Your holiday summary
Art & archaeology
|Price range||From £975|
|Travel partner||Brightwater Holidays|
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An Archaeologist's View of Wessex and Brittany
In Wessex (present-day Wiltshire, Dorset and Hampshire), we take a new look at Stonehenge in the light of recent excavations and visit sites such as Avebury, West Kennet Long Barrow, the massive Iron Age hill fort at Maiden Castle and Fishbourne Roman Palace, thus covering a wide historical range. Crossing to Brittany, long famed for its glittering landscapes and distinctive culture, we will discover one of the largest and oldest cairns in Europe and the amazing megalithic monuments at Carnac.
- 6 nights dinner, bed and breakfast;
- 2 nights at the Holiday Inn Stonehenge (or similar);
- 2 nights at the Hotel de l'Océan, Concarneau
- 2 nights at the Mercure Rennes Place de Bretagne
- All rooms have private facilities
- Return ferry crossing Portsmouth-St Malo, including 1nt accommodation in a twin-berth inside cabin on the outward sailing only.
- Upgrades to outside cabins on the outbound sailing and day cabins on the inbound sailing are available on request
- Comfortable coaching throughout
- Visits to Stonehenge, Salisbury Museum, Salisbury Cathedral, Avebury, Silbury Hill, Maiden Castle, Dorchester Museum, Fishbourne Roman Palace; Cairn of Barnenez, Carnac Museum, Chateau de Josselin, Vitré and Fougères plus further archaeological sites
- Services of Clive Warsop as archaeological expert and guide
We depart by coach from our pick-up points and head for Stonehenge. Archaeologists cannot agree on exactly when these massive stones were erected, with estimates ranging from 3000 BC to 2200 BC. Nor can they agree on where the stones came from – for much of the 20th century it was believed that the bluestones were transported by humans from the Preseli Hills, 160 miles away in modern-day Pembrokeshire in Wales, which would have been a most remarkable accomplishment as each one weighs around 4 tonnes. Another theory that has recently gained support is that they were brought much nearer to the site as glacial erratics by the Irish Sea Glacier. Various theories also exist as to the function of the site, which could range from astronomical observations (the north-west entrance is aligned perfectly with the direction of the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset), religious or spiritual rituals or as a place of healing. Recent excavations have shed new light on the story behind this remarkable site, which will be explained in more detail in the course of our visit. We continue to nearby Salisbury, where we will visit the Museum, which is located in the King’s House, in the glorious setting of the Cathedral Close. The King’s House is a Grade I listed building, the history of which stretches back to the 13th Century. It formerly housed a teacher training college and was the inspiration for an episode in Thomas Hardy’s novel Jude the Obscure. The main strength of the Museum rests in its archaeological collections: these include prehistoric material from South Wiltshire, including Stonehenge; the Pitt Rivers' Wessex collection; and a fine medieval collection including finds from Old Sarum, Clarendon Palace and the city itself. We will then cross to the adjacent Cathedral, one of the finest medieval cathedrals in Britain. Started in 1220 it was completed by 1258, with its Spire, the tallest in England (123m/404ft) being added a generation later. Built to reflect the glory of God in stone and glass this majestic and awe-inspiring church has been a setting for great occasions and huge colourful processions for over 775 years. From here we continue to our comfortable hotel where dinner will be served in the evening.
This morning following breakfast we travel to the stone circle at Avebury, one of the finest and largest megalithic monuments in Europe and a World Heritage Site. The large stone circle, which encloses two smaller circles, encompasses part of the village of Avebury, is approached by an avenue of stones. It is speculated that the inner circles were created first in about 2600 BC while the outer circle and ditch were created later in 2500 BC. Each of the stones is suspected to weigh upwards of 40 tons with heights that measure over twenty feet thus implying that the local inhabitants must have worked together in order to complete the Avebury Ring. Many of the stones were re-erected in the 1930s by the archaeologist Alexander Keiller. The site museum, which includes an exhibition in the 17th-century thatched threshing barn, presents the archaeological story. Finds from the site and interactive and audio-visual displays are used to tell the story of the monuments and the people who have helped to reveal their past. After a brief visit to the chalk mound of Silbury Hill, the tallest man-made prehistoric mound in Europe, we will continue to West Kennet Long Barrow, one of the largest, most impressive and most accessible Neolithic chambered tombs in Britain. Built in around 3650 BC, it was used for a short time as a burial chamber, nearly 50 people being buried here before the chambers were blocked. It is thought that this tomb was in use for as long as 1,000 years and at the end of this period the passage and chamber were filled to the roof by people who used Beaker pottery with earth and stones, among which were found pieces of Grooved ware and Peterborough ware, charcoal, bone tools and beads. It has been suggested that this secondary material had been collected from a nearby 'mortuary enclosure' showing that the site had been used for ritual activity long after it was used for burial. We return to the hotel where dinner will be served.
This morning following breakfast we visit Maiden Castle, near Dorchester, the largest and most complex Iron Age hill fort in Britain. The castle was first laid out in 600BC over the remains of a Neolithic settlement. During the following centuries the hill fort was extended and additional defences thrown up around it. The vast multiple ramparts enclose an area the size of 50 football pitches, and the site was home to several hundred people in the Iron Age (750 BC - 43 AD). Excavations here have revealed that occupation of this hilltop began over 6,000 years ago, in the Neolithic period. In AD43 it was taken by the Roman army and its inhabitants moved to the new town of Durnovaria, modern Dorchester. We continue to the nearby Dorchester Museum, whose extensive collection includes artefacts from the conflict with the Romans at Maiden Castle. The nostalgic and atmospheric Victorian Hall also contains examples of Roman mosaics. The Roman theme is continued at our final visit today, Fishbourne Roman Palace, which was discovered by accident during the digging of a water main trench in 1960. The discovery led to nine seasons of excavations that showed the site had developed from a military base at the time of the Roman invasion in 43 AD to a sumptuous Palace by the end of the first century. Between 1995 and 2002, new excavations by the Sussex Archaeological Society revealed exciting new insights into this development of this site, and especially the area in front of the Palace. The Fishbourne Roman Museum has recently undergone a £3.5 million pounds Heritage Lottery funding development, including new lighting in the North Wing building over the spectacular Roman mosaics. There is a brand new audio-visual with stunning computer graphics reconstructing the Palace as it was and you can also handle actual Roman objects in the brand new Collections Discovery Centre. Following our visit here we transfer to nearby Portsmouth in time to check-in for the Brittany Ferries overnight sailing to St Malo. Accommodation is provided in twin-berth inside cabins (up-grade to outside cabins available on request). Dinner is available on board the ferry (not included).
4 We arrive in St Malo this morning, and following breakfast on board (not included), we disembark and depart for a visit to the Cairn of Barnenez near Plouezoc'h on the Kernéléhen peninsula. It dates to the early Neolithic period, about 4500 BC, and is considered to be one of the earliest megalithic monuments in Europe. The cairn is 72m long, up to 25m wide and over 8m high. It is built of 13,000 to 14,000 tons of stone and contains 11 chambers entered by separate passages. Engraved symbols occur in several of the chambers and passages, depicting bows, axes, wave symbols or snakes and a repeated U-shaped sign. Pottery shards found outside the monument indicate that it was reused in the Bronze Age. We continue to our comfortable accommodation at the Hotel de l'Océan, at Concarneau on Brittany’s south coast. Concarneau is one of France’s largest fishing ports and is a haven for artists. The medieval walled town is also one of the most photographed in Brittany. All rooms are en-suite with direct dial telephones and satellite television. Dinner is served in the evening.
5 After breakfast this morning we travel east to Carnac, where we will explore this extensive megalithic site. There are more than 3,000 stones here, consisting of alignments, dolmens, tumuli and single menhirs, hewn from the local rock and erected by the pre-Celtic people of Brittany, the largest such collection in the world. Local tradition claims that the reason they stand in such perfectly straight lines is that they are a Roman legion turned to stone by Merlin - Brittany has its own local versions of the Arthurian legends. A Christian legend associated with the stones held that they were pagan soldiers in pursuit of Pope Cornelius when he turned them to stone. The stones were erected at some stage during the Neolithic period, probably around 3300 BC, but some may date to as old as 4500 BC. We will also visit the nearby Museum, which holds many of the artefacts found in the area. After an opportunity for lunch (not included) in Vannes, we will spend the afternoon touring around the Gulf of Morbihan area, where there a number of other archaeological sites. Dinner is served back at our hotel in the evening.
Following breakfast we check out of our hotel and transfer to Rennes, breaking our journey with a visit to the Château de Josselin. This splendid residence inhabited by the Rohan family for almost a thousand years stands on the banks of the Oust river, in the heart of the Morbihan area. Come and discover or while away the hours in the tree-lined grounds. With its three majestic towers overlooking the river, its sumptuous, flamboyantly designed gothic-style façade and its richly decorated interiors, the château is a remarkable testimony to feudal architecture and the Renaissance era. The dining room is set out in the decorative style that was fashionable in the late 19th century, and strongly inspired by the Middle Ages. A collection of family portraits are on display in the antechamber and you can also admire a splendid monumental fireplace dating back to the early 16th century, in the large sitting room. We will arrive at our hotel in Rennes in the late afternoon. Dinner will be served in the evening.
After breakfast we depart for a visit to Vitré, one of France’s listed Artistic and Historic Heritage towns. Vitré has kept its exceptional architectural heritage intact and the many 15th and 16th century buildings are evidence of the Vitré’s importance in that period, when it was one of the most powerful towns in Brittany. On the frontier between France and Brittany, a mighty stone castle protected Vitré from the 11th century onwards and the town walls were added soon after. In the 14th century the town turned to trade and became one of the most flourishing cloth towns. There will be an opportunity for lunch here (not included). In the afternoon we will visit Fougères, which boasts the largest medieval castle in Europe in addition to several other historic monuments and beautiful gardens, which you will be free to explore at leisure (entrances not included). We return to our hotel in Rennes, dinner will be served in the evening.
Today, after breakfast, we must check out of our hotel depart for St Malo in time to catch the morning Brittany Ferries sailing to Portsmouth (day cabins are available at a supplement). In the early evening we will arrive at Portsmouth and return to our original departure points.
2nights at the Holiday Inn Stonehenge (or similar);
2 nights at the Hotel de l'Océan, Concarneau
2 nights at the Mercure Rennes Place de Bretagne
All rooms have private facilities
This holiday is booked by phone. Click 'book now' to make a reservation request to our travel partner who will call you back to confirm your booking details and take payment. To speak to a representative now please call 0330 333 6701.