17th Nov 2012 2:53pm | By Simon Heptinstall
Explore thousands of years of mystic, historic happenings and ye olde English eccentricity
Wiltshire is surely an epicentre of oddities. From inexplicable crop circles to mysterious prehistoric sites, this quintessential slice of unspoiled England is one of the most baffling and interesting places on the planet.
I’m intrigued by the countless tall tales I’ve heard, and decide the best place to start a tour of weird Wiltshire has got to be Stonehenge.
Theories abound as to how the massive stones – some weighing as much as 50 tonnes – came to be arranged in ancient times. Were they gifts from extraterrestrial beings?
Magically transported through a wave of Merlin’s wizardly wand in the times of King Arthur?
Or simply heaved into place by tough primeval men, for use as an astrological calendar?
However the circle was formed, these mammoth rocks standing on an empty hilltop like the discarded stone lego of giants, are still one of the most imposing sights I’ve ever clapped eyes on.
A £7.80 ticket buys you access to the perimeter of the stones, but rather than stump up that cash, I find a signposted National Trust walk, which loops around the surrounding fields.
From here I can still see the famous stone circle and also get a satisfying sense of its place in the ancient landscape of avenues and fields.
A short drive from Stonehenge, through rolling chalky hills, takes me to its lesser-known Stone Age neighbour, Avebury, one of the biggest prehistoric sites in Europe.
Its sprawling inner and outer stone circles were formed for some long-forgotten purpose, and are connected to the nearby town via a grassy ‘avenue’. This is marked by pairs of large grey stones and leads past ramparts, ditches and tombs.
Naturally, such a mystical scene attracts all the nutters, and I pass groups of beardy druid-types hanging around the various rocks, muttering what sound like charms or spells to themselves.
One old hippy tells me a local legend: if you press your ear to a stone you can hear voices from the past.
I test his theory and strain to catch a whisper from anyone, a Pagan god perhaps, or just a long-deceased worshipper, but eventually give up – his hearing must be better than mine.
Avebury is a real hotbed of quirky old sites.
A short walk away is Silbury Hill – a chalk lump of 40m high, it’s the tallest man-made mound in Europe, comparable in size and age to some Egyptian pyramids.
Its purpose is again unknown – there’s a definite trend here – but legend has it there’s a man on horseback and covered in gold buried in its heart.
Archaeologists have been tunnelling into the mound for years, though, and haven’t found anything yet.
From one burial site to another, the next place on my list to explore is West Kennet Long Barrow – an underground chambered Neolithic tomb.