I went on a full day Mad Max tour to Stonehenge during my first visit to Bath. The tour made a total of four stops during the day: Castle Combe, Avebury Stone Circle, Lacock, and Stonehenge.
The first stop of the day was Castle Combe, a medieval village that prospered from the wool industry in the 14th century and has not changed for about 500 years. The original Dr. Dolittle, War Horse, and Stardust were all filmed in this village. There are several features of this village that I really loved, including the medieval graffiti on the covered cross and the tomb of a knight who fought in the crusades.
The village is extremely small, has no restaurants or shops, and can be toured in about 20 minutes. The manor house and gardens have been converted into a beautiful hotel that occasionally hosts weddings. The grounds can be accessed through a gate in the wall around the churchyard and you can walk around the outside of the manor house and through the gardens as long as you are not loud or disruptive.
The second stop of the day was Avebury to see the stone circle there, the largest one in England. The stones are free to view and you can walk right up to them and touch them. You just let yourself in through the sheep gate and try to avoid all the small piles the sheep have left in the field. Apparently, the stones help with fertility issues and some women go there to rub their bellies on the stones when they want a baby. Our guide, Colin, gave us a demonstration on how to detect ley line energy with copper rods and everyone was given the opportunity to try.
There is a path along the top of the henge, and you can walk around the outside of the circle to see the stones from higher up. This is the best view of the circle and it is the only way to see both sides, because of the village in the middle of the circle. If you look closely, you can spot buildings constructed of grey stone throughout the village. This is because at one point in history, the villagers broke up the standing stones to make buildings. These buildings are still standing because glacier rock makes for the ultimate building material, since it is five times harder than granite. The place of every stone that was removed from the circle to be used for building is marked with a small concrete block, as shown below.
My least favourite stop of the day was in Lacock, where our tour stopped for lunch after a quick walking tour. Lacock was not as pretty as Castle Combe but is possibly more interesting. Lacock is made up of four streets arranged in a square. There are plenty of pubs and taverns, and it seemed to be a popular lunch spot. One of the pubs, The Red Lion, is the setting of many scenes from the TV show Poldark.
There is also a house between the church and the old tannery/ poor house, that was used as Lilly and James Potter’s house in Harry Potter. The house is private property but you can view it from the street (the street view is the only part of it in the movie anyway). The other cool thing in the village in the 400 year old tithe barn, which is attached to the medieval drunk tank, both of which you can view for free. Everything in the barn is original because it has been well maintained since it was built.
After lunch, we finally set off for Stonehenge. The National Trust has made an effort in recent years to enhance the experience for visitors. There is a new visitor centre with a museum and outdoor display about life in neolithic times and the people who built the stones. It was interesting and very well put together. If you visit in the morning I would recommend going there first. If you go in the afternoon, however, I definitely recommend that you see the stones first because you will find time passes quickly up there and you are going to spend a lot of time walking around them. I thought I had been at the stones for 20 minutes, but it had actually been an hour and a half. Apparently, it is very common for people to lose track of time on the hill and spend hours there without realizing it.
I recommend visiting the stones on a Friday in the summer. You will be able to get much closer to the stones because they move the path back every day to allow the grass to grow back and then move it forward again Thursday evening. The summer path is about 20 feet closer to the stones than the winter path because they give the lawn the entire winter to recover from summer tourists. This only applies to about half the path, as the rest of it is gravel and does not move throughout the year. So, if you find yourself visiting in the winter, you will still be able to get close to the stones on one side of the henge to get your photos and a better look inside the circle.
The stones themselves are absolutely incredible and for more than their gigantic size, and considering that a third of each stone is buried under the ground to keep them upright. Something about the stones just seems so magical, especially close to sunset. Be sure to look behind you if you visit, you will be able to see the curve of burial mounds on the hills all around the area. I loved Stonehenge so much, that I went back a second time over the Christmas holidays. It was still awesome the second time.