(Most) Henges, Great and Small

Stonehenge is known the world over for its mystery, for the (alleged) alignment of the stones to the summer and winter solstices and for the achievement of an ancient people. But did you know you can see it from the motorway that runs near the monument?

I’m not sure what I can say about such an iconic landmark that you don’t already know. But I can tell you that Newgrange in Ireland is older.

I had always wanted to see Stonehenge, but Marilynn convinced me it wasn’t worth the trouble since you couldn’t get up close to it. I had always imagined a chain-link fence or some such so you could only see it from a distance. But I was wrong. The viewing was close enough to glimpse the structure in all of its architectural glory.

On these trips, I give little input, besides driving the car when necessary. Because there is so much of the world I haven’t seen, I let Marilynn and Declan fuss over the details. On this trip, my only request was to hunt fossils in Lyme Regis. We had planned to visit some other Neolithic ruins, but I didn’t realize we’d pass right by Stonehenge until Marilynn said that morning, “So, do you want to stop by Stonehenge”? “Well, hell yes, I want to visit Stonehenge,” I replied. So we did.

But I was equally impressed with the other structures we saw after Stonehenge. The West Kennet Long Barrow was the burial place for nearly four dozen people from around 3,650 BC. The mound was filled in about 4,000 years ago. During its excavation, archaeologists disinterred the bodies and left the chambers as they would have been during the time. To access this site, you simply park in the layby, pop the cattle gate and walk right up. You can walk in, on and around the site. When we visited, we saw a couple walking down the embankment as we walked up.

Silbury Hill is across the road from the long barrow. It stands 131 feet tall, the largest man-made prehistoric mound in Europe, and was constructed around 2400 BC. Like many other ancient sites, no one knows what prompted early man to build what’s basically a big mound. It doesn’t contain buried treasure, as Victorian folks thought as they tunnelled into the mound without considering the consequences. The burrowing got so bad that the site had to be stabilized several years ago, and access was restricted, so no climbing up on Silbury Hill.

And the village of Avebury was built around its ancient mounds, including a roadway that cuts right through the heart of the huge monument, which is 460 yards across and not perfectly circular. The monument, constructed around 2,600 BC had a ditch running outside the main monument that was 69 feet wide and 36 feet deep. Within the larger circle were two smaller circles, with a stone pathway of 200 stones leading to the structure, what’s now called West Kennett Avenue.

Compared to the Avebury Stone Circles, other known sites are one-quarter the size, including its more famous cousin—Stonehenge.

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