Visit Avebury and the surrounding villages and stay in bed & breakfast accommodation:
Avebury, Wiltshire, though larger than Stonehenge and in some ways more impressive, has never caught public imagination in quite the same way. John Aubrey, writing in the 17th century, thought it exceeded Stonehenge as a cathedral does a parish church, and persuaded Charles II to visit it. But Avebury only became better known after William Stukely published his book a century later.
The best introduction is by way of an impressive avenue of great stones set parallel to the road from West Kennet. The site itself covers some 29 acres and is surrounded by a bank some 15 ft high, which probably seems less high than it was originally, as the surrounding outer ditch has gradually silted up. This bank, which also encloses the village, is intersected by four roads, three of which and probably the fourth, though this has not yet been excavated — were ancient causeways.
Originally there was a circle consisting of some 100 sarsen stones, brought from the Marlborough Downs. But unlike those at Stonehenge none of these stones was worked. Instead they seem to have been chosen for their natural shape, some being tall uprights and others like diamonds, perhaps representing the male and female figure. Of the particularly large stones which stood at the circle's entrances two survive at the south and one at the north entrance.
Inside this great outer circle were two smaller formations. The Central Circle was made up of about 30 stones, though today, sadly, only about four survive. Inside stood three stones, of which two still stand, called a cove.
The other small formation, known as the South Circle, originally consisted of some 32 stones, of which five now stand, but the position of some others is marked. There was also a large stone at the centre. Inside the South Circle stones were set roughly in the shape of a huge D, the upright line of smaller stones being known as Z stones. Standing separate was one single stone, pierced by a natural hole.
Avebury was probably built during the late Neolithic period, between c. 2000 and 1600 B.C., by the Beaker Folk. Some of the pottery after which these people were named has been found nearby. But although Avebury probably had a religious significance no one knows quite why it was constructed.
Unfortunately, the site has suffered great desecration. Even in the 14th century stones were being toppled and broken, as a skeleton discovered in 1938 proves. The man had been crushed by a stone falling on him. Silver from the reign of Edward I was found in his pouch, while a pair of scissors hung at his belt.
Later, in the 18th century, as Stukely has indignantly described, many of the stones were heated and subsequently broken up in order to clear the ground. Fragments can still be seen built into the manor, the church and village houses. Since that date excavations bad been made, culminating in the great work undertaken by Alexander Keiler before the second World War.
The National Trust owns over 900 acres in the area, but Avebury itself is under the care of the Ministry of Public Building and Works and is open to the public. Much of what has been excavated hereabouts can be seen in the museum in the village.
South of the Bath Road, and at the end of the Kennet Stone Avenue, lies the Sanctuary, a series of concentric circles, with the holes marked which were dug to take wooden posts and stones. The site is open to visitors.
Silbury Hill—a curious cone which juts out from the landscape — is only 1 mile from Avebury, built on a natural chalk ridge. About three-quarters of the hill, which covers 5½ acres at the base and reaches a height of 130 ft. is artificial. No one quite knows why, or even when, it was built. But it was certainly there before the Roman road, since this runs round it.
Various efforts to excavate have been made, the latest in 1967 when the B.B.C. sank a shaft. But not much of interest has been discovered. Silbury Hill is under the care of the Ministry of Public Building and Works, and can easily be seen from the road, or indeed from Avebury.
Nearby, and approached by a footpath from the Bath Road, is the West Kennet Long Barrow. It is a mound about 350 ft long and was used as a tomb over a period of years. Made up of a long passage and five burial chambers, it was probably built c. 2700 B.C.
Windmill Hill is a rounded hill 1½ miles North West of Avebury, the top of which shows the remains of three concentric lines of earthwork built c. 2500 B.C., though the reason for it is not known. The hill gave its name to the Neolithic farmers who arrived from the Continent in c. 3000 B.C. and colonized southern England.
Avebury village is both pretty and interesting, and boasts a fine church and a manor house. Avebury Manor stands on a site once given to Sir William Sharington, the owner of Lacock, at the Dissolution. But it was taken away again after he had been convicted of clipping the coinage at the Bristol Mint.
The house itself dates back to Elizabethan times, and is open to the public. It contains interesting panelling and plasterwork. and is also famous for its gardens and topiary, and a magnificent circular dovecot dating back centuries.
The Church of St James lies just outside the grassy bank of Avebury. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book, some of the nave and windows dating back to Anglo-Saxon times. The Norman aisles were built in the 12th century, and there is also an early Norman font. The tower and rood-screen are 15th-century, but the arcades and chancel date from the 19th century, when the church was restored.
Nearby towns: Calne, Devizes, Marlborough, Pewsey, Swindon
Nearby villages: Alton Barnes, Alton Priors, Beckhampton, Beechingstoke, Berwick Bassett, Bishops Cannings, Boreham, Broad Hinton, Broad Town, Calstone Wellington, Cherhill, Chiseldon, Clack, Cliffe Pypard, Compton Bassett, Draycot Foliat, East Kennet, Highway, Hilcott, Hilmarton, Huish, Liddington, Lyneham, Manningford Abbots, Manningford Bohune, Manningford Bruce, Oare, Ogbourne St. Andrew, Ogbourne St. George, Patney, Potterne, Roundway, Stert, Tockenham, Whitley, Wilcot, Winterbourne Bassett, Winterbourne Monkton, Wootton Rivers, Wroughton, Yatesbury
Have you decided to visit Avebury or the surrounding villages? Please look above for somewhere to stay in:
- a Avebury bed and breakfast (a Avebury B&B or Avebury b and b)
- a Avebury guesthouse
- a Avebury hotel (or motel)
- a Avebury self-catering establishment, or
- other Avebury accommodation