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‘Exciting’ Bronze Age cremation site is unearthed near Stonehenge…by a BADGER: Human remains and 4,000-year-old artefacts found near the animal’s sett
- A badger dug up an urn from burial mound on Netheravon Down, Wiltshire
- Archaeologists then conducted an excavation of the 4,000-year-old site
- Cremated human remains and tools dating back to 2,200BC were found
- Wrist guards and tools suggest the grave may have belonged to an archer
The Stonehenge site has been scoured by archaeologists for decades as they attempt to learn more about the history of the land around Britain’s famous ancient monument.
But the latest discovery at the site has been excavated by a rather unlikely source – a badger.
A Bronze Age cremation site was found after badgers dug into an ancient burial mound on land belonging to the Ministry of Defence at Netheravon in Wiltshire.
Artefacts including Bronze Age tools, a flint knife, pottery and an archer’s wrist guard, dating back to between 2,200BC and 2,000BC, were discovered alongside cremated human remains at a site that sits just 5 miles (8km) from the monument.
Archaeologists spotted the site after a badger unearthed a cremation urn and left shards of pottery lying on the ground around the burial mound.
Richard Osgood, senior archaeologist at the MoD’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation, led an excavation of the site and described it as an ‘exciting find’.
Experts have said the discovery may be of similar significance to the famous Amesbury Archer, which was found in 2002.
Please read the full story and see images of exactly what was found.
The Stonehenge Travel and Tour Company.
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The remains of 14 women believed to be of high status and importance have been found at Stonehenge, the iconic prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England.
The discovery, along with other finds, supports the theory that Stonehenge functioned, at least for part of its long history, as a cremation cemetery for leaders and other noteworthy individuals, according to a report published in the latest issue of British Archaeology.
During the recent excavation, more women than men were found buried at Stonehenge, a fact that could change its present image.
In almost every depiction of Stonehenge by artists and TV re-enactors we see lots of men, a man in charge, and few or no women,” archaeologist Mike Pitts, who is the editor of British Archaeology and the author of the book “Hengeworld,” told Discovery News.
“The archaeology now shows that as far as the burials go, women were as prominent there as men. This contrasts with the earlier burial mounds, where men seem to be more prominent.”
Pitts added, “By definition — cemeteries are rare, Stonehenge exceptional — anyone buried at Stonehenge is likely to have been special in some way: high status families, possessors of special skills or knowledge, ritual or political leaders.”
The recent excavation focused on what is known as Aubrey Hole 7, one of 56 chalk pits dug just outside of the stone circle and dating to the earliest phases of Stonehenge in the late fourth and early third millennium B.C.
Christie Willis of the University College London Institute of Archaeology worked on the project and confirmed that the remains of at least 14 females and nine males — all young adults or older — were found at the site. A barrage of high tech analysis techniques, such as CT scanning, was needed to study the remains, given that the individuals had been cremated.
Radiocarbon dating and other analysis of all known burials at Stonehenge reveal that they took place in several episodes from about 3100 B.C. to at least 2140 B.C. Long bone pins, thought to be hair pins, as well as a mace head made out of gneiss — a striped stone associated with transformation — have also been excavated at Stonehenge.
As for why no children’s remains were found during this latest excavation, both Willis and Pitts believe that such corpses must have been treated differently. Pitts suspects that infants and children were also cremated, but that their ashes were scattered in the nearby river Avon.
“There is a common association between late Neolithic religious centers and the sources or upper reaches of significant rivers,” he explained.
Stonehenge’s location is also important because prior U.K. burial sites, which were often large mounds containing stone and timber chambers, tended to be erected on hilltops or other high ground, far away from where people lived.
While Stonehenge was also set apart from housing, it and other later cremation cemeteries tended to be on lower ground near rivers that locals must have frequented.
Pitts said this placement is “perhaps in line with a move from a focus on male lineage and hierarchy to both genders and family or class. This reflects a parallel shift from markers of territory and land (via the barrows) to commemorations of communities.”
As for the culture(s) represented by Stonehenge, Willis said the monument was built about 1,000 years after agriculture arrived from the Middle East. The people had wheat, barley, cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, but no horses yet. They did not yet use wheels, but had well-crafted stone tools. Metalworking spread to Britain at around 2400 B.C., which was well after the early stages of Stonehenge construction.
Stonehenge, now a World Heritage Site, radiates timeless beauty and achievement, but it seems women’s status proved to be more ephemeral.
Willis said that the role of women in society “probably declined again towards the 3rd millennium B.C…both archaeological and historical evidence has shown that women’s status has gone up and down quite noticeably at different times in the past.”
BY JENNIFER VIEGAS – DISCOVERY NEWS
Join us on a Stonehenge Guided Tour and hear all the latest theories
Stonehenge and Salisbury Guided Tours
If you are arriving into Southampton port on board one of the many cruise liners then it is the perfect opportunity to explore what the local area has to offer by booking one of our tour / transfer options. We offer a range of flexible guided tours that will ensure you get the most from your time on shore.
This private tour service is available on all dates (April to November 2021 / 2022) when Royal Caribbean, Oceania, Celebrity, Princess, MSC Splendida, Azamara Quest and P&O Britannia cruise ships are visiting Southampton. Whether you have a specific itinerary in mind or just a few ideas about the types of places you’d like to go to, we’ll work with you to plan a tour of a lifetime. Whilst some of our customers want to base their tailor-made experience on one of our standard transfer / tours, with a few additions or alterations, others wish to do something completely different. At the end of the day our driver / guide will take you your central London and Heathrow Hotel. We canalso drop at Victoria, Kings Cross, St.Pancras and Paddington stations, plus Heathrow terminals 1-5.
- Southampton – Stonehenge – Salisbury – London heathrow Airport Terminals
- Southampton – Stonehenge – Cotswolds – Bath – Central London
- Southampton – Stonehenge – Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey) – Southampton / London
- Southampton – Winchester – Stonehenge – Salisbury – Southampton
- Southampton – Stonehenge Access – Traditional Country Pub Lunch – Southampton/ London
Flying From Gatwick, Stansted or Luton Airports?
If you are flying from Gatwick, Stansted or Luton Airports we can drop you at Victoria Rail or Coach Station around 18:45-19.00pm or take you directly to the airport of your choice. Where there are frequent trains and airport buses to each airport. will do our best to cater any special requirements.
We can tailor a tour / transfer to suit any budget. Share your vision with us by contacting us today
Prices from £295 (Southampton – Stonehenge – London) 8 Seat Mini Van with Guide
- 5 Seat Executive Cars
8 Seat Luxury Mini Van
16 Seat Mercedes Touring Mini Coach
The Stonehenge Travel Company
Looking for something different this Christmas?
The VisitWiltshire tourism website is a great source of ‘things to do this Christmas’ in Wiltshire;
Come and enjoy some of our timeless pleasures in Wiltshire this Christmas and discover some magical Christmas events for all ages including Christmas markets, carol services, ice skating and much more.
Salisbury will be hosting its popular annual Christmas Market, bringing with it some wonderful stalls in the historic setting of the Guildhall Square.
Shop for an array of festive gifts from locally made crafts and delicacies, meet the friendly traders and listen to some of the festive music which takes place at various times throughout the market.
Christmas Events in Wiltshire for all the family
For a magical Christmas experience in Wiltshire a visit to Longleat’s Festival of Lights will be a treat – see hundreds of illuminated figures dotted around the Longleat landscape – the largest display in Europe!
In Devizes, there’s the Christmas Festival with lantern parade, street theatre and a firework finale – children will love seeing the lanterns and adults can enjoy a spot of shopping in the Christmas market.
Christmas often isn’t complete without a trip to the pantomime! Look out for pantomimes at both Salisbury Playhouse and Wyvern Theatre.
You can meet Father Christmas at several places around the county including Santa cruises on the Kenavon Venture, aboard the Swindon & Cricklade Railway, within the courtyard of Fisherton Mill in Salisbury and at Stourhead gardens.
Join in with Christmas Carols and the Christmas services at Salisbury Cathedral, head to the ‘lost’ church of Imber, now under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust and only open at certain times of the year for their Festival of Carols and look out for other carol services across the churches in the county.
Find out more
So what are you waiting for?
This Christmas in Wiltshire is going to be a memorable occasion so why not come down, join in and create some fantastic memories for you and your family – we would love to see you!
Getting started is easy, simply use our events calendar to search for Christmas events across Wiltshire and plan your festive visit. Visiting Salisbury? Discover more about Christmas events across the city here.
With so much happening, why not make it a short break and enjoy even more of Wiltshire’s festivities this Christmas!
Visit the VisitWiltshire tourism website for further details.
The Stonehenge Travel Company
Stonehenge and Salisbury Guided Tours
Archaeologists have discovered the oldest prehistoric building ever found in the Stonehenge landscape – but fear a new road tunnel could severely damage the site.
Dating from around 6,300 years ago – at least 1,300 years before Stonehenge – it was built immediately adjacent to a sacred Stone Age spring.
Academics have dubbed it an “eco” house because the base of a fallen tree was used as one of the walls.
The building is important as it appears to have been constructed by indigenous Mesolithic hunter-gatherers at the time when the very first semi-agricultural European-originating Neolithic settlers were arriving in the area.
The tools found in the building are Mesolithic (ie, pre-Neolithic) – but the period they date from is the dawn of the early Neolithic. Archaeological discoveries are revealing that, within just a few generations, the population at the site had adopted Neolithic tool-making traditions – or alternatively had been physically displaced by Neolithic settlers.
The potentially semi-permanent nature of the newly discovered house is suggested by the deep post-holes used to construct it and by a large cobbled area (covering at least 90 square metres – and including a pathway), immediately adjacent to it.
The cobbled path led down to a spring which Mesolithic people used as a place for making ritual offerings.
So far, archaeologists at the site, just over a mile east of Stonehenge, have found tens of thousands of objects placed by these Stone Age people in the spring – including more than 20,000 flint tools, a large sandstone animal skin smoother, a slate arrow head from Cornwall or Wales, pieces of burnt flint and more than 2,400 animal bones .
Archaeologists are now worried that the Government’s plan to improve the Stonehenge landscape by putting the A303 in a cutting and tunnel, will change the local water level and thus destroy or severely damage the spring and any important and potentially unique water-logged archaeological remains.
“I am very concerned that any reduction in the groundwater level at the spring site and elsewhere in the Avon valley might potentially be a threat to archaeologically important waterlogged organic artefacts and ancient environmental evidence,” said University of Buckingham archaeologist David Jacques, directing the excavation.
The newly discovered Stone Age dwelling is believed to have measured around five by three metres and included a sunken area measuring five square metres where animal skins were scraped and cleaned and clothes were made.
The residents also developed an innovative way of keeping warm in winter. They used hot stones, pre-heated in a hearth, as a form of central heating.
In a joint statement, Historic England, English Heritage and the National Trust said: “Our understanding of the site will no doubt be enhanced by the work recently undertaken by the University of Buckingham and we are confident that its importance will be taken into consideration as the various options for the Government’s road scheme are developed. We look forward to hearing more about this important Mesolithic site and seeing the full academic results when available.”
10 mysterious places to visit in Britain
A huge collection of standing stones – dubbed ‘Superhenge’ – has been discovered underground, just a few miles from the famous stone circle in Wiltshire.
Using special radar equipment, archaeologists have mapped out a “unique” collection of up to 90 subterranean stones. It’s believed the vast, 800m-long site was decommissioned during a time of religious upheaval, and the stones subsequently buried.
The Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project has been instrumental in revealing astonishing new details about this fascinating prehistoric period. But did you know there are already a whole host of mysterious historical sites you can explore all over the country?
From spooky burial mounds to ancient artworks, famous landmarks to remote rarities, here 10 magical British monuments to visit – no digging required!
One of the most famous tourist attractions in Britain, this collection of stones dates back to around 3000BC and was estimated to have taken more than 30 million man-hours to erect (and how exactly these huge rocks were put into position has sparked countless theories).
The unearthing of thousands of cremated bones at the site suggests it was originally a burial ground – but there’s also evidence that the stone circle was used for animal sacrifice, while others say it was a place of healing, or a ritual pilgrimage destination.
St Nectan’s Glen, Cornwall
The waterfall and hermitage at St Nectan’s Glen was once venerated by the Celts, but the picturesque landscape is connected to Arthurian legend as well. It’s believed the King and his knights visited the Glen for a blessing before they began their search for the Holy Grail.
Callanish Stones, Outer Hebrides
This cruciform collection of huge, Neolithic stones near the village of Callanish has been the subject of a variety of mysterious stories throughout the years.
Traditionally, it was believed the stones were petrified giants who had refused to convert to Christianity. It’s also rumoured that on midsummer morning, an apparition known as the ‘Shining One’ walks between two rows of stones.
Lios Na Grainsi, Limerick
Meaning ‘Fort of the Grange’, Ireland’s largest stone circle is positioned so that at summer solstice, the sun shines directly into the centre. But by night, locals apparently won’t enter – fearing the deathly entities that supposedly inhabit the circle after sunset.
Canterbury Cathedral, Kent
It may not have the Neolithic heritage of an ancient stone circle, but stunning Canterbury Cathedral has its own miraculous history. After Thomas Becket was murdered in the Cathedral in 1170, a series of miracles attributed to the canonised Archbishop were reported. The stories – including the curing of diseases and healing of grievous injuries – are depicted in the Cathedral’s stained glass windows.
Part of the same UNESCO World Heritage complex as Stonehenge, lying 25 miles away from it, this stone circle is the largest in England. Like Stonehenge, the discovery of bones suggests the site was used for ritual burial purposes – but it’s also been argued that the Avebury stones relate to gender, because they are either long and thin or short and wide.
Sinnoden Hill, Oxfordshire
Legend has it that a valuable treasure chest is buried beneath this hill that was once a Roman Fort, guarded by a raven. It’s said that the treasure was once uncovered by a local villager, but when the man was spooked by a huge raven overhead declaring “he has not been born yet”, he buried the chest again – and it remains undiscovered.
Skara Brae, The Orkneys
While many Neolithic stone structures appear to have been used for ceremonial purposes, the well-preserved settlement at Skara Brae in Scotland was actually inhabited by people and even had its own drainage system.
Many artefacts have been found at the site, but one mystery remains: experts still haven’t been able to translate a type of ancient runes discovered there.
Loughcrew Cairns, County Meath
Spread across three hilltops, it’s believed that Loughcrew Cairns is primarily a burial ground, scattered with megalithic tombstones. The site also features surfaces carved with ancient art – some of which are illuminated by the sunrise on certain days – but it’s unclear what the artworks mean. Shields, astronomical symbols and even games have all been suggested.
Glastonbury Tor, Somerset
Another very famous ancient attraction, the hill topped with St Michael’s tower has been associated with a whole Round Table’s worth of Arthurian tales. It was believed that the hilltop was once Avalon, the island where King Arthur recovered after a bloody battle, and in 1191, monks at Glastonbury Abbey claimed they had found the graves of Arthur and Queen Guinevere, while in the 1920s it was suggested the Tor represented Aquarius in a giant, 5,000-year-old zodiac spread across the land.
Mystical County, Magical Tours…………..
The Stonehenge Travel Company
Salisbury, Wiltshire, U.K
Have we underestimated the first people to resettle Britain after the last Ice Age? Evidence from a variety of sources suggests that early Britons were more sophisticated than we could have imagined.
Archaeologists once thought that the story of the early hunter-gatherer Britons was lost to the mists of time.
The hunter-gatherers left almost no trace of their nomadic existence behind.
As a result, the stone-age settlers of ancient Britain were thought of as simple folk, living a brutal hand-to-mouth existence.
But now, evidence is emerging that turns those assumptions upside down. Archaeological sites all over the UK and northern Europe are producing evidence that paints these people in a very different light.
Thanks to this cutting-edge science, we now have an increasingly clear picture of prehistory, and the adaptable, culturally rich, and sophisticated people who inhabited these islands.
A BBC Horizon documentary, screened on Wednesday, tells the story of this quest to understand the first Britons.
Some of these Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age, people lived at Blick Mead, Wiltshire – a few miles away from the future site of Stonehenge.
Here, groups seem to have managed and cleared rich forests, built structures and returned to the same place for over 3,000 years, according to a radio carbon date range that has yielded a uniquely long sequence for any Mesolithic site in Britain and Europe – 7,596-4,246 BC.
The springs at Blick Mead may have been the initial and practical reason why people lived there long before Stonehenge was built.
They have also preserved the remains of the animals they killed, tools they made and used, and possibly a structure they lived in.
The quantities of flint tools and animal bones, especially from extinct wild cattle known as aurochs, point to people living here for long periods of time and there being long-term special memories and associations with the place.
The types and variety of flint seem to reflect the movements of people who followed game with the seasons, and chose to stay in different areas according to the changing availability of plants for food and materials, and the needs for shelter.
Taken together, the flint and other stone tool evidence suggest that Blick Mead was a feasting and gathering place for thousands of years that people travelled large distances to reach. Far from it being a place nomads dropped into once in a while, time would have been spent there, ideas exchanged and new technologies discussed and adapted.
Hunter-gatherers prospered in Britain, but then, 6,000 years ago there was a dramatic and permanent change in the way our ancestors lived their lives. So dramatic in fact that it’s been given a different historical name. This was the start of the new Stone Age in Britain – the Neolithic.
It was during the Neolithic that pottery emerged, the time when people built monuments like Stonehenge – but above all else, it’s the point at which people became farmers.
Scientists and archaeologists have begun to uncover evidence that local hunter-gatherer ways survived the arrival of farming rather than being extinguished, as is often depicted.
And at Blick Mead, where rare evidence of hunter-gatherer life is so well preserved, finds include bones of mice, toads and fish – we can also discover more about the origins of Stonehenge.
Excavations at the site are showing that people were living in the area from the time of the first monuments to be built at Stonehenge.
We have always thought of Mesolithic people, the first Britons, as hunter-gatherers, living a nomadic life, primitive and precarious. But what has been recently revealed at Blick Mead, and elsewhere, is the existence of a much more complex, dynamic society.
The dramatic discoveries at Blick Mead are only partly important because they provide the back story to the Stonehenge story; they are also important because they reflect the growing importance of these peoples to British history generally.
And these earliest British stories are showing that the Mesolithic was a defining period in the history of these isles.
MARK THORNTON (Western Australian) finds ancient tales and spirits permeate at prehistoric Avebury.
What’s the connection between a prehistoric English monument older than Stonehenge, marmalade and a Victorian MP?
The English prehistoric site is the Neolithic stone circle at Avebury in Wiltshire. The MP is Sir John Lubbock, who bought it in 1871, and the marmalade connection comes from Alexander Keiller, who made his fortune from the confection and used it to buy the site 20 years after Sir John’s death.
Avebury, encompassing 11.5 hectares, is the largest prehistoric stone circle in the world. Construction was intermittent and spanned hundreds of years but was completed around 2600 BC. It’s 14 times larger and 500 years older than Stonehenge, 30kms to the south.
As with Stonehenge, many people have theories as to why it’s there. One is that it was the focal point of large-scale religious ceremonies and rituals during the Neolithic and Bronze ages. Another is that the shape and alignment of the stones, which have almost geometric precision, suggest it was an astronomical observatory.
Antiquarian Dr William Stukeley first visited the site in the 1720s and after 30 years research, claimed the original ground plan of Avebury represented the body of a snake passing through a circle to form a traditional symbol of alchemy. Other researchers have since said it was a centre of science, learning, pilgrimage, a cultural meeting place for regional tribes, and even a hub for extra-terrestrial activity—though this suggestion was made in the 1960s when hippies with vivid imaginations, and often heightened sensibilities, discovered the site. Sadly whoever built Avebury left no written or pictorial clues.
The site consists of a circular bank of chalk 425 metres in diameter and six metres high, enclosing a ditch that was nine metres deep when dug but after 4600 years of weathering, still has a depth of more than six metres. Archaeologists estimate the ditch would have taken nearly 300 people 25 years to complete and required 200,000 tons of rock to be chipped and scraped away with crude stone tools and antler picks. This suggests a sizeable, stable and well-organised local population lived at the site with a successful agrarian economy able to support the build. However, they had disappeared long before the Saxons built a settlement there 1500 years ago. The word Avebury probably comes from Ava, the Saxon leader at the time.
Inside the ditch there is a circle of 27 sandstone pillars, each weighing up to 50 tons. There used to be three times that many, but over the past 1000 years local villagers used the site as a quarry for building materials. Inside the circle of sandstone pillars are the remains of two smaller stone circles, each originally consisting of about 30 uprights and each about 105 metres in diameter. At the centre of the southern inner circle a tall obelisk once stood surrounded by smaller boulders.
It’s a big and impressive site, and due to the presence of Avebury village, built inside the ring of stones with its church and edged by some ancient large trees, it’s softer and less foreboding than Stonehenge. Nonetheless, it has a strong sense of mystery. Four huge beech trees stand out, each with a spectacular tangle of roots spread over the surface of the chalk bank. Locals call them the Tolkien Trees, claiming J R R Tolkien was inspired by them to create the Ents for Lord of the Rings. Meandering among the stones in the late afternoon under a lowering sky it’s easy to give your imagination free rein.
Avebury is more accessible than Stonehenge, which is now fenced off and requires you to buy your $30 admission tickets— that only give you two hours on site— in advance. Avebury has no admission fee, fences or closing times and you can walk among the ancient stones and mounds as long as you like, soaking in the mystery. Some people even camp among the stones. It’s this ambience that attracted Sir John Lubbock and later marmalade baron and amateur archaeologist Alexander Keiller.
Sir John, a close friend of Charles Darwin, was a visionary whose main political agendas in Parliament included promoting the study of science in primary and secondary schools and protecting ancient monuments. He invented the terms ‘palaeolithic’ and ‘neolithic’ to denote the old and new stone ages. He bought Avebury in 1871 when the locals seemed bent on destroying it by using the ancient stones as building material. Some cottages still have large pieces of the standing stones as massive cornerstones.
Sir John was responsible for the Ancient Monuments Act in 1882, the first piece of legislation that protected archaeological sites, paving the way for English Heritage.
Pious locals had begun destroying the site more than 1000 years earlier with the encouragement of the Christian church, which controversially urged the destruction of pagan symbols, yet was not averse to encouraging the villagers to build a church in the village from those same ‘pagan’ stones. During his tenure and oversight of repairs Sir John discouraged any more building within the site, describing the village and its church to be “like some beautiful parasite (that) has grown up at the expense and in the midst of the ancient temple”.
When he was raised to a peerage in 1900 Sir John chose Avebury for his title, becoming Lord Avebury thereafter.
Keiller bought the site, including the entire village with its then population of about 500, in 1934 with the intention of completing Lord Avebury’s work in restoring it. He knocked down cottages and farm buildings to remove human habitation from within the stone circle and re-erected fallen stones and set concrete markers in places where stones originally stood. In doing so he both upset and impressed villagers, who soon came to accept him as a well-meaning eccentric who brought work to what was a poor community. He spent the equivalent of $4 million in today’s money on the restoration, which includes a magnificent museum. He sold the site to the National Trust in 1943 and his widow donated the museum to the nation in 1966.
The museum is worth a visit on its own. Particularly fascinating is its collection of ancient jewellery made from rare metals and bronze, many featuring semi-precious stones. Although made thousands of years ago, the jewellery has in its perfect simplicity a timeless style and beauty.
Avebury is well worth a visit, not just for itself, but for a number of other prehistoric sites nearby, including Silbury Hill and the West Kennet Long Barrow (a burial mound), both of which are several hundred years older than Avebury. Together they lie at the centre of a collection of Neolithic and early Bronze Age monuments and all are part of a World Heritage Site in a co-listing with Stonehenge.
Legend has it that in 1220 the Bishop of Salisbury shot an arrow high into the air from the ramparts of Old Sarum castle vowing that he would build a new cathedral wherever the arrow landed. He must have had arms like an ox or some seriously impressive divine intervention for Salisbury Cathedral is actually several miles from the castle.
Little matter. The reality is that the Cathedral he had built is probably the finest example of Early English gothic architecture in the country. It is perfectly positioned on the beautiful water meadows beside the slow-moving River Avon and topped by the tallest spire in the country (which you can climb if you have the knees and lungs for it).
It is also home to the best-preserved of the four remaining original Magna Cartas which guarantees the city a starring role in the document’s 800th birthday celebrations throughout 2015.
Salisbury and surrounding areas of Wiltshire, including Stonehenge and the market town of Trowbridge, make up one of six designated Magna Carta trails. These guide visitors through some of the most historic and picturesque parts of England from Durham and York in the north to Worcester and Hereford in the centre, Norwich in the east and Dover, Canterbury and Pevensey in the south west.
Events kicked off in February when the four surviving original Magna Cartas — from Salisbury, from Lincoln Cathedral and two kept at the British Library — were brought together, the first time this has ever occurred, for three days in London.
For the rest of the year the Magna Carta is at the heart of a myriad of festivals, fetes, exhibitions and displays, literary and academic gatherings in every city, town and village with even the flimsiest link. And a few without any connection at all.
The Magna Carta, literally the Great Charter, was essentially a political device, drawn up to settle an increasingly violent dispute between King John and 25 rebel barons. Much of it referred to specific grievances. Its enduring legacy was that it outlined basic human rights, setting the principle that no-one was above the law and everyone had the right to a fair trial.
It not only became the cornerstone of the British constitution, it influenced subsequent documents like the US Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In March the Salisbury Magna Carta was returned to a redesigned interactive display in the Cathedral Chapter House along with other historical treasures from the extensive archives.
And the Cathedral itself is well worth a detailed exploration: from medieval tombs and effigies to the arched supporting pillars bent inward under the weight of the tower. There’s a beautiful modern baptismal font which spectacularly reflects the ceiling and the brilliantly coloured stained glass windows and the bumping stone, worn away from the centuries of traditionally “bumping” the heads of new choirboys to welcome them.
It has wide vaulted cloisters and boasts the oldest working clock in Europe. Built in 1386 it’s an ingenious series of weights and pulleys that has no traditional face but sounds the hour.
Running parallel to the building is the eye-catching Cathedral Close where the clergy lived. It still has a number of the original medieval buildings as well as some elegant Georgian town houses such as the impressive Mompesson House and featured in a film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.
Stonehenge, just 13 kilometres from Salisbury, remains one of the world’s great mysteries. Religious temple? Astronomical clock? Ancient burial chamber? Alien landing zone (that’s my favourite)? Truth is, nobody knows for sure. The mesmerising prehistoric circle of monolithic stones, dating back to between 3000-2000 BC and one of the most distinctive monuments in the world, still baffles experts and attracts more than a million tourists each year.
The new visitor centre, designed by an Australian firm of architects, is modern and eye catching yet sits surprisingly sympathetically in the rolling Wiltshire countryside.
Consisting of two main “pods” one of glass and one of wood, under a soft wave metal roof balanced on slender, unevenly angled metal poles. Inside, it contains an engaging interactive education centre, a cafe, shop and toilets.
The original “facilities” have been removed from their position much closer to the stones, and an access road grassed over which means Stonehenge can now be viewed not as an isolated structure but as part of a broader sweep of ancient mounds and barrows.
Visitors must walk through the gently undulating fields the approximately 2kms from the centre to the stones or take the official land-train. It always was an awesome site but now, with less clutter, it seems even more impressive.
There is more mystery at nearby Avebury which has the largest stone circle in the world, more than 100 stones believed to have been erected about 4,500 years ago. Or Woodhenge, with the remains of six concentric rings possibly part of a structure used by an early community.
From Avebury you can also see Spilbury Hill, the largest man made mound. What the circle and the mound were for, and who created them, is still unknown. Another mystery.
Trowbridge is impressively credentialed for inclusion on the Magna Carta trail. Mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1200 the town was granted one of the earliest market charters from King John.
But by 1215, Baron Henry de Bohun, tiring of the King’s constant demands for increased taxes, joined with 24 other barons to force him to seal the Magna Carta at Runnymede near Windsor. Henry, clutching the charter, is immortalised in a stained-glass window in the parish church.
Through the centuries, Trowbridge forged itself a position as a centre of weaving, first fine woollen cloth, largely for export to Europe then, when that dwindled, into coloured cloth made from the wool of Spanish merino sheep. Quick to adapt to new technology, first the spinning jenny and then the power looms, at one stage the town’s industry was so dominant it was dubbed the “Manchester of the West.”
Although not as cutesy as many of the villages and towns in Wiltshire, Trowbridge has numerous important historic buildings across a wide range of eras. Its museum, which focuses heavily on the town’s nationally important textile heritage, is a kids’ paradise. Established in one of the old cloth mills it has that real feel of living history which many of the newer and more high tech museums have lost. Here you are transported back in time in a series of historic tableaux.
No visit to any part of England is officially complete without a pint of the best local brew. Wadworth Brewery is based in the pretty town of Devizes, roughly 40 kilometres north of Salisbury and has been serving up specialist regional beers for more than 125 years.
It runs regular tours that include the opportunity to meet two of the brewery’s most popular workers, the gentle giants Max and Monty, two magnificent Shire horses who still deliver the beer to local pubs pulling the distinctive drays.
But the highlight has to be dropping in to the brewery’s own private “pub”. Here, visitors can compare the various brews like the popular 6X and the Bishop’s Tipple. Or go for something a little different like the Swordfish, created for the 100th anniversary of the Fleet Air Arm, where beer blended with Pusser’s Navy Rum. Cheers.
The writer was a guest of Visit England and travelled with British Airways.
Click here for Membership benefitsMembership gives you a whole year of unlimited entry to Stonehenge, castles and gardens, historic houses and abbeys, and kids go free!
Special Exhibitions at Stonehenge
The new Stonehenge Visitor Centre has a changing programme of special exhibitions so membership means you can visit as often as you wish for free.
English Heritage Members’ Events
They have an exciting new programme of events throughout the year, exclusively for members.
Events include behind the scenes and underground tours, hands-on workshops and guided tours and historical walks.
Make the most of your membership this season and enjoy our events, designed just for you.
Bringing History to Life: Enjoy free or discounted entry with your Membership
If you fancy hearing roaring tales of battle from a Viking warrior, sussing out some spy skills, becoming a top hobby horse knight or just embarking on a fun-filled trail or quest – you’ve come to the right place! With child-friendly tea rooms and hands-on exhibits, we have everything you need for a day out with the family.
- Some of the English Heritage attractions in the Wiltshire area:Stonehenge
Old Wardour Castle
Bratton Camp and White Horse
Farleigh Hungerford Castle
West Kennet Long Barrow, Avebury
Silbury Hill, Avebury
Hatfield Earthworks (Marden Henge)
Visit only three of the possibilities and the pass will pay for itself!
Stonehenge now has a transformed visitor experience, with a new world-class visitor centre, housing museum-quality permanent and special exhibitions, plus a spacious shop and café.
To be assured of entering Stonehenge you must reserve tickets in advance. If you have an English Heritage pass or are a National Trust or English Heritage member and are entitled to free entry you still need to obtain (free) tickets in advance.
The true meaning of this ancient, awe-inspiring creation has been lost in the mists of time. Was Stonehenge a temple for sun worship, a healing centre, a burial site or perhaps a huge calendar? How did our ancestors manage to carry the mighty stones from so far away and then, using only the most primitive of tools, build this amazing structure? Surrounded by mystery, Stonehenge never fails to impress.
Includes complimentary audio tour and learn more about the mysteries surrounding Stonehenge.
The superb shop for souvenirs of your visit and unusual gifts.
A walk in the prehistoric landscape around Stonehenge to see some of the other monuments in the World Heritage Site.
Join now and save money……….
Stonehenge and Salisbury Guided Tours
If you have membership we will reduce the entrance fees from the cost of any guided tours you book with us- a significant saving!