Car-free guide to Ancient Sitesaround Britain

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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.

  • County: around Britain
  • Great for: boat trips | Picnics | prehistoric sites | pubs | ruins | scenic bus | Walks |
  • Refreshments: pubs, cafes and more
  • Please note: researched/updated in November 2023. If anything’s changed or you have more tips to share, do get in touch:
  1. 3. Castlerigg, Cumbria

    On a plateau with a backdrop of hills, the Castlerigg Stone Circle has to be one of the most idyllically positioned stone circles in the country. It is also thought to be one of Britain’s earliest, dating to around 3000-3200BC. This puts it firmly in the Neolithic or New Stone Age, long before metal working became commonplace. The stones themselves are as captivating as the landscape and it is possible to match the shape of each of the megaliths to a hill behind. We cannot know if this is by luck or design. It could be the stones intended to mirror the landscape or it could be a trick of the eye as we try to breathe meaning into the stones.  Rather tantalisingly, a cache of stone axe heads was discovered at the stone circle. This has led many to believe it must have served as a trading post for axes during the Neolithic era. However, it does beg the question why the axes were buried rather than traded?

    • Regular Stagecoach buses X4 and X5 from Penrith stop just over half a mile away. About 45 minutes from Penrith railway station, get off at Brentfield, just before the bus enters Keswick (in the other direction, leaving Keswick, the stop is Fieldside). Walk up the concrete lane and turn left up Eleventrees. As you get beyond the edge of the town, views open up over the surrounding countryside.
    • Stagecoach also run the 555 service between Lancaster and Keswick, which stops on request at the bottom of Castle Lane on the A591.
    • To cycle or walk from Keswick join the cycle path, along a disused railway, which starts in the carpark of Keswick’s swimming pool on Station Avenue. Head towards the Penrith Road, which crosses over the top of the path. Make your way up the embankment track to the road and turn right past the houses. Take the second right up Eleventrees road (look for the brown sign saying Castlerigg Stone Circle).
    • There is a seat half way up the hill if you need a rest. For more car-free adventures in the area, have a look at our guide to Penrith.
  1. 4. Tinkinswood and St Lythans, South Wales

    Within easy reach of Cardiff, the twin burial chambers of Tinkinswood and St Lythans are marvels of Neolithic engineering.  Tinkinswood has an especially huge capstone which even by today’s standards would involve a tremendous effort to put into place. Some schools of thought suggest that the physical effort involved with the building of these monuments may have been as important as the finished structures. Both tombs would have been covered in earth, disguising their characteristic table like shape and forming an inner chamber where the bones of the dead were placed.

    • Take the X2 bus from Cardiff (Stop KP on Westgate Street) to the village of St Nicholas. A brown sign will direct you down Duffryn Lane heading south towards the two monuments.
    • A little over 200m down the lane take the footpath which branches off to the right (past of the Valeways Millennium Heritage Trail). After 700m follow the path to the right to Tinkinswood burial chamber.
    • For St Lythans Burial chamber, continue on the trail to Dyffryn (with the National Trust’s Dyffryn Gardens nearby). From here, turn left along the lane to find the dolmen.
    • For more car-free adventures nearby, see Good Journey’s guide to Cardiff.
  1. 5. Hollingbury, Brighton

    In the summer, a walk up through the long grass from Moulsecoomb station to the chalky summit of Hollingbury Hillfort is a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of the city of Brighton. With stunning views over the Channel and the South Downs, it’s not hard to see why this would have been an important site in the Iron Age. Thought to have been constructed sometime around 600BC, we don’t know if the fort had a strategic purpose or if it was used as meeting place for surrounding tribes. But continental European pottery, dating from as early as 250BC, has been found nearby so the fort may have had strong trading links across the nearby channel.  The presence of Bronze Age barrows and an enclosure dating to this time, show the site must have been in use from at least 1000BC.

    • The roads around Hollingbury get so congested it is actually much easier to visit by public transport than it would be to drive.
    • Trains from the main station in Brighton run frequently and take just six minutes to Moulsecoomb station.
    • From the Queensdown School Road, head under the railway and then take the steps to the right. After about 50m, a path branches off to the left. Follow this to the summit, heading north (watch out for flying golf balls!)
    • It’s also possible to walk or cycle up the Ditchling Road to the fort, accessing the site from the west rather than the south.
    • If you need a drink after all that climbing, The Bevy is a popular community pub in Moulsecoomb.
  • Castlerigg - from our tour of ancient sites car-free
  • Penrith - from our tour of ancient sites car-free
  • St Lythans - from our tour of ancient sites car-free
  • West Kennet Long Barrow - from our tour of ancient sites car-free
  • Blackhammer - spotted on our tour of ancient sites car-free
  • Penrith monument - spotted on our tour of ancient sites car-free