West Kennet Long Barrow: MPBW sign

west kennet-Edit
West Kennet Long Barrow © Patrick Taylor

The West Kennet long barrow was placed on the 1882 Schedule of Ancient Monuments. It now lies within the Avebury World Heritage Site. The scientific excavation took place in 1955–56.

Radiocarbon dates suggest that the monument was constructed in the period 3,700–3,600 BC, more than a millennium earlier than was thought in the 1960s.

The Story of Silbury Hill


I can first remember visiting Silbury Hill in the 1970s and it has featured on many a journey. I have just finished reading The Story of Silbury Hill by Jim Leary and David Field (Swindon: English Heritage, 2010) [ISBN 978-1-848020-46-7]. Cost £14.99.

I was so attracted by the story of a monument in its wider landscape. There are nine main chapters, each with beautiful photographs and illustrations. Those who are interested in the History of Archaeology (and Antiquarianism) will find much in chapter 2, ‘Kings, Druids and early investigations’. John Aubrey’s sketch of the hill captures its essence. William Stukeley’s series of drawings were made in 1723 and 1724. There is a review of the opening of a shaft in 1776, and the cutting of the Royal Archaeological Institute’s tunnel in 1849. The Hill was purchased by Sir John Lubbock in 1873.

Chapter 3, ‘Into the 20th century: Petrie, Atkinson and the BBC’, considers the impact of television coverage of archaeological excavations and the exploration by Richard Atkinson in 1967. The antiquarian searches and archaeological excavations caused instability in the mound and this is covered by chapter 4, ‘What do you mean, there’s a hole on the top of Silbury?’ There are some interesting comments about press coverage and ttransparency

All this work, as well as the urgent need to stabilise the mound, provided valuable information about how the mound was created (chapter 5). There are important comments about the prehistoric landscape as well as the insects and plants. This leads to ‘Making sense of the mound’ (chapter 6). Silbury is then considered in the wider and evolving landscape, ‘Land, stones and the development of monuments’ (chapter 7).

One of the unexpected chapters was a consideration of the Roman settlement that grew up at the foot of the hill (‘From small town to Sele-burh’, chapter 8). The Hill lies adjacent to the main Roman road running from London towards Bath. How would this prehistoric monument have been preceived by Roman viewers?

The final chapter, ‘The timekeeper’ (chapter 9), looks at the modern reception of the Hill. There is the observation, ‘The monuments serve a social and spiritual need’. Yet there are comments about the impact of heritage tourism on a Wiltshire village that nestles around and among these prehistoric monuments.

The mound incorporates the activities, the behaviour and performance of people, the building of banks, ditches and mounds; basketful after basketful of actions that provide a biography of the local inhabitants. It is as good as any family tree. We are all a part of that dialogue, and our actions form part of the same story.

This is a book that covers so many aspects of the recording, conserving, preserving, and interpreting of a major heritage site.

Stonehenge and Avebury Guides

Stonehenge and Avebury
Stonehenge and Avebury

I have a small selection of guides to Stonehenge and Avebury in my study. My favourite is the HMSO illustrated guide Stonehenge and Avebury and Neighbouring Monuments (1959). The cover is by Alan Sorrell and the text by Professor R.J.C. Atkinson. My copy is a 7th impression with amendments dating to 1970 (cost, 3s 6d [17.5p]). The book was prepared by the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works and the Central Office of Information. (Are there other examples of collaboration?) The main sections are:

  • The People and the Monuments
  • Stonehenge
  • The history of Stonehenge
  • The Avenue
  • The Barrows
  • Avebury
  • West Kennet Long Barrow
  • The Sanctuary
  • Silbury Hill
  • Windmill Hill
  • How were the monuments built?

There are several Alan Sorrell reconstructions including the building of Silbury Hill and moving the bluestones by raft.


The Department of Environment issued a ‘blue’ guide to Stonehenge. Mine is the 9th impression (1975) of the 3rd edition (1959); the 1st edition was 1959. The text is by R.S. Newall. Cost: 15p.

There is a description of Stonehenge including the Avenue, and further sections:

  • Purpose and periods of Stonehenge
  • Geology of the Bluestones
  • Transport of the Bluestones
  • Preparation, trasnport and erection of the sarsens
  • Incised representation of Bronze Age blades
  • The Druids and the date
  • Area round Stonehenge
  • The Cursus

There is also a fold-put map at the back.


Avebury had a similar volume by Faith de M. Vatcher and Lance Vatcher. My copy is the 2nd impression (1980) of the 1st edition (1976). Cost £1.

The main sections are:

  • Excavation of monuments
  • Prehistoric background
  • The Avebury region
  • Windmill Hill
  • West Kennet Long Barrow
  • Silbury
  • Avebury, AD
  • The Roman road

There are also three appendices

  • Radiocarbon dating
  • The Sarsens
  • The Museum

Again there is a fold-out map at the back.


The latest Stonehenge guide is published by English Heritage and is written by Julian Richards (2013). Cost £4.99.

This has three main sections:

  • Tour of Stonehenge
  • Tour of the Stonehenge landscape
  • History of Stonehenge

There are also ‘Special features’ including ‘The Druids’ and ‘Stonehenge and the military’.

The plan folds out from the card cover at the back.


The Avebury ‘souvenir guide’ is published by the National Trust with text by Ros Cleal. This is the 2013 reprint of the 2008 edition. Cost: £4.

The main sections are:

  • Windmill Hill and earlier Neolithic Avebury
  • West Kennet long barrow
  • The Henge
  • Stones
  • Circles within circles
  • Avenues
  • The Cove
  • Silbury Hill
  • The Sanctuary
  • Death and burial in the Bronze Age
  • Burying stones
  • Destruction
  • Avebury people
  • Avebury church and village
  • Avebury Manor
  • Wild Avebury

Walking Prehistoric Landscapes


One of the joys of visiting Stonehenge and Avebury has been exploring the immediate vicinity of the stones. Now that the Stonehenge visitor centre has started to encourage visitors to see the structure in a wider setting, it is helpful to think about some of the ways of identifying walks and paths.

Wessex Archaeology produced Beyond Stonehenge subtitled A guide to Stonehenge and its prehistoric landscape (2nd ed. 1991). The sections are:

  • Before Stonehenge
  • The first Stonehenge
  • Stonehenge abandoned
  • The stones arrive
  • Fields and farms
  • The search for the past
  • Visitor information and guide map


The National Trust produced a folder, Walking around Avebury (1997). The booklet part has sections on:

  • The south-western sector
  • The barber surgeon
  • The southern inner circle and other stones
  • The entrance stones and the ring stone
  • The view from the bank
  • The cover and the northern circle
  • The Swindon stone
  • John Aubrey (1626-1697)
  • William Stukeley (1687-1765)
  • Alexander Keiller (1889-1955)

Tucked into the pack are three separate leaflets:

  • The Ridgeway
  • Windmill Hill
  • Falkner’s Circle & West Kennet Avenue
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