Thirty-seven students and three staff visited the prehistoric sites of Avebury and Stonehenge, both in Wiltshire. The aims of this Activity Week event were to explore the past use of these ‘ritual’ monuments in their landscapes and how they have been appropriated in the present by the ‘New Age’ and ‘Heritage’ cults. At Avebury it was possible to wander among the stones in the area contained by the massive earthworks, and indeed walk the full circle around the bank, which provided the necessary contrast with the situation at Stonehenge. There were also fine examples of folk culture to be seen in the tying of ribbons and the deposition of flowers in the trunks and roots of several fine beech trees, whose prominent root systems could have come straight out of an illustration from The Lord of the Rings. Finally, it is an ancient tradition to imbibe from Avebury Well – which in its modern guise has hops, malt and barley added.
The new interpretive centre at Stonehenge demonstrated the use of Neolithic and Bronze Age landscapes in a very accessible form, but without the mention of the modern ‘Druid’ cult or the political issues surrounding lack of access to the stone circle itself. With the closure of roads it is now possible to walk to the monument through the ancient landscape and this was experienced by most of the group, returning on the new shuttle bus. Another interesting area for study was the gift shop with its wide range of ‘Stonehenge Merchandise’ ranging from the academic to the gimmicky, with fridge magnets and chocolate megaliths being favoured by some of the members of staff. Altogether it was a successful and satisfying day giving varied and new experiences to all involved in a pleasant social context.