Above: Avebury World Heritage site. Photo: Visit Wiltshire website
The world is steeped in history from all ages and cultures, and every museum has its own story to tell and its truth to speak. Being an undergrad student studying ‘Conservation of Objects in Museums and Archaeology’ at Cardiff University, I will graduate as a trained conservator where I hope to protect, conserve, and preserve the objects that make these places, for them to be enjoyed for future generations. This also means that museums, heritage, and history are part of my everyday life, so deciding on a favourite heritage site proved a difficult task indeed. My choice, in my opinion, is one of the jewels of Britain: Avebury.
Move aside Stonehenge, Avebury is the world’s oldest stone circle as well as a World Heritage site and has a quaint village of the same name as its centre. Walking the circle can take at least 30 minutes, and there is something otherworldly about it. There are steep banks and ditches surrounding the stone circle, which cut the outer world out, allowing you to really immerse yourself in the space. It makes you wonder if the Neolithic people who constructed this felt the same.
As you walk round, you may notice some stone place holders, which mark the places of missing stones. One of my favourite things about this is that it is believed some of the original stones were broken down in the past, by local people, and incorporated into the houses in the village.
Avebury sits in what could be described as a ritualistic landscape: the causewayed enclosure at Windmill hill, West Kennet Long Barrow, and Silbury Hill are all short walks away through fields and rolling hills, and if you’re lucky you might meet a friendly cow or two!
The circle itself was excavated in the 1930s by Alexander Keiller. His work is recognised in the Alexander Keiller museums which are owned and run by the National Trust. The museum is actually split into two. The first is situated in a barn, that has a beautifully thatched roof, and is home to a few resident bats too. This part of the museum is largely interactive, with displays such as holes you place your hand in to guess what the object inside is and dress up areas towards the back. It definitely keeps the kids entertained! The displays here don’t tend to change over the years, but the National Trust do also carry out activity sessions for children, in this barn section of the museum. I have fond memories as a kid of making a roundhouse out of craft bits here. This area looks at the type of stones used, how the circle was created and Alexander Keillers excavation of the site. Although it doesn’t change frequently, and is fairly small, the low light levels and range of activities make for an enjoyable, magical atmosphere and experience.
The second section of this museum is located a very short walk, to the right of the barn as you walk out of it. It’s situated in the stables near Avebury Manor and is also very small but packed with archaeological finds from around the world heritage site. These include skeletal remains of dogs, pigs and even a human, as well as a few replica bones to handle and examine that would have been used as tools during the Neolithic period. This museum is smaller than the barn and less interactive, but lets you have a close-up look of real finds from the site. Together the two museums provide a perfect combination of displays suited to both children and adults.
Avebury is one of those places that has so many elements: from the stone circle, the museums, the gift shops, and the pub and that’s before you’ve even visited the newly restored Avebury Manor. They all lend themselves to creating a diverse, fun filled day trip, at minimal expense, to suit the whole family.
The Stone Circle: Free/paid parking for non-NT members
Alexander Keiller Museum: £5 Adults/ £2.50 Children/ £12.50 Family/ Free for NT member
The Stone Circle: Dawn til’ Dusk, 7 Days a week
Avebury Manor: Friday, Saturday, Sunday as Guided tours. Slots for: 11am, 1pm and 3pm
Avebury Gardens: 11am til 5pm 7 days a week
Alexander Keiller Museum: 10am til 5pm 7 days a week
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Seren Kitchener is a third-year undergraduate student studying Conservation of Objects in Museums and Archaeology at Cardiff University. She has always been a keen lover of heritage, particularly that of British archaeology and prehistory, and spends most of her free time wandering around museums and National Trust properties. Her conservation experience includes placement opportunities at the Swindon and Wiltshire History Centre, working in the conservation department there, and working on various projects that come through the labs and stores of Cardiff University. Seren can be found on Twitter @SerenKitch11