Sometimes when I take out small groups on guided tours around southern England, I get to go to places that I haven’t been too but have often wanted to go. It’s like those lucky people who love movies and get to work at film studios or animal lovers who get to become vets.
There are so many places to visit that it is almost impossible to have been everywhere so imagine my joy when recently I took a family from New Jersey to Avebury stone circle and Lacock Abbey.
Avebury is a stone circle like Stonehenge except it is much larger and receives far few visitors. There are hundreds of stone circles in Britain but most people head to Stonehenge however it has never been my favourite stone circle and Avebury has proved this again.
Like Stonehenge, Avebury lies in the county of Wiltshire, a largely agricultural county full of pretty little towns and villages, the famous Salisbury Plain and hundreds of megalithic monuments whether they are are stone circles, white horses carved onto hillsides or earthworks including Silbury Hill, the largest man-made mound in Europe and in many ways an equal of the Pyramids of Giza.
Having picked up the young family of 3 from Stanmore Station on the fringes of London, we headed out west and were quickly heading out through the shires arriving in Wiltshire around 90 minutes later. Shortly before we arrived at Avebury we came across one of those chalky grass hills with a white horse on display but it was miles away from the road and there was no obvious way of getting there.
Resuming out trip we came across an authentic Steam engine parked at the side of the road. A group of engineers were debating amongst themselves what they should be doing as water gushed down onto the road-side. In fairness to them, they were very friendly as we got out of the car to take photos of this road vehicles that pre-dated our own by a good 200 years.
A few miles down the road and we arrived in the village of Avebury. Yes the ancient stone-circle is so large that a village actually grew up in and around part of the circle. It does nothing to detract from the feeling of the circle though and makes it all seem more magical.
There is a lot to see at Avebury, not just the stone circle but our plan for the day meant it was the stone-circle that held our attention. In fact there are more than one stone-circle here and unlike at Stonehenge, visitors are free to walk amongst the stones, touch them or as 2 of my young guests did, take a pile of selfies with them. Some of the stones have been removed since they were put in place in 2,600 BC by local farmers and villagers but it doesn’t distract from the feeling of the place.
Many of the stones have grazing sheep amongst them that strangely adds to the atmosphere. My guests were adamant that this was all so much better than London and I entirely agreed.
The entire complex is surrounded by a large earth mounds and ditches that ring the circle and village. Climbing on it makes a better vantage point of the stones and you can walk around in a circle though it would probably take a fair bit of time as the bank is around 400-500 metres in diameter and the outer stone circle is 331.6 metres or 1,088 feet.
We spent a lot of time exploring the ancient landscapes which had long been cultivated and supported a rich society for thousands of years before these circles were built. We were diverted from our amble around the circle by an ancient tree that had roots spreading out over a wide area. Visitors had tied ribbons and other things to the branches of the tree following on in the ancient beliefs in the magical properties that such trees had. It was a very serene place and it was easy to imagine that the massive roots would come to life after all the visitors had left each day like those trees in Lord of the Rings.
The village of Avebury itself is beautiful, with the buildings all constructed from the beautiful and distinctive local stones. My guest family needed the bathroom and they thought it fun that the public toilets were in an old stable block of the adjacent Red Lion Pub.
Foregoing the museum local stately home, we returned to the car and drove through some wonderful countryside and Silbury Hill to Lacock Abbey where we had a picnic. It was a blissful location, no noise, beautiful green countryside and huge trees and warm sunshine. The day was getting better and better for my tour guests which is what it was all about.
After lunch we walked over to the old abbey. Like many country homes in Britain that have the word Abbey in their name, it would at one time have been a religious building that was either destroyed or re-appropriated in the time of King Henry VIII. In this case Lacock Abbey was founded in 1229 by the Countess of Salisbury who founded an Augustan Monastery here where it flourished until the 16th Century saw it come under the private ownership of Sir William Sharington who demolished the church and converted the Abbey to a country home.
Lacock Abbey has lots to offer visitors, amazing gardens, beautiful buildings but unknown to myself who is not at all a fan, it also featured in the Harry Potter films as did dozens of other old buildings in Britain as well as The Other Boleyn Girl and one of my favourite 1980’s TV shows, Robin of Sherwood.
The downstairs of the house is where most of the abbey was and it is still centred around the cloisters which is where much of the Harry Potter scenes were shot as well as the surrounding rooms that lead off from the main square including a quite well-preserved Chapter House.
Upstairs the house is decorated in two distinctive styles. The modern part is very much 1920’s-1930’s and is where the family lived prior to the estate coming under the ownership of the National Trust. Most of the upstairs however is decorated in an older style with a long gallery with deer antlers hanging from the wall and a Victorian era study with all sorts of scientific gadgets.
The reason for the Victorian gadgets is that the house has been the scene of a number of important inventions, not least the which was that of negative film photography. It seemed appropriate that the girls took a selfie on the precise spot that the first modern photo was taken.
There were some grand dining halls, bedrooms and library in which was a piano which Abbey, one of my guests, played splendidly. We were all a little in awe when we found out the piano was likely older than the United States.
After visiting the house and gardens we briefly walked a short distance into the village of Lacock into the National Trust tea room. My guests were thrilled at their day and the scenic beauty of the village but it was all topped off by the traditional clotted cream scones and teas. Sadly for my guests they had no room for the fresh Cornish ice-creams and in truth I didn’t either though I didn’t let that stop me. It was delicious and whilst I was away getting my ice-cream unknown to me my guests took a load of selfies on my iPad which I only found the next day.
We made our way back to London via Stonehenge but we simply did a slow drive by which allowed some great photos and 90 minutes later we were back in London.
Though it is wonderful to see all of these amazing sights, the best part of the job is meeting some great people and knowing that I helped made their holiday that little bit extra special. Thanks to Nikki, Abbey and Amy for being such fab guests.
Please remember that my new book, The Promise, which is book 1 of the Timeless Trilogy is now out and available from all the usual good online outlets including Amazon. Signed paperback copies are also available at the standard price plus shipping. Please email me if interested!