Ten miles south of Swindon (and six west of Marlborough), the Wiltshire village of Avebury is home to Europe’s largest stone circle.
One of the best known prehistoric sites in Britain – and included alongside Stonehenge as a World Heritage Site – Avebury is home to a Neolithic henge monument containing three stone circles.
Unlike its more famous neighbour 20-odd miles further south, access to the stone circles is free. But there’s more to Avebury than just that. The adjacent National Trust site encompasses two main buildings of interest.
The Alexander Keiller Museum, named after the archaeologist who conducted excavations in the village in the 1930s, contains archaeological treasures, interactive displays and children’s activities. The museum’s Barn Gallery is also home to five species of bat.
There is also Avebury Manor, which was recently renovated as part of the BBC series The Manor Reborn. It’s of particular note because it now houses a well put together interactive historic experience. Unlike many National Trust and English Heritage properties, where delicate antiquities are sealed off behind rope barriers, here children are encouraged to clamber on period furniture and investigate exhibits.
As a result, it’s a much more engaging experience that made a tour of the house something to be enjoyed rather than endured. We went with a couple of pairs of friends with a combined total of seven children between us, all of single-digit age. Whether it was trying on period clothing, rolling around on beds or grinding coffee beans – yes, kids, coffee doesn’t grow on trees in cardboard cups! – they all found plenty of fun things to do. It’s a much more contemporary and enjoyable way of catering to a family audience.
Despite the grey and chilly weather, we made a good day of it and even managed to get the kids out to have a wander around some of the stones themselves. (Let’s face it, giant stones are only going to hold a five-year-old’s attention for so long when there are ride-on tractors around.) As you can see from the photos, they had a good time.
Here are six tips for an enjoyable day out at Avebury:
- If this is the kind of thing you like doing, it’s worth investigating National Trust membership before you go. At the time of writing, an annual family membership is £104. By the time you’ve paid for car parking (a hefty £7) and entry to the manor house and the museum – which are both additional costs – you’re looking at around £50 per family for Avebury alone.
- There is both a tea-shop and a cafe which sells picnic lunches and basic hot food, but if you want something more substantial The Red Lion pub is a short walk away and serves reasonably priced, good quality food, from Sunday roasts to burgers. (Their triple-cooked chips in particular are excellent.) Unsurprisingly, it can get very busy so it’s worth planning your day to avoid the peak lunchtime rush – and the kids can head off for a walk around the stones while waiting for food to arrive.
- There’s no proper children’s playground on the site, although there are a few ride-on tractors and a giant draughts board in the courtyard next to the museum.
- There are only a few picnic tables but there is a large grass area adjacent to the museum. On a quiet October Sunday, we also brought a variety of sports gear and had a kick-about and a game of rounders later in the afternoon.
- Bring appropriate clothing and footwear for walking around the stones. It can get quite windy. Grass fields equal mud for much of the year. And there are a lot of sheep too, which equals, well, you know, unpleasant stuff you don’t want to walk in.
- You can access the stones from dawn until dusk but bear in mind that the other facilities don’t open until 10am. (11am in the case of the manor house and garden.)
If you’re looking for a varied but not overly stressful day out, I’d recommend Avebury as an alternative to the tour group chaos of Stonehenge. It may not be as iconic but it is just as impressive and there’s more for younger kids to do without worrying about them getting in the way of big crowds.