I think it’s over rated. I just don’t get it.
There, I’ve said it. To be honest I’ve never found Stonehenge fascinating. When I knew I was moving to Wiltshire, I thought maybe I’d see it and it would capture me. My first glimpse of it in the fading light of a November afternoon when we arrived after the long drive from Scotland underwhelmed me. And it has underwhelmed me ever since.
The official English Heritage site waxes lyrical about uncovering the story of the ‘henge. Of it being a spiritual place and a source of inspiration to many. I’m not so sure. Being relieved of fifty quid or so for a family ticket and then viewing it with the drone of the notorious A303 road in the background detracts from the spiritual vibes quite a bit.
If the purpose of it all has never been confirmed, what are we uncovering exactly? How do we know we aren’t getting carried away in the theories of spiritual things and deeper meaning. What if Stonehenge was actually something really mundane. Stone age version of Aldi or the settlement social club or something?
It’s not that I don’t love history. I do, I really and truly do. There’s a special place in my heart for the late 1800’s to the 1980’s but I find every period interesting. I’m just not in love with the way some historical places get overhyped, overcrowded and over commercialised. That’s a small bit of a bigger rant of mine about how heritage is managed and how families are being priced out at times. Do I dare write that post? Husband says please do, it might stop me banging on to him about it. He gets all of me, unfiltered and unedited. Isn’t he blessed!
All of this to say; In this corner of England if you fancy seeing the historical stuff, Stonehenge is the well known and well worn path but there is so much more. Much of it free or very low cost. So, what would I suggest if not Stonehenge? Glad you asked. I start off with a run out to…
Avebury is a very pretty National Trust managed village, watched over by a historic manor house. That in itself would be worth a visit, right? But more than that, Avebury sits partially within the worlds largest Neolithic stone circle.
Stonehenge and Avebury actually belong together as part of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. Avebury is free to visit bar a small parking charge and you are free to wander amongst the stones as you please. The village sits at the heart of a sweeping, historic landscape and the best way to explore it is on foot. The National Trust has plotted some routes to explore the Avebury landscape, all beginning and ending in the village. Sturdy footwear a must. It’s wet and muddy here in autumn / winter and dusty the rest of the time. It’s also largely farmland so if you stand in something in your sandals, it’s likely not mud.
For a more in depth look at the Avebury seen today and the area it belongs to, drop into the Alexander Keiller museum. The museum ( small charge, free to National Trust and English Heritage members) will help you make sense of the huge henge , ditches and avenues but there are also some interesting displays. Like animal skeletons estimated to be around 5000 years old, including a dog. Proving that mans best friend has always been, well, mans best friend.
One last thing on Avebury. If you like a good back story, look up the story of Alexander Keiller. The Dundee born marmalade heir turned archaeologist led quite the colourful life and then when he was done, left Avebury as his legacy. There is a movie in his shenanigans. Netflix, take note.
Less than an hours drive through some very pretty countryside lies the historic market town of Andover. As well as being keeper of a rich history, Andover is home to the Andover Museum. Actually, two museums in one : The Andover Museum and The Museum of the Iron Age.
The Museum of the Iron Age is a glimpse into the world of another local historical site, Danebury Hillfort. You can’t throw a stone round here without hitting a bit of history. The hill fort, located just outside the town, was excavated in the 1960’s and has become one of the most studied British Iron age sites… although subsequent excavations have suggested the use of the place dates back even further.
The museum explores all aspects of hillfort life from farming to defence using a mix of artefacts and recreations. Displayed items include mammoth bones, Bronze aged finds and items recovered from a Saxon grave.
Within the same building, the Andover Museum charts the history of the town. Exhibits explore the town growth and decline as a mill town; delving into local scandal and why the town was the scene of a riot. Even the building itself is a little piece of local history. The Grade II listed building began life as fine Georgian townhouse before being gifted for use as a grammar school. Look beyond the museum displays and you’ll still see finer aspects of the buildings past in the sweeping staircase, wooden panelling and ornate fire surrounds. Definitely the kind of place you can day dream about being a lady. Even in jeans and Converse.
Leaving the museum behind, Andover is a pleasant place for a stroll. Look up, there are some lovely historic buildings including some gorgeous Georgian architecture and the old town mill. There’s no shortage of places to grab a bite to eat and a coffee, from well known high street coffee chains to independent cafes. Or you could pick up a few bits for a picnic and head out to…
Danebury Hill Fort & Nature Reserve
It’s only a short drive from Andover and having delved into the story of the site in the museum, it would be a shame to be so close and not to walk the ground itself. The Danebury Hill Fort area is beautiful. You can walk the geography of the settlement, stand in the footprint of a roundhouse and take in the panoramic views of the Test Valley.
The landscape and atmosphere here is quite different to other places in the area and I’d highly recommend a visit. Sunrise or sunset is glorious, but any time is good. Free to visit and as an added bonus, if you’re into bagging Trig points you’ll find one here. If your not and am wondering what I’m on about, details here.
So there you have it. A day or two’s worth of early history exploration, no Stonehenge required. My itinerary is also a budget friendly, outdoorsy one that supports some grass roots heritage and that always makes me happy. Do you know what else makes me happy? When there’s a bit of chat in the comments of my posts so please do go ahead and like and comment. It makes my day every single time.
I like to end on a positive so let me tell you something I do like about Stonehenge. When Mr THL has been away soldiering for a longish old time, he sometimes snaps a quick pic of it as he comes back in and sends it to me. No words, just a snap of Stonehenge, usually at dusk. It’s his way of telling me he’s nearly home. I can honestly say for a few seconds on those days, Stonehenge is the best thing I’ve ever seen.
Maybe there’s hope yet for me and the ‘henge?
If you liked this post, maybe have a look at Three Unique Wiltshire Villages