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Avebury - Pagan Pastures

Explore the famous stone circle and some fine prehistoric monuments.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 262ft (80m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Tracks, field paths, some road walking, 3 stiles

Landscape Downland pasture, water-meadows, woodland and village

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 157 Marlborough & Savernake Forest

Start/finish SU 099696

Dog friendliness Keep dogs under control across pasture and NT property

Parking Large National Trust car park in Avebury

Public toilets Avebury

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1 From the car park, walk back to the main road and turn right. In 50yds (46m), cross and go through a gate, signed 'West Kennett Long Barrow'. Pass through another gate and follow the path alongside the River Kennet. Go through two more gates and cross two stiles, your route passing Silbury Hill.

2 Beyond a gate, walk down the right-hand field edge to a gate and the A4. Cross straight over and turn left, then almost immediately right through a gate. Walk down the gravel track and cross a bridge over a stream, the track soon narrowing to a footpath. Go through a kissing gate and turn sharp left.

3 To visit West Kennett Long Barrow shortly turn right. Otherwise go straight on around the left-hand field edge to a gate and continue along a track. At a staggered junction, keep ahead across a stile and walk along the right-hand field boundary. Keep right in the corner by a redundant stile and cross the stile on your right in the next corner and proceed up a narrow footpath.

4 At a T-junction, turn left and descend to the road. Turn left, then just beyond the bridge, take the bridle path sharp right. Follow the right-hand field edge to a gap in the corner and keep left through the next field. At the top you'll see tumuli right and The Sanctuary left. Continue to the A4.

5 Cross the A4 and head up the Ridgeway. After 500yds (457m), turn left off the Ridgeway on to a byway. Bear half-right by the clump of trees on a tumuli and keep to the established track, eventually reaching a T-junction by a series of farm buildings, Manor Farm.

6 Turn left, signed 'Avebury', and follow the metalled track through the earthwork and straight over the staggered crossroads by the Red Lion Inn. Turn left opposite the National Trust signpost and walk back to the car park.

Avebury's great stone circle is one of the most important megalithic monuments in Europe and it shares it setting with a pretty village. The 200 stones (only 27 remain) were enclosed in a massive earthen rampart nearly a mile (1.6km) in circumference. One can only wonder at the skill, vision and beliefs, not to mention the sheer dogged hard work, which enabled the peoples of that time to move huge stones for many miles and dig thousands of tons of earth to create such landscapes.

The views presented to today's visitor to Avebury owe as much to archaeologist Alexander Keiller as to the vision of our ancient ancestors. Keiller was the heir to a fortune made from marmalade and was able to indulge in his passion for archaeology. In the early 1930s he came to Avebury, which then had a thriving community within and around the 4,500-year-old circle, and determined to restore it to how it must have looked originally; a prehistoric complex on a scale to match any in the country.

All his energies and a large part of his fortune was spent on purchasing the land, excavating the stones, and although contentious to modern archaeologists, he re-erected fallen stones and set up concrete markers to replace those he believed were missing. Trees were cleared from the ditches and, as and when the opportunity arose, buildings within the circle were purchased and demolished. Some of the villagers left the area and others went to the new houses in nearby Avebury Truslow.

Keiller's work was curtailed by lack of funds and, after the Second World War, he sold the site to the National Trust. His full dreams were never realised and questions were raised as to whether he should have tried to restore the site. Should ancient landscapes be protected by riding roughshod over the interests of those who have subsequently come to live and work there? Whatever your views, there is much to see and enjoy on this walk.

Walking around Avebury is a memorable experience. Unlike Stonehenge, you can roam freely here and this enthralling walk lets you explore some of Britain's finest prehistoric monuments. There is an imposing 1½ mile (2.4km) avenue of standing stones from where, perhaps, ancient processions would lead down to Silbury Hill, an entirely artificial structure 130ft (40m) high. Smaller in scale but just as thought provoking is the West Kennett Long Barrow, the second largest barrow in Britain at 300ft (91m) in length, and there is a liberal scattering of tumuli over the entire area, the last resting places of many a noble and priest. Finally, alongside the A4 and doubtless unnoticed by many motorists, is The Sanctuary, the site of major wooden buildings, possibly used for religious and burial rites. Or did they, like us, take pleasure from seeking views across our wonderful countryside?

What to look for

Wander freely around the stone circles, locate the huge Druid Stone, the Swindon Stone and the Barber Stone, and marvel at how they were transported and why they stay upright.

While you're there

To learn more about Keiller, visit the Alexander Keiller Museum which displays many of the exciting finds from his archaeological excavations on Windmill Hill, Silbury Hill, West Kennet Long Barrow and, of course, Avebury.

Where to eat and drink

Try the thatched Red Lion in the heart of the stone circle for traditional pub food and atmosphere. Good home-made vegetarian, mostly organic food and cream teas can be enjoyed at the Circle Restaurant off the High Street.

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