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Sunday, 29 December 2013

10 extraordinary sacred sites around Britain

The ancestors of modern Britons saw something special in certain parts of the land and deemed them more sacred than others.

1. Goat's Hole CavePaviland, Gower Peninsula
Goat's Hole Cave, Paviland
In a sea cave near the base of a cliff on the Gower Peninsula, known locally as Yellow Top (on account of the lichen that grows on its face) a19th Century archaeologist named William Buckland found an ancient human burial. Noticing at once that the bones were stained with red ochre and the grave also contained items of ivory "jewellery", he assumed it to be the remains of a woman. The find was known thereafter as The Red Lady of Paviland and Victorian minds assumed "she" had been a woman of easy virtue, buried far from polite society in a grave in a cave. In fact, the Red Lady was a man and recent radiocarbon dates obtained from the remains reveal he lived and died around 33,000 years ago, when the last Ice Age was beginning to exert its grip on northern Europe.

2. Creswell Crags/ChurchHole and Robin Hood's Cave
Creswell Crags
Near Sheffield is a truly awe-inspiring set of caves at the bases of cliffs facing each other across a wide gorge. Archaeological evidence shows they were used for shelter not just by our modern human ancestors but also by our Neanderthal cousins who occupied northern Europe and Britain before the coming of the last Ice Age more than 30,000 years ago. One of the caves, known as Church Hole, has become famous as the location for the most northerly Palaeolithic cave art found so far.

3. Goldcliff, near Newport in south Wales

Goldcliff, near Newport in South Wales
On the mudflats of the Severn Estuary, at Goldcliff near Newport in south Wales, the tides are revealing footprints made by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers perhaps 8,000 years ago. Trails of prints, made by men, women and children as well as by animals and birds, were preserved by chance and for millennia beneath layers of mud, silt and peat. Now being exposed once more, thanks to more recent changes in the route of River Severn, they are the most ephemeral traces of humanity imaginable. 

4. Ness of Brodgar, Orkney
Ness of Brodgar, Orkney
Two of the most famous Neolithic stone circles in Britain, Orkney's Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, are within easy walking distance of each other. Along with the great burial mound of Maes Howe they sit within a natural amphitheatre, a flattened bowl of low-lying land surrounded by hills.

5. Avebury Stone CircleWiltshire
Avebury Stone Circle, Wiltshire
The great stone circle of Avebury, perhaps the most impressive monument of its kind anywhere in the world, is a place to strike wonder into every heart and mind. Built during the third millennium BC it is technically a henge monument - a circular area of ground contained by a bank and ditch - containing three stone circles.

6. West Kennet longbarrow, Wiltshire

West Kennet long barrow, Wiltshire

The Neolithic period witnessed the appearance of the first large communal tombs, known as long barrows.During ceremonies, rituals took place which often involved the burial of significant items, such as finely polished stone axeheads, complete pottery vessels, or human skulls.

7. St Nectan's Glen, Cornwall
St Nectan's Glen, Cornwall
 Once revered by pre-Roman Celts, who venerated the spirit of the water, and later associated with the 6th Century Saint Nectan, it is still visited today by thousands of people from all over the world. The Arthur myth too has been bolted on and folk thereabouts believe the king and his knights came to the glen to be blessed, before heading out in search of the Holy Grail. 

8. Iona, to the west of Mull, Scotland
Iona is the symbolic centre of Scottish Christianity.
It was one of the greatest centres of learning in Dark Age Europe
St Columba established a monastery which became a centre of pilgrimage.

9. Glastonbury Tor, Somerset

Glastonbury Tor, Somerset
 In 1191, monks at Glastonbury Abbey claimed to have found the graves of Arthur and his queen Guinevere and the site became a place of pilgrimage for ever after.

10. Canterbury Cathedral, Kent
Canterbury Cathedral, Kent
Canterbury Cathedral is the oldest church in England that is still in use
It has attracted flocks of pilgrims since Thomas Becket was murdered in the Cathedral in 1170
It is a Unesco World Heritage Site and attracts over one million visitors per year.

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Adapted from BBC News

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