Stonehenge is great and all, but it definitely has its drawbacks. As one of the wonders of the ancient world, it comes with a lot of prestige—and a lot of tourists. Though new facilities at the site are doing a better job breaking up the crowds, you still have to get up pretty early if you want the place to yourself. And no matter what time of day you’re there, you won’t get access to the stones themselves unless you’re one of the first 20,000 people to arrive on one of the solstices.
But what many Americans don’t realize is that there are around 1300 stone circles in the British Isles and Brittany. Which mean you have a lot of options! So if you’d like to put your hands against a stone, or stand in a ring with only the howling wind and maybe a few lambs, check out one of these sweet alternative stone circles.
1. Avebury (Somerset)
Avebury is only a stone’s throw away from Stonehenge. This stone circle is massive—so massive, in fact, it encompasses the better part of Avebury village. You can actually have lunch at a thatched pub (The Red Lion) inside the stone circle (the mac and cheese is particularly delicious). The stones rest like jagged teeth, large enough to be thrones, around the perimeter of the settlement.
If this isn’t Neolithic enough for you, Avebury has a small museum dedicated to its mysterious past. You can see the skeleton of a boy found in the old city walls. Perhaps he was a sacrifice to keep the settlement safe? No one really knows. It’s creepy cool.
Head outside town down a lane marked by ancient pillars made of boulders. Turn right to climb a steep hill. You’ll pass a fairy tree on your way up, its branches decked with ribbons and beads by pilgrims looking for good luck. When you crest the hill, you can see Silbury Hill. Again, no one really knows why it’s there or what it is (I believe the museum speculates it might be a trash heap from the villagers), but it is an impressive sight against the gentle Somerset hills.
Want more cool stuff, do you? Well, just take a left and head for the crest of the hill across the road. That’s where you’ll find the West Kennet Long Barrow, an eerie tomb abandoned to the wind and the rain. You can explore inside (there are a few small rooms to poke your head into). Be sure to take a breather and admire the spectacular view—you earned it, after all those hills.
It’s about a mile and a half back to Avebury, but this hike is well worth the effort. Aside from the museum, everything is free. And aside from Silbury Hill, everything is open for you to touch and explore. (Though, of course, do so with respect. You don’t want to invoke an ancient curse on your holiday.)