Category: Informative

Why Hire A Guide


Travelling the world with local guides.

I have learned through my own experiences that hiring a knowledgeable local guide greatly enhances the enjoyment of a tour.

A local guide will want to share his love for the subject whether that is simply their local area or something to be found within it. It is our hope that we can do this for you and with our local and archaeological knowledge considerably enrich your visit to the fascinating prehistoric sites of wonderful Wiltshire.

When I moved back to Wiltshire in 2012 I wanted to apply what I had learned on my travels to the area I grew up in and love. Having had a fascination with the county and its wealth of prehistoric sites since I was a lad it was clear how I should specialise.

As a volunteer guide at Stonehenge I have learned an enormous amount from Nicola Snashall the National Trust head archaeologist and her team of guides, particularly Mike Robinson. The NT’s tours are very worthwhile but unfortunately rather few and far between. To see if there is one that suits you follow this link for more information:

At Stonehenge in June 2016

My first inspirational experience was in 2001 in the unique and unspoilt Catlins area
of New Zealand’s South Island. My local guide for three days was Fergus Sutherland.

A renowned expert in forest plants and mosses, Fergus has an infectious enthusiasm for everything natural and historical in his local area. He wanted to show me the lot from the scenery and local history to the wildlife, even having the skill to whistle the tiny rifleman bird out of the forest for us to get a close up view. We rose well before dawn one day to watch some of the world’s rarest penguins, yellow-eyed penguins, going out to sea; we visited a petrified forest below the tide line and a spectacular waterfall in the rain forest. And, on a secluded beach, got extremely close to some enormous Hooker’s sea lions.

None of these experiences would have been as complete if I had tried to organise them on my own even if I had known the best places to go. It was these few days more than anything else that inspired me to try something similar of my own. If you ever go to New Zealand’s south island I cannot recommend Fergus and Mary’s hospitality and skill more highly:

The Catlins: temperate rain forest on New Zealand’s South Island
McLean Falls, Catlins, New Zealand
Petrified forest: stumps and fallen trunks.
Fergus Sutherland, local guide, gets up close to a Hooker’s Sea Lion
A Hooker’s Sea Lion, Catlins, New Zealand

Following my New Zealand experience I have sought out local guides throughout my travels both in the UK and abroad. They have entertained and enlightened me on a broad range of subjects and without exception their expertise and knowledge has enhanced each day.

Guided tours have included:

a day’s walking tour of Berlin

a day safari in the Masai Mara, Kenya

a day being guided around the Boer War battlefields of South Africa by Bob Wood (including Spionkop of ‘Kop End’ renown – an extraordinary experience (especially for a Liverpool fan like me):

a very special day spent part in Beijing and then hiking a remote stretch of The Great Wall of China with James Zhang:;

a day’s hike into a second growth rainforest reserve near Kuala Lumpur

a tour around Scolt Head Island National Nature Reserve in Norfolk, UK with an ex-ranger

a trip into the rainforest of St. Lucia searching for the elusive St. Lucian Parrot which we found much to the delight of our local guide who had been regularly and more and more nervously stressing how rare it is!

a guided river safari into the Bruneian jungle on the island of Borneo with Mark and Wann of Mark Putera Delima Tours. Have a look at their Facebook page, or you can email them [email protected]

a spectacular day spent in Francois Peron National Park in Western Australia with Darren ‘Capes’ Capewell of Wula Gura Nyinda Eco Adventures:

Spion Kop – KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa with Bob Wood

We had a terrific day with Bob. He first showed us the spot where Winston Churchill was captured from a train between the towns of Frere and Chieveley on 15th November 1899 while serving as a war correspondent during the Boer War. There is more information here: We then went to the site of the Battle of Colenso before heading to our main objective Spion Kop where the Lancashire regiments among others took such heavy losses. It was because of this disastrous episode in the war that the Kop end was so named at Liverpool Football club’s Anfield ground. This is a link to Bob’s website:

If you are interested in finding out more about the battle then this site is excellent:

The Wikipedia article on the battle of Spion Kop is also informative and well researched:

For a comprehensive book on the entire Boer War I can thoroughly recommend Thomas Packenham’s engaging book simply entitled The Boer War. It is superbly written and Pakenham makes the whole period extremely fascinating

Boulder strewn ground on Spion Kop
Spion Kop, South Africa
British memorialised trench on Spion Kop. Dawn on 24th January 1900 revealed to the British that they had not taken the top of the hill during the night. The Boers were able to fire straight down the British trench from their higher position. Back-filled over the British corpses after the battle the trench became their grave.
Spion Kop memorial

The Forbidden City, Beijing and The Great Wall of China.

James Zhang took us out for a very special day in January 2011. The morning was spent looking around Beijing’s Forbidden City. After lunch he drove us two and a half hours out of the city to a remote section of The Great Wall. We scrambled and walked as far as we dared before being forced to turn around to get back to the car before night closed in. The sunset from the wall was unbelievable.

Looking down on The Forbidden City
The sun breaking through the morning mist: The Forbidden City, Beijing
Some of the wall was almost vertical
Laurence walking along a rare level section of the Great Wall
We should head back
Heading back

Wow!! What an extraordinary day.

Causewayed enclosures


Knapp Hill Causewayed Enclosure

Causewayed enclosures are among the oldest monuments in the UK. Now little more than grass banks and ditches, they were once sites of great importance to the local population: ‘they represent the earliest form of non-funerary monument and the first instance of the artificial enclosure of open space known in the British Isles.’ (Oswald, Dyer and Barber, 2001)

Windmill Hill causewayed enclosure from the air
Windmill Hill in the north of the Avebury area from the air. The two outer rings of the UK’s most famous causewayed enclosure can be made out quite clearly to the left and across the top of the photograph. The mounds inside the enclosure and beyond the ditch in the top left are much later Bronze Age burial mounds. Still prehistoric they date from about two thousand years after the enclosure was in use. Such is the depth of time in this landscape
Part of the outer ditch of the Windmill Hill Causewayed Enclosure
One of the best preserved ditches of all the UK’s causewayed enclosures is on Windmill Hill which is still in places nearly two metres deep.
Knap Hill Causewayed Enclosure from the air
Knap Hill, one of Wiltshire’s Early Neolithic causewayed enclosures from the air. On the near side it is clear where the ditch and bank are broken by multiple causeways and entrances. Pilot: Tony Hughes; Photo: Laurence
Knap Hill in light snow
The entrances through the bank at Knap Hill stand out even more clearly after a light dusting of snow. The cows on the right of the photo give an idea of scale

Our most ancient monuments

Causewayed Enclosures are a type of monument associated with the Early Neolithic period in Britain and can be considered among our most ancient monuments. Only Long Barrows and chambered tombs have so far given us earlier dates. All of these types of monument occur within the Stonehenge and Avebury area and can be visited as part of a tour.

The Neolithic, the last period of the stone age, is the time when people were moving away from a hunter-gatherer existence to a more settled lifestyle in small farming communities. I say ‘moving away’ because archaeologists don’t believe this was a sudden change but more of a gradual adoption of ideas. Rather than a Neolithic revolution, the transition might have taken decades if not centuries to really become the established ‘way of life’. Mike Pitts even talks about ‘millennia not decades when discussing the transition’ in his book ‘Hengeworld‘ and in fact it could be argued that it is a process that hasn’t yet ended! After all we still gather blackberries, fish the sea and rivers and hunt wild game. There was no need to dispose of these proven subsistence methods.

Rather than a change of diet what makes the Neolithic period most striking to us is the change in material evidence. Around 4000 BC when new ideas, the Neolithic package, first arrived in the UK we also begin to see evidence of a new approach to the land. The Neolithic package included new types of flint tool (arrow heads, knives and utility tools), the first mines and quarries for raw material such as quality flint, the first pottery, beautiful aesthetic goods such as polished stone axes, and the first landscape monuments. For the first time man became aware that he could manipulate the land to serve his purposes, planting crops for instance to provide predictably available food, but also building large monuments that confirmed his possession of an area. Causewayed enclosures belong to this time being built and used within the period 3700 t0 3400 BC.

Knap Hill Causewayed Enclosure
Knap Hill provided the perfect location for one of these ‘camps’. From within the views were panoramic and likewise it was visible for miles around including from Salisbury Plain across the Pewsey Vale
Knap Hill at dawn
The view from Knap Hill Causewayed Enclosure to Adam's Grave long barrow
Looking across from Knap Hill to Adam’s Grave, the contemporary long barrow, on the brow of the hill.

Altering the landscape

Causewayed enclosures are among the earliest embodiments of this new culture. The general belief is that these enclosures, dating from between 3,700 and 3,400 BC, were built as seasonal camps. Different family groups, or tribes, met here and nurtured relationships and alliances at certain times of the year. Andrew Lawson suggests these ‘long distance ties were important for the cohesion of disparate groups’ who perhaps still spent much of the year following a semi-nomadic existence pasturing their herds. Not so much permanent domestic settings these enclosures more likely served as ‘meeting places, markets, political, ceremonial or religious centres all in one….places where a mobile population could meet from time to time so as to conduct important social functions and for the exchange of ideas and possessions’ (Lawson 2007).

They are evidence of a new concept of ‘place’, of control and ownership of the land. I don’t mean this as ownership in the modern sense but that, as human beings, we could adapt the landscape around us and make it work for us. If we want to build a place to hold meetings and festivals, we can. This had not been done before.

Similarities in structure

No two of these camps are identical but they follow the same general pattern, being built of one or more roughly circular rings of earthen banks. The material for these banks was dug from external ditches which in our area of Wiltshire extended down into the chalk bedrock meaning both bank and ditch were white when completed. Rather than being continuous, causeways were left to form land-bridges across the ditches giving access through the bank into the interior. Some, like the beautifully positioned example on Knap Hill (pictured above), have many entrances while others, such as Robin Hood’s Ball to the north of Stonehenge, appear to have only one. The area enclosed varies considerably in size, the inner enclosure on Windmill Hill being only 0.4ha for example while that of the recently discovered valley bottom site at Crofton encloses an area of 27ha. Generally however few examples exceed 5.5ha in area.


Causewayed enclosures occur widely across southern Britain including the Stonehenge and Avebury area, usually on high land with commanding views of the neighbouring landscape. However they are still ‘amongst the rarest and most enigmatic of all the ancient monuments known in the British Isles’ (Oswald et al, 2001). Unlike the peculiarly British ‘henge’ monuments they have also been identified in continental northern Europe: France, Belgium, Germany and Denmark.

Windmill Hill as viewed from the Ridgeway
Windmill Hill in the middle distance as viewed from the east on the Ridgeway
The view to the west from Windmill Hill
Watching the sun set on a February evening from a Bronze Age barrow on Windmill Hill. Oldbury Castle, an Iron Age Hillfort is on top of the hill ahead

Targets for early archaeologists

The two examples we have focused on here, Knap Hill and Windmill Hill lie within the Avebury area we visit on our tours. They were among the first such monuments to be seriously investigated and have provided us with invaluable information.

Windmill Hill is a particularly important site not only archaeologically but also as the place where Alexander Keiller, the man who was later responsible for restoring the stone circle at Avebury, cut his teeth as an archaeologist. Keiller bought a large part of the hill in 1924 to save it from the attentions of the Marconi wireless company who wanted to erect a mast there. During his excavations at first under the direction of Harold St. George Gray, huge amounts of items were recovered particularly flint tools, animal and human bone, and pottery.

Excavations at Knap Hill by Maud and Ben Cunnington also provided a lot of material evidence for what took part within that enclosure. Together their excavations largely influenced interpretations of date and use, greatly enhancing our knowledge of the late stone age in the UK. The round bottomed pottery found at these sites gave the name Windmill Hill Ware to the style of earlier Neolithic pottery found across southern Britain.

The Alexander Keiller museum at Avebury contains much of the material excavated at Windmill Hill in the 1920s. A visit to the museum is well worthwhile and can be included on a tour of the area with Oldbury Tours.

A more extensive collection, including the UK’s most important collection of Bronze Age artefacts, can be found at The Wiltshire Museum in Devizes which we can also visit and is highly recommended. For more information about the Wiltshire Museum please click here to visit their website.

The approach to Knap Hill and Adam's Grave
Knap Hill causewayed enclosture in the distant left is considered ‘paired’ with Adam’s Grave in shadow on the right

Diversity of use

Although sharing much in common by the way of design Neolithic Causewayed Enclosures appear to have served a multitude of different purposes as alluded to above, but whether they were all multi-purpose or some served specific functions for the community is unclear. One example lies just outside our main touring area at Hambledon Hill on Cranborne Chase. Here excavation, led by Roger Mercer between 1974 and 1982, suggested that ‘the primary purpose of this enclosure seems to have been to demarcate a sacred area within which bodies were left to naturally decompose, a process known as excarnation.’ (Green, 2000). The ditches around the Windmill Hill enclosure, which is in our area, were similarly found to include a considerable amount of contemporary human bone. This process of excarnation could well have been the common practice at this time for the disposal of the dead, the bare bones being later collected and placed in communal tombs such as West Kennet Long Barrow  for later use in rituals and ceremonies. Causewayed enclosures often appear to be linked with contemporary long barrows; Hambledon Hill and Windmill Hill both have several long barrows nearby and Knap Hill has Adam’s Grave just along the ridge to the west as can be seen in the photo above. In this picture Knap Hill causewayed enclosure is on the raised ground centre left and Adam’s Grave can be seen in shadow on the crest far right. We are looking south. Beyond these two monuments the land falls off sharply in to the Pewsey Vale and beyond that lies Salisbury Plain and the monuments around Stonehenge.

click on the image to visit the Wiltshire Museum’s website. We often include a visit to the museum on a tour.
This is an excellent book that is devoted entirely to Causewayed Enclosures.

Further Reading


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In the articles on this website I have tried to give a very brief summary of most of the sites that we can visit on our tours but I didn’t feel it was appropriate for me to try to be either too academic or too authoritative. Obviously when we are out in the landscape I will hopefully fill in all the gaps, explain all the up-to-date theories and research, and be able to answer any questions you may have but if you would like to do more research into the subject for yourself I have listed below the books that I have found useful out of the enormous amount that have been written on the subject. They are all written by leading experts on the British archaeological scene. I have missed many extremely important books off this list for the simple reason that I have yet to read them. I say ‘yet’ because I certainly intend to and when I do they will undoubtedly be added to this corpus. If you click on the book covers you will be taken to the appropriate page on Amazon in a new window although you may well want to look elsewhere because some of the prices are extraordinary!

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The first resources I would recommend are the official guides to the two areas of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. They are both written by eminent archaeologists, are extremely well presented with wonderful photographs and diagrams, and are available at a very reasonable cost from the terrific new Stonehenge visitor centre and the equally terrific Alexander Keiller Museum at Avebury.
The National Trust’s 32 page Avebury guide is written by Ros Cleal and covers the monument and its surroundings including Silbury Hill and the West Kennet Long Barrow with plenty of photographs and diagrams to illustrate the text.
English Heritage’s Stonehenge guide is written by Julian Richards and is again thoroughly illustrated. The 52 pages discuss the archaeological history of the Stonehenge area and give a good overview of the research carried out. Other monuments within the landscape are discussed such as The Cursus, Durrington Walls and Bush Barrow.

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A superb general book that covers the whole of the area we include on our tours and comes highly recommended by, among others, David Dawson curator of the superb Wiltshire Museum in Devizes is Chalkland: an archaeology of Stonehenge and its region by Andrew J. Lawson. Richly detailed but still very readable it remains one of my most valuable sources of information.

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Written by one of Britain’s pre-eminent field archaeologists Mike Pitts’ Hengeworld is a thorough and entertaining exploration of the role henges such as Stonehenge and Avebury played in the rituals of prehistoric society. The book focuses on many of the places we visit on our tours and includes some extremely useful diagrams and appendices with radio-carbon dates for thorough chronological comparisons including the various stages of Stonehenge’s construction.

In Stonehenge: The biography of a landscape Tim Darvill examines the pre-history and history of the whole Stonehenge area from the stone age through to the 1990s and discusses all of the monuments that Oldbury Tours visit plus a great deal more.

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Mike Parker Pearson’s book Stonehenge: Exploring the greatest stone age mystery was written after The Riverside Project of 2003 – 2009 and incorporates all the groundbreaking discoveries made during those years of excavation. As a result it is the most important book regarding the Durrington Walls occupation site and its relationship with Stonehenge itself. Parker Pearson writes in a very accessible yet informative style and makes convincing arguments for his theories.

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For the Avebury area I have found two books particularly useful and enjoyable both of which have Josh Pollard as one of the authors. Avebury: The biography of a landscape by Joshua Pollard and Andrew Reynolds contains a thorough but extremely readable study of the Avebury area (including all the monuments we visit and much more) from the first human presence up until modern times.

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The same is true of Avebury by Mark Gillings and Joshua Pollard though its subject matter is generally restricted to the famous monument of Avebury itself. Again however the authors trace the development of the site from the earliest times right through to the modern day. I have been extremely lucky to be involved as a volunteer on three excavations in the Avebury area with the authors and know just how thorough and comprehensive their approach is to the subject.

Between them the authors have been responsible for most of the excavations in the Avebury area for the past 20 years.

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For the most up to date information regarding Silbury Hill the best place to look is The Story of Silbury Hill by Jim Leary and David Field. Here they discuss all the recent work carried out and new discoveries made between 2000 and 2008 in an approachable style with plenty of photographs to back up the text.

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Although we don’t generally visit the area of Cranborne Chase south of Salisbury Martin Green’s book is a fascinating account of the chalkland archaeology found throughout Wiltshire and is relevant to everything we talk about on our tours. The love the author has for the area he grew up in shines through in this delightful book that studies the long history of one small area of Dorset from the end of the last ice age to the present day.

A Brief History of Stonehenge by Aubrey Burl is an extremely approachable introduction to the archaeology of Stonehenge. The books’s subtitle sums it up by calling it ‘a complete history and archaeology of the world’s most enigmatic stone circle’.

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In Defence of Landscape: an archaeology of Porton Down by David Ride is a fascinating book that explores the archaeology of an area of Salisbury Plain close to Stonehenge that is owned by the military and therefore off limits to the general public. As a result of its MOD status it has been untouched by the modern plough and subsequently is one of the best preserved prehistoric landscapes in Britain. The area was the focus of J.F.S. Stone one of the most eminent archaeologist’s of the first half of the 20th century and therefore the book is also a celebration of his work

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For a very different view try Brian John’s The Bluestone Enigma: Stonehenge, Preseli and the Ice Age. As a geologist he argues particularly against the case for some of Stonehenge’s stones having been manhandled to the monument from Pembrokeshire in Wales. He vehemently argues that the bluestones incorporated in the Stonehenge monument were brought to the area by glacial activity in the last ice age.

Aubrey Burl is the most prolific author on the subject of stone circles and henges (a wide class of monument that includes both Avebury and Stonehenge). As well as the brief history of Stonehenge listed above he has written several other books on the subject of henges, stone circles and prehistoric society including Prehistoric Avebury, probably his most famous work. All of his books have proved extremely useful in my research for Oldbury Tours. They range in style from short guides to coffee table books and more thorough explorations of the sites that we discuss on our tours. See below for the selection I have enjoyed.

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Please see below for a more formal list of the books mentioned in the text above

Full area:
Lawson, A., Chalkland: An archaeology of Stonehenge and its region. (Hobnob Press, 2007)
Pitts, M., Hengeworld. (Arrow Books, 2001)
Green, M., A Landscape Revealed; 10,000 Years on a Chalkland Farm. (Tempus Publishing, 2000)

Avebury region:
Cleal, R., Avebury. (The National Trust, revised edition, 2008)
Pollard, J. and Reynolds, A., Avebury: The biography of a landscape. (Tempus Publishing Limited, 2002)
Gillings, M. and Pollard, J., Avebury. (Gerald Duckworth & Co., 2004)
Burl, A. Prehistoric Avebury. (Yale University Press, 2002)
Leary, J. and Field, D., The Story of Silbury Hill. (Enlish Heritage, 2010)

Stonehenge region:
Richards, J., Stonehenge. (English Heritage, 2013)
Darvill, T., Stonehenge: The biography of a landscape. (Tempus Publishing Limited, 2006)
Parker Pearson, M., Stonehenge: Exploring the greatest Stone Age mystery. (Simon & Schuster, 2012)
Burl, A., A Brief History of Stonehenge: A complete history and archaeology of the world’s most enigmatic stone circle. (Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2006)
Ride, D., In Defence of Landscape: An archaeology of Porton Down. (Tempus Publishing, 2006)
John, B. The Bluestone Enigma: Stonehenge, Preseli and the Ice Age. (Greencroft Books, 2008)

General Prehistory:
Pryor, F. Britain BC: Life in Britain and Ireland before the Romans. (Harper Perennial, 2004)
Burl, A. Prehistoric Henges. (Shire Publications, 1991)
Burl, A. Great Stone Circles. (Yale University, 1999)
Burl, A. John Aubrey & Stone Circles: Britain’s First Archaeologist, From Avebury to Stonehenge. (Amberley Publishing, 2010)[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

With the exception of two of Aubrey Burls’ all of the books listed above were published within the last 15 years (i.e. within the 21st century) and as a result include the most up-to-date science and research relating to the archaeology of the area we tour. However they do all acknowledge the enormous amount of work done by previous generations of archaeologists many of whom published books of their own, books that are in many aspects still valid today and very worthwhile reading. I have listed below some of the books that are on my shelf and have contributed a great deal to the research pool. Many of these are sadly now out of print but are definitely worth hunting down.

Ashbee, P., The Earthen Long Barrow in Britain. (J.M.Dent & Sons, 1970)
Bender, B., Stonehenge: Making Space. (Berg, 1998)
Daniel, G., The Megalith Builders of Western Europe. 2nd Edition (Pelican, 1963)
Darvill, T.C., The Megalithic Chambered Tombs of the Cotswold-Severn Region. (Vorda, 1982)
Hawkes, J., A Guide to the Prehistoric and Roman Monuments in England and Wales. Revised Edition. (Cardinal, 1973)
Hawkins, G.S., Stonehenge Decoded: An astronomer examines one of the great puzzles of the ancient world. (Barnes and Noble, 1993)
Jessup, R., The Story of Archaeology in Britain. (Michael Joseph Ltd, 1964)
Oswald, A., Dyer, C. and Barber, M., The Creation of Monuments: Neolithic Causewayed Enclosures in the British Isles. (English Heritage, 2001)
Piggott, S., British Prehistory. (Oxford University Press, 1949)
Piggott, S., Scotland Before History. (Edinburgh University Press, 1982)
Stone, J.F.S., Wessex. (Thames and Hudson, 1958)
Whittle, A., Neolithic Europe A Survey. (Cambridge University Press, 1985