Stonehenge and Avebury: A Tale of Two Stone Circles

Stonehenge and Avebury: A Tale of Two Stone Circles

Think of the iconic attractions of the United Kingdom, and chances are that Stonehenge is one of the first sights that pops in to your head. And with good reason; it’s a place that is virtually synonymous with the British isles.

With scribes as diverse as Thomas Hardy and Spinal Tap waxing lyrical about it, Stonehenge is a site that has captured the imagination for centuries.Stonehenge’s enigmatic history – we know when it was built, but no one has been able to determine definitively what for – ensures this Prehistoric site is shrouded in mystery. They succeed in retaining their power despite the hordes of tourists that visit year-round, not to mention the low fence that enables you to get reasonably close, but prevents you from roaming among the stone circle itself.

All that remains today is a fraction of the site that was originally conceived, which makes you wonder just how almighty it was in its original incarnation. The first phase of construction happened in about 3000BC, when the outer ditch and a ring of smaller stones were created. About 500 years later the first megaliths were installed, arranged in circular formation and aligned with the rising sun. It’s believed that these huge ‘bluestones’ were hauled here all the way from the Preseli Mountains in South Wales, nearly 200 miles away.

The final phase saw the construction of the iconic outer trilithons: i.e. two vertical stones topped by a horizontal one. The inner stones were rearranged too, and it is this circa 1500BC configuration, along with a few scattered remains outside the main circle, that is in place today. The net result is a true ancient wonder, an ethereal site and a suitably sacrosanct monument to Ancient times that stands head and shoulders above all other equivalent stone circles in Britain…

Or does it?

25 miles North of Stonehenge lies Avebury: a UNESCO-listed stone circle that is less well-known, considerably less-visited (although there are still crowds!) and a lot less damaging to your wallet; although you certainly have the option to spend away, it’s definitely possible to visit the extraordinary stone circles for free.

You can also actually walk among the towering stones, which makes for an atmospheric experience. Avebury dates from approximately 2500BC – making it older than Stonehenge – and lost to time as they were until the early 20th Century, our lack of knowledge as to what they were there for makes them even more intriguing.

It also so happens to be the largest prehistoric stone circle in the world, and as you circumnavigate the four sectors that make up the site, you can’t fail to be impressed by the sheer scope of the prehistoric sight. More impressive is the seamless way that the stones blend with the modern village, most of which sits within the circle. The village itself proudly boasts that, in the shape of the Red Lion, it has the world’s only pub that is situated inside a stone circle!

The stones vary in shape and size, with some more photogenic than others, and unsurprisingly most of them are no longer standing (pillars mark the places where missing ones were). But the majority of those still intact are impressive and, given their enigmatic history, somewhat spine-tingling to get up close to and touch.

Avebury is not just about the grand stone circles. Nearby Silbury Hill is the largest man-made mound in Europe, and dates from a similar era. Rising from the farmland like a grassy mound of sugar, you can’t climb it, sadly, but it’s an impressive sight nonetheless. Likewise West Kennet Long Barrow, a burial mound fronted by a row of sarsen stones under which 50 skeletons were found upon excavation, and the manor and museums in the National Triust complex make for interesting diversions too.

Silbury Hill

West Kennet Long Barrow

Were it possible to walk among Stonehenge’s iconic circle without booking an exorbitantly-priced ‘twilight’ tour in advance perhaps it would have the edge. And sure, it might be more immediately photogenic because of its more concentrated cluster of grand stones, and the fact it boasts trilithons that Avebury is not able to. But Avebury has the more evocative atmosphere, more impressive scope and additional things to see nearby; effectively making it a network of attractions spread over a several mile radius as opposed to just one. For me that, in the final analysis, makes Avebury a more magical, mysterious and rewarding experience.




  • Tami

    March 6, 2017 at 7:34 pm Reply

    Great read. I had never heard of anything other than Stonehenge before. Since we’ll soon be making our way to England, I’m sure I’ll be checking out Avebury! Thanks for the information!

    • Joe

      March 6, 2017 at 7:46 pm Reply

      You’re welcome – hope you enjoy it! 🙂

  • Christine K

    March 6, 2017 at 9:39 pm Reply

    The Avebury site looks fascinating. I love the fact that you can get up close and wander about the site instead of admiring from a distance. I am going to look up the location and save your post for future reference. Enjoyed reading about your experience and appreciate the tips.
    Christine K recently posted…Everything You Need to Know to Pay Your Taxes with a Credit CardMy Profile

    • Joe

      March 6, 2017 at 10:56 pm Reply

      Thanks Christine, and you’re welcome 🙂

  • Andi

    March 7, 2017 at 12:37 am Reply

    My husband is a photographer and would want to capture the rocks at sunrise or sunset, is that park only open during certain hours? I would be interested in seeing these one day!

    • Joe

      March 7, 2017 at 6:26 am Reply

      Avebury is pretty much open all the time, as its spread out around the whole of the village with only certain bits cordoned off. It’s also free remember 🙂 Stonehenge only does sunset visits if you book well in advance. I imagine both would offer fantastic sunrise/sunset photo opportunities.

  • Jon Bailey

    March 7, 2017 at 2:46 am Reply

    I really am fascinated by these spots, and who was responsible for creating them – and why. Thanks for the great photos too – they really make the story come to life!
    Jon Bailey recently posted…Surviving Cheerleading Competitions: A Parents’ GuideMy Profile

    • Joe

      March 7, 2017 at 6:26 am Reply

      Thank you 🙂

  • marie

    March 7, 2017 at 7:38 am Reply

    Great pictures. I think Avebury is more interesting in many ways, because you can get tight up close in a way that is not possible at Stonehenge.

    • Joe

      March 7, 2017 at 8:14 pm Reply

      Completely agree! A more rewarding experience as a result 🙂

  • Kevin Wagar

    March 7, 2017 at 4:02 pm Reply

    I’ve always been in awe of Stonehenge and the surrounding area. It’s history is so mystical and amazing!

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