Avebury Henge – the largest stone circle in the world
Most North Americans have heard of Stonehenge the towering stone circle megalith in the South of England but few have heard of the Avebury stone circle, which is a much more accessible place as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Stonehenge and Avebury, in Wiltshire, are among the most famous groups of stone circles in the world. The two areas consist of circles of menhirs (stones) arranged in a pattern whose astronomical significance is still being explored. According to UNESCO “these holy places and the nearby Neolithic sites are an incomparable testimony to prehistoric times”.
Due to tourists and vandals, Stonehenge has become a location that you can only access from a distance, there is no longer any way to get close to the stones and the tickets to visit are very expensive running around £25 for each adult. The Avebury stone circle is free to visit the stones but you can pay for a ticket to see the museum and Manor House.
However, there is a way to see Stonehenge for free that is all in this article by the Travelling Lindfields on How to See Stonehenge for free.
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The Avebury complex is one of the principal ceremonial sites of Neolithic Britain It was built and altered over many centuries from about 2850 BC until about 2200 BC and is one of the largest, and the most complex, of Britain’s surviving Neolithic henge monuments.
Avebury is the largest prehistoric stone circle in the world. The Avebury Stones together with inter-related monuments, and their associated landscapes, demonstrate ceremonial practices dating back 2000 years. At Avebury, there are related areas that include Windmill Hill, the West Kennet Long Barrow, the Sanctuary, Silbury Hill, the West Kennet and Beckhampton Avenues, the West Kennet Palisade Enclosures, and important barrows.
- Avebury Henge – the largest stone circle in the world
- Avebury history
- What is a henge?
- The Avebury Stone Circle
- Where is Avebury England?
- How to visit the Avebury Henge
What is a henge?
Archaeologists define a ‘henge’ as having a ditch on the inside and a bank on the outside; Stonehenge is the other way around. Having a ditch inside a bank is not a practical arrangement for defensive purposes, so henges are assumed to have had a ritual function. A henge is also called a stone circle or a menhir and they can be found all over Europe.
A henge is a bank and a ditch with a larger outer stone circle and two smaller circles within the centre. The original purpose remains a mystery to this day, although it is believed that the most likely use was for ceremonies or rituals. The Avebury site is part of a larger prehistoric landscape that includes Silbury Hill, the largest man-made hill in Europe and the West Kennet Long Barrow which is a tomb, Windmill Hill, The Sanctuary and Beckhampton Avenue, the West Kennet Palisade Enclosures and other important barrows.
The full definition of a henge is a ” nearly circular or oval flat area over 65 feet across that is enclosed by a boundary earthwork that comprises a ditch with an external bank pierced by one, two, or four entrances”. The most famous true henge in the UK is Avebury, about 20 miles north of Stonehenge.
The Avebury Stone Circle
Neolithic stone circles
Over 6000 years ago the people living in this area of Wiltshire also built a Neolithic stone henge which is comprised of 3 circles and is the most important site of its kind in Europe. Avebury Henge has been a place of worship and religious importance for centuries.
Map of Avebury Henge & Village
Avebury is a treat to visit, the henge sits in and around a stereotypical English village although over the many years since it was built many of the stones have been moved to accommodate crops and build houses.
Hundreds of years ago the Avebury Henge was not considered a monument and a place to be revered it was a nuisance and the giant rocks just got in the way of doing business so to speak. It is only in recent years that the Henge has come under the guidance of the National Trust and become a revered monument. The real brutal assault on the fabric of the Avebury Henge appears to have begun in the late 17th Century when the local inhabitants found ways of breaking up the stones so they could be used as a building material.
In the Middle Ages, the stones may have been associated with pagan and devil worship and many were either buried or destroyed. Later building and agricultural improvements led to others being removed.
The ditch and bank formation that surrounds the Avebury Henge has to be one of the most amazing feats of engineering in the world. In early photographs taken when the ditch was being excavated, it was discovered that the depth was originally around 55 feet deep, with a length of just over a kilometre. These days erosion and silting have reduced the ditch to about a third of its original depth.
Where is Avebury England?
Avebury Henge is located in Marlborough, Wiltshire, and truth be told it will be easier to rent a car and drive to the Henge from London which is around a 3-hour journey. There are buses and trains but the travel time is around 4 hours.
The site is open every day, from dawn to dusk. Hours for the museum and Avebury Manor vary with the seasons. Check the National Trust website for opening times.
While entry to the stone circles and outdoor features is free you will pay £7 to park and camper vans are charged £11. Adult admission to the Alexander Keiller Museum costs £5. Avebury Manor and Garden is priced separately, at £11.
How to visit the Avebury Henge
Avebury is a Neolithic henge that contains three stone circles, around the village of Avebury in Wiltshire, in southwest England. Avebury is approximately 2 hours from London give or take the driving conditions.
One of the best-known prehistoric sites in Britain, it contains the largest megalithic stone circle in the world. It is both a tourist attraction and a place of great spiritual importance to pagan and Wiccan worshipers, You can get to Avebury via bus and train however the journey will take anywhere up to 4 hours travel time.
There are four entrances to the circle each roughly at the cardinal points of the compass. From the south and west entrances going away from the henge are the remains of two stone avenues. The Beckhampton Avenue which runs from the west entrance is barely evident today although, almost a mile from the henge, the two Longstones still stand to reveal where it once existed.
The West Kennet Avenue which runs from the southern entrance has survived much better and still presents a spectacle as it stretches across the countryside on its way to joining with the small circle of the mysterious but now destroyed Sanctuary a mile and a half distant.
Parking at Avebury Henge
Driving into the village the Avebury henge stones appear out of nowhere they encircle the whole village. The National Trust Avebury manages the henge and their car park has clear directions and is the only place to park, the cost is £7 per day, although the Henge is free to wander. There is a shortcut path from the car park to the village and a loop around the stones.
What to do in the Village of Avebury
The village of Avebury is quintessentially English with thatched cottages, a lovely church and bucolic scenes of sheep meandering around the stones. It sits within the stone circles of the Avebury Henge.
There is a walking path all around the henge and you can wander the fields (watch out for sheep poop) to venture up close and personal with the stones (advice here is to wear good hiking boots or shoes and be careful the paths are slippery with mud and sheep leftovers).
The village sits within the Avebury Henge and is very pretty with lovely thatched houses and the church of St. James which has a long history going back to Saxon times.
Alexander Keiller Museum
There is also a fine manor house alongside which is the Alexander Keiller Museum. This contains a lot of information about the archaeology of the monuments and has many fascinating artefacts from the area on display.
There is also the Barn Gallery which also contains some interesting “hands-on” exhibits and other information supplied by the National Trust under whose care the monuments now fall. Tickets for the Manor and the Museum cost around £11 per adult, but they are not necessary to visit the stones themselves.
St. James Church
Off the High Street is St James Church, visitors are welcome and you can go inside. The church has a long history going back to Saxon times, though much of it you see now is medieval. Within is a rare example of a medieval rood-loft once hidden but rediscovered in 1810. It also contains a font believed to be of Saxon origin and later adorned with some interesting carvings during the Norman period.
Avebury Manor is a Tudor manor house of monastic origin. You can take a tour to a part of the house and gardens most afternoons and you can actually touch the items and experience the Manor as a truly lived home. It sits almost directly behind the Church and can be accessed at the back of the church grounds
There is also a Dovecote, normally open so you can see the perches for the birds and a National Trust cafe provides snacks and meals (somewhat expensive so it may be better to pack a picnic lunch).
The Avebury Henge Shop
The Henge Shop at Avebury is an independent shop, and if you love the mystical, magical or alternative this is the place for you. This quirky shop has a brilliant alternative/new age/mystical book section and it stocks loads of postcards if your own pictures of the stones don’t measure up. The shop also contains a wide range of small gifts from gold, silver and pewter jewellery, scarfs and woollens, t-towels, tee shirts, hats, dowsing rods, minerals and fossils, enough to please any new age pagan.
Once you have finished visiting the Avebury Henge take some time to grab a bite at Avebury’s most famous pub the Red Lion before either hiking over to Silbury Hill or just grabbing your car from the parking lot, turning right upon exiting and following the signposts, you will see the remarkable hill just off in the distance.
Visiting Silbury Hill
Silbury Hill remains one of the most enigmatic monuments left by our prehistoric ancestors. Despite various attempts to use tunnels to try and discover the secrets of this 130 feet high wonder of engineering it still continues to baffle and impress us. The Hill is the largest man-made monument of its kind in Europe and currently is fenced off to protect it from erosion and tourist damage but it is a quiet serene sight to visit.
West Kennet Long Barrow
Beyond Silbury Hill and on the other side of the main A4 road you will find the West Kennet Long Barrow which is the largest example of a barrow tomb in the UK. Peering through the trees you will see the East Kennet Long Barrow, it is somewhat larger than the West Barrow and still waits to be investigated.
One of the best websites with a vast archive of information is the Avebury Web, it details the archaeological digs, the history, and vandalism, and speculates on the nature of the mystery that is Avebury.
Interested in reading more about England and this area check out these articles.
20 Magnificient Cathedrals in England to see
Visiting the extraordinary Chiltern Hills of England
22 of the Best cities to visit in England
38 Seaside towns in the UK to visit