A ring of enormous stones stands in a green field in Wiltshire. The seasons cycle through around them, year after year, but these huge rocks are always still and never changing.
Stonehenge is one of the most famous landmarks in the UK – a British cultural icon. This mysterious ancient site, believed to be a burial ground or perhaps a site of Neopagan worship, was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.
However, Stonehenge is not the only ancient site to explore in England. If you are intrigued by prehistoric UK history there are so many more fascinating places to discover. The ancient Brythonic tribes in England, Wales and Scotland had a sophisticated society here before the Vikings or the Romans arrived.
Once you have seen Stonehenge, set your sights on these other ancient ruins throughout the country – remnants of a much earlier time.
Maiden Castle, located about 8 miles from the town of Weymouth in Dorset, is not really a castle in the modern sense. It’s a huge and complex hill fort constructed in the Iron Age – the size of 50 football pitches.
This spot was constructed in 3,500 BC and it was still being used to defend against the Romans in AD 44. Maiden Castle has larger defenses than anywhere else in the country – the constructors used the natural hilly landscape to their advantage.
According to archaeological excavations here, the fortress was once densely populated and there is evidence of metal working, textiles, grain storage and houses there.
Many archaeologists who have researched Castlerigg have commented on just how incredibly beautiful and romantic the setting is for this particular stone circle. When you stand within it and gaze at the 360 degree view of rolling green hills and ridges all around you, you’ll certainly see why.
It is probably the most dramatically situated of all stone circles in Britain, located to the east of Keswick in Cumbria with High Seat and the mountains of Helvellyn in the background. Castlerigg is also thought to be one of the oldest stone circles, built around 3,000 BC as part of a ritual megalithic tradition.
This visually stunning ancient site has inspired many poets, writers and painters over the century and has been written about by literary greats including Samuel Taylor Coleridge and John Keats.
At this ancient spot, located on the border of Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, you’ll find three main sites to explore: The King’s Men, the King Stone and the Whispering Knights. (What fantastically romantic names!) The legend is that a king and his army were making their way over the Cotswolds when they encountered a witch who turned them all to stone.
The King Stone, representing the petrified monarch, is a huge standing stone that is thought to have been erected in 1500 BC as a permanent memorial to the burial ground located there.
The King’s Men are a ceremonial stone circle that dates back to 2,500 BC – approximately 70 large limestone rocks that have been weathered dramatically by the elements over the years. The Whispering Knights are a burial chamber consisting of four upright stones and a large fallen capstone.
And the witch? She is represented by an elder tree and legend says that if it is cut down, the stones will come back to life.
This beautiful stone circle, located near Penrith in Cumbria, is the second largest stone circle in the country. The stones here date from about 1500 BC and are thought to have been a meeting place for a religious ritual. There are 59 stones here in total and Long Meg is the largest – a towering monolith of red sandstone with megalithic artwork on her surface.
The name comes from a local witch known as Meg of Meldon, who lived here in the 17th century. (If you look at Meg from the right angle, the stone kind of resembles a witch in profile!) The legend is that Meg and her daughters were turned to stone for dancing on the moor and profaning the Sabbath. (Pretty harsh punishment!)
It is said that the stones within the circle cannot be counted – you’ll never reach the same total twice. However, if you can count all of the stones correctly – place your ear to Long Meg and you’ll hear her whisper.
The best known and preserved circle in Cornwall, Merry Maidens Circle is believe to be a complete circle where no stones have been removed over the years – which is quite rare. The stones are neat, evenly spaced and form a perfect circle.
The story of this circle is similar to the fate of Long Meg and her Daughters – a group of 19 maidens were punished for dancing on a Sunday and were turned to stone. To the north-east of the circle you can also find two other large stones called The Pipers and another stone known as The Blind Fiddler, who were said to be the musicians playing for the dancers. These types of legends were likely created by the Christian church in order to impose a particular morality on the locals and to scare them away from pagan rituals.
Explore England’s Ancient Sites
These are just a few of the fascinating and beautiful ancient Neolithic sites that you can find in England. If you love Stonehenge and are intrigued by Britain’s very early history, it’s exciting to know that there are so many other sites to explore.