Top 10 ancient sites in the UK
The history of our small country of present day Great Britain is one that can be traced back for millennia. It seems that Great Britain was at one time invaded by so many different groups and cultures that our timeline is a fascinating and unique one. As a result it’s hard to throw a stone in the UK without hitting an ancient barrow, burial site or stone circle, there are literally thousands of pre-historic sites. Many are signed or appear on maps but on visiting them it’s hard to really know exactly what you’re looking at. Compiling our list of top 10 ancient sites was a tough job but we decided to start with the Romans and work backwards. We chose a variety of types of sites from a range of eras but all are well worth visiting.
1. Stonehenge / Salisbury
It would have been wrong to compile any list of ancient UK sites without sticking the world famous Stonehenge in the top spot. The site was started here by Neolithic man over 5000 years ago using the most primitive of tools. Today the stone circle stands tall and proud and a brand new world class visitor centre welcomes visitors, telling the story of the stones themselves and the entire area which is part of a larger World Heritage site made up of far more than simply the iconic stone circle.
2. Castell Henllys / Pembrokeshire
Castell Henllys was a fantastic little place that we discovered a few years ago in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Here, an Iron Age hill fort deep in the heart of the National Park has been carefully and lovingly reconstructed right on top of the original site using the same original local materials. Each ‘hut’ contains reconstructed artefacts that archaeologists have discovered and would have been used. Wandering the site is great fun, truly fascinating and incredibly educational as the life of an Iron Age tribal chief is brought to life before your very eyes.
3. Skara Brae / Orkney
The Orkney Islands play home to the best preserved groups of prehistoric houses in Western Europe and one of the world’s greatest Neothlic sites. Many areas of the sites have been carefully excavated and Skara Brae is probably the most interesting of all these. The area has been so well looked after that it’s very easy to understand how pre-historic man would have lived and worked in this beautiful village. The rest of the site covers all areas of Neolithic man from burial sites to stone circles.
4. Hadrian’s Wall / Northumberland
Although definitely not pre-historic, we chose to include Hadrian’s Wall as this ancient wall played such a crucial role in the marking the northern border of the ancient Roman Empire. The wall originally stretched from east to west coast and much of it – particularly in the East is still intact today. Forts and gates or varying sizes formed part of the world every few miles and some of these have great visitor centres, reconstructed and excavated sections to help you really understand what the life of a Roman Legionnaire stationed on the remote outpost would have looked like.
5. Cresswell Crags / Nottingham
Cresswell Crags is probably the least known and yet one of the most incredible sites in our list. A series of caves that run through a limestone gorge, this is part of a larger series of caves that was inhabited by hyenas, mammoths and woolly rhinoceros during the last ice age and more importantly, of the ‘cave men’ who made a home here between 10 and 55 thousand years ago. The caves provided shelter for man during and beyond the ice age and a visit here allows you to see the bones and tools found in the caves as well as ‘cave paintings’ or rather cave carvings that were made here 13,000 years ago.
6. Roman Baths / Bath
Another of the more ‘modern’ sites in our list is the world famous site of the Roman Baths. The current building was built by the ancient Romans on the site of Britain’s only natural hot spring, but records show the first bath was built here almost a decade earlier by the Celts and dedicated to the god Sulis. The Roman baths evolved several times but dedicated the site to the goddess Minerva. The current site is beautifully preserved and a fascinating World Heritage status site.
7. Scottish Crannog Centre / Perth
The Scottish Crannog Centre sits on the banks of Loch Tay in Perthshire. A Crannog is similar to the round houses found in Castell Henllys with the one major difference being that the Iron Age reconstructed dwellings sit out on the loch. Reconstructed on the site of the actual Crannogs, these 2500 year old houses beautifully capture the life of a wealthy Iron Age Scot.
8. White Horse of Uffington / Oxfordshire
Creating white chalk horses and pictures on hillsides has been done for thousands of years. Many of the chalk hillside pictures you see today are relatively ‘modern’ although they vary in age as the chalk blows away or grows over and requires regular maintenance. Because of this it’s often hard to date the pictures and to know precisely how long they have been there but the most famous is probably the White Horse in Oxfordshire (Cotswolds). Archaeologists tell us this horse has been looked after by generation upon generation since around 2500BC when it was first created. The Bronze age site also has a number of other ancient sites including ancient burial chambers, a hill fort and even the legendary site where King George is said to have slain the dragon!
9. Roman Amphitheatre / Chester
The city of Chester is probably more known for its more recent history as the city walls have seen the city thrive throughout Saxon and Norman England. However, it has been included on our list due to its Roman heritage – particularly due to the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre which sit right in the heart of the city. The recently excavated site was used to training and entertainment by the 20th legion and forms the largest Roman amphitheatre in Britain. Pre-dating Hadrian’s Wall, the site is almost 2000 years old and about 2/5ths excavated but it’s clear to see the main entrance ways and the spectator seating.
10. Maiden Castle / Dorset
Maiden Castle is a massive site in Dorset which is owned by English Heritage and is amongst the most complex and largest Iron Age hill forts in the whole of Europe. Several hundred people lived there during that time making it a massive city in an age when most people lived in small family villages. The site is 4000 years old and had several huge ramparts which protected its ancient residents. Wandering around this site a number of information boards will direct and explain precisely what you are actually looking at.