Can British heritage sites compete on the world stage?

by , Senior Travel Researcher Transport & Travel 10 January 2013
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Our expert panel rated Avebury in Wiltshire as one of the best heritage sites in the world, beating the pyramids of Egypt and the Taj Mahal for visitor experience. Do we take our extraordinary heritage for granted?

Avebury stone circle in Wiltshire at sunrise

With an expert score of 78%, Avebury came second only to the ancient Zapotec capital of Monte Alban in Oaxaca, Mexico, when rated by a panel of Which? experts against a range of criteria.

Most people know the site for its enormous stone circle, but there’s much more to this prehistoric complex, including ancient burial chambers and the vast man-made Silbury hill, dating back around 5,000 years.

Taking on the world

There’s no doubting Avebury’s importance – it is after all a Unesco World Heritage Site – but I was astonished to find that it could compete with iconic sites like Peru’s Machu Picchu or Jordan’s Petra.

But our experts were adamant. On every single aspect that we judged to be important for a great heritage visit, Avebury scored highly. While the stone structures may not be as well preserved as say,Machu Picchu, they are considerably older. Up to 5,000 years older, in fact.

And unlike at its sister site, Stonehenge, the visit is not sanitised. You can turn up at any time, day or night. You can walk freely among the stones and try and imagine how on earth these 40-60 tonne monoliths were moved into place by manpower alone. You can even hug the stones if you feel so inclined.

And where else in the world would monuments of such historic importance be left alone to gently integrate with the landscape and become a feature of everyday life for subsequent generations?

A heritage site without the hassle

So many world heritage sites are ravaged by commercialism and mass tourism. Visitors face overpricing, queues and hawkers, as they are rushed around a site that is mostly fenced off and inaccessible. Not so Avebury. Visitor numbers are intentionally kept low, the site is clean, quiet, free to visit and ecologically and culturally sustainable.

Still not convinced? Nor was I. So I visited on a crisp November morning and I must admit there is something magical about the place. It may not be perched on a mountain-top, but the setting has its own quintessentially English charm. As the world gets smaller and we regularly jet off in search of the exotic, are we becoming blasé about the historic wonders of our own green and pleasant land?

Have you visited Avebury or other British prehistoric monuments? How do they compare to other major heritage sites around the world?

7 comments

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Simon

I wholeheartedly endorse the views and finding in this article. I moved into a house within the Heritage Site around 4 years ago and Aveburys attraction hasn’t faded a jot. Add the newly refurbished Avebury Manor (who saw the programme series “To the Manor Reborn”) and its unique presentation (you can try the beds, touch the furnishings – just take your shoes off!) and you have a wonderful place to visit and enjoy at whatever age

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Nikki Whiteman

Right, that’s ‘Avebury’ added to my to-do list! This convo has made me really keen to visit! I had a look at the full list of top 10 sites, and there are a few on there I’ve always wanted to visit (Angkor Wat and the Valley of the Kings in particular) but it’s fantastic to see somewhere included that won’t cost and arm and a leg to visit!

It wasn’t one picked up by our experts, but my personal favourite is the Terracotta Army site in Xi’an in China. The scale of it is phenomenal, and it’s a place where, no matter which way you turn, there’s a new and fascinating story to learn about the site and the emperor who built it. The Forbidden Palace is also fascinating (and on the Which? list), as is the Summer Palace (both in/near Beijing).

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Magrithea

As a Parish Councillor and resident of one of the hamlets that make up the parish can I appeal to visitors to be considerate about where they park. There is NO parking in the High St. except for residents and their visitors so please, don’t drive past the small carpark opposite the two shops hoping to find somewhere free to park. You will only find a dead end at the end of our charming, but narrow, main street. If you do come, then PLEASE, use the signposted visitors carparks and observe the speed limits as there are people crossing the main road between parts of the henge at all times.

Otherwise, do come and enjoy our unique atmosphere, and do pop into the Community Shop, the Henge Shop or the Red Lion to support local businesses!!

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Tony Devizes

And there is so much in and near Avebury:, Silbury Hill, West Kennet Long Barrow, and just 8 miles south is Devizes, with excellent Museum with the artefacts from Avebury and Stonehenge (and much more, in deceptively large building). Plus Market Place, independent shops, Kennet and Avon Canal (inc Museum and Caen Hill locks) and selection of award winning accommodation.

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wavechange

Though I have nothing against having and promoting world heritage sites, ranking them seems as daft as saying that one composer or artist is better than another.

Hi wavechange. I agree that rating their historical importance would be fairly pointless – we know that they are all important and fascinating sites and your enjoyment of them is rather subjective. But what our experts were looking at was the visitor experience, how well the site is presented, and whether it is possible to learn from and engage with the site. And Avebury scored very highly against all of these criteria.

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wavechange

Thanks Guy. Maybe Classic FMs insistence on ranking well known masterpieces had been irritating me when I posted that comment.

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