Friday, 17 August 2007
I am lucky enough to remember visiting Stonehenge several times in childhood, when one could still wander around the stones and lie on the altar.
Now it is all closed off apart from the annual visits by "druids" and is reckoned by tourists to be one of Britain's most disappointing sites. It is, indeed, a mess and plans to build a much better visitor centre seem to be permanently stalled.
It is surprising then that Avebury, a mere ten Megalithic Miles away, hasn't also been closed to keep out swarms of tourists. I've seen the odd coach trip there, and the car park can get very full on a hot summer day, but it just doesn't have the celebrity status (hurrah).
Avebury is just as beautiful and impressive a place as Stonehenge (was), and there are also the extraordinary Silbury Hill and the West and East Kennet Long Barrows to explore (West Kennet has been opened up). Work at Avebury began around seven hundred years before Stonehenge was started.
The Beckhampton Avenue of stones, shown by Stukeley on his map of 1724 (the left-hand 'tail', below) had vanished before the next survey was made, and it was assumed that Stukeley had made it up to fit his theories about a serpent shape. Only a few years ago did excavations reveal the holes in which the stones had stood before farmers broke them up. Stukeley's map was accurate.