Stonehenge versus Avebury

4 12 2020

The world-famous Neolithic monument of Stonehenge is on everyone’s bucket-list, or seems to be – going by the droves who visit it every year – but many miss out on its sister UNESCO World Heritage Site at Avebury, only 17 miles away. What are they missing out on, and is it even better? Does it out-henge Stonehenge?

When in Wiltshire, one should most certainly visit Stonehenge, which is undoubtedly the world’s most famous stone circle. But one should also make time to visit Wiltshire’s “other” stone circle, Avebury — which holds the distinction of being the largest in the world.

Stonehenge has long been a must-see for any visiting England and venturing beyond the capital – and rightly so. The iconic stone circle, standing proud on Salisbury Plain, is one of the seven ‘modern’ wonders of the world (as opposed to the classical ones, of which only the Great Pyramid of Giza survive), and in 2019 1.6 million people visited it.  Let us first consider its attractions before looking at its great ‘rival’, Avebury.

To its deficit are: the hordes of tourists, queues, pricey entrance fee, and the fact you cannot walk amongst the stones unless you’re on a special private access tour, such as Stonehenge Tours run).

Right, so that’s Stonehenge. Now, let’s travel north (17 miles by crow) to Avebury and consider its attractions…

  • The largest stone circle in Britain at 1,088 feet across, comprising (originally) 98 sarsens configured as one large circle containing two smaller ones.
  • The henge of Avebury is deeper, wider, and far more tangible than the slight dip of Stonehenge. If it is ‘henge’ you want – Avebury is the place to experience it.
  • The only stone circle with a pub in the middle of it (The Red Lion!).
  • Free to enter (except for parking).
  • You can walk amongst the stones.
  • The Avebury landscape (all part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site) contains incredible, unique monuments, including Silbury Hill, the largest man-made mound in Europe; West Kennet long barrow (the best preserved example of a Cotswold-Severn transepted barrow tomb); the Sanctuary; Seven Barrows; the Ridgeway; Fyfield Down sarsen field; and Windmill Hill early Neolithic enclosure and Bronze Age barrow cemetery.
  • A selection of small businesses selling local produce, art and crafts.

To its deficit, the visitor facilities are pretty basic (a small car-park that is often at capacity in the summer; the National Trust tea rooms are currently only offering takeaway; and service in The Red Lion is glacial). The post office/grocery store is probably the best option for a quick snack.

Nevertheless, I think it is clear that Avebury offers so much and any visitor to the area is missing out on something very special if they don’t include it in their itinerary. While access to Stonehenge remains restricted during current ‘lockdown’ rules (and closed for the Winter Solstice) Avebury provides an excellent alternative that will not disappoint.

GUEST BLOGGER: Dr Kevan Manwaring is an author, lecturer, and specialist tour-guide. His books include The Long Woman (a novel which features Stonehenge and Avebury) He is a keen walker and loves exploring the ancient landscape of Wiltshire, where he lives with his archaeologist partner.

STONEHENGE AND AVEBURY LINKS:
Official website of Stonehenge & Avebury WHS (World Heritage Site). STONEHENGE & AVEBURY WHS
Award-winning museum displays featuring Gold from the Time of Stonehenge. THE WILSHIRE MUSEUM
Ancient stone circle, museum and manor house in the heart of the Avebury World Heritage Site. NATIONAL TRUST
Visit Stonehenge and Visitor centre. Book tickets ENGLISH HERITAGE
Avebury: Wiltshire’s “Other” Stone Circle. TIME TRAVEL BRITAIN
Stonehenge and Avebury Tour Specialist (depart from London) STONEHENGE GUIDED TOURS
Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Tours (depart from Salisbury). STONEHENGE TRAVEL COMPANY
Stonehenge and Avebury Tours (from Glastonbury) TORS TOURS
Stonehenge and Avebury Guided Walking Tours (depart from Bath). THE STONEHENGE TOUR COMPANY
Plan your visit to Wiltshire. Official Wiltshire Tourist Information Site. VISIT WILTSHIRE

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