The rain was pouring down, the wind blustering so hard it kept blowing my umbrella inside-out, but even in the stormy weather, the ancient Stone Circles of Avebury was an amazing sight. Perhaps the misty aura around the site made it even more mystical. I had waited years to see this place and I wasn’t going to let the weather deter me. A travel-writer friend who lives nearby had offered to show me around the heritage sites of the Salisbury Plain. Even though I was so cold and wet I thought I’d suffer from hypothermia, it was worth the visit to this fascinating place.
Avebury is one of the oldest and largest heritage sites in Britain, begun about 5000 years ago during the Neolithic “New Stone Age”. One of the unusual features is a pretty little village situated right in the middle of it. The area has been occupied since the Bronze age with farmsteads. Nearby, within walking distance, are other famous prehistoric monuments as well.
The henge at Avebury is surrounded by a bank and a ditch. Inside is a large stone circle with two separate smaller stone circles inside the centre. It’s not known what the original purpose was, although archaeologists believe it was likely used for rituals or ceremonies.
I wandered around the stones, and was particularly fascinated to see the remnants of the fabled ‘chalk trail’ that once stretched over the Salisbury Plain. It’s a picturesque setting with the green fields around and sheep huddled in the shelter of the standing stones.
The first village built inside the circle began during the early Mediaeval age. Many of the standing stones were destroyed at the time. Some records were made of the site during the 17th century but it wasn’t until the 20thcentury, led by archeologist Alexander Keiller, that most of the monument was reconstructed. The museum on the site is named in his honor. Here you can see remnants of the ancient life of the henge including exhibits portraying the way people lived and the implements they used for farming, etc.
My friend and I spent some time inside the museum and gift shop as a respite from the rain, but even though the weather wasn’t in our favour, the entire day was an experience I wouldn’t have missed. I can only imagine how beautiful Avebury must be on a clear, sunny day.
The next day it was sunny and warmer so we set off for nearby Woodhenge . Along the way my friend pointed out various barrows dating back to the Iron Age or earlier.
The earthwork at Woodhenge began around 2300 BC and consisted of a circular bank with a ditch. Instead of stones there were 168 wooden posts in various sizes. Further excavations have indicated there were likely at least five standing stones on the site as well. Similar to Stonehenge, the entrance is oriented to approximate the midsummer sunrise and other findings indicate that the monument may be aligned with the moon.
Near the centre a small cairn was excavated, containing the body of a three-year-old whose skull had been split before burial. This is one of the few pieces of evidence for human sacrifice in Neolithic Britain.
Not far from Woodhenge is the famous site of Stonehenge , a massive stone monument that evolved between 3500 BC and 1600 BC with giant blue stones brought from the mountains of Wales situated to align with the rising of the sun on the winter and summer solstices.
If you are interested in visiting the Salisbury plain, you might be interested in staying in Salisbury. Here are some great hotel choices in the Salisbury area
Written by and photos by W. Ruth Kozak for EuropeUpClose.com