Stonehenge and Avebury
A full day tour of the Unesco World Heritage Site of Stonehenge and Avebury
Stunning weather and great company made for a wonderful day which began by tracking a possible route of the famous Stonehenge sarsen stones. Most archaeologists are confident that the huge sarsen stones of Stonehenge (there are other types there too) were brought to the monument from twenty miles north.
A full day tour of the Unesco World Heritage Site of Stonehenge and Avebury
Stunning weather and great company made for a wonderful day which began by tracking a possible route of the famous Stonehenge sarsen stones. Most archaeologists are confident that the huge sarsen stones of Stonehenge (there are other types there too) were brought to the monument from twenty miles north. The route, as suggested by Mike Parker Pearson in his book Stonehenge: The Greatest Stone Age Mystery, takes us from the southern edge of the Marlborough Downs at Clatford to Stonehenge. Sam and Olivia particularly wanted to visit Stonehenge itself but were happy for me to decide how to structure the time we had and I thought this would interest them.
Olivia is a photographer from New Zealand and we couldn’t have wished for better conditions for her to experience the glorious Wiltshire countryside. Maybe not as dramatic as the scenery of New Zealand’s South Island it nevertheless looked fantastic today and got her snapping. She kindly sent me some of her photos to use here.
We started from Calne at 09.30 and drove east at a leisurely pace so as to enjoy the sights along the way. Pointing out the prehistoric sites for my guests to appreciate we first took in Cherhill Hill capped with Oldbury Castle, the iron age hillfort after which Oldbury Tours was named.
Passing by Yatesbury field Windmill Hill soon came into sight and we entered the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Avebury and Stonehenge.
Once you engage people into the landscape for the first time it is a real thrill for me to see them begin to spot things for themselves and the questions start coming thick and fast. This was especially true of my guests today. We did a double loop around the Beckhampton roundabout so as to appreciate the Longstones long barrow and talked briefly about the Beckhampton Avenue.
Stonehenge was the main focus of the day and so we headed in that direction rather than take in the Avebury monuments at this time. However we did stop on the southern spur of Overton Hill to look back at Silbury Hill. From here you can also see West and East Kennet Long Barrows, West Kennet Avenue and Windmill Hill. It is a great place to pause and discuss what is around. You get a real idea of the scale of the Avebury landscape and how all its monuments relate to each other.
I had chosen a route that ‘cut the corner’ in order to show Sam and Olivia the unexcavated East Kennet Long Barrow. After a stop here we continued along the small country lane before turning right to join the sarsen route. This takes us up the shallow valley from Clatford and Lockeridge.
Now dragging a 35 ton stone before the wheel had been invented and before we had domesticated horses for twenty miles is no easy job. But if you are going to do it of course it makes sense to use the easiest route available. The gentle gradient the lane follows from Lockeridge to Knap Hill is certainly that. It is just about possible to imagine the stones being moved on timber rollers, possibly using domesticated oxen as drought animals, along this route. The trickiest bits are still to come.
Photograph: Olivia Taylor
Our first proper stop was at the Knap Hill car park. It is such a lovely spot and I wanted to show my guests the view on foot so that Olivia could get some good photographs. As a result we decided to climb the short but deceptively tiring slope up to the causewayed enclosure itself. It really is a wonderful location with panoramic views south across Pewsey Vale to Salisbury Plain and west and east along the escarpment to Adam’s Grave and Golden Ball Hill. We were all sorry that we couldn’t spend a little more time at the top appreciating it. As usual we had the place to ourselves.
This was where the going would have ‘started’ to get tough for the stone movers. Here the land falls away to the valley below as a very steep escarpment. Having negotiated the descent they would then have had to cross the valley floor which would perhaps have been marshy and would in any case have a stream to cross. After this it would have been a tough climb up the valley wall on to Salisbury plain and a few more miles then to the site of Stonhenge.
It is for this reason that there are some who don’t buy into the whole theory of the stones coming from the Marlborough Downs. But in that case where did they come from? There just isn’t enough evidence to suggest there were enough sarsen stones naturally present on Salisbury Plain to provide the material. The debate continues.
Back at the car we pushed on south winding through the villages on our way to Upavon and beyond. Olivia wanted to stop just after All Cannings Cross before we got to the evocatively named village of Honeystreet to take the photograph here. We are looking back across the brightly lit field of oilseed rape to the White Horse below Adam’s Grave, thatched cottage next to the road. She has captured a very typical early summer Wiltshire scene.
It is possible to make a detour here to visit a spring that is one of the sources of the Salisbury Avon. We didn’t have time today but it is well worthwhile for its primeval atmosphere. A lot has changed in the valley since the earliest settlers started settling and farming the area six thousand years ago but this spring hasn’t.
We drove on following the course of the nascent river Avon as it meanders south before arriving at the Woodhenge car park. We spent some time here talking about Woodhenge and Durrington Walls and their relationship with Stonehenge before crossing the Cuckoo Stone field and heading along the disused military light railway and on to King Barrow Ridge. The cuckoo stone is a rare example of what appears to be a naturally occurring sarsen stone near Stonehenge. The name cuckoo perhaps refers to this as it may have been seen as being somewhere that it shouldn’t be, a bird in the wrong nest.
The National Trust land looked absolutely magnificent, the meadows covered in wild flowers, high whispy clouds giving way to an azure sky. We walked along the ridge a little way before heading down into the dry valley of Stonehenge Bottom and approaching the famous monument itself. We had our tickets already and so were ushered in to spend a good hour strolling around the stones. Olivia couldn’t have had better light for her photographs and I took advantage of it as well snapping away to add to my collection.
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go to the visitor centre but had to head back the way we came although this time we cut across to the Cursus and approached the King Barrow Ridge from there.
Back at the car we headed back north and this time did get to Lockeridge and it’s river of sarsen stones. And here we took our all-important lunch stop. A good meal was had by all at ‘The Who’d a Thought It’ pub.
With full bellies we now headed west towards Avebury in order to visit the West Kennet Long Barrow. After a post-prandial march up to the ancient burial site with its spectacular tombs and views of Silbury Hill we went back to the car, headed into Avebury itself and stopped at the Red Lion for a drink inside the World’s largest stone circle.
It had been a wonderful day and I, for one, certainly wished we’d had time to see more. As it was I unfortunately had to drive to London while Sam was leading Olivia further into the west country. Having discussed the famous cider of Somerset a few words of advice went with them: wotch out there be flagons in them thar ‘ills.
Stonehenge and Avebury with a Stonehenge and Avebury guide
Please enquire about a tour to include Stonehenge and Avebury 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 Stonhenge area here and the Avebury 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.