The British Isles are littered with the evidence of its rich history, with thousands of historic sites and monuments recording the rise and fall of the tribes, kingdoms, and empires that occupied the land. From stone-age cultures to the Ancient Romans, and Norman conquerors, the UK’s historic sites are diverse and awe-inspiring.
Historic places such as Stonehenge and Bath account for some of the most popular tourist sites in Britain. There are however countless more examples of ancient sites and monuments and historical highlights to visit. The biggest challenge is deciding which are the most significant or important. It has been estimated that Britain has 20,000 scheduled ancient monuments, 26 World Heritage Sites and 600,000 known archaeological sites and more are still being discovered. Added to that are 3,500 historic cemeteries and 4,000 sites of special scientific interest.
We have selected just a small number of historic sites to feature, which straddle the history of the British Isles from the earliest times of occupation. Standing stones have a special place in the mystery of where and how civilisation in Britain first began. The Avebury Stone circle and Stonehenge intrigue us more today than they ever have, for the extraordinary feats of engineering that must have been entailed in sourcing and transporting the stones to their positions where we now find them. One man’s life-long study identified there are 1,502 standing stones in Britain at 1,068 different locations, each one with its own mystery. They are part of the British landscape so no wonder the stone circles play such a significant part in the spiritual celebration of life and the changing seasons as people are drawn to the ancient and unknowable rites of those long lost civilisations.
The mysterious and the unexplained will always intrigue and entice us to find answers, especially as advances in technology and the growing body of knowledge about our history uncovers new insights and information. There are some historic sites that have so far defied explanation and consequently gain their own notoriety. Silbury Hill in Wiltshire for example, is the tallest prehistoric artificial chalk mound in Europe at more than 39 metres high, but its original purpose is still unknown. Now, more than 2,200 years after it was built, we may never know.
When evidence of the burials of pre-historic peoples in specially built chambers was discovered, another matter of great intrigue surfaced for study and research. The West Kennet Long Barrow in Wiltshire and the Belas Knap Long Barrow in Gloucestershire are both exceptional examples for visitors to see. Customs in both life and death are on display all around the countryside, none more explicit than the prominent chalk figures cut into the hillsides. There are several white horses, but the most famous hill figure is the Cerne Abbas Giant.
Cerne Abbas Giant
If history is regarded by some people as a dusty school subject, then a visit to see some of the significant relics of the Roman empire’s time in the British Isles would surely change that opinion. From the northernmost reaches of the Roman stronghold in Northumbria, Hadrian’s Wall and Chesters Roman Fort, to the Roman Palace at Fishbourne in Sussex, still with the original mosaic tiling intact, to the spectacular Roman Baths at the city of Bath, the history of 2,000 years ago will suddenly get a whole lot more exciting.
'A stone is ingrained with geological and historical memories' - Andy Goldsworthy
Please browse our gallery of selected Historic Sites above for inspiration and enjoyment, and click on each of the images to find more useful information and links to help you appreciate each one.