The Marlborough Downs is part of the extensive North Wessex Downs, designated an Area Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1972, which covers 1,730 square km (668 square miles) across the southern English counties of Berkshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire. Two of the physical characteristics of the Downs are the rolling chalk landscape and the deposits of sarsen stones, the hard sandstone blocks shorn off from the tertiary rock bed which once covered much of southern England. Neolithic people used these stones, some weighing more than 60 tons, to build their tombs and stone circles.
Further information about the North Wessex Downs:
Information about Areas Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) in the United Kingdom: www.aonb.org.uk
As with much of northern Europe, the area was once heavily wooded before man cleared trees for building, fuel and farming. There were 7 acres of woodland in West Kennett in 1086, but by the late 18th century it had become sparsely wooded. Today most of the land used for sheep grazing and cereal production.
Although the Downs retains its rural atmosphere it is dotted with towns and villages, many of which have their own charm as well as historical and architectural points of interest.
The River Kennet
has been assigned as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) because of the rare plants and animals which live in and around it.
The Kennet is fed by several springs and streams, particularly the Sambourne and Winterbourne streams which flow south from near the villages of Uffcott and Broad Hinton and merge to the west of Avebury village. The Kennet continues to run south for 1.5 km to Swallowhead Spring
where it turns westward on its way to join the River Thames at Reading in Berkshire.