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Present Day Stonehenge

Situated in a vast plain, surrounded by hundreds of round barrows, or burial mounds, the Stonehenge site is truly impressive, and all the more so, the closer you approach. It is a place where much human effort was expended for a purpose we can only guess at. Some people see it as a place steeped in magic and mystery, some as a place where their imaginations of the past can be fired and others hold it to be a sacred place. But whatever viewpoint is brought to it and whatever its original purpose was, it should be treated as the ancients treated it, as a place of honor .

The modern age has not been altogether kind to Stonehenge, despite the lip service it pays to the preservation of heritage sites. There is a major highway running no more than 100 yards away from the stones, and a commercial circus has sprung up around it, complete with parking lots, gift shops and ice cream stands. The organization, English Heritage, is committed to righting these wrongs, and in the coming years, we may get to see Stonehenge in the setting for which it was originally created. Despite all its dilapidation and the encroachment of the modern world, Stonehenge, today, is an awe-inspiring sight, and no travel itinerary around Britain should omit it.

Avebury

The village of Avebury in Wiltshire has given its name to one of the greatest stone circles in the British Isles. Located in the midst of a rich prehistoric landscape, the village lies a few miles away from the Ridgeway and in close proximity to Silbury Hill, the Sanctuary, the West Kennet Long Barrow, and the long barrows of East Kennet and Beckhampton.

The story goes that while returning from a day's hunting one winter's evening in 1648, John Aubrey, on passing through the village of Avebury, recognized in the earthworks and standing stones around him an ancient temple, which he attributed to the Druids.

In the early 18th century, William Stukeley visited the site on several occasions and witnessed, to his great distress, the destruction of numerous stones by farmers intent on clearing the land for fields. Stukeley agreed with Aubrey's identification of the site and in 1743 published his book Abury, a Temple of the British Druids.

Mostly dating to around 2,600-2,500 B.C.E., the Avebury complex, which covers about 28 acres and is partially overlapped by the village, comprises a huge circular earthwork ditch, originally about 30 feet deep, and bank about a quarter of a mile in diameter which encloses an outer circle of standing stones. Within this outer circle are two inner circles, both about 340 feet in diameter. The northern inner circle, of which only a few stones remain, apparently consisted of two concentric circles; an inner one of 12 stones and an outer one of 27 stones. At the centre of the northern circle stood a trio of very large stones, two of which survive, called "the Cove." At the centre of the southern circle stood a tall stone over 20 feet in length called "the obelisk." It had already fallen when William Stukeley saw, and drew it, in the 18th century, and is now gone altogether (its site, as with the other missing stones at Avebury, is now marked by a concrete pillar).

The northern and southern inner stone circles are believed to have been built first, around 2,600 B.C.E., and the outer circle and the earthworks added about a hundred years later, around 2,500 B.C.E.

The outer circle is breached at four points - roughly at points north, south, east, and west - to form entrances. From two of these originally ran two great avenues of which only the one, leading from the south entrance, the so-called West Kennet Avenue, survives for a short way in reconstructed form with stones lining its course on both sides.

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