Durrington Walls, Stonehenge Landscape walk
Explore the link between two of the most important henge enclosures in the country in a less well-known part of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.
An easy walk around the largest complete henge in Britain
While the Stonehenge Stone Circle is known to have been a place of burial in Neolithic times, Durrington Walls was a place where people lived for part of the year and held feasts and rituals. Both sites were in use more than 4,500 years ago. Note: Assistance dogs only please as sheep and cattle graze the fields and there are ground-nesting birds - see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/stonehenge-landscape for more information
Woodhenge car park, grid ref: SU151434
At Woodhenge car park, go through the gate nearest to you and into a field. Walk downhill into Durrington Walls (taking care of rabbit holes).
Henges are large enclosures with an inner ditch and outer bank, built in the Neolithic period around 4,500 to 5,000 years ago. They're believed to be ceremonial rather than defensive and may contain standing stones, a stone circle or timber posts. Stonehenge actually has its bank and ditch the other way round, so is not technically a henge.
At the centre of Durrington Walls, looking around you, you can appreciate the nature of this henge as an enclosed valley. However, most activity here happened before the henge was built. Standing here then, 4,500 years ago, you would have been viewing several shrines around the slopes. Next, turn left and walk to the corner of this field. Pass through gates either side of the road, heading towards a low rock.
The largest complete henge in Britain is 640ft (500m) in diameter and encloses a natural valley. It may have been built to 'close off' the area once it fell out of use. This area contained timber circles and what seem to have been shrines. The area outside the ditch and bank (and partly under it) was once a settlement, perhaps containing hundreds of houses, making Durrington Walls potentially the largest village in north-west Europe at the time. People and their livestock travelled from across the country to feast and take part in ceremonies at the midwinter solstice.
The Cuckoo Stone is one of very few stones in the area that is made from sarsen most local rock is chalk or flint. From here, continue forward, keeping the fenceline on your right, to the next gate.
The Cuckoo Stone
This former standing stone now lies on its side, alongside its original natural site. Over millennia it has been a focus for Bronze Age urn burials, an Iron Age boundary line, and Roman remains. It's made of sarsen, a kind of sandstone, the same as the largest stones in the Stonehenge stone circle. The reason for its name remains a mystery but probably relates to such a large rock being an anomaly in this area.
You're now on the route of the old military railway between Amesbury and Larkhill, turn right and follow the path.
When you reach a crossroads and National Trust sign to King Barrow Ridge, turn left and follow the shaded bridleway.
To protect archaeology from being destroyed by the plough, we are turning large areas into grassland. Created using a species-rich seed mix harvested from Salisbury Plain, the new grassland is great for chalk downland species, such as Essex skipper.
On reaching the next junction, turn right through a gate to continue along the ridge, crossing the Stonehenge Avenue on your way to a line of 200-year-old beech trees and a fine view of Stonehenge. At winter solstice, Neolithic people may have marked the occasion of the midwinter sunset at Stonehenge, before travelling to Durrington Walls to celebrate the new sunrise.
The Avenue is a two-mile-long ceremonial way, linking Stonehenge with the River Avon and crossing King Barrow Ridge. Interestingly, Durrington Walls is also connected to the river, leading experts to believe the Avon symbolically linked the two monuments, forming part of a ritual journey, maybe leading to the afterlife.
Continue forward to New King Barrows, a fine row of early Bronze Age burial mounds, originally capped in white chalk so they would have been visible from a distance. Return to point 6, turn right and follow the stony track to point 8.
King Barrow Ridge
Ancient round barrows on King Barrow Ridge may be around 4,500 years old. Burial mounds were built for only the most important people. Individuals were buried with grave goods, such as bronze daggers, flint arrowheads and decorated Beaker pottery.
Take a left turn through a gap in the hedge to join the old military railway once more. This leads back to the gate in the corner of the Cuckoo Stone field.
Head across the grassland to Woodhenge and back to Woodhenge car park.
Woodhenge car park, grid ref: SU151434
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