Departing Widbrook Barns B&B in Bradford-on-Avon, our next destination is Oxford, a mere 65 miles distant. Preferring to avoid motorways and major roads, our route today takes us to Avebury, followed by a scenic drive through North Wessex Downs AONB, then onto the oldest bridge over the River Thames at Radcot, before finally heading towards Oxford.
We have probably all heard of Stonehenge, but as I alluded to in my last post, this area of UK has numerous lesser know, but equally impressive attractions from about 5,000 years ago.
Avebury, is just one of numerous Neolithic attractions within a couple of miles – West Kennett Avenue, West Kennett Long Barrow, Silbury Hill and The Sanctuary. To visit all of them, requires 1 very long day, or 2 days, which was our preference.
Avebury from the air (English Heritage Website)
The entire village is ringed by a berm and ditch, with an inner circle of stones that encircles a further 2 circles of stones. They are split into 4 un-equal quadrants. Total area encircled is about 30 acres, which includes the village of Avebury. While currently only about 20′ high, it is estimated the original berm was over 50′, with an additional 30′ deep ditch.
No parking is available anywhere in the village, except the small lot at the pub. Therefore, I highly recommend using the National Trust lot, which is free for members. From the lot, it is a short 5 minute walk to the village and National Trust complex, which includes a museum, manor house & garden, cafe and giftshop. Entry fees are charged for the museum & manor house, but everything else is free.
- Museum – UKP 4.40
- Manor – UKP 10.00 (cheaper rates outwith summer months)
- Both attractions are complimentary for National Trust Members & probably English Heritage members as well.
Alexander Keiller Museum
Named after Alexander Keiller, archaeologist and heir to the Keiller family marmalade business, he purchased about 950 acres around Avebury. He used the lands for preservation, conducting many excavations and re-erecting many of the stones. In 1943, he sold the lands to the National Trust for a nominal fee.
Located in a thatched roof barn, the museum comprises interactive displays and numerous artifacts from his excavations.
Leaf shaped arrowheads made from flint
Hard Sarsen stones used for grinding grains
While fairly small, we found the museum interesting and informative, especially with the combination of static and inter-active displays.
Avebury Manor & Garden
Featured on the 2011 TV series, A Manor Reborn, nine rooms and part of the garden were restored and re-decorated in five different styles – Tudor, Queen Anne, Georgian, Victorian and 20th Century.
Each room has a volunteer willing to share the history of the home and relevant style of that room. This is also not your usual stuffy museum with “Do not touch/sit, etc.” signs. Other than the Chinese hand painted wallpaper you are encourage to explore, touch anything, even lay down on the beds.
Judi checking out artifact in room with hand painted Chinese wall paper
Tapestry printed onto canvas
On completion of the visit to the Manor House, we headed back towards the cafe, where Judi grabbed a table and pot of tea, while I set off for the walk around the circle.
I started at the museum, heading clockwise around the circle.
Quadrant # 1
The first quadrant was fairly short and level, with stones erected around the outer edge of the path. Unlike Stonehenge, the stones are irregular with respect to size and shape, and are located a fair distance apart. As seen above, where stones are missing, they have been replaced with concrete markers.
Judi next to one of the huge stones
After I completed the first circle, I picked up Judi at the cafe and we walked around quadrant # 1 to the pub for lunch. From the above huge stone, you follow the path along the road, until crossing over to quadrant # 2.
Sheep in quadrant # 2
A few days ago, while walking up to West Kennett Long Barrow, we walked through a cow pasture, well today we had a flock of sheep, which included this young and playful lamb. Quadrant # 2 had limited stones, but lots of sheep. The quadrant was again fairly level, but did drop off into the ditch, approaching quadrant # 3.
Path joining quadrants 2 and 3
Quadrant 3 is the largest of the quadrants and starts with a climb from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the berm.
From top of berm looking over the ditch towards quadrant # 2
Chalk berm with ditch to the right in quadrant # 3
The berm is currently almost completely covered in grass, but originally was just white chalk on both sides, which must have been an impressive and very prominent local landmark.
At the end of the raised berm in quadrant # 3, you drop down into a large pasture directly in front of the pub, which shows the 3 rings of stones. I’m sure it is readily apparent in aerial view, but at ground level it may require some imagination.
End of quadrant # 3 berm looking down to the pasture
Rather odd shaped stone
Only area remaining that shows multiple rings of stones
Large pasture of Avebury stones
Two distinct rows of larger stones
From quadrant # 3 you cross the road into the level quadrant # 4, for the short walk back to the village.
Quadrant # 4 heading back to the village
The entire circle is about 2/3 of a mile and is easily walked. After picking Judi up at the cafe, we walked to the pub for a quick lunch.
The Red Lion Inn
We sat outside on the patio benches, enjoying more of the fresh air. We both enjoyed lunch, but as the only driver, I couldn’t sample any of their real ales. Judi has never driven on this side of the road, and has no desire to start now.
Heading back to the parking lot we stopped at the giftshop. While Judi enjoyed walking around inside, I checked out their magnificent garden.
Avebury Village Shop
After 4 or 5 hours at Avebury, we set off on a scenic drive though North Wessex Downs, arriving in Oxford late afternoon, in time to check into the hotel, then find a pub for dinner.