Neolithic monuments, river locks & other things on the way to Hampshire
From Amesbury we were destined for Hampshire and there was plenty to distract on the way. I’ve already blah’d on about our visits to Stonehenge and the Chalk Kiwi. In between these we made a short stop at another henge, not far from the big stone one.
This had been a predominantly timber henge (so the name shouldn’t be a surprise) and it was also a burial site. The wooden posts eventually rotted but archaeologists estimate the height above ground was up to several metres. Today the posts are in the original spaces but are short concrete representations. Used-To-Be-Wood Henge just doesn’t have the same ring.
Though our final destination was south, from Bulford we actually went north. It wasn’t yet lunchtime so there was loads more time to play tourist. One main stop was planned but unexpected features appeared along the way that helped make it one of the most interesting days of the trip.
Near a village called Alton Barnes a distinctive white thing appeared on a hillside. This was my first encounter with a chalk horse. Thanks to the kiwi earlier in the day, this wasn’t my first ‘landscape figure’, and turns out England has around 50 of them. This horse was created in 1812, seemingly at the whim of the landowner. As with the others in the area, it was covered up during the Second World War and had to be re-cut later.
I could well have driven past this hill none the wiser, but mum remembered it from her previous travels. Mind you it doesn’t exactly look natural does it.
It’s been there a while, since around 2000 BC, and carries the title of ‘largest prehistoric mound in Europe’. There are theories about its reason for being but no one is exactly sure.
Not far from there, I think I uttered a squeal-like noise as saw a row of large rocks. We simply had to veer off to the side to investigate. Well mum and I had to at least; think dad would’ve been quite content with observing from the car while driving past.
This turned out to be one of two known avenues, marked out by pairs of stones, leading to an even more impessive place down the road a bit further. Very few of the stones now remain but you get a good impression here of what it would have been like. Back in the day it probably consisted of 100 pairs of stones and continued for about 2.5km.
And so we continued the short distance to the main activity of the afternoon. The village of Avebury is home to what’s left of the largest stone circle in the British Isles. Worth a look, I thought.
Initially we were a bit peeved to pay the £5 or so for parking. However, it soon transpired that there was no further entry fee, for the stone circle at least. Having been to a few English Heritage sites by this time, I’m sure if there was a way they could’ve controlled access and hence charged for it, they would have.
The bulging carpark was sign enough how popular a destination this is. We walked to the village and queued (and queued) in the main visitor complex for some much needed lunch.
Once tummies were happy, it was time to go see what this place was really about. And it was soon apparent that even though there has been a lot of succumbing to the elements over the last 4000-odd years, the scale of this site is quite amazing.
The great Outer Circle marked the edge of the island inside the huge ditch and consisted of about 100 stones. There were also two inner circles of maybe 30 stones each. There’s nowhere near that number now. Obviously dozens of big rocks just don’t get up and wander off and it seems that a few centuries ago, many of the stones were broken up for use in building projects locally.
We followed the path around the outside of the ditch which took a while to complete. Especially when dithering with cameras.
Having completed the circuit, we went back into the village to have a quick look for souvenirs where I did find myself getting a bit sidetracked. All well and good, but I was mindful of my expanding collection of stuff that I would eventually have to reconcile into my bag space. But that was another day’s problem and we had to get going.
Near the town of Devizes we detoured to have a look at the locks on a section of the Kennet and Avon Canal. Quite impressive as the waterway has to climb a hill, rising well over 200 feet over a couple of miles.
This requires a system of 29 locks. If you’ve seen a boat transit through just one lock on a canal, you’ll have an idea of how long it would take to get through 29!
After one final distraction I concentrated on completing the journey to our home for the next week.
Unfortunately though there were no tanks to oblige us.