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Travel 6000 Years in 3 Days - Visit Enigmatic Wiltshire
Enigmatic Wiltshire is completely steeped in ancient history. There are more World Heritage/Unesco Sites packed into a few square miles here than you might see on the whole of a big trip elsewhere in the world. How lucky are we to have all this sitting right on our own doorstep in the UK?
Your visit is sure to leave you intrigued and you are certain to come away with more questions than answers.
When life must already have been hard enough for the ancestors that built the World Heritage Sites you can see and touch here all those years ago, you will be asking yourself:
- Why did they build them?
- Why did they build so many here, in Wiltshire?
- How did they build them?
No-one knows the answers for sure, but there are plenty of theories and exploring them all will easily keep you entertained for three days – or longer, if you are really interested in your ancient history. Prepare yourself – this is a packed schedule. If you prefer a more relaxed pace – allow yourself more than 3 days to fully explore this fascinating region.
Good to Know Before you Go
If you are not already a member, it is really well worth joining English Heritage before you make this trip. You will easily recover your membership fee on this trip alone and can then enjoy many more for free.
If you want to do the full itinerary, then National Trust Membership is also going to be worthwhile.
If you are the sort (like me) who likes to squeeze the most out of a trip by researching before you go, then I can highly recommend Neil Oliver’s Love Letter to the British Isles Podcast on the Wiltshire area. His infectious enthusiasm is guaranteed to get you into the right mood to enjoy your trip to the full.
So – now you have you have got yourself in the mood to explore – let’s get going!
Day 1 - Bratton Camp and White Horse, Silbury Hill, West Kennet Long Barrow, Avebury, The Sanctuary, Woodhenge, Old Sarum
Why were these ancient monuments built where they were? Who knows the answer, but the orientation map above shows you just how close they all are and I think offers an interesting perspective?
Bratton Camp and White Horse
Making an early start and working clockwise brought us to Bratton Camp and the White Horse first. You don’t really need a map – the white horse shimmers in the distance and you really can’t miss it. It is enormous!
It may interest you to know that the White Horse has a block paved eye?!
It is interesting to stand at the top of the very steep slope on which the white horse lies upon and think about the scale of the challenge that it must have been to build it here.
It is free to park here and the 360 degree panoramic view you get of Wiltshire from the top makes it worth stopping on its own. You can visit the fort afterwards.
- The white horse is covered in concrete these days to prevent grass covering the white chalk.
- The horse had to be covered completely in brushwood during the war so that it couldn’t be seen by enemy aircraft.
- The white horse isn’t as ancient as you might think. Being built in 1600 isn’t enough to get you anywhere near the top of the ancient sites ticklist in these parts!
I rather like the artist’s impressions that have been included on the signboards on the ancient sites n this itinerary. You need to have done your research very well indeed – and have a vivid imagination – to get a good feel for why these ancient monuments were built and how they might have been used. The artist’s impressions really help to bring these enigmatic sites to life I think, so I have included a few here to get your imaginative juices to flow.
The artist’s impression shows how it used to look when the chalk was white and built up in layers like a wedding cake. It would have been clearly visible for miles around. Why build it at all? Why build it here? No-one knows for sure … Listen to Neil Oliver’s excellent podcast for some of the theories.
West Kennet Long Barrow
OK – now we really are tracing our ancient ancestors’ footsteps. West Kennet Long Barrow is a staggering 5500 years old and was built as a burial shrine.
It is free to visit and you can walk right inside. Who knows how long it will be before this ancient site is railed off (like Stonehenge) and you can no longer see inside. So do go and explore it close up – while you still can …
Just how – did they build it? The nearest source of local Sarsen stone is 10 kms away – and when you are walking with massive stones like these, that is a really LONG way?!
Tips for Future Travellers
The view/photo opportunity of Silbury Hill is actually much better from West Kennet Long Barrow than close up to the hill itself.
Avebury - World Heritage Site
There is a lot to see at Avebury. We allocated the bulk of our afternoon here – but you could easily spend a whole day. As well as the stone circle, there is also Avebury Manor & Gardens and a Museum you can visit, which we didn’t have time for. There is a large National Trust second hand bookshop to browse in too.
It takes around 45 mins to walk around the largest stone circle/henge in the world. Pause at the Avenue for a while and ponder how all the ancient monuments in this area might once have been connected together.
Why was the stone circle built? Maybe to respect the cycles of nature – the turning of the seasons and the rising and setting of the sun. Maybe, it was to bring a sense of community to our ancient lands – like a latter day version of todays; social media? Or maybe they were built in respect for higher powers. Who knows – but it’s interesting to reflect.
Our ancestors used antlers to dig out the ditches and placements for the stones. That must have been a hard day’s work – or make that years!
Tips for Future Travellers
The Red Lion Car Park costs £3 for 3 hours at the time of writing. Cards are not accepted and the wifi reception is too weak around here for the parking app to work – so you need to bring cash if you want to use this option. Book ahead – there were no lunch tables left at 12.30 when we visited out of season. They provide a free walking map of the area inside the pub.
The National Trust information booklets that can be bought on the Avebury site are very well written and give you all the detail you need to get the most out of your trip. Sometimes, your imagination needs a bit of a helping hand when you are looking at what is now just a pile of stones?
These days, you can only just make out that The Sanctuary was actually 7 concentric circles, cleverly built so that your vision would be partially/totally obscured when you stood in certain places with it. It was once linked to Avebury via The Avenue. This English Heritage Site is free to visit.
Tips for Future Travellers
It is safer to park alongside The Sanctuary rather.than opposite. The Ridgeway road has rather scary blind bends.
Woodhenge was made up of six oval rings of posts built at about the same time as Stonehenge. You can walk in and touch the posts – and even sit on one if you want. Go on – you know you want to?! Woodhenge is also free to visit.
On this packed itinerary, we just managed to fit in a visit to Old Sarum at the end of the day. The last visit is at 4.30 pm. Old Sarum was part of the first wave of royal castles built to establish Norman rule under William The Conqueror. Interestingly, this once very grand Royal residence was also home to the Royal Mint.
You can get fantastic views over the rolling Wiltshire countryside from a position high up on the castle ramparts. You can also stand in the footprint of the original Salisbury Cathedral before it was moved down the road (imagine that!)
I thought two of the most interesting sights were the 70m well (equivalent of the modern day water cooler!) and the lavishly decorated toilet block.
On the next couple of days, our journey of exploration continued to the Palladian House and world famous landscape garden at the Stourhead onto Salisbury Cathedral & Museum and finished with a grand finale at Stonehenge.
Follow the links below to continue the journey …