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Wiltshire may best be known for Stonehenge, but it offers a whole lot more for travelers who want to delve into history while enjoying the especially picturesque scenery. Experience everything from the most magnificent medieval cathedral in Britain, home to its tallest spire and most well-preserved original Magna Carta, to castles, fascinating museums and nature-filled parks. This is just a short list of the best things to do in this south-west England county.
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Stonehenge is an iconic site in England that everyone should experience at least once in a lifetime. This ancient stone circle is made up of massive standing stones built more than 5,000 years ago. While the reason why it was built has never been proven, the 40-ton rocks dragged across the barren plain to Salisbury Hill have been the subject of widespread speculation for centuries. Theories abound, with everything from it being an ancient healing center or religious temple to an astronomical clock.
Although there is an excellent visitor center nearby, exploring it on your own means standing behind a fence which is why so many often leave disappointed. The best way to see it while getting a real grasp of its significance is to join a Lion Tours’ Special Access tour. Typically guided by a passionate archaeologist or other experts who put the site, its story and mysticism all into perspective, it’s truly a life-changing experience. You’ll get to walk the landscape dotted with burial grounds that surround the stones, get a close-up look for photos without tourist crowds, and stand inside the inner circle, contemplating one of the greatest mysteries of ancient times.
Salisbury Cathedral, Salisbury
Salisbury Museum, Salisbury
Exploring the Salisbury Museum is really a must for anyone who plans to visit Stonehenge. It showcases one of the most extensive collections relating to the stone circle, Old Sarum and the surrounding landscape. It includes the skeleton and grave goods of the Amesbury Archer who is believed to date from 2300 BC. It was one of the richest finds from the end of the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age, with nearly 100 items, some in copper and gold. There’s much more to see, including an excellent ceramics collection and a costume gallery featuring attire from the mid-18th-century on.
Old Sarum, Salisbury
Castle Combe is a storybook village in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Often named among England’s prettiest villages, the alluring streets are lined with homes made of Cotswold stone. Its 13th-century St Andrew’s Church has a faceless clock that’s said to be one of the oldest working clocks in the country. Thanks to its historic charm and good looks, Castle Combe is a popular filming site, used in the original “Dr. Doolittle” as well as “Stardust” and “War Horse.”
West Kennet Long Burrow, Avebury
There are 250 ancient long barrow tombs (elongated mounds used as burial chambers) dotted across the British landscape. The West Kennet Long Barrow is one of the biggest and most accessible. It was constructed more than five millennia ago during the Neolithic period, around 3600 BC, and archaeologists believe it was used for about a thousand years with the remains of least 46 people entombed. Many ancient artifacts such as stone tools, beads and pottery have been uncovered here as well. Inside the burrow that’s built into a chalk ridge is a 45-foot-long hollow passage with four chambers on the side and one at the end. Visitors can even walk through, though the experience isn’t for the claustrophobic.
Avebury Stone Circle, Avebury
Avebury is a Neolithic henge monument which contains three stone circles, around the village of Avebury. One of Britain’s best known prehistoric sites, it contains the world’s largest megalithic stone circle, originally with about 100 stones, while enclosing two smaller circles, built and altered significantly from around 2850 BC to 2200 BC. It’s managed to survive today as a vast circular bank and ditch that circles an area which includes part of the village. Visitors are encouraged to walk the landscape of this ancient sacred place.
The Ancient Beech Trees, Avebury
At the exit of the South East Quadrant of the Avebury Stone Circle, is a grove of beech trees which JRR Tolkien reputedly used to sit under and also took inspiration from. Looking at the vast root system, it’s certainly very Middle Earth. The magnificent roots snake down the embankment like a river of runes, creating an awe-inspiring sight. Among the vibrant green, you’ll notice other colors with bright ribbons tied around the roots and twigs, offerings left by previous visitors.
Old Wardour Castle, Tiwbury
Originally built in the 14th century by a British baron, this historic castle changed hands many times throughout the centuries before ultimately left to ruin during the English Civil War, decimated by a weeks-long siege in 1642. Today it enjoys a picturesque lakeside setting providing visitors with a glimpse of a bloodthirsty past in a place that’s now perfectly serene. The grounds are popular for picnics and there’s a gift shop onsite selling foam swords and axes for acting out medieval battles.
In 1925, after archaeologists examined some aerial photos of a wheat field near Amesbury, they discovered some intriguing dark spots neatly arranged into concentric circles quite similar to Stonehenge nearby. The monument dates to about the same era as its more famous neighbor. Human remains have also been found here along with pottery and other small objects. Today, concrete markers reveal where the original timber posts would have been located.