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WW1 training tunnels found in Wiltshire

Posted on 12th May 2017

Lark Hill has long been associated with the military, who began buying up land on the Salisbury plains after the declining wool trade left the area in an economic slump. The Boer war in 1899 saw the area readied for the military camps but these were increased by the First World War.

Lark hill artillery range

As the army look to renovate areas of Lark hill to make new housing for those in service and their families, the training trenches and tunnels were rediscovered. The archaeologists who worked on the site were delighted. This is the first time anywhere in the world that archaeologists have had the chance to examine, excavate and record such an enormous expanse of First World War training ground,” said Si Cleggett, of  Wessex Archaeology.

There are dangers involved in excavating the area – over 200 grenades have been found on the site, and roughly half of these are still live meaning the archaeologists had to work with experts to unearth the secrets of the dig.

What they have learnt, however, has given personality to an essential part of British history. As the training required the troops to live in the tunnels for the winter of 1916/1917, they left behind graffiti and personal effects along with the detritus of everyday living. One of the later discoveries is that of a red MG sports car, dating from the 1930’s. It could indicate unrest in the lower ranks, as it is suspected to have been belonging to a young officer, and its overnight disappearance was part of a prank.

The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum is a wonderful place to learn more about the significant military history of Wiltshire and the surrounding areas while staying in a Wiltshire holiday cottage. In light of the recent discovery so close to the museum, the local and national interest has increased.

Image Credit: Andrew Haynes (Geograph)

New documents put Wiltshire’s history on the map

Posted on 14th December 2016

If you’re interested in history, you’re in luck, because for the first time ever, historical maps of Wiltshire have been made easily accessible for your perusal. Thanks for the Know Your Place West of England project, countless local locations can be explored through the online database which houses materials covering Stonehenge to Swindon, Melksham to Malmesbury, Royal Wootton Bassett to Bradford-on-Avon and much more.

Renaissance map of Wiltshire, UK

Curious minds will be fascinated to see how Wiltshire has changed over time with these documents, which comprise a mapping resource enabling users to explore their neighbourhood through old maps, archive images and linked information. Over 2171 square miles of Wiltshire is ready to be discovered on the resource, featuring some of the county’s most famous landmarks, including the stone circle at Avebury and the Great Western Railway Works in Swindon with everything in between depicted in intricate detail.

As Wiltshire Council explains, “Alongside historic maps supplied by the British Library and National Library Scotland, you can freely explore Historic Environment Record data from Wiltshire Council.” They continue:

“You will also be able to upload and share your own information about the area straight onto ‘Know Your Place helping to build a rich and diverse community map of local heritage helping build a valuable research tool for everyone; from school children to family historians, planners to enthusiasts of community heritage.”

Over the coming months, more and more maps and images will be added to the tool, with museums across the county identifying itself from their collections to appear in an upcoming exhibition set to tour STEAM in Swindon, Salisbury Cathedral and the Yelde Hall in Chippenham. Charities are hoping to donate drawings and photographs, cementing the human aspect of this mind-boggling installation.

Nerys Watts, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West, told Wiltshire Council: “Know Your Place West of England will be a fantastic resource, bringing together the history of this area so people can discover the ever-changing make-up of the places where they live and work.” The aim of the project is to demonstrate the rich history of Wiltshire and allow both locals and people on Wiltshire cottage holidays to connect with the changing landscape and culture of this amazing area.

Image Credit: John Speed (Wikimedia Commons)

New discovery at Stonehenge confirms dogs always man’s best friend

Posted on 17th October 2016

Dogs are man’s best friend, so the saying goes, and a new historical discovery has now proved that this bond between human and canine may always have existed. At a site near the legendary Stonehenge, an ancient tooth has been uncovered by archaeologists, which is believed to be from a pet dog. The area, which has long been popular with visitors on holiday in Wiltshire, has become the home of yet more pioneering historical discoveries, uncovering new information for archaeologists.

 Dog and owner

The tooth was excavated at Blick Mead in Wiltshire, and is thought to hold the key to understanding the earliest journey ever made in British history. After tests were performed on the fossilised tooth, it was found that the canine owner of the tooth had travelled some 250 miles from York to reach the place where the fossil was found. As carbon dating techniques revealed, this journey was undertaken an astonishing 7,000 years ago.

According to David Jacques, an archaeologist on the project, this is a significant finding. It was not previously known that humans travelled such long distances this early in history.

Scientists say that they know the dog must have been domesticated because of the tooth’s size and shape. It would, however, have had a rather wild diet, eating animals such as salmon, trout, pike, wild pig and red deer.

As the BBC reports, David Jacques said the dog “was drinking from the area when it was young, it went on a journey of about 250 miles to the Stonehenge area with people and it ate what the people were eating on this site at Blick Mead.” He continued, “You would not get a wolf travelling 250 miles but you’re much more likely to get a dog doing that because it’s travelling with its people.”

The discoveries are particularly important because they prove that human populations were visiting Stonehenge 2,000 years before the monument was built. Jacques explains, “Discoveries like this give us a completely new understanding of the establishment of the ritual landscape and make Stonehenge even more special than we thought we knew it was.” So, not only have these findings shown us that the bond between humans and dogs has long been a huge part of our culture, but also that Stonehenge is one of the most important sites in world history.

Discover world history during your perfect trip to Stonehenge

Posted on 07th October 2016

An estimated thirty million hours of labour, 200 monuments and over 240 miles of transport all contributed towards the construction of the extraordinary site that is Stonehenge. A trip to Stonehenge is a priority for many visitors during a holiday in Wiltshire, and for good reason. The remarkable area is of such significance that it has been granted rare UNESCO World Heritage status.

Stonehenge Sunrise

However, with such a high volume of visitors seeking to catch a glimpse of the ancient stones every day, it can be a challenge to witness Stonehenge in all its glory without forward planning. Not to mention the temperamental Great British weather! Of course, visiting Stonehenge is an inspirational experience whatever the circumstances, but there are certain steps you can take to ensure that your day out to Stonehenge is as atmospheric as its mythology promises.

Have an idea of the history

There is much more to Stonehenge than the sheer size of its rocks. To truly appreciate the importance of this heritage site, do a little bit of research into the area’s history before you visit. Of course, guided tours, booklets and exhibitions will give you all you need to know once you arrive, but a small amount of prior knowledge will really open your eyes to enjoy the spectacle you’re witnessing.

Stonehenge is considered one of the most archaeologically rich sites in the whole of Europe, having thus far revealed over 250 archaeological objects, each of which has enabled historians to develop a complex understanding of Great Britain’s prehistoric past. The area that is home to Stonehenge is believed to have been inhabited since around 8,000 BC, with the monuments themselves having been undertaken around 3,100 BC. Believed to have been created to facilitate ancient rituals in anything from sacrifice to astronomy, much remains to be discovered of Stonehenge’s fascinating history. However, what is certain is that the monuments are made out of Bluestone, Sarsen and Welsh sandstone, which was transported some 240 miles using rollers, sledges and rafts to Wiltshire.

A truly incredible feat of human innovation, Stonehenge will broaden your understanding of not only Wiltshire’s history, but world history. Having that little insight before you visit will allow you to ask guides all the questions you’d like to know answers to, and really quench your thirst for knowledge.

When to visit

Stonehenge Greyscale

Due to its high-profile status, Stonehenge maintains a steady level of popularity throughout the year. Whether that be organised tours or people simply popping off the A303 for a glimpse from afar, the site is often buzzing with excitement as fellow visitors mill around the stones and sights. However, if you’re looking for a slightly more secluded trip, avoid visiting in the late morning or early afternoon, as this is when many tour coaches from London arrive. If you are visiting the area independently, the best time to go is either at opening time or in the late afternoon.

Of course, as Stonehenge is located in Great Britain, weather is a central consideration. The monument sits in its original prehistoric landscape with no shelter at the Stone Circle, and so is unprotected from weather conditions. Depending on your preferences, this is an important element to bear in mind. If you are a fair weather walker, plan a visit to Stonehenge during the summer months (and remember to bring your sun cream). The rest of the year, northerly winds blow around the area, so remember to bring extra layers.

Although it may require a little extra planning, Stonehenge is quite spectacular in the rain or on cloudy days, as a dramatic atmosphere fills this ancient arena. Budding photographers may therefore find the winter months the most appealing time for a visit.

Getting to Stonehenge

To make your visit to Stonehenge as seamless as possible, pre-planning your journey is essential. There are various ways to get to Stonehenge, and choosing the best route depends on the level of flexibility and simplicity you desire. Situated near the town of Amesbury and the city of Salisbury, Stonehenge can be found just off the A303 road.

For international visitors, the area is located 70 miles southwest of London Heathrow Airport, and from London visitors can take the M3 and A303 to Amesbury before going west to find the monument nearby. Driving to Stonehenge allows maximum flexibility and independence, as you can arrive and leave whenever you wish, avoiding the larger crowds if desired.

The closest train stations to the site are Andover and Salisbury, from which you can catch a bus or taxi to Stonehenge itself. No public buses run to the location, but direct buses offering audio tours are available. These are called The Stonehenge Tour, and prices begin at £14. Alternatively, you could get a car tour where the driver will tell you all about the history of the site as they lead you around. This option is particularly good for those with accessibility requirements.

If you’re travelling from further afield and don’t fancy navigating your way to Stonehenge, several coach tours operate from areas like London, visiting the site en route to destinations such as Salisbury or Bath. Or, for those who would like to explore the surrounding area in a unique, active way, you can cycle to Stonehenge from nearby Amesbury.

What to do at Stonehenge

Stonehenge Visitor Centre

Image Credit: Sam.hill7 (Wikimedia Commons)

Stonehenge has a plethora of brilliant things to do and see for all ages. Of course, at the top of the list is a walk around the Stone Circle itself, where you can take in the millennia-old architecture of communities who spend thousands of years building these pioneering structures.

The Stonehenge Cursus is a mysterious monument that can’t be missed, with a 3km-long earthwork situated just north of the main monument. Its original purpose remains unknown – perhaps you can formulate some of your own suggestions. King Barrows Ridge is also a must-see at Stonehenge. On the course of the Avenue, this area provides stunning views over the Stonehenge bowl that are perfect for photography and simply taking a moment to reflect.

There is also a lesser-known twin to Stonehenge that is often overlooked, but more than warrants a visit. Woodhenge is a Neolithic site nearby, which is supposed to have been built around 2,300 BC, probably as the remains of a large burial mound. Just to the north are the Durrington Walls, which have been revealed as the site of a significant Neolithic village, where numerous ancient religious activities were carried out. These impressive walls are the largest henge – or earthworks – monuments in the United Kingdom.

However, it’s not just the history that makes Stonehenge an outstanding site. The area itself is of extraordinary natural beauty. As a prehistoric chalk grassland, the area is a rich environment, providing abundant habitats for a diverse array of animals and plants. You may be able to spot the rare chalkhill and Adonis blue butterflies, skylarks and stone curlews, as well as families of foxes, badgers and hedgehogs.

There are also plenty of activities to keep young children entertained during a visit to Stonehenge. The site’s exhibition centre features plenty of hands-on experiences, with relics and items that can be interacted with, plus fascinating installations such as a forensic reconstruction of a man who lived at the circle 5,500 years ago. The ‘Standing in the Stones’ installation is an immersive experience, where visitors can sit inside a simulated Stone Circle with a 360-degree view of the site as it transforms throughout the seasons. Reconstructed Neolithic huts are also open at Stonehenge, allowing you to find out exactly how the site’s ancestors lived. Of course, for those looking to really take in the history of Stonehenge, the museum is full of hundreds of archaeological finds and information.

Numerous events run at Stonehenge throughout the year, from children’s technology demonstrations to late night Christmas events and the highly sought-after exclusive access sessions where ticket-holders are able to actually go into the inner Circle and get up close to the stones. Every year, the stones also open to neo-pagans and druids for the Summer Solstice, Winter Solstice and Spring and Autumnal Equinoxes.

Eating and drinking


With so much to take in at Stonehenge, you’re sure to work up an appetite. Luckily, there are plenty of options for refreshments in the area. The English Heritage centre beside the monument has a small café, located in a glass pod where visitors can enjoy traditional British dishes such as pasties, soups and other regional produce.

Alternatively, why not make the most of the surroundings with a picnic? It will probably be the most scenic you’ll ever experience. Further afield, Amesbury and Durrington are home to several traditional pubs, cafes and restaurants where you’ll be sure to find something to suit your tastes.

Respecting the site

To ensure that Stonehenge remains a site available for all to enjoy into the future, a central aspect of any visit to the monument is awareness and respect. Ongoing conservation efforts are engaged in preserving the archaeological findings at Stonehenge and the monument itself, and visitors are usually unable to go into the inner circle in order to protect the ancient relics.

As an article in The Guardian explains, even when special passes are granted, requests are made to keep the site safe. Writer Mike Gerrard recalls a security guard saying:

“Please don’t climb them or try to chip anything off them, and don’t carve your name on them like Sir Christopher Wren did. You haven’t got a metal detector, I take it? We get all sorts here, you’ve got to be careful. OK, off you go… enjoy them.”

Enjoyment is, of course, key. However, to get the most out of your visit, try to be aware of the cultural relevance of Stonehenge to groups such as neo-pagans and druids, for whom the site is a vital part of their identity and lifestyle. Don’t leave any rubbish in the area – alcohol has recently been banned at solstice celebrations due to littering. A healthy respect for the site will deepen your connection with the area’s atmosphere and mystery.

If you’re considering a visit to Stonehenge, why not consider making a holiday of it and staying right in the heart of the atmosphere in a Wiltshire holiday cottage? A long weekend is the perfect way to experience the monument and its surrounding points of interest, as well as enjoying the beautiful Wiltshire landscape in all its glory.


Take your holiday travels to Old Sarum in Salisbury

Posted on 20th July 2016

Visitors to Salisbury are well aware of the city’s vast historical importance. From the times of the Roman occupation of Britain to the world wars of the 20th century, the rolling green hills of Wiltshire have seen some of the most important moments in the history of the island.

Remains of fort at Old Sarum

Thousands of people have come to the city to enjoy Salisbury Cathedral and gaze upon its copy of the Magna Carta. But there is a site that predates the medieval church. Now more ruins than building, the former Roman fort, castle and cathedral at Old Sarum offers some of the oldest reminders of humans in Britain. For those looking to enjoy a cottage holiday in Wiltshire, a trip to Old Sarum makes for a fantastic experience and is the perfect launching point to enjoy some other nearby Salisbury sights.

If leaving the city to travel towards Stonehenge in Aylesbury, visitors will come upon Old Sarum on their way. Also managed by English Heritage, there are four distinct parts to the site. Visitors can enjoy viewing the remains of the Iron Age hillfort, the stone walls of the Royal Castle, Salisbury’s early cathedral, and finally, plenty of walking trails through the beautiful Wiltshire countryside.

Image Credit: Derek Harper

Iron Age hillfort

Historians believe the site was developed as early as 400 BC. Excavations of the area show that Romans occupied the site around AD when they called it Sorviodunum. The fort was the meeting point for the major Roman roads running through the area. The fort’s gates protecting the fort from attack are still present today.

Remains of the Royal Palace at Old Sarum

Experts still debate about the significance of the area. There is evidence of ramparts inside the fort leading to conclusions about it being a Roman military stronghold. There have been artefacts recovered outside of the hillside fort implying civilian camps outside the walls as well – possibly local people hoping for protection by the Roman occupiers.

Following the Roman retreat from Britain, there is little evidence to suggest local Anglo-Saxon tribes used the site further. It wasn’t until the Norman Conquest nearly 1,000 years later that Old Sarum returned to prominence.

Image Credit: Kjetil Bjørnsrud

A Conqueror’s Castle

When William the Conqueror came to British shores, he decided to fortify Old Sarum. More than that, he constructed a castle on the site. A motte was constructed at the centre of the hillfort, and a new set of fortifications and an outer bailey were built as well.

Stone walls at Old Sarum

It became a military base as the Normans solidified the conquest of the island. The Roman roads to and from Old Sarum made it a key strategic point. Over time, the castle grew to include halls, a system of towers and nobility apartments. A new sheriff of Wiltshire was established in the castle as well.

By 1130, the castle was turned over to Roger, the new appointed Bishop of Sarum and regent for King Henry I during the king’s absences in Normandy. Later, the castle also served for a kind of prison for the queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of Henry II who was accused of inciting rebellion against the king by motivating her sons to rise up against him.

Image Credit: Graham Horn

Salisbury’s other cathedral

Using the castle as a jumping off point, the first Salisbury Cathedral was originally started on the Old Sarum site. The construction was started by decree in 1075. The death of various bishops slowed construction, and the project was initially halted during the 1100s.

Stairways amidst the ruins at Old Sarum

Because of the military presence in and around the castle, there were numerous arguments between the castle’s garrisons and clergy about the future of the cathedral. It was ultimately decided to move the cathedral’s construction to a new site just over two miles away from the castle.

By the 1200s, the current cathedral being built ended support of the Old Sarum castle and its grounds. From then, it slowly became less and less used and eventually was abandoned.

Image Credit: Aurelius99

Walking through history

Although steeped in history, the true appeal of Old Sarum is the beautiful landscape. And throughout the year, you can walk the property and often be transported back in time whilst doing so. The site hosts special events and history re-enactments. There are archaeology events for the kids with hands-on fun. There are knights’ tournaments and battle demonstrations, as well as Roman cavalry displays.

World War II re-enactment at Old Sarum

The entire site offers nearly 30 acres of property. There are numerous walking trails to enjoy. There are footpaths that cross the old fort ramparts and stunning lookouts to see the spires of the famed Salisbury Cathedral. Visitors are allowed to bring a picnic and enjoy nature.

Portions of the property are free to enjoy and dog walking is permissible. For more information about visiting the site, admission prices, and upcoming special events, please visit the Old Sarum website.

Image Credit: fribbleblib

Nearby Attractions

When you have finished enjoying Old Sarum, there are a number of nearby attractions for you to enjoy:

Mompesson House is an 18th-century house located in the Cathedral Close – just over a mile and half away. This Grade I listed house is managed by the National Trust

Just over two miles away, the 21-acre Wilton House is another stately English country home. Its gardens and ornately designed rooms are well worth the visit

Heale Gardens is another architectural gem. Once a hiding place for King Charles II, the beautiful home is under three miles away from Old Sarum