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Car-free guide to Ancient Sitesaround Britain
Britain’s complex, varied history has left a wealth of prehistoric ruins to explore. From Neolithic tombs in the Orkneys to hilltop forts on England’s south coast, here’s a selection of ancient sites you can reach without a car. Good Journey is delighted to welcome David Hamilton, author of Wild Ruins and Wild Ruins BC (published March 2019 by Wild Things) as a guest writer for this feature. Extra photos have been supplied by Jon Taylor (Midhowe Broch and - in the gallery below - the inside of Blackhammer Cairn and Castlerigg in snow), John Greenway (St Lythans Dolmen) and David Hamilton (Avebury). The other pics are Good Journey's own from a trip to Castlerigg stone circle.
1. Avebury, Wiltshire
Avebury stands at the far end of the Ridgeway National Trail, which wends its way through five counties starting at Ivinghoe Beacon in the Chilterns. We can’t know for sure why Avebury was built, but it’s been suggested that it was an ancient pilgrimage site much like modern day Lourdes. The stone circle is so huge it encompasses the entire village. This gives Avebury the unique accolade of having the only pub in Britain completely surrounded by a prehistoric monument.
- The towering double stone row, 25m wide and 2.5 km long, called West Kennet Avenue is walking distance from the village, linking the main henge (ringed earth mound) and stone circle with the Sanctuary (zoom in on map below). You can mostly avoid the roads and walk from the bus stop along permissive and public paths.
- The 49 bus travels between Swindon and Devizes via the village of Avebury. Go straight through the gate by the bus stop (opposite the pub) to get started. The last bus back to Swindon leaves at 8.47pm from outside the Red Lion so it is possible to have an ale or two, or an evening meal before returning home.
- The Ridgeway National Trail leads to the village of Avebury so the site is also accessible by foot. You could even take a few days off to follow the footpath, stopping at B&Bs on route.
2. Rousay, Orkneys.
Just north of the Orkney’s Mainland, on the island of Rousay, lies a row of monuments so intact and so ancient, they have been dubbed the Egypt of the North. The sites are mostly burial tombs or cairns with beautifully evocative names such as Taversoe Tuick, Blackhammer Cairn and the Knowe of Yarso. Built in the Neolithic era, these would have been family burial grounds acting as shrines or places of ritual activity. At a time when a good harvest meant the difference between life and death, the island population may have consulted their ancestors for advice and guidance for the coming growing season.
- To the west of the island, Mid Howe Iron Age Broch is one of the most impressive ancient monuments in Britain. It is so well preserved that it is possible to get a real sense of Iron Age life in this remote corner of the world.
- From Inverness there is a twice daily bus service to Orkney in the summer (1 June – 31 August). It costs £25 each way.
- Stagecoach operate a bus from Kirkwall (Orkney Mainland) to the Tingwall Ferry Terminal. From Tingwall, Orkney ferries run to Rousay, seven days a week from a little after 8am until early evening.
- It is possible to do all the important sites in one day on foot, but the best way is to hire a bicycle and do a tour of the island. Trumland Farm, a quarter of a mile west of the ferry terminal has a stock of bicycles to rent (01856 821252, do ring ahead) and, if you find you have missed the ferry back, they also offer hostel accommodation!