Avebury stone circle ★★★

The standing stones of Avebury run right through the village (Photo by Barry Skeates)
The standing stones of Avebury run right through the village
The standing stones of Avebury run right through the village, Avebury, Salisbury and Stonehenge (Photo by Barry Skeates)
Avebury from the air, Avebury, Salisbury and Stonehenge (Photo courtesy of English Heritage)
Sheep graze amongst the monoliths of Avebury, Avebury, Salisbury and Stonehenge (Photo by Mboesch)
The stone circle of Avebury intersects the village itself, Avebury, Salisbury and Stonehenge (Photo by Rxfelix)
A 19C artist's rendition of how Avebury might once have looked, Avebury, Salisbury and Stonehenge (Photo by Peter Le Lievre  (1812–1878))
Going anti-clockwise around the Great Circle from the left: stone 12, a concrete pylon marking the position of stone 11, stone 10, stone 9 (The Barber Stone), stone 8, stone 7, stone 6, stone 5 and stone 4. The trees in the background are at the southern entrance to Avebury henge., Avebury, Salisbury and Stonehenge (Photo by Jim Champion)
A sheep scratches itself on an ancient stone monolith, Avebury, Salisbury and Stonehenge (Photo by Brian Robert Marshall)
The Cove, Avebury, Salisbury and Stonehenge (Photo by Chris Gunns)
Avebury in the snow, Avebury, Salisbury and Stonehenge (Photo by Mark Robinson)
The Forge Stone—This standing stone was previously incorporated into the building of the village forge (Fowler's Forge): an example of the ancient standing stones being used as a source of local building material. Alexander Keiller rescued the stone from the foundations of the forge when it was demolished in the 1930s. One of the tools used to break the stone up (an iron wedge) is still embedded in the stone, near its base. The stone is much-photographed as it is the one nearest the path to the village centre from the National Trust car park., Avebury, Salisbury and Stonehenge (Photo by Jim Champion)
Roads and houses intersect the stone circle, Avebury, Salisbury and Stonehenge (Photo by Ed Webster)
Imagined layout of Avebury-area standing stones and Silbury Hill. Illustration labeled "A Scenographic view of the Druid temple of Abury in north Wiltshire as in its original". From Abury, a temple of the British druids, and some others described (London: 1743), by William Stukeley (1687-1765). At Harvard University., Avebury, Salisbury and Stonehenge (Photo by William Stukeley)

An ancient stone circle curled around a medieval hamlet

Stonehenge is spectacular, but Avebury is way cooler.

Sure, the stone circle at Avebury is not nearly as intact, but it is far, far larger—enclosing an area of 28.5 acres (11.5 hectares)—and while it is difficult to get inside the stone circle of Stonehenge, Avebury incorporates an entire medieval hamlet in its midst.

You can sit there sipping a pint at the Red Lion with a view out the window at sheep grazing scenically next to the stone monoliths erected between 2850 BC and 2200 BC. There's even a small hotel within the circle.

Many of Avebury's standing sarsen stones remain—some re-erected and many medieval buildings cleared away in the 1930s under the auspices of marmalade heir Alexander Keiller—and the many of the missing stones have been replaced by smaller concrete pillars to give a better sense of the overall pattern.

Avebury was actually a complex consisting of a Neolithic henge surrounding the largest stone circle in England, originally made up of around 100 standing stones.  

What is a henge? Think of it like an early version of a moat, consisting an artificial bank of blindingly white chalk—once nearly 55 feet (17m) high, now covered in grass and about 14–18 feet (4.2–5.4m)—rising above the ditch dug to make it (originally 30 feet/9m deep). It had—and still has—four entrances for the roads to pass through.

Within that henge and its stone sub-circle were two smaller stone circles. The more southerly one once had 29 stones set regularly 39 feet (11m) apart around a great Obelisk, a 21-foot (6.4m) monolith removed in 1725. The northerly one had 27 stones also set 26 feet (11m) apart.

At the center are three rectangular sarsen stones forming three sides to a square, with an opening (the fourth side) facing north. This is known as the Cove—or, more fancifully, as the Devil’s Brandirons.  

There is also the Alexander Keiller Museum, split between two spaces: the stone Stables Gallery with artifacts gathered by Mr. Keiller—Neolithic pottery, 4,00-year-old stone tools, and ancient animal skeletons—and the Barn Gallery, a 17C threshing barn with interactive exhibits aimed at the family, including Bronze-Age dress-up and a chance to do archaeological rubbings.  

On the south edge of town, don't miss monoliths of West Kennet Avenue, which lead toward yet another stone circle south of town called the Sanctuary (now vanished, but with modern markers to show the layout).

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