Maybe less well known to an international audience than Stonehenge, and lying some 18 miles to the north, is the village of Avebury; site of the largest stone circle in Europe. There are actually 3 stone circles, 2 within the outer raised bank and ditch, and a third circle surrounding the entire site. Construction is estimated at 2600 BC – or 4600 years ago.
There is something of a chequered past to the stones; despite their age and significance they were considered the ‘work of the devil’ around the 14th C (when England was in the full throw of Christianity) and local villagers set about toppling or destroying them. One person was killed during this destruction (around 1320) – a stone fell on him and he was only excavated in 1938! This accident and the advent of the Black Death may have saved further damage to the stones – as the locals had other matters to contend with…
Further puritanical damage was inflicted around the 1720s, when the stones were broken apart for building materials.
The current state of the henge is largely down to Alexander Keiller (of the jam making family), who purchased the entire site and started renovation. The site now belongs to the National Trust.
Despite the fact a road runs through it (literally) and the site attracts a quarter of a million visitors a year, Avebury manages to be quite tranquil and not loaded with tourist tat.
West Kennet Long Barrow
Just to the south of Avebury is the West Kennet Long Barrow at approx 3600 BC, 5600 years old, this is much older than Avebury Henge and some 400 years older than Stonehenge. The barrow is a burial chamber and was in use for about 1000 years.
You can enter the front section of the barrow, and there is nothing remotely spooky about it; apart from suddenly hearing someone in a side chamber cough or shuffle about when you thought it was empty…
Being an ancient site, it does get a fair share of drum banging, cow bothering ‘New Age’ types…
The final part of this Neolithic collection is Silbury Hill. At 40 meters high, the largest Neolithic mound in Europe; estimated to have taken around 15 years to build, it has been standing for about 4750 years.
Discoveries are still being made; in 2007 English Heritage announced that they had found a large Roman settlement near the hill, but its original purpose remains a mystery.