Can You Name The World’s Highest Peaks?

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Nirmal Purja (Image: Daily Telegraph)

A Special Forces veteran has just completed the fastest ever ascent of the world’s 14 highest peaks – in just 189 days. This amazing feat achieved by former Gurkha soldier Nirmal Purja knocked no less than seven-and-a-half years off the previous record.

Take a moment to marvel at this incredible journey of endurance, and then, fellow geographers, can you name the 14 highest world mountains? The answers are revealed in the graphic below.

Soldier Purja said after finishing his task that: “It has been a gruelling but humbling six months, and I hope to have proven that anything is possible with some determination, self-belief and positivity.”

During his series of mountain ascents, Purja also managed to rescue a number of fellow climbers. While descending Annapurna in Nepal, he led a successful search for Dr Chin Wui Kin, left without food, water or oxygen after he became separated from another group. Less than a month later, after climbing to the summit of Kanchenjunga, also in Nepal, he and his team rescued two climbers after giving them spare oxygen supplies.

Purja has now joined a list of just 40 climbers who have completed this ultimate mountaineering challenge. He was accompanied throughout his campaign by a team of Nepalese sherpa guides, and he rated his ascent of China’s Gasherbrum I as being the hardest part.

You may already have a connection with Purja – perhaps he have used in your classroom a stunning image of his of a traffic jam of climbers waiting to ascend Everest (see below). This was widely shared on social media and helped to rekindled a debate about overcrowding on the mountain and concerns it was leading to the deaths of climbers forced to wait for hours at dangerously high altitude.

Finally, the answers! How many could you name without the help of Doctor Google?

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Image: Daily Telegraph

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Kit List For Iceland

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Anyone lucky enough to be travelling to Iceland this Autumn?

To make sure you take everything you need, why not check out this kit list provided by Rayburn Tours?

https://www.rayburntours.com/blog/2019/10/07/iceland-school-trip-kit-list/

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A Visit to Botallack Mine on the Tin Coast

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The Crowns Engine Houses (Photo: P Berry)

Botallack is a key location on the ‘Tin Coast’, part of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site. Much of the landscape of this area was transformed in the 18th and early 19th centuries as a result of the rapid growth of pioneering copper and tin mining – and in the early 19th century, two-thirds of the world’s supply of copper came from this region.

The mining area of Cornwall and west Devon made a massive contribution to the Industrial Revolution in the rest of Britain and also had fundamental influence on mining techniques throughout the world. This was the heartland from which mining technology rapidly spread.

On arrival, you may wish to start by walking through the gap in the wall to visiting the mine Count House which housed the mine office and from where the miners were paid. It is now used as an information centre by the National Trust, and is open from Easter to October for refreshments.

Return to the car park, and then follow the track to pass the steel headgear of the Allen’s Shaft – erected when nearby Geevor Mine attempted to rework the shaft in 1985.

Take the steps to the left down to the coast path besides the ruins of the 1907–1914 phase of the Botallack mining operation. You should be able to pick out the only surviving wall (with an arched window) of the power plant, the circular buddles of the new mill (where tin ore was processed), and the bricked archway of the calciner.

In total, the mines at Botallack yielded 14,500 tonnes of tin, 20,000 tonnes of copper, and 1,500 tonnes of refined arsenic through their working lives.Botallack was nearly abandoned as a business venture in the the early 1840s, but was saved when a rich lode of copper was discovered in 1842. Within a year, monthly profits exceeded £1,000 – or £15 million in today’s prices. In its 1860s heydays, Botallack employed 550 workers, with 340 of them toiling underground. It fell into decline when world tin prices fell, and it eventually closed in 1895. It did reopen briefly in 1907 in response to a rise in tin prices, but no new ores were found, and great losses were suffered.

Below the tall chimney, you can descend the track towards the Crowns, the evocative ruins of old engine houses perched precariously on the cliff edge. This engineering miracle is probably the most photographed mining building in the county, and defines Botallack. Miners used to travel by wagon down a diagonal shaft that ran from the upper engine house for nearly half a mile beneath the sea.

Brunton Calciner, Botallack Mine

Brunton Calciner (Photo: Roger Powley)

Retrace your steps back up the slope to the main mine ruins, and enter through the brick archway into the ruins of the Brunton Calciner. This was effectively a giant oven where ore was heated to 600 degrees Celsius to extract the valuable tin. Arsenic and sulphur gases were released from the baking of the ore, and sucked out of the oven through tall chimneys. The gas bi-product was channelled into the labyrinth of 30 arched chambers that can still be seen next to the calciner. As the gas cooled, it deposited a grey-white crust of pure arsenic on the walls. This was scraped off by miners, protected only from the poison by cotton wool in their nostrils and clay smeared on their skin.

Nearby, you might spot in the undergrowth the remains of the old tin dressing floors where women and children would have broken, sorted and washed the tin ore before it went to be crushed.

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West Wheal Owles (Photograph: P Berry)

Head south on the coast path, until you reach the engine house of West Wheal Owles. This building may be familiar to some, as it was used as the location of Wheal Leisure in the BBC TV series ‘Poldark’. Don’t be fooled though, as it’s appearance was altered on TV with the addition of a shed and a horse whim (winch).

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Wheal Edward (Photo: P Berry)

Continue a little further along the path towards a tall finger of masonry – all that is left to mark the winding engine house which worked the tramway of the Cargodna shaft on the cliffs below. Nearby, you can spot the engine house constructed in 1869 to power the whim and tin stamps of the Wheal Edward, one of the earliest recorded mines in the area.

You can retrace your steps to the car park from here, or if you are feeling energetic you could extend your walk by continuing south along the coast path for just over 2 miles to the headland of Cape Cornwall. On the way, the path passes 19th Century carbine rifle ranges before winding its way through old engine houses and chimneys. You could end your journey at the old chimney stack on the summit of Cape Cornwall which has fine views out to sea of the Britons, reefs that have ripped open the hulls of countless ships over the centuries.

Alternatively, you could return to the car park and then follow the coast path northwards to Geevor Mine or Levant Mine, where a working beam engine is fired into action on selected ‘steaming days’.

 

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New ‘Blue Reserves’ to Protect Marine Environment

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Image: highlandbiodiversity.com

I was fortunate enough to get a few decent days at Ladram Bay in the good weather this month before the storms blew in. Apart from giving me a great opportunity to study the fascinating geology of this part of the Jurassic Coast, I was able to visit some of the locations that have recently received protection as ‘blue reserves’ – new marine nature reserves known as Marine Conservation Zones.

The government has recently announced the designation of 41 new Marine Conservation Zones bringing the overall total in the UK to ninety one. Now, a ‘blue belt’ of protected waters – an area nearly twice the size of England – surrounds our coastline.

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Image: yachtsandyachting.com

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Nine of the new marine protection areas are to be found off the coasts of Devon:

• Axe Estuary
• Dart Estuary
• East of Start Point
• Otter Estuary
• Avon Estuary
• Erme Estuary
• Morte Platform
• North-West of Lundy
• South-West Approaches to Bristol Channel

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Otter Estuary. Photograph: Paul Berry

While exploring the coast path around Ladram Bay, I came across one of the new MCZs at the Otter estuary near the town of Budleigh Salterton. The coast path connects with other footpaths on either side of the estuary, offering great views of substantial salt marsh areas and reedbeds used for shelter by both marine animals and wading birds.

 

The salt marshes include characteristic plants such as glasswort, sea puslane, and sea lavender, and there is a classic saltmarsh zonation from the sea to the head of the estuary, where the influence of freshwater is greater and common reed and hemlock water dropwort grow. On the west of the estuary there is a small area of freshwater reedbed, pools and grazing marsh.

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Photograph: Paul Berry

The Otter Estuary supports a significant population of wintering wildfowl and waders, including redshank, common sandpiper, curlew and red-breasted merganser. Reed warbler, sedge warbler and reed bunting breed on the site.

Incidentally, there were already six existing MCZs in place in Devon, all featuring stunningly diverse marine habitats – Lundy Island, Skerries Bank and surrounds, Tamar Estuary sites, Torbay, Bideford to Foreland Point and Hartland Point to Tintagel.

 

The earliest to be designated was Lundy, which became the UK’s first ever Marine Nature Reserve, before later becoming an MCZ in 2010.

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Image: mpallas.org

Critics have in the past dismissed marine conservation zones as “paper parks” with little control over damaging activities. However, each of the new Marine Conservation Zones has a robust new management plan that considers the requirements of both marine life and local people including fishermen, before establishing measures to protect the unique flora and fauna within. For example, some areas have been closed to scallop dredgers and trawlers to prevent damage to seabed habitats, while others have set up no take zones to protect specific species such as spiny lobsters.

The new bye-laws to prevent damaging activities in Devon’s Marine Protected Areas are also being effectively policed. For instance, Devon and Severn IFCA has recently launched successful court proceedings against skippers and owners of scallop-dredgers operating within protected areas of Lyme Bay and Torbay.

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Drink Tap Water to Reduce Plastic Bottle Use in Iceland

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Photograph: drcellsunshinefoods

Tap water in Iceland is of such good quality – fresh and straight from the glaciers – that it always shocks me to see so many tourists spending out on bottled water.

A recent survey of people in North America and Europe found that 65% of travellers use more bottled water and beverages while traveling than when they are at home. Surprisingly, the main reason cited for this increase in usage (70%) was a concern about the safety of tap water in the host country.

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A new advertising campaign by Iceland’s official tourism website is now trying to encourage tourists to drink tap water when visiting the country and aims to reduce the number of people buying bottled water. It presents Icelandic tap water as the cleanest and best tasting in the world, a luxury product that can be enjoyed for free all over the country, and uses the hashtag #kranavatn (#tapwater).

The campaign is explained in these short videos:

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Disappearing Glaciers in Iceland – OK Glacier and Solheimajokull

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Solheimajokull. Photograph: Paul Berry

One of the highlights of my regular trips to Iceland is a visit to the Solheimajokull glacier in the south of the country. This is one of the most accessible glaciers in Iceland, and it provides an excellent opportunity to study first-hand some of the landscape features created by glaciation. However, it is a glacier suffering net retreat, and a living example of how this natural process is been accelerated by anthropogenic climate change.

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OK Glacier. Photograph: Rice University

More of Solheimajokull later – but this is not the only glacier in Iceland under threat. It is said that the first of Iceland’s 400 glaciers to be lost to the climate crisis has now been officially identified. This is the Okjökull glacier (commonly just referred to as the OK glacier), which a century ago covered 15 sq km (5.8 sq miles) of mountainside in western Iceland and measured 50 metres thick. It has has since shrunk to barely 1 sq km of ice less than 15 metres deep and therefore has lost its status as a glacier.

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Memorial Plaque. Photograph: The Guardian

It’s demise is to be remembered with a memorial plaque – and a sombre warning for the future – which was unveiled by scientists and local people on the 18th of this month.  Researchers from Rice University in Houston, Texas, a leading Icelandic author, Andri Snær Magnason, and the geologist Oddur Sigurðsson led the ceremony at the site in Borgarfjörður,

The plaque forms the first lament to a glacier lost to climate change anywhere in the world, and Is inscribed with these words in both English and Icelandic: “In the next 200 years, all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path.”the plaque reads, in Icelandic and English. “This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.”

The memorial is dated August 2019 and also carries the words “415ppm CO2”, referring to the record-breaking level of 415 parts per million of carbon dioxide recorded in the atmosphere in May this year.

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OK Glacier September 14 1986. Photograph: NASA

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OK Glacier August 1st 2019. Photograph: NASA

Okjökull was the subject of a 2018 documentary called Not Ok, made by Rice University. According to the filmmakers, scientists fear that all of Iceland’s 400-plus glaciers will be gone by 2200.
You can find more information about the documentary at: https://www.notokmovie.com.

Will Solheimajokull be next? Solheimajokull is a very sensitive glacier due to its low altitude (from 1300 metres down to just 100 metres above sea level), and is the most studied glacier in Iceland – and possibly the world. It has been accurately measured since the 1930s, and is clearly a glacier in general retreat – except for a period in the 1600s known as the ‘Little Ice Age’. Solheimajokull is retreating at a rate of up to 10 centimetres a day in the summer months – and it is also thinning dramatically.

Glacier retreat is a natural process within an interglacial period, but Iceland is also constantly changing in response to accelerated climate change. Some of the only glaciers left will soon only be those in the highest latitudes. If current trends continue , Solheimajokull itself will only have a lifespan of between 150 or 200 years – perhaps less.

Solheimajokull translates as ‘glacier of the sun’ and is a 5 mile long outlet glacier, extending from the Myrdalsjokull ice cap that covers the dangerous Karla volcano. It can be reached just a short distance from R1, Iceland’s ring road, and from the moment you turn off from this main road and head inland towards the glacier, there is an ice-created landscape all around you.

At one time in its history, Solheimajokull would have reached this main road, and probably even further southwards towards the sea – but now it takes a drive of 15 minutes or so to reach a car park at the end of the glacier road. When I first came to Iceland back in 1980, the snout or front end of the glacier was right here, making it possible to clamber out of your car and directly onto the glacier. From the car park, there is then a 25 minute walk to reach the glacier’s present position.

The journey from the main road towards the car park follows a melt river that drains the melting ice right out to the sea creating its own outwash plain. This is the Jokulsa river, whose path is constantly shifting, and in places splits into a number of different channels (braiding) as it loses speed and deposition takes place. This river starts as a sub-glacial melt stream and it’s peak flow occurs in June / July when ice melt increases. It is milky-white in colour due to the glacial material it carries, and can at times smell of hydrogen sulphide – giving it the nickname of ‘stinking river’. The Jokulsa runs through the centre of a classic ‘u’ shaped valley created by the glacier as it advanced through this area, creating a wide, open flat valley floor stretching between the steep tall cliffs marking each side. Piles of unsorted material called till which has been transported by the moving ice cover the valley, often in distinct mounds or moraine ridges. Lateral moraines run parallel to the valley direction, while recessional moraines (old terminal moraines) mark previous advances of the glacier and run at right angles across the valley. Older deposits have been covered by vegetation as pioneer plant species become established.

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Melt lagoon in front of the glacier snout.  Photograph: Paul Berry

After reaching the car park, a number of clear paths lead towards the glacier snout. They run alongside a large melt lagoon that has grown up in front of the glacier itself, trapped behind deposited moraine material. Huge bergs of ice that have calved from the glacier now float as partly submerged islands in the waters of the lagoon, which is 60 metres deep in places.

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Calved ice in the lagoon. Photograph: Paul Berry

The rate of loss of ice from Solheimajokull is clearly demonstrated by the fact that this lagoon was not here at all in 2010. One of the lower paths that run along the edge of the lagoon passes a sign that records the amount of retreat of Solheimajokull. It shows the rate of loss of this glacier in recent years – 50 metres in 2017, increasing to 110 metres (that’s the length of a football pitch) in 2018.

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Photograph: Paul Berry

 

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Photograph: Paul Berry

When the snout is reached, there is a great opportunity to get a close up view of some glacial features. Giant boulders known as erratics that have been transported by the glacier now litter the valley floor, amidst a blanket of ground moraine (or till) that has been exposed as the glacier retreated. This is an unsorted and chaotic mix of angular fragments of rock, ranging from large boulders to fine rock flour, moved by the ice acting like a giant conveyor belt.

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Photograph: Paul Berry

Roche moutonees (literally ‘rock sheep’) are chunks of more resistant rock from the local bedrock that have been shaped by the passing glacier. As a result of abrasion by the ice, the upstream side (or ‘stoss’) of the roche moutonees are smooth and polished, often with visible striations (or scratch marks). The downstream side (or ‘lee’) is rough and uneven due to ice plucking.

 

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Photograph: Paul Berry

Kettle holes were formed when chunks of ice were left buried amongst the moraine deposited by the glacier. After the ice melted, the moraine collapsed and melt streams and rain water filled the depression left creating a small lake varying in size from just a few feet to several metres in diameter.

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Photograph: Paul Berry

It is also possible to walk on the surface of Solheimajokull, although you would need to join one of the guided groups that leave from the different vehicle bases in the car park. A guide is needed to find a safe path to climb the ice snout to the top of the glacier, as these routes are constantly changing as the ice shifts and moves. Glacier walkers are issued with safety helmets and an ice axe and are fitted with crampons to assist their progress on the ice.

Most people who are lucky enough to set foot on the glacier are surprised to find that it is not pure white in colour, or clear like a glacier mint. In fact, much of the glacier’s surface is covered by fine black ash from eruptions of Eyjafjallajokull and Karla Volcanoes.

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Photograph: Paul Berry

This cover of fine ash debris helps to form conical mounds on the glacier surface known as dirt cones. They can reach heights up to 2 metres, and have a core of solid ice. Dirt cones are formed when a patch of ash or moraine insulates the ice surface and protects it from melting in sunlight, while the surrounding ice surface is lowered.

Surface ice is brittle, and fractures into a complicated pattern of crevasses (cracks) and seracs (peaks). It often shows a bright blue colour because as natural light hits it, almost all of the colours of the spectrum are absorbed except the colour blue which is reflected.
As the glacier ice melts, it runs on the surface as a network of streams. Theses streams also flow beneath the surface, creating a series of channels that give the sub-glacial ice the characteristics of Swiss cheese. Sometimes surface streams grow large and join together to create landscapes of their own – often given names by the guides like ‘Grand Canyon’ and ‘Chocolate River’.

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Photograph: Paul Berry

Moulins or ‘glacial mills’ are vertical or steeply inclined shafts in the glacier down which melt water pours. They can be up to 10 metres wide and reach right down to the bottom of the glacier, hundreds of metres deep. Moulins are part of the internal structure of glaciers, carrying melt water from the surface down into the ice, often to exit the glacier at base level.

For now, about 10% of Iceland is covered with glaciers. The thickest packs are in Vatnajökull – up to 1,000 metres deep. But it has been estimated that the combined disappearance of all the glaciers of Iceland will add about 1cm to global sea levels. This might not seem much, but when that process is replicated worldwide, and includes the many glaciers found in the Himalayas, serious floods could affect hundreds of millions of people.

Somebody once said that memorials are for the living, not for the dead – and it is important that we (the living) respond in an appropriate way to the rapid loss of glaciers and the ongoing impacts of climate change. Since 2014, 56 of the 300 total small glaciers have already been lost in North Iceland, and unfortunately for Ok glacier it is already too late. Solheimajokull may not be far behind.

STOP PRESS!  STOP PRESS!!  STOP PRESS!!  STOP PRESS!

Following the memorial ceremony at OK Glacier, groups in Switzerland are now planning a similar event in the Alps to mark the first-ever death of a Swiss glacier. The ceremony, set for September 22nd, will mark the end of the Pizol Glacier in the eastern Swiss canton of Sankt Gallen. The glacier now measures just 0.06 square kilometres – a little more than a patch of ice near the route of the Pizol mountain’s hugely popular five-lake hike.

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Chasing Geography Textbooks in a Camper Van 7 – Stonehenge and Avebury

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Photograph – Paul Berry

The camper van continues to explore in 2019! The purpose of the project started last year is explained below:

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I often zoom past Stonehenge while travelling on the A303, and haven’t visited this famous monument close-up since childhood. So I decided to spend some time in this part of Wiltshire, enjoying not just Stonehenge itself, but also nearby Silbury Hill and the stone circles at Avebury – important historic sites that combine to form a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

001The textbook inspiration for the location in this blog came from an image of Silbury in the ‘Landforms’ book by Ian Galbraith and Patrick Wiegand, and a picture of Stonehenge from a more recent publication used at the end of my teaching career – the Oxford Geography AQA GCSE textbook.

 

 

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Image: Paul Berry (using PhotoLab Pro)

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Photo – P Berry

Silbury Hill is part of the sacred landscape of Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial sites centred on Avebury. It is the world’s largest prehistoric chalk-built mound, constructed between 2450 and 2350 BC. Although it is only 31 metres high, the whole of Stonehenge would fit on the flattened top with plenty of room to spare. A huge ditch surrounds the feature, and digging it provided the soil and chalk to build the mound. Although it is not possible to climb Silbury, it is easily accessible from a nearby car park and viewpoint. However, the best way to approach this unusual historic feature is a two mile stroll along a footpath from Avebury village.

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Image – P Berry (using Colour Splash app)

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Photo – P Berry

Just a short walk from Silbury is another significant Neolithic site – the West Kennet Long Barrow. This is one of the largest and best preserved examples of a chambered tomb in South England. Believed to have been constructed around 3650 years BC, it is around 100 metres long and inside there are chambers that once housed the bones of 36 individuals. It is possible to enter the first part of the barrow and visit these chambers by passing through giant sandstone pillars that form the entrance. The barrow is constructed from local sarsen stone and limestone, and is topped with chalk dug from two side ditches that have since become silted up

 

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Avebury Image – P Berry (using Photo Lab Pro app)

Not far from Silbury Hill is the impressive henge and stone circles of Avebury. The circular earthwork of the henge is around a quarter of a mile in diameter, and consists of giant bank and ditch. The ditch was originally 2 or 3 times deeper than it is today – as deep as 30 feet – and would have been excavated using just deer antlers as tools. Chalk from the ditch was piled up to form the bank which is curiously on the outside of the ditch, rather than the more common position of being inside of the ditch. Perhaps the builders were trying to keep something inside rather than outside of the earthwork?

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Map – from ‘Avebury Days’ by Steve Marshall

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Photo – P Berry

The henge has 4 entrances at each of the cardinal points of the compass – all in their original positions. Inside of the henge is the largest stone circle in Britain – originally consisting of 100 giant monoliths. In turn, there are two smaller stone circles located within the main one. The stone circles at Avebury were constructed and then altered in Neolithic and early Bronze Age times roughly between the years 2800 BC and 2000 BC. The standing stones of the circles survived largely intact until Medieval times when some were toppled and eventually buried. In the early 1700s, many were destroyed when they were felled into pits and heated by fire before being split by pouring on cold water. Few stones remained standing in the 1930s and at this time the owner of Avebury – Alexander Keiller (who later sold the site to the National Trust, and after whom the Avebury Museum was named) – excavated many of the fallen and buried stones and re-erected them in their original positions. Where stones have been destroyed, their places have been marked with modern concrete pillars.

To explore the stone circles, one should walk clockwise, following the movement of the sun – or ‘sunwise’ – as opposed to anti-clockwise (or ‘widdershins’), which is deemed to be unlucky.

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Photo – Allison Berry

 

Many of Avebury’s monuments make use of the local sarsen stone – an extremely hard form of sandstone. 40 million years ago, this area was a tropical wetland, and thick sand sediments accumulated in some of the lagoons. As the sand dried out and broke into slabs, it absorbed dissolved silica and became as hard as granite. Large drifts or ‘scatters’ of sarsen stones were once common in the Avebury area, but have since disappeared as they became used as a building material. However, about 3 miles away from the village, the ‘Valley of Stones’ still exists, with a drift of around 2000 sarsen stones.
The present settlement of Avebury stands in the middle of the giant henge, and this is the only place in the world where you will find a pub and a chapel inside a historic stone circle!

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Photo – avebury-web.co.uk

From the southern entrance to the Avebury henge runs a double row of standing stones known as the West Kennet Avenue. The stones visible today were restored in the 1930s and extend as a row for around half a mile – although it may originally have continued for several more miles beyond this. This feature is well worth exploring on a short walk from the village.

 

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Image – P Berry (using Photo Lab Pro app)

Stonehenge forms the central and best-known part of this extensive World Heritage Site. Indeed, it is probably the best-known prehistoric site in all of Europe. A modern visitor centre provides a number of additional attractions such as a cluster of recreated Neolithic houses to explore, a 360 degree audio-visual presentation, a museum and also the obligatory shop and café. On the day I visited, it was extremely busy – with between 8 and 10 thousand visitors enjoying the sights. It was interesting listening to the wide range of languages represented – this would have made for a great day of student questionnaire work!

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Photo – Paul Berry

The highlight is obviously the stone circle itself. It can be reached using a shuttle bus service from the visitor centre, but it is a much better experience to walk the 20 minutes or so along a footpath and watch the stones gradually come into view as you make your approach. Once you have reached your destination, a walk around the Stone Circle is the centrepiece of the visit to Stonehenge.

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Photo – Paul Berry

Stonehenge consists of a ring of standing stones, with each stone measuring around 13 feet (4.0 m) high, seven feet (2.1 m) wide and weighing around 25 tons. Stonehenge is a unique prehistoric monument, and there are many different ideas about who built it, when it was built, and why. Theories about its origin and purpose include a coronation place for Danish kings, a Druid temple, an astronomical computer for predicting eclipses and solar events, a place where ancestors were worshipped, or a cult centre for healing. Today, it is generally accepted that Stonehenge is a prehistoric temple aligned with the movements of the sun. Archaeologists believe it was constructed from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC. Radiocarbon dating suggests that the first bluestones were raised between 2400 and 2200 BC, although they may have been at the site as early as 3000 BC.

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Photograph – Paul Berry

Stonehenge is a masterpiece of engineering, and building it would have taken huge effort from hundreds of well-organised people using only simple tools and technologies. Despite this, the stones were dressed using sophisticated techniques, and were erected using precise interlocking joints – unseen at any other prehistoric monument. Stonehenge is actually the only surviving lintelled stone circle in the world, and the stones themselves were brought from very long distances – the bluestones from the Preseli Hills, over 150 miles away, and the sarsens probably from the Marlborough Downs, 19 miles to the north.

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Photo – P Berry

Stonehenge contains more than 350 burial mounds and major prehistoric monuments such as the Stonehenge Avenue, the Cursus, Woodhenge and Durrington Walls. The landscape here is a vast source of information about the ceremonial and funeral practices of Neolithic and Bronze Age people – the earliest stage of the monument is one of the largest cremations cemeteries known in Neolithic Britain.

A great visit – where will the camper van take me next?

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