Stonehenge and Avebury
Highlights of Stonehenge and Avebury
Introduction to Stonehenge and Avebury
One of the best known and most photographed sites in England, Stonehenge is considered the most impressive prehistoric megalithic monument in the world. Lauded for its sophistication and architectural genius, it is unrivaled in design. Similarly, Avebury, just 30 kilometers away, is another feat of engineering and is the largest prehistoric stone circle on the planet. Other nearby associated sites add still more credence to the engineering prowess of prehistoric civilizations.
Guide to Stonehenge and Avebury
Visiting Stonehenge isn’t like visiting a museum…or perhaps it is. While visitors won’t be spending hours there, there is plenty at which viewers can marvel. Basically, however, a trip to Stonehenge, Avebury, and the Associated Sites will involve strolling around the grounds, getting as close as possible, and taking a lot of photographs.
It is best to read up on the particulars of these historic sites before visiting so that you understand what you are seeing. Otherwise, it might be a good idea to embark upon a group tour with an expert that is well-versed in the particulars of the history of Stonehenge, Avebury, and the other sites.
Take time to investigate a bit – walk the ceremonial routes, track the ley lines, and marvel in the architectural feats of early civilizations that have gone before. Visitors will also want to take time to enjoy the surrounding countryside, which is quite beautiful and an attraction in and of itself.
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History of Stonehenge and Avebury
The first phase of Stonehenge was built around 3000 BC. Similar to other henges that could be found throughout Britain, it began its life as a simple earthwork enclosure, according to historians. About 200 years later, timber posts were erected within the enclosure. But it wasn’t complete, nor did it look like what it looks like today, until about 2,000 years later when huge stones were brought to the site.
During this final phase of the building of Stonehenge, 80 bluestones were arranged in a double circle. An entrance was made, facing towards the northeast. Geologists believe that many of the stones weighed as much as 8,000 pounds and were up to 10 feet tall. No one knows exactly how they made it to Salisbury. More amazing is the fact that most experts believe the stones came from the Preseli Mountains in Wales, some 140 miles away.
It is likely, historians say, that the bluestones traveled part way by boat and the rest of the way on land. The sarsens, on the other hand, came from only about 20 miles away. Such contrasting facts lead historians to believe that the bluestones had special meaning to the prehistoric population. There’s also evidence that they were rearranged frequently. Today, 43 remain on site.
There have also been many theories as to who built Stonehenge. Some believe it was the wizard Merlin under the direction of King Aureoles Ambrosias, who wanted to build a memorial to his subjects, who were slaughtered by the Saxons. Others hypothesize that the Saxons themselves built the monument…or perhaps the Romans, Greeks, or Egyptians. Another popular theory is that it was built by the Druids, Celtic High Priests with whom many modern Druids still identify. As a matter of fact, Druid followers continue to hold elaborate ceremonies at Stonehenge every summer solstice.
The question of the function of Stonehenge still remains. It was obviously of great significance to those who built it (and other similar henges) but no one has been able to come up with a definitive reason as to why they were constructed. Theories range from burial site to ceremonial site to pilgrimage destination. Based on excavations that turned up human remains with obvious illnesses and injuries, others have speculated that Stonehenge, in particular, was considered a place for healing.
Avebury, though that as well-known as Stonehenge, is indeed much larger. It contains three stone circles and was believed to be built around the same time and in stages as well. Similar mystery surrounds Avebury. It may have had funerary purposes, could have been a place of ritual, or – as some suggest – it may have been the axis mundi, a representation of the center of the world.
The associated sites that have also been given World Heritage status are close to Avebury and include Silbury Hill, Europe’s largest known long barrow (burial mound), similar to size to a small Egyptian pyramid; West Kennet Long Barrow; Windmill Hill; and Overton Hill. All were most likely constructed during the same few thousand years B.C.
Getting to Stonehenge and Avebury
Most people believe that – since Stonehenge is a natural attraction – there isn’t a cost to visit. That’s partially true. There is a parking lot across the street from which you can view Stonehenge through a wire fence. However, for a much better look and some stellar photos, you’ll want to pay the visitor’s fee, which allows you to board a subway train that travels beneath the road to arrive at Stonehenge.
Prices purchased at the ticket office (no need to pre-purchase) vary according to the age of the visitor. Student and senior rates are offered or guests can pay a family rate, which includes up to 2 adults and 3 children. Audio guides are complimentary with admission and are available in 10 languages.
Public visiting hours vary according to the time of year. During most of the year, hours begin at 9:30 am and at 9 am during the summer months. Opening times, however, may change during special days like the Summer Solstice. Closing can happen anywhere from 4 pm to 7 pm. The average visit lasts less than an hour.
Visiting Avebury and the other associated sites is a little easier. There is no entrance fee and visitors are welcome to roam around as they please – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
To reach Stonehenge from London, take a train from Waterloo Station to the town of Salisbury and then take a taxi or local bus. Visitors can also take a bus ride (about 2 hours) from Victoria Station or Heathrow to the town of Amesbury. From there, it’s a 2-mile walk or taxi ride.
To reach Avebury from London, take the train from Paddington Station to Swindon and then catch the Route 49 bus to Avebury. From Avebury, visitors can walk to the West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill.
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