A scheduled monument just outside the city of Salisbury, Figsbury Ring has both Neolithic and Iron Age features and has produced artefacts from both time periods. With impressive views over Salisbury from the top of the ramparts, as well as being a site of special scientific interest filled with wildlife, it is well worth a visit for a good walk as well as its historical background.
The Neolithic enclosure inside the Iron Age ramparts.
Just outside the small village of Firsdown 5 miles from Salisbury, Figsbury Rings lies at the end of a rather potholed track in the middle of the countryside. Now owned by the National Trust, the Ring is free for all to visit, with free parking on site. You enter through a latched gate and walk down a wild hedge-lined path before emerging into a wide open space with ramparts towering above you.
Approaching the site what you see first is the univallate hillfort, an oval enclosure defended by a single line of ramparts surrounded by a ditch. The ramparts are 18 metres wide and 3.4 metres high; the outer ditch is V-shaped, 8 metres wide and nearly a metre deep. The sites was excavated in 1924 by Maud and Ben Cunnington. Maud Cunnington was a Welsh archaeologist well known for her work in the Salisbury area during the early decades of the 20th century. She excavated such sites as West Kennet Long Barrow and Woodhenge. Ben Cunnington was then honorary curator of what is today the Wiltshire Heritage Museum. The Cunningtons recovered Iron Age pottery, and understandably they concluded the site was an Iron Age hillfort.
But it is inside the enclosure we see the source of mystery about the site. Within the ramparts is a neolithic henge with an oval enclosure of 187 metres by 151 metres wide with a single ditch 14 metres wide and 4.5 metres deep. This ditch produced animal and human bones as well as Beaker and Grooved Ware pottery, dating it to the late neolithic. Archaeologists believe that by putting this site into the wider archaeological landscape, that it was probably originally a causewayed enclosure, which would have later been modified into a henge monument.
This panoramic photograph shows both the external Iron Age ramparts and the inner Neolithic ditched enclosure. Photograph © Sckhow
Causewayed enclosures were not permanent homes for the neolithic population but rather a meeting place possibly used for social, ritual or trade centres in the vagrant society, providing a place of stability for people who were just starting to put down roots. Over time, many causewayed enclosures became settlements, which may well have been the case here, with its transition to henge and then hillfort.
Figsbury Ring was known in antiquity as ‘Chlorus’ Camp’, suggesting that the site was also occupied by the Romans at one point, and it does sit near the Roman road. The Proceedings at the Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of 1845 say that old maps referred to it as such. Chlorus Constantine was an Roman Caesar from 250 AD, and it is known that he campaigned in Britain in 305 AD, dying here a year later, so it is entirely possible, although no evidence of the Romans has been found in excavations of the site.
The current residents of Figsbury Ring.
The site has only been partially excavated. In 1704, a late Bronze Age sword was found by a farmer which is now in the Ashmolean museum. As mentioned above, the first to excavate the site were the Cunningtons in 1924, who established the site as Iron Age. More recent excavations in the 1980s recovered Grooved and Beaker ware, as well as evidence of flint artefacts, identifying the site as older than previously been thought.
Views from the ramparts are quite spectacular in nearly every direction.
The site now is grazed by some friendly cows, and other than the earthworks, there is little else to see of historical interest. The views and wildlife however make up for it, as it is home to a wide variety of orchids, butterflies and insects, including the elusive glow worm. Skylarks swoop and sing in the skies above and the enclosures are filled with a carpet of wildflowers in the summer. Kids love it as they can run up and down the banks and ditches and sometimes there is a rope swing from one of the trees which will keep them amused for ages. Views include Salisbury Cathedral, Old Sarum and small farmhouses dotted across the landscape.
Map of Figsbury Ring
The Iron Age and Neolithic features of Figsbury Ring can be seen clearly on a satellite view on Google maps.
Visiting Figsbury Ring
How to get to Figsbury Ring
Figsbury Ring can be found off the A30 between Salisbury and Firsdown at postcode SP4 6DT. It is well signposted and leads you up a narrow track past a few houses. Keep going until you reach the car park.
There is a bus stop, named Fingsbury Ring, at the turn-off to the site on the A30. You can catch either bus number 87 or the Park and Ride PR7 bus from the centre of Salisbury – takes about 20 minutes.
Parking at Figsbury Ring
Parking is free in the National Trust car park, whether you are a member or not. See our article on the benefits of becoming a member of the National Trust.
Facilities at Figsbury Ring
There are no facilities here, the site is not staffed and there are no loos or refreshments. There is no ticket office or WiFi.
Good to know before you go
The track and car park are filled with large potholes so drive very slowly and carefully.
The site is exposed and can get windy and you will definitely need walking boots or wellies.
Dogs are welcome so long as you clean up after them.
Figsbury Ring is on the boundary of the Salisbury Plain Training Area, so don’t be alarmed if you see red flags flying on the nearby MOD land. Just stay out of the MOD land (clearly signposted) and you will not have any problems.