Archive for January, 2011

Bath Abbey Tours

Bath Abbey Tours

As part of an on-going project, led by architects Feilden Clegg Bradley, looking at possible future improvements to the Abbey, this month sees the start of a series of archaeological digs in and around the building, which dates back to 1499, (it’s the third church on the site, the original Anglo-Saxon Abbey Church was founded in 757).  There will be seven digs in total, six in the Abbey: choir vestry, shop, near the Montague Tomb, Alphege Chapel, South Transept, and one near the font; the seventh will be outside, between Kingston Buildings and the Abbey.

The digs, which will be carried out by two local firms, Emerys, who will be responsible for the building work and reinstatement, and Cotswold Archaeology, who will carry out the archaeological observation and recording.  The purpose of the digs is to discover what may or may not be possible in terms of ensuring the Abbey is fit for the 21st century.  One possibility to be explored is the installation of an underfloor heating system, drawing on the springs that feed the nearby Roman Baths.
The Abbey will remain open during the work, and whilst visitors may find a few views to be limited and some of the Victorian pews missing, it is also hoped that they will be able to observe some of the archaeological work, perhaps via closed circuit television.

There is an air of excitement at the Abbey as everyone looks forward to seeing ledger stones that have been invisible for 150 years and underground views that were hidden from their predecessors, as well as looking forward to new possibilities.

The work has been made possible due to a generous donation from the Friends of Bath Abbey, who are very interested in the Abbey Development Project.   If you are interested in becoming a Friend, or making a donation, visit http://www.bathabbey.org/friends.htm

 For further information about the Abbey, including the times of services, its history and information about visiting, please visit www.bathabbey.org

BBC – Historic Bath Abbey hosts big archaeological dig

Tower ToursBath Abbey

A Tower Tour gives visitors to the Abbey a chance to look at the building from a very different perspective. There are 212 steps to the top of the Tower

Neeldess to say we offer guided tours of the Roman Baths and Bath Abbey.  Visit our website for more details.
Bath Tourist Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in History

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The Hero Walk – In support of our wounded – 26th June 2011
The Hero Walk is a very tough challenge over the high chalk downs and ridge ways of Wiltshire and Salisbury Plain. At 26 miles it forms a marathon for runners and a great challenge for walkers. This challenge is a diverse trek over marathon distance, going back through 6,000 years of British history; the magnificent prehistoric stone circles of Avebury and Stonehenge need little introduction. The challenge will start in Avebury, where we will be able to get up close to the ancient stones before heading off via the mysterious ancient landmark of Silbury Hill. Silbury is the tallest man-made mound in Europe, however its purpose is still unknown.

Stonehenge - Avebury walk 2011

Stonehenge - Avebury walk 2011

We will then cross the spectacular chalk downs dotted with ancient earth-works, burial mounds and get up close to the enigmatic white horses carved into the chalk. In clear weather we will be able to see more here, as views of other valleys open up to us. The route takes in the highest point in Wiltshire (295m) and travels through the most active crop circle area in the world – keep your eyes open!

Crossing into MOD land you will either walk (or run!) through stunning areas little used by the general public, that have become a haven for wildlife and plants. Our route continues to undulate but the main hills are behind us and we start to anticipate the finish line at the World Heritage Site of Stonehenge. A short section of quiet road is a sign that we are nearing civilisation, and before long the world-renowned ancient circle of stones looms on the horizon before us. There is then time to celebrate with fellow walkers and runners before returning home. We look forward to seeing you there!

Avebury to Stonehenge Hero Walk 2011 Itinerary . . .

The 26-mile walk will take approximately 8-9 hours for fit and strong walkers. Our day starts at Avebury, which lies at the centre of one of the greatest surviving concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in Western Europe. We’ll enjoy Avebury’s magic in the quiet of the early morning before heading via the Silbury Hill.

Help for Heroes 
Help for Heroes

Dropping down into the village of Alton Barnes, we follow the Kennet and Avon canal east. From there we head south and join the White Horse trail to the Pewsey White Horse from where we have fabulous views of the surrounding chalk landscape. We descend the hill and continue along the trail to the Kennet and Avon Canal; this is a fabulous example of industrial revolution engineering. Crossing into MOD land we will either walk (or run!) through stunning areas little used by the general public and a haven for wildlife and plants. After this long day of great views and leg-stretching hills we will reach the final destination: Stonehenge, the most famous stone circle in the world.


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HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours of Wiltshire

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Filming in Wiltshire

Wiltshire is a perfect loction for film and television productions. Working with South West Screen, VisitWiltshire and Wiltshire Council seek to encourage new productions and film making in the area, making it a very ‘film friendly’ part of England. Film Friendly

Wiltshire is a favourite with filmmakers, taking centre stage in a whole range of productions from swashbuckling adventures to Jane Austin classics. Wiltshire continues to be popular with television and film crews, making an ideal location for anything from traditional period dramas to gothic horror films featuring Hollywood stars.

The county was used as the backdrop in productions such as The Wolfman, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and Creation, as well as TV series such as Lark Rise to Candleford and Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

Wilton House (photo: Will Pryce)Anyone who enjoyed the cinema version of Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, will recognise not only Wilton House – which doubled as Pemberley, the family seat of Mr Darcy – but also the magnificent gardens at Stourhead, where Lizzie initially rejects his proposal of marriage.

Filming The Young Victoria at WiltonThe film on the life of Queen Victoria: Momentum Pictures’ The Young Victoria, features Wilton House. Wilton was used to double for Rosenau Castle, Prince Albert’s Coburg and Buckingham Palace.

The National Trust’s Mompesson House in Salisbury’s Cathedral Close achieved celebrity status as the London home of Mrs Jennings in the 1995 Oscar-winning version of Sense and Sensibility, when the leading parts were played by Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman. Wilton House’s Double Cube room was also used for ballroom scenes in the film.

Channel 4's Team Team at Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral took centre stage in the TV production of Mr Harvey Lights a Candle and Old Wardour Castle experienced some modern-day drama when it was used for the filming of Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, while other starring roles have been played by Breamore House and Church (Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders); Heale House (The Portrait of a Lady) and Houghton Lodge (The Buccaneers and Agatha Christie’s Murder at the Vicarage).

Stonehenge is an iconic location – used in the BBC production of Tess of the D’Urbervilles; the lake at Fonthill Bishop was used in the film Chocolat, and Trafalgar House near Salisbury has been used for several films including Amazing Grace.

Filming Cranford at LacockThe village of Lacock, with its cottages and inns dating back to the 15th century was the backdrop to the recent BBC production of Cranford. The village is much admired by film makers; the National trust village and nearby Abbey has played host to a variety of classic films and costume dramas including Pride and LacockPrejudice, Harry Potter and the 2008 film production of The Other Boleyn Girl.

Castle Combe has been called the “prettiest village in England”. A favourite with film makers this stunning village is located at the southern tip of the Cotswolds. The village has played host to many filming productions, the most famous of these being Doctor Doolittle filmed in and around the village in 1966, and recently the village had a major role in Stardust and The Wolf Man.

Lark Rise to Candleford (photo: BBC)Pride and Prejudice was also filmed at Luckington Court, Chippenham, the BBC Tess of the D’Urbervilles was also filmed in Corsham, Walk Away and I Stumble for ITV was filmed in Calne and Chippenham, and North Wiltshire is also the location for the BBC’s Lark Rise to Candleford. The unspoilt streets of  Bradford on Avon make the town a perfect location for films. Scenes from the Charles Darwin biopic, Creation, were filmed in the town.

Longleat house and safari park has been used for a number of film productions and is the location for the BBC’s Animal Park.

Wiltshire also has more unusual film locations: aircraft hangars and runways at Kemble and Hullavington, and with such a big presence on Salisbury Plain, the British Army has many locations available for filming. Swindon provides a useful urban location a short distance from London along the M4 motorway or by train, the STEAM railway museum and designer shopping village provides hstorical and contemporary locations. Swindon has been used as a backdrop for film, television drama and advertising. Norman Foster’s Renault building in West Swindon appeared in the James Bond film A View to a Kill and the Motorola Building in North Swindon was used as a filming location for the James Bond film The World is Not Enough. The National Science Museum outpost at Wroughton airfield, the house of Lydiard Park and the Cotswold Water Park provide unique locations near Swindon.

The Young Victoria filmed at Wilton House

Scenes from Saving Private Ryan were set on the Wiltshire Downs.Kennet“Africa and the plains of America are just over an hour away from London”, or so the movie makers have found. Rolling hills, majestic horizons, open skies and a real sense of space, together with a South West Screen “Film Friendly” star rated council are just some of the reasons for filming in the area.

VisitWiltshire staff will smooth the way for a hassle free shoot.

>>Read more about filming in Wiltshire in an article in Your Wiltshire magazine

Wiltshire can offer Neolithic monuments, stone circles, Saxon and Civil War battlefields, peaceful villages where the old rural traditions are still alive, or historic towns such as Devizes and Marlborough both with unique shopping quarters which make them stand apart. Marlborough has reputedly one of the widest high streets in Europe and is home to Marlborough College, while Devizes has an impressive Market Place.
The area has first class road and rail links with the rest of the country and over half of it is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The area is rich in industrial heritage related to the Kennet and Avon Canal and local industries such as brewing still survive today, with beer still delivered to local hostelries by dray. 

Filming near Marlborough and Devizes include: Time Team – Reconstruction of a timber structure that was excavated at Durrington, Walk Away and I’ll Stumble – Tamzin Outhwaite (2 part drama featuring Avebury), Flog it – Pewsey, How Long is a Piece of String – Savernake Forest and Kennet and Avon Canal, History Mysteries – Open University, and Derek Acorah’s Ghost Town – Devizes, and Wilton Windmill was used for The Victorian Farm produced by Lion TV for the BBC series The Victorian Farm.

The Wolfman filmed in Wiltshire

  Latest NewsCastle Combe
Steven Spielberg  filming War Horse in Castle Combe

Hollywood director Steven Spielberg has to shot his most recent film in Castle Combe.  Based on the 1982 book by author Michael Morpurgo, the War Horse, it will feature Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch and Harry Potter star Emily Watson among the cast. The film is now in post-production and is due for release by Disney in 2011.

>>View coverage of the filming in The Daily Telegraph

We offer private guided sightseeing tours of all these locations.
Wiltshire Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in History

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ROYAL wedding fever was in the air yesterday as airlines and hotels in

Prince William and Kate Middleton marry in April

Prince William and Kate Middleton marry in April

London reported a surge in bookings for the week of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s marriage.

Today marks just 100 days until the ­ceremony takes place at Westminster Abbey on April 29.

Amid growing excitement in Britain and abroad, William and Kate marked the countdown by putting the final touches to a list of around 1,800 people they want to invite to the service.
The couple have been overseeing plans for their big day from their isolated farmhouse in North Wales, travelling to London whenever their schedule has allowed it to sit in on regular meetings with courtiers.
The Prince is currently serving as an RAF helicopter pilot in Anglesey.
One senior aide said yesterday: “They’re both very happy and very excited about it all. It’s not long now.

ì Prince William and Kate Middleton marry in April î

There’s a lot of work to do but they’re doing it in between Prince William’s flying and Catherine’s other commitments.

“We’re pretty much living and breathing the wedding at the moment.”

Many of the key issues, such as the names of the bridesmaids, page boys, the wedding dress designer and its basic design, have already been hammered out in secret.

Kate made a final decision about her choice of designer last week from a small shortlist, according to royal sources.
A stag party venue has been agreed and, despite reports that it will take place in Cape Town, sources close to William have hinted that it will be in Britain or western Europe.
External links:
London Tourist Information

Royal Wedding 2011
Royal Wedding Souvenirs
Sightseeing Tours and Transport

UK Tour guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in British History

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Key Facts

Sport: Sailing, Paralympic Sailing
Capacity: No seats at venue
New or existing? Existing, Permanent
Travel and Tours: See below

Location and regeneration

The venue is a combination of the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy (WPNSA) and the adjoining commercial marina, in Dorset on England’s south coast.

It has kick-started the regeneration of the former Naval Air Station at Portland, now known as Osprey Quay, where new residential, commercial and marina facilities are already underway. It is an exposed spot at the western end of the English Channel, providing some of the best natural Sailing waters in the UK, with facilities on land to match.

About Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour

Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour provides some of the best natural sailing waters in the UK, with facilities on land to match.

The site has already hosted numerous international sailing events, including the 2006 ISAF World Youth Championships attended by over 60 nations.

Getting ready

Work to enhance the sailing facilities at Weymouth and Portland has been completed. The enhancements to the existing WPNSA facilities include a new permenant 250m slipway and new lifting and mooring facilities.

The project was completed on budget and ahead of schedule, providing world-class facilities for elite athletes and the local community more than three years before the Games.

During the Games

Sailing has historically been a non-ticketed event. We are currently reviewing our ticketing strategy with a view to bringing a spectator experience to suit various levels. This may include free ‘Live Sites’; quiet cliff observation points; ticketed venues with TV, tracking and commentary; and ticketed and specific spectator boats.

The ticketing review process is currently underway.

After the Games

The National Sailing Academy will benefit from the improved facilities that the Games will leave behind, providing a state-of-the-art facility for elite training, competition and local community use.

This use has already started: from a community programme through to hosting the Olympic Windsurfing discipline, RS:X class World Championship in 2009. This events programme is extensive and will also include hosting the IFDS (Paralympic Sailing) World Championship in 2011.

About Weymouth
Weymouth’s heritage as a seaport and fishing centre is overshadowed by its 18th century renaissance as a watering-place, and its more recent revival as a popular seaside resort. Most of the finest buildings are remnants of the town’s glory days as a Georgian resort, but there are even earlier houses to be found, including the converted Tudor cottages on Trinity Street.

George III lived in Weymouth, at Gloucester House (now a hotel). Reminders of the monarch are not hard to find; his likeness is cut into the turf of a hill outside the town, and a large statue stands on the busy seafront near the Tourist Information Centre.

 The seafront is the hub of activity in Weymouth, a stretch of golden sand bestrewn with deckchairs and crowded with sun seekers in summer. More relaxing perhaps are the opportunities for fishing and boating in the area. Within walking distance of the town centre are two nature reserves. Radipole Lake is home to birds who love open water, reedbeds and scrubby bushes, and Lodmore offers flood meadows, rough pasture and saltmarsh habitat.

 Weymouth is located between two Heritage Coasts (Purbeck and West Dorset Heritage Coast), and inland from the sea the entire surrounding region has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The town is just north-east of the Isle of Portland, a wonderfully isolated coastal area tenuously joined to the mainland by the narrow sweep of Chesil Beach. Portland is excellent bird-watching territory, with Pulpit Rock a good spot to observe puffins during the early summer. On the north-east coast of the Isle is Portland Castle, one of the best-preserved of Henry VIII’s coastal defenses.

Weymouth Beach
Weymouth Beach

Another, more modern defensive structure is Nothe Fort, built on a headland jutting into Portland Harbour in 1860. It was in service until 1956, and has since been transformed into a living museum, tracing the history of the fort, and in particular the role of Weymouth in the Second World War.

High speed ferries leave Weymouth harbour for the Channel Islands and St. Malo, in France.

Tours and Transport
Histouries UK are able to offer guided sightseeing tours of this stunning part of southern Britain including Dorset and Wiltshire.  We are able to offer tours from London to Weymouth visiting Stonehenge, Salisbury, Bath etc on route and vice-versa – ideal for famailies and small groups.  Maximise your time in Britain during the 2012 Olympics and book a tour (well in advance)

External links:
HisTOURies UK – Private guided tours
Coach Tours and Transport during the Olympics

London Tourist Information
Visit Weymouth and Visit Portland
The Official Tourist Information Website for Weymouth and Portland

Dorset Tourist Guide
Histouries UK – The Best Tours of Dorset and Wilsthire

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A film is set to be made by Hollywood producers on the Glastonbury legend of Joseph of Arimathea and the Holy Thorn.

The £50m-budget film Glastonbury: Isle of Light is set for release in 2012 and has been written and produced by Daniel McNicholl with Galatia Films.

Holy Thorn - Glastonbury Holy Thorn – Glastonbury

A film is set to be made by Hollywood producers on the Glastonbury legend of Joseph of Arimathea and the Holy Thorn.

The £50m-budget film Glastonbury: Isle of Light is set for release in 2012 and has been written and produced by Daniel McNicholl with Galatia Films.

In December the Holy Thorn on Wearyall Hill was cut down by vandals but efforts are being made to re-grow it.

The legend relates to Joseph who planted Jesus’s staff into the ground on Wearyall Hill 2,000 years ago.

A tree grew, and it is believed the hawthorn sprouted from a cutting of the tree. It is one of several Holy Thorns planted around Glastonbury.

Daniel McNicholl said: “This is a British story so I think it needs to be told through British landscape.

“We want ancient Glastonbury to be shot in places like the Isle of Man, Ireland, Wales, and Somerset.

“Clearly the topography is much different than it was 2,000 years ago and we will be using digital effects to take out some of the modern buildings, so it is very much a different place.”

The film producer has said he was aware of the Holy Thorn being vandalised which he described as “punch in the gut” but believes the tree will re-grow successfully.

Avon and Somerset police are still continuing their enquires and a reward of £200 has been offered by the town council for more information.


We offer guided tours of Glastonbury Tor (Isle of Avalon) , Glastonbury Abbey, Challice Well Gardens and King Arthurs Avalon

Glastonbury Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours of Ancient Britain

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SO MANY Japanese tourists are descending on one of Britain’s most

Station manager Teresa Ceesay with one of the signs in Japanese yesterday.

Station manager Teresa Ceesay with one of the signs in Japanese yesterday.

picturesque regions that the local station has put up notices in their native language.
The signs welcome the visitors and direct them to buses, taxis and hotels in the Cotswolds and even tell them where the toilets are.

They were put up in Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire, by station manager Teresa Ceesay, who noticed Japanese visitors constantly asking staff for directions.

Ms Ceesay, whose station boasts the title Gateway to the North Cotswolds, said: “I’d noticed a lot of Japanese people getting off the train and looking a bit puzzled.

“They’d ask for directions in our ticket office but we only have one member of staff. It’s only a few signs but it means a lot to people.”

Chris Dee, who manages tourism in the Cotswolds for Gloucestershire County Council, said: “The Japanese are wary about driving here, so the train is very important and Moreton is the main stop.”

About 50,000 Japanese people are estimated to visit the Cotswolds each year. Almost a quarter of a million visited the UK in 2009, boosting the country’s economy by an estimated £30.4million.

Japanese-born Juri Miyawaki, who owns Juri’s Tea Rooms in Winchcombe, Glos, said English culture fascinated many Japanese people.

She said: “Many Japanese ladies come here because they’re so interested in England’s baking heritage and getting recipes.

Avoid the big crowds and busy tourist coach stops by organising a private guided tour of the Cotwolds.  Get off the beaten track and explore the Cotsolds properly.

Small goups leave fewer footprints……….

Costwolds Tour Guide
HisTOURies.co.uk – The Best Cotswolds Tours

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Bruce Munro’s ‘Light Shower’ is now installed high in the Cathedral’s Spire Crossing where, from Monday 29 November, it will be switched on all day and light will cascade through the fibre optics to the 2,000 teardrop shaped diffusers. Light as gossamer, Light Shower is simply incredibly beautiful. It will stay in the Cathedral until the end of February.

Light Showers Number Crunching:
40,000 metres of fibre
1984 teardrop diffusers
32 rows of 64 drops
8 x 150 watt metal halide projectors
400 man hours to make
232 man hours to install

Bruce Munro’s Water Towers, a maze of huge towers made of stacked recycled water bottles, will be installed in the cloisters in early January 2011. They are illuminated with fibre optics powered by energy-conserving LED lamps, and will change colour synchronized to choral music.

Bruce Munro’s work is currently showing at ‘Contemplating the Void’ at the Guggenheim in New York. His acclaimed Field of Light was seen at the Eden Project in 2008/9. “I am deeply honoured to be invited to show at Salisbury Cathedral” says Munro. “It is a truly amazing building, a magnificent example of English Medieval architecture and craftsmanship.

His new exhibition starts the Friday (14th) at the Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral: http://www.salisburycathedral.org.uk/
Salisbury, Wiltshire, The South of England. The city of the oldest clock in the world and neighbour of the most famous megaliths in the world.

This display is well worth a visit!
Salisbury and Stonehenge Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in Wessex

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Today, we must celebrate John Aubrey’s dramatic rediscovery of Avebury – the world’s largest prehistoric stone circle. 

Avebury Stone Circle today: with its ditches excavated, unsightly cottages demolished, and unnecessary enclosures removed, it’s difficult to imagine the snarl of 17th-century domestic chaos that greeted John Aubrey’s visionary gaze that January morn.

Avebury Stone Circle today: with its ditches excavated, unsightly cottages demolished, and unnecessary enclosures removed, it’s difficult to imagine the snarl of 17th-century domestic chaos that greeted John Aubrey’s visionary gaze that January morn.

Whilst out hunting with fellow royalists during the English Civil War, exactly three hundred and sixty-two years ago. For Aubrey’s heroic retrieval of this vast but (by then) long forgotten Stone Age temple confronted the then-accepted notion that only the coming of the Romans had forced a degree of culture upon the barbaric Ancient British, and also confounded the then-popular 17th-century belief – propounded by the highly influential Scandinavian antiquaries Olaus Magnus and Ole Worm – that all such megalithic culture had its archaic origins in Europe’s far north. Indeed, so rich were the cultural implications of John Aubrey’s re-discovery that – come the fall of Oliver Cromwell’s 11-year-long Commonwealth and the subsequent Restoration of the Monarchy – even the returned King Charles II would himself insist on taking one of Aubrey’s celebrated tours of the Avebury area. But how could the world’s largest stone circle have suffered such a total cultural extinction in the first place? Why, the Avebury standing stones themselves must average at least ten feet in height apiece, while the temple’s enormously bulky northern and southern entrance stones rivalled even nearby Stonehenge’s celebrated trilithons. And how could Avebury’s vast 400-metre-diameter earthen embankment and the equally deep ditch that encircled these huge monoliths have for several centuries become invisible even to local historians? Ironically perhaps, the initial blame for this pagan temple’s centuries in cultural oblivion goes not to scheming Christians but to the 5th century arrival from Germany of another group of pagans – the invading Saxons – who, recognising Avebury’s possible use as a defended settlement, broke with the traditions of the previous Roman and Romano-British occupiers by setting up their homes and farmsteads directly within the mighty earth banks of the temple itself. Blasphemers! Thereafter, many centuries of harsh day-to-day living within the Avebury henge conspired to obscure then finally obliterate all physical traces of this vast Earthen Temple. Saxon ploughing within the henge tumbled soil into the deep ditches, which silted up considerably and became repositories of household refuse. Residents fearful of disturbing the ‘Devil’s work’ incorporated the Avebury megaliths into the hedges of their allotments, gardens, fields, and even saved energy by employing those monoliths most vertically aligned as supporting walls for their stone cottages. And when villagers lost their fears of the stones, deep pits were dug into whose depths several of the most intrusive monoliths were unceremoniously tumbled. Thereafter, the magnificent geometric shape of this robust 4,500 year-old landscape temple became lost in the chaos of domesticity; until that fateful day three hundred and sixty-two years ago, that is, when John Aubrey and his friend Dr. Walter Charleton joined their hunting party and galloped westwards across Fyfield Down along the chalky London-Bath ‘rode’. Aubrey himself recounts in his posthumously published two-volume tome Monumenta Britannica:

“The chase led us at length through the village of Avebury, into the closes there: where I was wonderfully surprised at the sight of those vast stones: of which I had never heard before… I observed in the enclosures some segments of rude circles, made with these stones; whence I concluded, they had been in the old time complete.”

It’s been my experience that no story about Avebury ever concludes without some vicious act of destruction by some pious know-it-all or other; this On This Deity entry is no different. For, despite King Charles II’s fascination with the Avebury stone circle, it was his return to the English throne that prompted the temple’s most vivid and desperate period of destruction. For in their determination to stamp out the Non-Conformism of Cromwell’s time, Charles II’s paranoid Restoration Government in 1665 passed the Five Mile Act (or Non-Conformist Act 1665), which specifically forbade all itinerant Non-Conformist preachers from speaking within five miles of their old parishes. Avebury stone circle is nine miles south of Swindon, eight miles north-east of Devizes, five miles west of Marlborough and six miles east of Calne. Non-conformist preachers throughout northern Wiltshire looked to the ancient pagan temple and regarded the Five Mile Act as a divine sign: let us make our new home here, and every pagan stone we break we’ll make righteous by incorporating it into our Non-Conformist church. And so to Avebury they did come and such destruction so they did: the church remains at the circle’s centre even to this day, self-effacing and easily overlooked but engorged nevertheless with as many splendid sarsen stones of that former 4,500 year-old monument as those Non-Conformist preachers could muster. Our hero John Aubrey would, for his pains, die unpublished and in penury. Today, however, his legend burns with an unquenchable fame due to that pioneering archaeological tome Monumenta Britannica, that gossipy biography of his many contemporaries Brief Lives, and – most of all – for that splendid vision of Avebury exactly three hundred and sixty-two years ago today. To John Aubrey – Culture Hero and how!

Stonehenge and Avebury Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours of Ancient Britain

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Archaeologists hail oldest wooden structure ever found on river, despite security services’ armed response to researchers
The headquarters of MI6 on the banks of the Thames in London. Photograph: Bertrand Langlois/AFP/Getty Images
The headquarters of MI6 on the banks of the Thames in London. Photograph: Bertrand Langlois/AFP/Getty Images

When MI6 set up home on the banks of the Thames one secret escaped its watchful eyes. The oldest wooden structure ever found on the river, timbers almost 7,000 years old, have been discovered buried in the silt below the windows of the security services’ ziggurat headquarters at Vauxhall, south London.

The archaeologists who uncovered the six hefty timber piles had to explain to the security services what they were up to when armed police turned up after they were spotted pottering about on a foggy day in the mud, armed only with tripods, cameras and measuring equipment – not, as one spectator had apparently reported, shoulder-mounted rocket launchers.

“They accepted there wasn’t much damage we could do with a tripod,” said Gustave Milne, the archaeologist who leads the Thames Discovery programme that has been surveying the entire prehistoric foreshore, uncovering centuries of ancient wharves, fish traps, jetties and ship timbers.

The timbers, partly scoured bare by erosion of the river bed, the largest up to a third of a metre in diameter, were discovered in work during exceptionally low tides last February, but carbon dating work – revealed in the new edition of London Archaeologist journal – has only recently been completed, proving that the trees were felled between 4790 BC and 4490 BC.

Although the site is now exposed only at the lowest tides, the ancient Thames was narrower and deeper, and Milne believes that 7,000 years ago the timbers may have been built on dry land, possibly at the highest point of a small island.

“The find is very interesting, because in the mesolithic period the people were nomadic hunter-gatherers, living in temporary camps – not at all given to building substantial structures like this,” Milne said.

“At the moment we don’t have enough timbers to give any kind of alignment, they’re not in a straight or a circle – but they could have supported a substantial platform with some form of domestic structure or dwelling.”

The site is just where a smaller river, the Effra, enters the Thames, and it was clearly important to the prehistoric Londoners. The archaeologists, working with experts from the Museum of London and English Heritage, also found worked flint from the same date as the timbers, older pottery, and just upstream, on the far side of the modern Vauxhall bridge, a much later Bronze Age structure.

“There may have been a ford, it may have had some religious significance, or it may just have been very rich hunting grounds – but it was clearly what my colleague at the Museum of London calls ‘a memorable place’,” Milne said.

“We’re just sorting out which are the lowest new year spring tides to go back for another look – if Mr Bond will let us.”

External link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/jan/06/ancient-timbers-mi6-headquarters
Thames Tours: http://www.bestvaluetours.co.uk/

British Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in History

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