West Kennet Avenue, a neolithic processional route

By Diliff - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33014611

The area around Stonehenge and Avebury is a UNESCO World Heritage Site containing around 160 separate Scheduled Monuments. One of these is West Kennet Avenue, which is thought to be a processional route between Avebury Henge and the ancient circle known as The Sanctuary on Overton Hill. The Avenue itself was laid around 2,400 BC, long after the Henge and the circle were built. The route is 2.3 km long, 15 metres wide and was originally flanked by 100 pairs of large upright sarsen stones, between 1.2 and 4 metres high, set roughly in parallel lines.

When the antiquarian John Aubrey visited the site in 1643 almost all of the 200 stones were still intact. But when William Stukeley came here around 1720 only 72 had survived demolition or damage by local inhabitants. Around 1930, when archaeologist Alexander Keiller began excavating and restoring the Avenue, only four of the stones were still in an upright state. Thanks to his work, today’s visitors can experience something of the original grandeur of the Avenue.

Walking north along the Avenue towards Avebury Henge you come to a broad valley with, to the west, the 191 metre high Waden Hill (Saxon: Heathen Hill) and in the east, Overton Down (called Hackpen Hill by Stukeley and later cartographers) which lay on the route of the ancient Ridgeway.

The footpath along West Kennet Avenue begins at the southern edge of Avebury Henge on the west side of the modern B4003 road to West Kennet village. The path follows the descending route of the Avenue to the southeast before crossing it just before West Kennet. It is then crossed by the main A4 road and the minor road to East Kennet. So to follow the path to the Sanctuary you have to cross four roads. Crossing the A4 in particular requires extreme care as it is a very busy road.

West Kennet Avenue is owned by The National Trust and supervised by English Heritage. The two organisations share the costs of managing and preserving the monument.

The area contains many other ancient monuments including Avebury Stone Circle and Silbury Hill and the ancient burial site of West Kennet Long Barrow.

Text Harrie Wolters

Translation Alun Harvey



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