When Kevin said he wanted to see Stonehenge while we were in England, I knew I’d need to make the day trip a little more exciting than just seeing Stonehenge. I’d been to Stonehenge before, so I knew that there’s a lot of hype, a lot of people, and in the end you’re really just looking at a bunch of rocks. I set out to find us an exciting day tour that would make our day outside of London more enjoyable for the both of us, and I found that in a King Arthur tour of ancient sites from the Arthurian legend.
Taking a Coach Tour to Stonehenge
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way about Stonehenge. It’s really cool to hear about, all shrouded in mystery, but taking up most of your day to get from London to Stonehenge just on its own is kind of a let down. Stonehenge is about a 2 hour drive from London, and when you get there it’s way overcrowded, and if that’s all you do all day, it feels like you just looked at a bunch of rocks.
But Stonehenge can be so much better than that! You just have to pair it well.
That’s why I was adamant about doing a tour. When I did Stonehenge five years ago with my family, we did a day tour that also included Windsor Castle and Oxford University. Another popular pairing seems to be Stonehenge and Bath.
I didn’t want to do a tour that I had already done, and I didn’t think Kevin was too interested in doing Bath or anywhere else. But I found a King Arthur from Stonehenge Tours (which also has a bunch of other options) that was more expensive than all the other tours but seemed to provide so much more to see.
It was a win-win for both of us since we both like all these myths and legends, and I studied the Arthurian legend in my British Literature classes and I love a good Literary Pilgrimage!
This tour turned out to be a really good choice as well because it was only a small group of people with only 6 passengers. Small groups are great for tours because you can really chat with the tour guide, you don’t have to wait on so many people before the van can leave and go on to the next site, and when the tour guide says “I want to change up the itinerary and go somewhere more exciting” and all 6 people are good with it, then you get a surprise stop!
And that’s exactly what happened with us!
Durrington Walls and Woodhenge
Our first stop was a quick photo opportunity at Durrington Walls and Woodhenge. I’m pretty sure our tour guide actually gave us a little of the archaeology tour coupled with the King Arthur tour and stopped here on a whim.
Durrington Walls is Neolithic settlement about 2 miles from Stonehenge that may have been the largest village in Northern Europe during its time. What you can see at this site is the large henge, the slope and bank that make up a sort of internal ditch, that surrounded a timber circle rather than a stone circle.
Woodhenge is the timber circle monument that may have been used for human sacrifice. You can see concrete posts marking where the timber circle would have been laid out.
There are so many questions surrounding Stonehenge, which is probably what makes it so appealing. Why was it built? How did they build it? How did they transport the stones, many believed to be from south-west Wales?
Admission to Stonehenge is now based on timed tickets due to the sites popularity, so you have to book in advance to reserve a ticket. One of the advantages of the tour group, and a small group in particular, is that you get to Stonehenge right as it opens and can beat the crowds.
Stonehenge is much more enjoyable when there aren’t so many people around. You get to walk around the entire stone circle, seeing it from close up and from far away, and this is much easier done when you don’t have to look past people’s heads. You can also see the burial mounds that dot the landscape. Whatever Stonehenge’s purpose, it was clearly important to be buried close to the site.
Besides the stone circle, the historical site also includes Neolithic house models and an exhibition at the Visitor Center. (Sidebar: I wrote about the Stonehenge Visitor Center in one of my first ever published articles. You can read that here!)
In the King Arthur legend, the Isle of Avalon is where King Arthur’s sword Excalibur was forged and where Arthur was brought after being mortally wounded. Glastonbury Tor is believed to be the Isle of Avalon.
Glastonbury became associated with Avalon when 12th century monks at Glastonbury Abbey (which we’ll come to later) claimed to have unearthed King Arthur’s and Queen Guinevere’s remains.
This was most likely a publicity stunt to raise funds for the abbey, but in ancient times the conical hill of Glastonbury Tor would have been an island, or at least a peninsula, surrounded by marshlands. Even now when the fog settles around the plains, Glastonbury Tor rises like an island from the mist.
This stop on the tour is just a photo opp, you won’t get to climb the top of the hill and St Michael Tower at the peak.
Chalice Well Gardens
In the valley beneath Glastonbury Tor flows the iron-rich waters of the Chalice Well. Fed by the waters of the Red Spring, and so given a reddish hue, Chalice Well has been linked to the blood of Christ, marking the site where Joseph of Arimathea placed the Holy Grail that had caught the drops of Christ’s blood at the Crucifixion.
The well is a place that attracts multiple faiths. Some believe the waters have healing properties, and some simply enjoy the gardens for their natural serenity.
We did drink from the Lions Head Fountain and take in the peacefulness of the gardens.
Next up on the tour is Glastonbury Abbey, where those 12th century monks claimed to have found King Arthur’s remains. The abbey was built in the 7th century, but in the 12th century it suffered from a fire that destroyed most of the buildings. It is believed the “discovery” of Arthur’s remains was a way to garner interest in the abbey to raise funds for rebuilding.
The remains were reburied in the nave in the 13th century, and you can still see the site where they were placed beneath the high altar.
Glastonbury Abbey suffered again under King Henry VIII’s reign and the English Reformation. What remains of the abbey today are picturesque ruins set in open parkland.
Glastonbury is where the tour stopped for lunch, so we hopped across the street to the Abbey Tea Rooms, recommended to us by our tour guide, and it did not disappoint.
Avebury Stone Circle
The stone circle at Avebury is the largest in Europe, originally made of 100 stones and encircling the village of Avebury. The henge encloses 28.5 acres of land. The stone circle is intersected by two roads, cutting the circle into quarters that you can explore. Unlike Stonehenge, you can walk through this stone circle, you can go up to the stones and touch them, and you can have a pint at the world’s only pub inside a stone circle.
Within the stone circle are two more smaller stone circles, and leading away from the circle is the clear avenue of stones. The purpose of this stone circle is also shrouded in mystery.
Avebury is a less popular destination for tour groups because the big coaches can’t easily get into the little village to park. There are fewer people at Avebury and with the stones so spread out there is more room to explore. Avebury wasn’t originally part of our itinerary since our tour operator had stopped offering the visit last year, but it was one of our tour guide’s favorite historical sites, so he easily sold us on changing up the plan to take our small group here, and I’m so glad he did!
Tell me about your Stonehenge adventure in the comments!