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Welcome to Avebury
LIVING in the shadow of Wiltshire's more famous stone formation has not done Avebury any harm over the years. While tourists flock to Stonehenge
all year round to gaze at the stones, magical Avebury has a heart and soul only a village community can offer.
Set in the middle of the world's biggest ancient stone circle and since 1943 exclusively owned by the National Trust, Avebury is a lot bigger than Stonehenge and a place where one can spend the whole day want to come back for more.
Some 'true' villagers, descendants of Avebury's farming forefathers, are still a touch resentful of the extensive archaeological development that has been carried out in the past 100 years. Little of old Avebury has remained after the nephew of a Dundee marmalade magnate shaped the modern face of the village. Today the debate about whether Alexander Kieller did more harm than good to Avebury rumbles on and remains as unanswered as other oft-asked questions like why and how such a place came to exist.
Before the thousands flocked to the village each year for the summer and winter solstices, Avebury was the preserve of the locals with only a few hippies, enthusiastic youngsters and serious archaeologists interested in its offerings. But when people were banned from touching or lighting a match on the rocks at Stonehenge, Avebury became the preferred venue where everyone is still free to hop over the styles and embrace the stones that litter the village with gay abandon.
And the rest of what is on offer isn't bad either. The focal point of the village, the allegedly haunted Red Lion pub, is a gem of a hostelry offering real ale and wholesome fare. And it is ideally placed to quench a thirst after a hearty walk on the Marlborough Downs or as an oasis of calm just a stone's throw from Swindon.
Not so long ago, even back in the 1960s, Avebury was seen as a great day out for Swindon families. You had to take a couple of buses to get there, but once your blankets were laid out on the grass, you and your family could spend the whole day picnicking and exploring the area.
Now, if you are in your car you could probably blink and miss Avebury, which lies a mere eight miles to the South West of Swindon. The village is essentially a crossroads with the two main roads, the High Street and Green Street, dissected by the A4631 with the Red Lion pub on one side of the road and the wide open spaces of the Marlborough Downs and stone circles on the other.
Popular opinion holds that work on the Avebury sarsen stones, which weigh some 20 tonnes each and were quarried from the downs to the east of the village, began more than 6,000 years ago. The 200 standing stones are arranged in an inner and outer circle and cover a distance of half a mile in diameter and 28 acres, and are surrounded by a 30ft ditch.
Although the stones were attacked, plundered and removed by local people during the medieval period, the man with perhaps the most profound impact on the village was Kieller, who set about trying to recreate what he believed the stones would have looked like in their original state.
He dug up most of the buried stones and repositioned them - and his legacy today lives on with the National Trust museum named after him. The must-see museum lies inside the stones within the Great Barn complex next to the impressive Avebury manor house and gardens. Visitors can take an interactive guide of the village and while the displays are well worth seeing, you cannot beat the real thing just outside.
- Neolithic stone circle site is free and accessible every day of the year 24-hours-a-day. The focal point of the area, they were connected by the West Kennet Avenue of standing stones to the Sanctuary in Overton Hill. It is thought the circles may have taken centuries to compete, but work on them is believed to have started around 2500 BC.
- Local man John Aubrey recommended a visit to Avebury to King Charles II in 1633 because it "does as much exceed in greatness the renowned Stonehenge as a cathedral doeth a parish church". Scholar and priest William Stukely recorded and sketched the site during the reign of George II leaving a valuable record before Alexander Kieller bought the manor and excavated the site in the 1930s opening the museum to display his finds.
- The Alexander Kieller Museum and Great Barn, which features the exhibition Avebury 6,000 years of mystery, is open every day except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Call 01672 539250 for details.
- Avebury Manor and Edwardian Gardens are open from April 1 to November 1 from 11am to 5.30pm except on Mondays and Thursdays.
- The main visitors' car park is outside the village, but additional parking can be found opposite the village shop in the High Street and at the Red Lion pub, but both get extremely busy on hot days.
- The village shop and post office is one of the smallest supermarkets in the world stocking a selection of provisions to cater for locals and tourists.
- Avebury Tourist Information Centre, which is located in the United Reformed Church in Green Street, is a one-stop shop for tourists. Call 01672 539425.