Where to Find Ancient Prehistoric Sites in England

You might know the world famous site of Stonehenge, but prehistoric monuments and sites can be found all over England.

Why not explore your local area and stumble upon an archaeological site you haven’t visited before.

Here are nine of our favourite prehistoric sites from around the country.

1. Long Meg and Her Daughters stone circle, Eden, Cumbria

Long Meg and her daughters
Long Meg and her daughters © Historic England Archive, ref: PLB_K031169

William Wordsworth wrote that Long Meg and her Daughters – after some place in Wiltshire – is ‘beyond dispute the most notable relic that this or any other country contains’.

Long Meg is the largest of the stones, and the site was used as a meeting place at the most significant times of the year. Folklore states that Meg was a witch, who along with her daughters, was turned to stone for profaning the Sabbath by dancing wildly on the moor.

2. Elderbush Cave, Peak District, Staffordshire

Elderbush Cave entrance
Elderbush Cave entrance, flickr Chris Morriss

Caves and rock shelters provide some of the earliest evidence of human activity in the period from about 400,000 to 10,000 years ago as well as continued use through to the more recent periods.

The interiors sometimes served as special areas. Throughout history caves have been used for vital landmarks in the lifespan of humans. They were used for shelter, burials and religious events.

3. Duddo Stone Circle, Duddo, Northumberland

Duddo stone circle
Duddo Stone Circle, photograph by Anne Tate

Duddo Stone Circle, dating from around the Neolithic/Bronze Age, is also known as ‘Duddo Five Stones’ although an excavation in the 19th century revealed one stone is missing.

Made out of soft local sandstone with long vertical grooves from wind exposure, the grooves are said to create a musical sound when the wind blows through giving it its other nickname of ‘The Singing Stones.’

The location is part of the charm, sitting at the end of a permissive footpath between two fields with outstanding views.

4. Fox Hole Cave, Derbyshire Dales, Derbyshire

Foxhole cave
Foxhole Cave, photograph courtesy of Wiki Commons

The site was (re) discovered in 1928 when a curious dog vanished down, what was at first thought to be, a fox hole. The story is that a boy crawled in to retrieve the dog, and reappeared holding a Bear skull (and hopefully the dog).

Excavations carried out between 1928 and the early 1980s found the rest of the Brown Bear along with items from Mesolithic, Neolithic, Beaker, Bronze Age and Roman times, with archaeologists particularly interested in its links to the Palaeolithic era.

5. The Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire/Warwickshire boundary

The Rollright Stones
The Rollright Stones © Historic England Archive, ref: PLB_K022116

The monument was one of the 29 monuments protected in the original Schedule for the 1882 Ancient Monuments Protection Act, and was taken into state care in 1883.

The Stones, apparently, got their name from a legend of a King and a challenge from a witch. The witch told the king that if he could see Long Compton upon his 7th stride, then he would be the king of England, on his 7th stride, a mound arose and obscured his view. The witch then turned him and his army into stone. The King is now King Stone and the witch became a tree, if she is cut the stones will return to life.

6. Devil’s Arrows, Harrogate, Yorkshire

Devil's Arrow
Devil’s Arrow, photograph by G Laird, geograph

Dating from the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age, these three stones stand roughly in a line. The tallest stone is one of the tallest menhir in the UK, standing at 22.5ft. The name comes from a legend about the Devil throwing the stones (or arrows) at the nearby Christian settlement at Aldborough from Howe Hill, but the stones fell short, falling in a line in the field.

The 18th century writer, William Stukeley, wrote that an annual fair, dedicated to St Barnabas but actually in celebration of the Summer Solstice, used to be held near the arrows.

7. Chanctonbury Ring Hillfort, Horsham, West Sussex

Chanctonbury Ring Hillfort
Chanctonbury Ring Hillfort © Historic England Archive, ref: DP147655

The hill fort dates to the early Iron Age, and has been used in various time periods most notably by the Romans. The area is bursting with prehistoric, Roman and early medieval earthworks including a number of round barrows and a Romano-Celtic temple – all the buildings within the ring are Roman.

The monument is a well known local landscape feature, due to the beech trees first planted in 1760 by the then owner, Charles Goring. The trees have been continually replanted by the Goring family up to the present day.

Be careful on your visit, as a long with associations with the Devil, the ring is also said to have been visited by UFOs, witches and fairies.

8. Uley Long Barrow, Stroud, Gloucestershire

Uley Long Barrow
Uley Long Barrow © John M, geograph

Also known as ‘Hetty Pegler’s Tump’ after the 17th century owner of the field, the Uley Long Barrow is a great example of a funerary monument from the Early and Middle Neolithic periods.

Excavations in 1821 revealed human skeletons within the tomb, along with Neolithic pottery and Roman coins, indicating that it has been disturbed in Roman times and possible even later.

The barrow as seen today is largely the result of the excavation and reconstruction undertaken by Dr John Thurnham in 1854 and subsequent repairs in 1871, 1891 and 1906.

9. Wandlebury Hill Fort, Stapleford, Cambridge

Wandlebury Hillfort © Marathon, geograph

Wandlebury Hillfort was built by the ancient British Iceni tribe around 2,300 years ago, and is a rare example of a large multivallate hillfort (a fort protected by two ditches.) The hillfort was later occupied by Romans, with Roman coins and ring, which now sits in the British Museum.

The fort and surrounding hills (Gog Magog Hills) are shrouded in legend, inspiring Sir Walter Scott’s poems Marmion (about a knight that is said to haunt the site) and Wandlebury Ring.

Visit Heritage Is Open or follow #HeritageIsOpen on Twitter to find out more about historic sites reopening near you.

Do you live near any hidden gems? Let us know your favourite ancient ruins in the comments below.

Further Reading

2 responses to Where to Find Ancient Prehistoric Sites in England

  1. Rob Smith says:

    No ruins there but Swanscombe Heritage Park in Kent is the site where early humans dug for flints 400,000 years ago – Britain’s oldest industrial site. A pre modern human skull was found there in the 1930s

  2. John Button says:

    It would be most helpful to provide a link to where to find out about all the 1000’s of other sites, rather than a handful of sites scattered round the country. Especially for those interested but unfamiliar with the subject.

    John

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