Avebury Stone Circle
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: The largest prehistoric monument in England
I have a confession to make. Avebury is my all-time favourite, no-holds-barred best-of-breed choice as the finest prehistoric stone circle in England. Though Stonehenge is amazing, I find Avebury more interesting. One of the points in Avebury's favour is that you can wander in amongst the stones, which you cannot usually do at Stonehenge, at least for the present. So, OK, I'm prejudiced in Avebury's favour. Why?
One reason Avebury is so striking has already been mentioned - its accessibility. The site is wonderfully open, in fact, you may think it is a bit too open as you carefully scrape sheep droppings off your shoes! Be warned, sheep wander through the fields and leave reminders of their presence everywhere. But aside from accessibility, Avebury is unique in that the village of Avebury lies partly within the henge, or outer circle of stones, and a road splits the circle.
The main Avebury stone circle is roughly a quarter mile across, enclosing an area of about 28 acres, and it contains two smaller circles within it.
There is an avenue of stones leading away from the circle towards Overton Hill a mile and a half away, and it has been speculated by some archaeologists that the avenue was constructed to form the body of a snake, with the circle as the snake's head. The avenue stones alternate from tall and thin to broad and trapezoidal, leading to more speculation that they represent males and females respectively.
There is a very steep ditch and bank surrounding the stone circle. Excavation shows that the ditch was originally about 30 feet deep, with the bank an equal height. Do your math - that makes for a 60 foot tall barrier!
Avebury probably served as a religious and ceremonial centre, though what those beliefs or ceremonies were we do not know. We also don't know quite when the site was built, though the current best guess (subject to change at a moment's notice, it seems) is that it was begun in about 3000 BC.
Alexander Keiller, (heir to the marmalade dynasty of the Keiller family) performed most of the excavations at Avebury, and his work is profiled in the fine museum named after him which you will find in Avebury village. Much of the village and the circle itself are under the care of the National Trust, and they also run Avebury Manor. There is a rural museum and gift and tea shops in the village.
Avebury forms only one of numerous ancient sites in the neighborhood. Just a few miles away is the strange conical mound of Silbury Hill, across the road from West Kennet Long Barrow. In the other direction is Windmill Hill causewayed camp, the finest hilltop camp in England. All in all, Avebury and its surroundings make for an incomparable day out exploring Britain's ancient past.
To get more out of your visit you can hire an audio guide to Avebury stone circle at the Henge Shop (available in English, French and Spanish).
Address: Avebury, Marlborough, Wiltshire, England, SN8 1RF
Attraction Type: Prehistoric Site
Location: 6 m W Marlborough on the A4361
Phone: 01672 539 250
National Trust - see also: National Trust memberships (official website link)
OS: SU100 699
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
Avebury Manor and Garden - 0 miles (Historic House)
Avebury, St James Church - 0.1 miles (Historic Church)
Alexander Keiller Museum - 0.1 miles (Museum)
West Kennet Avenue - 0.4 miles (Prehistoric Site)
Silbury Hill - 0.8 miles (Prehistoric Site)
Windmill Hill - 1.1 miles (Prehistoric Site)
Winterbourne Monkton, St Mary Magdalene Church - 1.3 miles (Historic Church)
West Kennet Long Barrow - 1.4 miles (Prehistoric Site)
Nearest Accommodation to Avebury: