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‘A Neolithic miracle’: readers’ favourite ancient UK sites


Explore the Peak District’s ‘hermit’s cave’

Cratcliffe and Robin Hood’s Stride are a collection of gritstone crags and boulders nestled against a Derbyshire hillside not far from Bakewell. It’s a beautiful place with a magical feel. Carved into the base of the cliff is a small chapel – the “hermit’s cave” – and in the next field, the Nine Stones Close stone circle is over two metres high and 3,000 years old. Only four stones remain. Rowtor Rocks, a nearby jumble of boulders, has a plethora of little dwellings carved into the rocks that you can explore. No wonder the local pub is called The Druid Inn
Frances

An eerie morning on the LlÅ·n peninsula

Remains of round houses within the hillfort of Tre’r Ceiri. Photograph: Steve Taylor ARPS/Alamy

The Llŷn peninsula in north Wales has several prehistoric sites, but Tre’r Ceiri Hillfort is particularly spectacular, with its sea views and wonderfully intact hut foundations and walls. Break a sweat as you stride to reach the 485m rounded peak and then it’s just a small leap of the imagination to picture yourself as a lookout scanning the landscape for signs of activity, the smell of gorse wood fires, and the fluting sounds of Brythonic language behind you. You are likely to have the site to yourself, and it’s particularly eerie on a misty morning.
Andrew Speak

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Magical, mysterious Anglesey

Bryn Celli Ddu is a 5,000-year-old tomb. Photograph: Van Spencer Andrew

From a distance, Bryn Celli Ddu, near Llanddaniel Fab, is just a knoll in the landscape. Don’t be deceived. Follow the meandering path to a place where mysteries roam. That grassy mound is a free-to-visit, 5,000-year-old Neolithic tomb: Anglesey’s finest. Squeeze yourself into the chamber then stand, or stoop, in awe at the precision of ancient engineering. Although sunlight penetrates at the summer solstice, at any other time you may shiver. Is that the chilled air or because spirits stand sentinel? Make an offering, a pebble perhaps, and murmur thanks for this memorable moment of wonder.
Van Spencer Andrew

Dorset’s indomitable hill fort

Badbury Rings hill fort is in prime Dorset walking country. Photograph: Adam Burton/Alamy

Drive along a shaded avenue of beech trees in Blandford Forum, Dorset, make a sharp turn up a rather rickety path, and you’ll be treated to the sight of Badbury Rings. This indomitable iron age hill fort has three circles of towering hills protecting a glade at the centre, and once you’ve picked a route and scrambled up you’re treated to a fantastic walk, with views of tumbling fields for miles and the occasional peek at nearby Kingston Lacy. Steep dips between the hills are dotted with wildflowers, and every season has its pleasures here. Once you’ve done a circuit and got a feel for the place, you might wander into the centre of the rings, woodland with a dappled clearing that seems ripe for some kind of druidic activity (or, even better, a picnic). I spent many happy childhood days skipping about the place, and you really feel as if you’ve stepped back in time – it’s a paradise to roam, a breath of fresh air compared with roped-off sites like Stonehenge. Parking is £3 for a day, and entirely worth it.
Ness

North Yorkshire’s 4,500-year-old wonder

Thornborough Henges circles are aligned with the Orion star constellation. Photograph: David Lyons/Alamy

A few miles away, lorries thunder unknowingly up the A1. But even people who’ve lived a lifetime near the jaw-dropping Thornborough Henges have no knowledge of this 4,500-year-old wonder. Wriggle through country lanes north of Ripon and prepare to be amazed. Three gigantic earth circles (one near-obliterated in ancient woodland) are aligned with the belt of Orion, each one a miracle of Neolithic willpower. Even better, go at night and gaze at the stars which inspired them. PS No price for entry. Yet.
Hugh Jones

Contemplate Cornwall’s mysterious underground chambers

Carn Euny’s well. Photograph: Roger Driscoll/Alamy

Carn Euny iron age village in Cornwall is a waist-high labyrinth of ruined huts, complete with rooms and streets. Kids can run amok on the banks, while adults muse on what it would have been like to live here 2,000 years ago. But that’s not all; in the centre of the village is a beautifully preserved fogou, one of the mysterious underground chambers that dot the Cornish countryside. This one, though, has a unique round beehive chamber. Take a while to sit quietly in there – many visitors report a very special energy. Somewhere near St Buryan, free entrance.
Suzy Currell

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Mesmerised by the pagan rituals of County Fermanagh

A bronze age stone carving called Janus, in Caldragh Cemetery. Photograph: Thomas Lukassek/Alamy

Caldragh cemetery sits just off the main road on Boa Island, on Lower Lough Erne in County Fermanagh. A metal swing gate keeps livestock at bay from this early Christian cemetery. Prominent among the tombstones are two ornately carved stone statues that belong to even earlier times. Caldragh’s “Janus” figures are mysterious two-sided relics of pagan rituals or worship. The taller Dreenan figure belongs to this site, whereas his companion, Lustymore Man, was transferred at some point from nearby Lustymore Island. A groove between the Dreenan’s twin faces collects coins and other mementoes from modern visitors to this place of ancient significance.
Steve

Spine-tingling Cotswolds stones

The Devil’s Quoits, is a restored stone circle near Stanton Harcourt in Oxfordshire. Photograph: Vic Powles/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Devil’s Quoits. Even the name is straight outta Midsomer Murders. On the cusp of the Cotswolds, it’s a henge and Neolithic stone circle near Stanton Harcourt, restored by the Oxford Archaeological Society. What secrets the huge stones silently keep is anyone’s guess, but at sunrise the atmosphere is spine-tingling – at any time you could find yourself alone; even many locals don’t know it. Move on to the remarkable remains of a Roman villa, overlooking the River Evenlode at North Leigh, a 15-minute drive. Having communed with antiquity, enjoy coffee and cake at the splendid Cherry Tree cafe in nearby Eynsham.
Max

Winning tip: entranced by Dartmoor’s stone circle

Photograph: Amy Lightfoot

Dartmoor has (literally) tonnes of ancient monuments and standing stones, but my favourite is the stone circle surrounding a burial chamber at Hingston Hill. Best approached from the end of a 350-metre standing stone row, the circle of 26 stones is smaller than some, but magical. A bonus is the continuing walk up over Down Tor, which brings glorious views of Burrator reservoir and beyond – and a chance to contemplate the rituals and creativity of the ancient people who made this wild and beautiful place their home.
Amy Lightfoot



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