Family Days Out – Avebury Rocks
Avebury World Heritage Site is a complex of intriguing prehistoric monuments comprising Windmill Hill burial mounds, Silbury Hill, West Kennet Long Barrow, The Sanctuary, and Avebury Stone Circles – the remains of the largest prehistoric stone circle in the world!
A few tips for visiting Avebury
1) The easiest place to park is in the signposted National Trust car park (fees apply to non-National Trust members). Alternatively you could walk the Ridgeway to Avebury – here is a stunning walk to Avebury from Barbury Castle.
2) There is free parking for the locals in the village center and also at the Red Lion Pub (patrons of village amenities only!). It’s also on the bus route.
3) Avebury gets really busy in summer and particularly at the weekends in the summer holidays – like coach loads busy. Best to go out of season if you can.
4) Look beyond the stones – there are prehistoric gems to discover if you’re prepared to explore beyond the tourist center
5) At any solstice or other significant date, pagans descend on Avebury and there will be music, chanting, interesting attire and druids a-plenty – it’s generally all very peaceful so join in!
6) Have high tea in Avebury Manor. One of the best things about Avebury Manor (National Trust entry fee required) is that you are encouraged to sit on the furniture, lie on the beds and even play snooker in the Billiard Room.
The Neolithic world came late to the British Isles, around 6,000 years ago; that’s a thousand years later than to the nearest parts of France. Animals such as sheep, goats, pigs and cattle, together with wheat and barley, were brought from continental Europe by people who knew how to look after them. Some of the monuments at Avebury are similar to sites in Europe, but there are no parallels for the Avebury henge – the bank and ditch enclosure which surrounds the famous stones.
Just over 4,500 years ago a steep sided ditch, 9m deep, was cut around an area of grassland. Chalk was dug from the ground and piled outside the ditch to form a bank about 6 metres high. Possibly 200 years later, more than 170 sarsen stones were hauled into the enclosure and set upright in three circles and other arrangements.
Some of the sarsen stones were found close by, while others came from within two or three miles. From around 4,000 years ago until around 700 years ago, there were around 500 — 600 standing stones in the Avebury area, many more than there are now. Over time, stones were broken up for building material or buried (perhaps for religious reasons) leaving only 23 standing by 1900. In the 1930s, some of the buried stones were rediscovered and set upright, giving us the 74 we can see today in the landscape.
Nearby Silbury Hill stands just off the road from Avebury to Marlborough and dominates the landscape. It is the tallest artificial prehistoric earthen mound in the world, measuring 31m in height. Although significant information has been discovered about it only a small percentage of the mound has been physically examined. It remains one of prehistory’s great unanswered mysteries.
Several investigations are known to have taken place here since 1776 and indicate that the Hill was constructed in several phases. We know from plant remains that it was built on a grassy meadow rich with buttercups. Preserved under the mound were mosses, beetles, ants, seeds and snail shells too – sealed off from air and light when the first gravel and turfs were laid.
It’s been so wet, there’s a moat around Silbury Hill #Wiltshire #UKWeather #TuesdayThoughts pic.twitter.com/jGhZAC5pSU
— Ramsbury Raven (@RamsburyRaven) April 3, 2018
Don’t climb Silbury Hill – it is too fragile and has been closed to visitors since 1974. The tracks you can see from the road are sheep trails. People climbing the monument cause erosion, damage archaeology and threaten the flora and fauna protected by Silbury Hill’s status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Around Avebury and Silbury Hill are several avenues of standing stones (leading to The Sanctuary, to Beckhampton) and the remains of enormous wooden palisades at West Kennett, containing remains of food waste, pottery and worked flint.
The burial mounds you can see all over the local hills and fields were used many times over, both for burials and cremations. Other graves were covered by flat sarsen stones or dug alongside the standing stones at Avebury.