Archive for October, 2010

Wessex is the ancient kingdom of the West Saxons that defeated its rivals and created England. The counties of Essex, Middlesex and Sussex remain with us to recall the East, Mid and South Saxons that Wessex conquered but when King Edgar of Wessex was crowned as the first King of England in Bath in 973, Wessex, the dominant and most civilised of the Anglo-Saxon states, ceased to be a government entity.

Kingdom of Wessex Map

Kingdom of Wessex Map

The area with which Histouries UK is concerned was recognised in the early ninth century when the four West Saxon shires, now Counties, were created. The name of each reflected the name of the town on which the surrounding shire was dependent. They were:

West Saxon Shire Shire Town Present County
Dornsaete Dorchester Dorset
Somersaete Somerton Somerset
Wiltunscir Wilton Wiltshire
Hamtunscir Southampton Hampshire

The history of the area goes back much further than this. Its Neolithic inhabitants built a large number of sacred hills, camps, rings, barrows and henges to honour their dead, celebrate the seasons or mark their boundaries. Wessex has an almost unparallelled wealth of archaeological sites including Avebury and Stonehenge. It is a land of myths and legends. Among them are the story of Joseph of Aramathea bringing the Holy Grail to Glastonbury and, perhaps above all the legends, that of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Wessex reached its peak in the ninth and tenth centuries and especially in the reign of Alfred the Great, one of the most remarkable men in England’s long history. He was not only a military genius who reformed the army and established the navy. He was also a learned man who greatly influenced the development of the English language and whose laws formed a base for much of the English law we know today.

In 1066, the Normans came to conquer and brought great changes with them. The name of Wessex fell into the background but the area remained important in the flow of English history. The concentration of its heritage with us now, bears witness to this. In more recent times, the work of writers, Thomas Hardy, in particular, has breathed new life into the use of “Wessex”to represent an area and now there are hundreds of companies that have it as part of their name.


Destination Wessex describes it this way:

“Wessex is the land of King Arthur and King Alfred, of Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy, of Bath and Stonehenge. It was the birthplace of England and England’s heritage remains very much part of the Wessex way of life. It is a land of beautiful countryside, historic market towns and ancient villages not far from London, but in every other way very far from the pressure, pace and congestion of the urban world.”

The four counties have a rural culture. Major urban communities such as Bristol, Swindon and Southampton are situated near the perimeter. Elsewhere, there is a feeling of timeliness. What you see has been there for hundreds of years and there it will be hundreds of years from now. The industrial revolution largely passed it by and, while the modern world may have a degree of physical presence, the flow of Wessex life and the priorities of its people stay much as they were.

The area has a common sense of place that is made up of green fields, hedges and woods, of stone, thatch, village churches and historic inns, of architecture and archaeology, of cows and sheep and horses and wildlife, and a serene balance between man and nature. County boundaries do not affect this. Unless there is a sign to tell you, you will not know when you cross, for example, from Somerset into Dorset. But, if you leave Wessex to go towards London, you feel the change. The pressure, the degree of urgency, the congestion begins to evidence itself. The sense of place has changed.

Wessex is a destination that overseas visitors will recognise, much as they recognise the Cotswolds or the Lake District. It is unique, compact and readily accessible. Beneath its common sense of place is a wealth of variety that can offer memorable holidays to a wide range of visitors. Come and stay for a few days and get to know Wessex, the heart of ancient England.

Cultural Wessex

Wessex Life. Rural, peaceful and timeless. The small market towns and villages, the churches and pubs, the local fairs and festivals, the farms and fields and hedgerows. And the people who live there. The annual Bath & West Show, market days in the small towns, race meetings, and village open garden days. They all reflect the Wessex way of life.

Christian Heritage Five cathedrals, twelve abbeys and some of the finest churches in England. Ecclesiastical history is also reflected in Bishop’s palaces, legends and tradition.

Family History Over the centuries, many people have migrated from Wessex, especially to North America. Wessex has excellent Records Offices where comprehensive data is maintained and family history associations keen to help visitors in tracing their ancestors.

Antiques Antique shops and dealers, shows and auctions are features of life in Wessex. Bath, Bradford on Avon, Shepton Mallet and Sherborne are well known antique centres .

Literary Wessex Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Anthony Trollope, William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, Evelyn Waugh, T.S.Eliot, John Betjeman, Geoffrey Chaucer, T. E Lawrence and many other outstanding literary figures have close associations with Wessex.

Arts and Crafts The arts are very much in evidence. The Theatre Royal in Bath, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the choirs of the cathedrals are perhaps the best known but there are also the local theatres, auditoriums, art galleries and craft centres. Music and drama festivals, art exhibitions and book fairs are scheduled every year.

Historical Wessex

Wessex in History From prehistory to the age of aviation. Special periods of interest are the bronze and iron age settlements, the Roman Wessex, the Saxon kingdom that gave birth to England, the Norman Conquest, Elizabethan Wessex, the Civil War and the Eighteenth century.

Historic Houses of Wessex There are 75 historic houses from which to choose. Some of them medieval, some Tudor and many from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Each reflects the society, culture and history of its time. Also included are some of the charming smaller manor houses.

Architecture The vast collection of ecclesiastical, military, manor house and domestic architecture in Wessex means that the area contains excellent examples of almost every period of architecture in England: Roman, Saxon, Norman, Medieval, Elizabethan, Jacobean, Georgian and Victorian.

Archaeology 40 archaeological sites are in the Wessex inventory including two World Heritage Sites, Stonehenge and Avebury, and the fortress of King Arthur at Cadbury.

Military Heritage This ranges from forts and castles and fortified manor houses to battle sites, regimental history and the outstanding naval, army and air force museums

Veterans Many military personnel from USA, Canada, Australia and elsewhere were based in Wessex during the Second World War. Many left from Wessex harbours on D-Day. The area has many memories for them and much interest for their families.

Download PDF  tourist map of the Wessex area

Wessex Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK  – The Best Guided Tours in Wiltshire

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Let’s be clear, we’re not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes…our often inclement weather is no secret.

Still, it’s reassuring to know that foreign visitors who set foot on our green and pleasant lands don’t love Britain any less because of the rubbish weather.

Routemaster bus crossing Westminster Bridge in central London, during heavy fog‘Could you tell me the way to Big Ben? Behind the blanket of fog you say? Thanks…’ 1000 tourists questioned said they wouldn’t be dissuaded from visiting Britain because of the weather.

New research from VisitBritain has found that tourists – from more than 30 countries worldwide – wouldn’t be put off visiting our shores by the prospect of grey skies.

1,000 potential travellers were asked how much they agreed with the line: ‘I would not want to visit Britain because of the weather there’.

On a scale from 1 to 7, where the latter was ‘strongly agree’, the average score came out at 2.76 – a clear vote of confidence that poor weather rarely dissuades tourists from actually visiting.

It seems foreign travellers are under no illusions that they’ll be met with sunshine though, with around half of those questioned agreeing that ‘wet and foggy’ was an accurate general description of British weather.

 VisitBritain chief executive Sandie Dawe said: ‘This survey shows that Britain’s weather is not as bad as folklore would have us believe.

‘Visitors do not come with a belief that should a few drops of rain fall then their trip will be ruined.’

A brush with an umbrella doesn’t detract from the appeal of the country’s museums, castles and ancient attractions, continues Dawes.

‘Our research also tells us that visitors from overseas come here to experience our world-class heritage and culture, be this Tate Liverpool, Edinburgh Castle, the British Museum or Stonehenge.’

 It never rains on my tours – and thats a promise!  I have 1000’s of satisfied customers who have toured with me who will vouch for me.

Stonehenge Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The best ‘sunny’ tours in Britain

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HE HAS become a byword for an unfeeling brute, but it now seems that Neanderthal Man could simply be deeply ­misunderstood.

Neanderthal Man had a sensitive and caring side, according to new research

Neanderthal Man had a sensitive and caring side, according to new research

Evidence unveiled yesterday suggests that behind that ­low-brow, sloping forehead and crudely ­jutting jaw, lurked a rather ­sensitive and compassionate soul.

Researchers said the sub-­species of modern humans, who lived in Europe and Asia between 230,000 and 29,000 years ago, were actually caring, sharing types who looked after the sick and vulnerable.

The evidence included the remains of a child with a ­congenital brain abnormality who, far from being abandoned, lived to be five or six years old because of ­nurturing.

The researchers, who used new techniques such as neuro-imaging, also cited a ­partially blind caveman with a deformed arm and feet who may have been looked after for 20 years.

Further proof that Neanderthals were committed to the welfare of others was said to lie in their long adolescence – which they could have reached only if older relatives had looked after them.

Dr Penny Spikins, who led the study byYork University’s Archaeology Department, said in the journal Time and Mind: “Compassion is perhaps the most fundamental human ­emotion. It binds us together. The archaeological record has an important story to tell about the prehistory of compassion.”

Stonehenge and Ancient Britain Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in History

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Set in the peaceful Wiltshire countryside beside a lake, Old Wardour Castle, near Tisbury was once one of the most daring and innovative homes in Britain. It was built in the 14th century as a lightly fortified luxury residence for comfortable living and lavish A knight holding a sword in the air with St George's Cross flag in the backgroundentertainment. Today the castle ruin provides a relaxed, romantic day out for couples, families and budding historians alike.

An audio tour, included in the ticket price, tells of Old Wardour’s eventful past and the fighting it saw during the Civil War. The badly damaged castle became a fashionable romantic ruin, and in the 18th century was incorporated into the landscaped grounds of the New Wardour House (not managed by English Heritage, no public access to New Wardour House or grounds).  Today, visitors can still climb the turrets and even imagine themselves as extras in the Hollywood blockbuster movie, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, part of which was filmed here.

SPOOKY TOURS @ Wardour Castle – Hallowen 2010

  • Date: Sat 30 & Sun 31 Oct 2010
  • Property:
    Old Wardour Castle
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  • Children’s Event :
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  • Time: Tours at 5pm (children’s tour), 6.15pm, 7.30pm and 8.30pm
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  • Booking :
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  • Suitable for: Everyone

Experience the eerie night-time surroundings of this haunted heritage site. Travel back to a time when gruesome goings-on were commonplace. We dare those of you who think you are brave enough to join our seriously scary and sometimes light-hearted homage to the past residents of Old Wardour, who refuse to leave. For younger visitors and the faint-hearted a much less terrifying alternative will take place earlier in the day.

Wardour Castle is close to Salisbury, Stonehenge and Bath and could easily be combined into a day tour
Wiltshire Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in Wessex

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Druidry has been recognised as an official religion in Britain for the first time, thousands of years after its adherents first worshipped in the country.

The Druid Network has been given charitable status by the Charity Commission for England and Wales, the quango that decides what counts as a genuine faith as well as regulating fundraising bodies.

It guarantees the modern group, set up in 2003, valuable tax breaks but also grants the ancient religion equal status to more mainstream denominations. This could mean that Druids, the priestly caste in Celtic societies across Europe, are categorised separately in official surveys of religious believers

Supporters say the Charity Commission’s move could also pave the way for other minority faiths to gain charitable status.

Phil Ryder, Chair of Trustees for The Druid Network, said it had taken four years for the group to be recognised by the regulator. “It was a long and at times frustrating process, exacerbated by the fact that the Charity Commissioners had no understanding of our beliefs and practices, and examined us on every aspect of them. Their final decision document runs to 21 pages, showing the extent to which we were questioned in order to finally get the recognition we have long argued for,” he said.

Emma Restall Orr, founder of The Druid Network, added: “The Charity Commission now has a much greater understanding of Pagan, animist, and polytheist religions, so other groups from these minority religions – provided they meet the financial and public benefit criteria for registration as charities – should find registering a much shorter process than the pioneering one we have been through.”

In its assessment of the Druid Network’s application, the Charity Commission accepts that Druids worship nature, in particular the sun and the earth but also believe in the spirits of places such as mountains and rivers as well as “divine guides” such as Brighid and Bran.

The document lists the “commonality of practice” in Druidry, including its eight major festivals each year; rituals at different phases of the moon; rites of passage and gatherings of bards on sacred hills, known as “gorsedd”.

All charities must now demonstrate their benefit to the public, and Druidry was said to qualify since its followers are keen to conserve Britain’s heritage as well as preserve the natural environment.

The document even addresses the claims made by the Romans about Druids committing human sacrifice, but finds “no evidence of any significant detriment or harm” arising from modern beliefs.

It notes that although there are only 350 members of the Druid Network, a BBC report in 2003 claimed as many as 10,000 people followed the ancient faith across the country.

Membership of the Network costs £10 a year but ritual ceremonies such as that marking the summer solstice at Stonehenge are open to all.

Stonehenge Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK.  The Best Tours in Wiltshire

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Although Druids are believed to have existed throughout Celtic societies in Europe during the Iron Age, almost all the surviving evidence about them is found in the writings of later Roman authors.
Druids at Stonehenge

Julius Caesar wrote one of the first, and most detailed, accounts of Druids, explaining that along with the “knights” they were the highest-ranking orders in Gallic societies.

He said they were “engaged in things sacred” but Druids also appeared to function as judges, as they decreed “rewards and punishments” if there were murders or disputes over boundaries or inheritance.

Although they worshipped nature, Caesar claimed that Druids made human sacrifices to appease the gods including burning people to death inside “figures of vast size”, a ritual depicted vividly in the classic horror film, The Wicker Man.

Tacitus claimed the altars of Druids in Anglesey were “drenched with the blood of prisoners” while other Roman authors told how they sacrificed white bulls in groves formed of oak trees.

Pliny described Druids as “magicians” who wore white robes and used golden sickles to cut mistletoe, a sacred plant which they believed had healing powers. This description lives on in the figure of Getafix, the Druid in the Asterix books.

Druidry was suppressed during the Roman occupation but interest in it was revived in the 18th century as the ancient stone circles at Avebury and Stonehenge – which actually pre-date Druids – were examined properly for the first time.

Followers began to hold ceremonies known as “gorsedd”, where bards would gather on hills or sacred mounds, with the first held at Primrose Hill in 1792.

These events continue, particularly at the Eisteddfod celebration of traditional Welsh culture where the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the former Chief Constable of North Wales, Richard Brunstrom, have both been inducted as honorary Druids and given Bardic names.

Druids hold festivals eight times a year to mark stages in the solar and lunar cycles. At the summer solstice, Druids gather at Stonehenge to greet the dawn. One of the best-known modern Druids, who has often led protests against restricted access to the site, is a former soldier who changed his name to King Arthur Pendragon.

See also ‘Stonehenge recognised as a religion in England’ October 2nd 2010

Stonehenge Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in Ancient History

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Stonehenge was attracting sightseers thousands of years ago, archeologists say, after discovering the remains of a Bronze Age boy from the Mediterranean.

The teen is believed to have been part of a wealthy group that travelled 2,500 kilometres from southern Europe to Britain. He died, probably from illness, and was buried about a kilometre away while still wearing an expensive amber necklace.

The discovery of The Boy with the Amber Necklace suggests the stone circle would have been a place of pilgrimage or sightseeing as long as 4,000 years ago.

“They may have come to trade, but visited Stonehenge along the way. It would have been an awesome sight,” said Andrew Fitzpatrick, part of the Wessex Archeology team that made the find.

Stonehenge may have been a top international tourist attraction in prehistoric times – just as it is today.

Stonehenge Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in ancient History

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