentric chalk terraces covered with chalk rubble, flints, gravel and a top layer of soil over which grass grew.

Local legends had it that a certain King Sil or Zel was buried here on horseback, but several excavations (1776, 1849, 1867, 1886 and 1967) revealed no tomb, treasure or any other significant contents. Other theories concerning solar observatories, a mother goddess, geomancy, ley lines, etc. remain just that - theories.
  Silbury Hill, Wiltshire at My Favourite Planet

Further details
and photos:

Avebury
photo gallery
pages 18 - 20
10. Beckhampton Avenue
Only one standing stone remains of Beckhampton Avenue which curved southwestwards from Avebury Henge. The avenue's other stones and features have been destroyed, buried or removed over the centuries. Along its course lie the Longstones, two megaliths known locally as the Adam and Eve stones.

The 18th century antiquarian William Stukeley made a drawing of the avenue, representing it as similar to West Kennet Avenue. But destruction, which continued during and after Stukeley's time, was so complete that modern archaeologists doubted its existence. Recent excavations by the universities of Southampton, Leicester and Wales (Newport) have found evidence for a further 10 avenue stones including 3 surviving stones which were buried. While it has been established that West Kennet Avenue connected Avebury Henge with the Sanctuary (as Stukeley claimed), it is still unknown how long Beckhampton Avenue was or whether it led to a similarly significant ancient site at or near Beckhampton.
 
11. Windmill Hill
Windmill Hill is 2 Km (1 mile) northwest of Avebury, in the parish of Winterbourne Monkton (see below), and can be reached by a footpath which begins near the Alexander Keiller Museum, or from Beckhampton Avenue.

In order to thwart Marconi's plan to build a radio mast on Windmill Hill, Alexander Keiller bought the site in 1925 and began five years of excavations, long before he turned his attentions to the rest of Avebury.

The hilltop is thought to have been the site of the first Neolithic camp or settlement at Avebury, occupied from around 3800 BC. Between 3300 and 3200 BC a causewayed enclosure was built, ringed by three irregularly shaped concentric ditches and banks. The outer ditch was around 365 metres long and 310 metres wide. The "causeways" were gaps in the ditch and bank rings thought to have been ceremonial entrance paths. The traces of the ditches which can be seen today as indents around the hill are mainly due to the 1920s excavations. Much earlier ditch-enclosed settlements exist throughout Europe, for example at Stentinello in Sicily.

Keiller's digs discovered large quantities of human and animal bones, as well as worked flint, stone axes and several types of pottery, some originating in places as far as Cornwall, North Wales and the Lake District. Most of the finds have been dated to around 3600-3300 BC, indicating continual use of the site over many centuries.

Much of Windmill Hill is yet to be excavated, and as with other sites around Avebury, its exact function and usage remains a mystery. Recent theories include the idea that the enclosure was used for ritual gatherings and feasts, hence the animal bones; the "foreign" objects would thus represent gifts, sacrificial offerings or trading goods brought by guests.

The term Windmill Hill culture has been used to describe the Neolithic farming people living in the British Isles around 3000 BC, although it is now thought to be too general. Based on evidence including types of pottery and flint arrowheads, archaeologists have distinguished various cultures such as Hembury and Abingdon.

During the Bronze Age the hill was used as a burial site, and remains of some the long barrows can still be seen, including a well-preserved example in the form of a large grass-covered mound surrounded by a ditch.

Much of the site has been destroyed by quarrying and centuries of ploughing, but it is worth visiting for the view of Silbury Hill and the surrounding countryside which Alexander Keiller described as "The most beautiful views in the whole of England". And who are we to disagree?

Despite Windmill Hill's name, it seems that there was no windmill on the hill itself. A windmill built 500 metres northwestwest of Winterbourne Monkton around 1265 AD for the Abbot of Glastonbury was replaced by a new one in the early 16th century. A windmill was recorded on the the site in 1815 but was in disuse by 1889, and by 1980 only its foundation stones remained near Windmill House. The only windmill shown on William Stukeley's 18th century drawings of the area is at Broadway Hinton 7 km north of Avebury.
 
Winterbourne Monkton
Winterbourne Monkton village, 2 kilometres north of Avebury along the A4361 road to Wroughton village and Swindon, and 1 km east of Windmill Hill.

The Winterbourne stream, one of the headwaters of the River Kennet, runs south through the parish. In 869 AD the Saxon king Aethelred (or Ethelred) granted the land, already referred to as Winterbourne, to his ealdorman (equivalent to a local governor) Wulfere who later gave the estate to Glastonbury Abbey. The gift was reconfirmed by a grant in 928 AD from King Athelstan.

Due to the settlement of monks at the manor, the village became known as Winterbourne Monkton to distinguish it from Winterbourne Bassett and North Winterbourne. Following Henry VIII's Dissolution of Britain's monasteries, which which began in 1536, the manor and land became property of the Crown. After 1542 the land was privately owned and subsequently changed ownership several times.

The village church Saint Mary Magdalene was built in 1133 AD on a site thought to have been occupied by a chapel founded by the monks of Glastonbury Abbey in 928 AD. The oldest part of the existing church dates to the 13th century. Built of sarsen rubble, it has a timbre-framed tower. The late 12th century stone font features a carving of a figure thought to be a Sheela Na Gig (see www.sheelanagig.org). In the churchyard the grave of one of the village's vicars, Reverend Brinsden who died in 1710, is marked by a large sarsen stone taken from the ancient Mill Barrow.

There are several 18th and 19th century buildings in the village, inculding Manor Farm, the New Inn and some thatched cottages.
 
Wiltshire Heritage Museum, Devizes
Wiltshire Heritage Museum (formerly Devizes Museum)

Local historical and prehistoric exhibits.

41 Long Street, Devizes, Wiltshire SN10 1NS.

13 km (8 miles) southwest of Avebury.

Tel: +44 (0)1380 72 73 69

wiltshireheritage.org.uk

Monday - Saturday 10 am - 5 pm, Sundays noon - 4 pm.

Admission: £4, concessions £3.
Children under 16 free, except school groups.
Museum admission is FREE for all on Sundays.
 
Articles and photos: © David John 2005-2015

Many thanks to Mark Mallett, my host and guide in Wiltshire.

Some of the information and photos in this guide to Avebury
first appeared in 2005 on www.davidjohnberlin.de.

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