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United Kingdom > Culture and festivals > Britain's ancient heritage

Ancient Heritage

Britain's prehistoric remains provide some of the country's most unforgettable sites and iconic images - Stonehenge, of course, is recognised the world over. Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age civilisations have left their imprint all over these isles, from impressive earthworks to stone memorials that bring us closer to understanding our distant ancestors.

1. Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England
This mysterious stone circle in Wiltshire, south­ west England, is arguably the most familiar of Britain's UNESCO World Heritage Sites, though the opening of a new visitor's centre in 2013 has made Stonehenge even more accessible.

Britain's most compelling Neolithic monument continues to fascinate followers of apparently ancient beliefs and mystifies scientists (no one really knows its purpose - the latest research suggests stones dug out 199 miles away in Wales may have been played as a musical instrument). Today's pagan believers, meanwhile, still gather at the stone circle, built between 3000 and 1600 BC, to mark both the winter and summer solstices.

Now all visitors can appreciate Stonehenge in a setting closer to how it would have appeared to those that built it, with a sympathetic redevelopment that has removed from the vicinity modern clutter such as a former car park and sales kiosks.
Sited 1.5 miles west of the circle, the monument's visitor centre tells the history of the stones and nearby features such as burial mounds and pathways, using 360-degree projections and objects from the site never displayed before. Web: english-heritage.org.uk

Getting there: Salisbury is 90 minutes by train from London Waterloo and regular tour buses link the station to Stonehenge.

2. Avebury Stone Circle, Wiltshire, south-west England
To appreciate a stone circle with fewer crowds, head to one that is even wider and more complex than Stonehenge. This site includes part of the village of Avebury with its fine pub, but you can still quietly contemplate the stones among the grazing sheep and cattle. Web: nationaltrust.org.uk

Getting there: Swinton train station (one hour from London Paddington) has bus links to Avebury.

3. Maiden Castle, Dorset, south-west England
Of all ancient Britain's earthworks, this Iron Age fort is among the most impressive. Its huge ramparts and ditches protected a 47-acre site until Roman times. Its creators have left a massive series of concentric ridges rising 60ft high that show the impressive feats our ancestors could achieve with simple tools.

Nearby is Britain's largest chalk figure, the striking Cerner Abbas giant cut into a hillside with his impressive manhood. Web: english-heritage.org.uk & nationaltrust.org.uk

Getting there: Maiden Castle is two miles south of Dorchester, which is two-and-a-half hours from London Waterloo by train.

4. Uffington White Horse, Oxfordshire, central England
Among Britain's most iconic prehistoric sights are the figures cut into hillsides and filled in with white chalk to make striking outlines. Most prevalent are horses, of which this leaping example is the most exquisite.
It is just one feature of a complex of remains around White Horse Hill, including a fort that is the county's highest point, though a better view of the horse is from nearby Dragon Hill.  It is also one highlight of the Ridgeway, a 90-mile path through gorgeous countryside in use since prehistoric times. Web: nationaltrust.org.uk & nationaltrail.co.uk

Getting there: Swindon train station (one hour from London Paddington) has a bus link to Uffington.

5. Offa's Dyke, Wales
The 177-mile (285km) National Trail extends from the north to the south coast of Wales and follows an 8th century earthwork built by King Offa sometime between 756 and 796 to contain marauding Welsh tribes. Offa's intention was to provide the Kingdom of Mercia with a well-defined boundary from Prestatyn in the north to Chepstow in the south, a distance of 270 km.

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is a must-see, built in 1795 with an entire length of 1,007 ft and 19 arches; it is an engineering masterpiece for its day and now a World Heritage Site. Web: nationaltrail.co.uk

6. Great Orme Mines, Llandudno, north Wales
Rediscovered in 1987 when the headland above this seaside resort was being excavated, these Bronze Age copper mines date back 4,000 years. Since then, experts have unearthed a wealth of tunnels and surface features in possibly the world's largest prehistoric mine.

Take a self-guided underground tour to learn how these workings change our understanding of pre-Roman Britain. Web: greatormemines.info

Getting there: Llandudno is three-and-a-half hours from London Euston by train.

7. Legananny dolmen, County Down, Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland has its fair share of prehistoric remains, including a fort, stone circles and 150 dolmens, tomb markers where vertical stones support a horizontal slab. Perhaps the most impressive is the Legananny dolmen that stands on the slopes of Slieve Croob with its unusually high upright stones. Web: discovernorthernireland.com

Getting there: Legananny dolmen is off the 87 road, seven miles south of Dromara, signposted from Dromara and Castlewellan.

8. Maeshowe Chambered Cairn, Orkney, Scotland
Possibly the finest Neolithic structure in north-west Europe, this atmospheric tomb with cells and passageways made up of single slabs is a highlight of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site. This network of remains includes two circles and the Skara Brae settlement, all in spectacular locations. Web: historic-scotland.gov.uk

Getting there: Orkney is accessible by sea or air from Aberdeen, which is a one hour and 20minute flight from London. 

Author: Visit Britain


 

Links

Stonehenge near Amesbury, Wiltshire
thornborough
avebury stone circles
glastonbury tor

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Britain's prehistoric remains provide some of the country's most unforgettable sites - Stonehenge, of course, is recognised the world over. Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age civilisations have left their imprint all over these isles, from impressive earthworks to stone memorials.