Avebury and Stonehenge
A full day tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Avebury and Stonehenge
It was a crisp, clear December Monday morning and I picked Mr Williams up in Calne at 9am. We first drove to a viewing point for Windmill Hill where we spent a few moments discussing the early Neolithic, the new or late stone age. This final phase of the stone age was the time of the first settler/farmers and I wanted to show how great was its impact on the area.
A full day tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Avebury and Stonehenge
It was a crisp, clear December Monday morning and I picked Mr Williams up in Calne at 9am. We first drove to a viewing point for Windmill Hill where we spent a few moments discussing the early Neolithic, the new or late stone age. This final phase of the stone age was the time of the first settler/farmers and I wanted to show how great was its impact on the area. On a full day tour of the Avebury and Stonehenge World Heritage Site we visit and pass by a multitude of prehistoric sites including several from this period and the following four thousand years.
More time would allow a short walk to see the early Neolithic causewayed enclosure (c.3,600BC) on the small hill’s summit but we had to move on today. But on this occasion we drove on to West Kennet and walked the short distance from the road to the Long Barrow where the morning light gave us some ideal photo opportunities especially as no-one else was around.
The West Kennet Long Barrow, like Windmill Hill, belongs to the earliest phase of monument building in the UK and my aim was to try to keep to some sort of chronology. However, Silbury Hill is hard to ignore from West Kennet so any hopes of keeping to a simple chronological order went out of the window. Indeed this is true of the whole of the prehistoric landscape of Wiltshire particularly the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Avebury and Stonehenge.
Like a living, evolving city whether Rome, London, Paris, or New York the area we explore on our tours is what archaeologists call a palimpsest; a landscape overwritten through the ages with each new culture leaving their stamp sometimes dismantling or remodelling the monuments of a previous age sometimes creating their own mark with fresh ideas and new ceremonial or functional designs; all styles of architecture jumbled together and jostling for preferential positions.
So it is with this prehistoric landscape. Silbury Hill, the massive pyramid of turf and gravel, then countless tons of white chalk, was built right at the end of the stone age. The last of the great stone age monuments it was constructed of a period of perhaps a hundred years around about 2,400BC when the first metals were being introduced to the UK. Standing at the entrance to the tomb withing the long barrow the 2 ancient monuments are simultaneously in view bookending the almost one and a half thousand years of the Neolithic period.
Our next port of call was Avebury. Having parked and enjoyed a comfort break, we spent some time wandering around the henge looking at the stones and discussing the extensive history of the site. More time would have permitted a visit to the Alexander Keiller Museum, to see some of the artefacts recovered during 400 years of excavation (which still only amounts to some 6% of the enormous site excavated so there’s a lot more to find!) but we had a lot to see and it was one of the shortest days of the year. We now followed the course of the West Kennet Avenue heading south out of the stone circle and leading ultimately to The Sanctuary on Overton Hill. A brief stop en route gave me the opportunity to point out the site of the ‘Between the Monuments’ excavation I was so fortunate to be a part of in the summer just passed and explain the dig’s objectives and achievements. We parked on Overton Hill at the beginning of The Ridgeway Path, the long-distance footpath that I had first walked with my dad 34 years ago kick starting my love of the area and its history.
Across the road we had ‘The Sanctuary’ site to ourselves and from there looked back over the landscape we had just explored. After a nod to the Bronze Age barrows that line the ridge we got back in the car and drove first to Lockeridge Dene where I could point out some naturally occurring Sarsen stones still lying in the fields they have occupied since the end of the last ice-age and then on to the Knap Hill Neolithic causewayed enclosure and Adam’s Grave. A gentle stroll around here gave us some stunning scenery. It is possible and easy enough to climb the slopes to either of these monuments from both of which you are rewarded with spectacular views across the Pewsey Vale and in the distance Salisbury Plain. It was however time now for a break and we headed across the vale to Upavon following one of the suggested courses the Sarsen stones might have been taken on their journey from the Marlborough Downs to Stonehenge. Lunch was at The Ship.
After lunch it was time to enter the other half of the Unesco World Heritage Site. We followed the river Avon south and parked at Durrington Walls. Mr Williams had specifically wanted to approach Stonehenge on foot and from a different angle from the coach-loads of tourists so this was the part of the day in which we had decided to do the most walking. We spent some time at Durrington Walls discussing all the fascinating recent work there during ‘The Riverside Project’ then crossed the lane to have a look at the Woodhenge site. From here we started walking. Heading west we crossed the field to the Cuckoo Stone, unremarkable in appearance but with a story to tell none the less. Having doffed our caps we continued towards the National Trust lands surrounding Stonehenge. Witnessing someone seeing Stonehenge from afar for the first time is always a great moment for me and Mr Williams didn’t let me down. Arriving at the eastern end of The Stonehenge Cursus with the view across the plain to the distant monument it was as usual time for a moment’s pause. It really was a beautiful day and everything was looking pretty perfect, or as perfect as a ruin can!
After a while discussing the cursus and its accompanying long barrow (Amesbury G42), the low sun beautifully defining the cursus’s banks as it climbs the far hill towards Fargo plantation, we headed along King’s Barrows Ridge with its impressive array of Bronze Age Round Barrows. As is so often the case we had the landscape completely to ourselves only sharing it with a small flock of happily grazing sheep. It was only when we crossed the Stonehenge Avenue that we saw other people, a young couple heading down the Avenue into Stonehenge Bottom. After a quick detour to the New King’s Barrows (still Bronze Age so I’m not really sure what the ‘New’ could refer to!) we made our own way down the Avenue. I’d booked an entry time to Stonehenge of 2.30 – 3.00pm and we were in good time. It is so worthwhile not to have to dash around but to have time to enjoy the surroundings, take photographs and chat things over. We arrived at the stones just before 3pm and Mr Williams agreed that they were a grand finale. As it happened it was really not very busy which suited us both and we wandered around enjoying the different faces Stonehenge presents viewed from different spots and the space around the excellent information boards. The sun was now bathing the stones in yellow light and the shadows cast were stretching down the avenue just as far as the elbow where it turns east to climb out of Stonehenge Bottom – no coincidence here methinks.
It was now time to head back to the Avenue and watch the sun set behind the stones. We were near enough to the winter solstice to appreciate the significance of the alignment only struggling to know whether photographically we preferred a close view or one from a little further back as the sun sank ever lower. Three others were sharing our petty dilemma as a lone kestrel hovered oblivious to us all, its feathers turned copper by the setting sun.
Avebury and Stonehenge with a Stonehenge and Avebury guide
Please enquire about a full day tour to include Avebury and Stonehenge by clicking here or via the ‘Enquire’ button below or for more information click on ‘Home’ for our home page, ‘About’ for our story or ‘Tours’ for suggested itineraries. Read more about the Avebury area here. And read more about the Stonehenge area here.
Since 1986 Avebury and Stonehenge have been listed as one designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
They certainly contain many contemporary monuments from both the stone age and the bronze age but they are separated by the Pewsey Vale. Maybe the area in between which includes Marden Henge and many other internationally significant sites should have been included as well.
Click on their logo to find out more about the World Heritage program.
Oldbury Tours are proud to be partners of Visit Wiltshire.
Most of the sites we visit fall within this wonderful county including Avebury and Stonehenge.
Click on their logo to find out a lot more about what is going on in the county what to see, where to eat and where to stay/
Most of the area we visit in the northern, Avebury, part of the World Heritage Site lies within The North Wessex Downs Area of Natural Beauty
If you are staying in the area for some time you might like to visit their website by clicking on their logo.
The Pewsey Vale is the area between the two halves of the Avebury and Stonehenge World Heritage Site. We visit several places within the vale on our tours.
Find out more about this beautiful and under-explored region by clicking on their logo.