This walking path links Britain’s two greatest prehistoric sites, Avebury and Stonehenge, and is as epic as the Inca Trail

The Great Stones Way is one of those ideas so obvious it seems amazing that no one has thought of it before: a 38-mile walking trail to link England’s two greatest prehistoric sites, Avebury and Stonehenge, crossing a landscape covered with Neolithic monuments.

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The Great Stones Way is a route using existing paths through the Wiltshire Downs, starting just south of Swindon and ending up at Old Sarum, on the outskirts of Salisbury. As long-distance trails go, this one is quite short, making it perfect for an energetic long weekend, or for more leisurely exploration over a week.

What’s the attraction?
Walking the Great Stones Way takes you on a journey through a landscape steeped in history, allowing you to discover the extraordinary sights our ancestors have left us. These include Iron Age hill forts with commanding views such as Barbury Castle and Old Sarum, while optional loops take you past the Neolithic henges and stone circles at the combined UNESCO World Heritage Site of Avebury and Stonehenge. There is also the option to finish the walk at Salisbury’s majestic medieval cathedral. The first part of the trail heads south through the rolling open chalk downland landscape of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

“I can’t help thinking how much better it is to arrive at Stonehenge on foot. The comparison that comes to mind, and which I know well, is the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. The experience of trekking to both sites is immeasurably richer, not just because you’ve “earned it”, but because both sets of ruins are only properly understood in the context of the sacred landscape that surrounds them.”

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University of Adelaide research has for the first time statistically proven that the earliest standing stone monuments of Britain, the great circles, were constructed specifically in line with the movements of the Sun and Moon, 5000 years ago.

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The Callanish Stones were erected in the late Neolithic era. They are an arrangement of standing stones placed in a cruciform pattern with a central stone circle 13 metres (43 feet) in diameter, situated near the village of Callanish on the west coast of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Image credit: Gail Higginbottom & Roger Clay / RCAHMS.

The research, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, details the use of innovative 2-D and 3-D technology to construct quantitative tests of the patterns of alignment of the standing stones.

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“Nobody before this has ever statistically determined that a single stone circle was constructed with astronomical phenomena in mind — it was all supposition,” says project leader and University of Adelaide Visiting Research Fellow Dr. Gail Higginbottom, who is also a Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian National University.

Examining the oldest great stone circles built in Scotland (Callanish, on the Isle of Lewis, and Stenness, Isle of Orkney — both predating Stonehenge’s standing stones by about 500 years), the researchers found a great concentration of alignments towards the Sun and Moon at different times of their cycles. And 2000 years later in Scotland, much simpler monuments were still being built that had at least one of the same astronomical alignments found at the great circles.

The stones, however, are not just connected with the Sun and the Moon. The researchers discovered a complex relationship between the alignment of the stones, the surrounding landscape and horizon, and the movements of the Sun and the Moon across that landscape.

“This research is finally proof that the ancient Britons connected the Earth to the sky with their earliest standing stones, and that this practice continued in the same way for 2000 years,” says Dr. Higginbottom.

The circle of the Stones of Stenness is 32.2 x 30.6 metres (106 x 100 feet). Its earthen henge is 45 metres (148 feet) in diameter, over 7 metres (23 feet) wide and over 2 metres (6.5 feet) deep and the circumference is 141.37 metres (464 feet). Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The Standing Stones of Stenness is another Neolithic monument — possibly the oldest henge site in the British Isles — located five miles northeast of Stromness on the mainland of Orkney, Scotland. The stone circle measures 32.2 x 30.6 metres (106 x 100 feet), surrounded by an earthen henge 45 metres (148 feet) in diameter. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Examining sites in detail, it was found that about half the sites were surrounded by one landscape pattern and the other half by the complete reverse.

“These chosen surroundings would have influenced the way the Sun and Moon were seen, particularly in the timing of their rising and setting at special times, like when the Moon appears at its most northerly position on the horizon, which only happens every 18.6 years,” Dr Higginbottom says.

“For example, at 50 percent of the sites, the northern horizon is relatively higher and closer than the southern and the summer solstice Sun rises out of the highest peak in the north. At the other 50 percent of sites, the southern horizon is higher and closer than the northern, with the winter solstice Sun rising out of these highest horizons.

“These people chose to erect these great stones very precisely within the landscape and in relation to the astronomy they knew. They invested a tremendous amount of effort and work to do so. It tells us about their strong connection with their environment, and how important it must have been to them, for their culture and for their culture’s survival.”

Article SourceAstronomy Now

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