Neolithic henge monument, enclosing the largest stone circle in western Europe, with smaller circles, a cove and stone settings inside, all constructed of sarsen stones. The village of Avebury stands partially inside the circle. In the care of English Heritage.
Archaeology workshop: Avebury - the Henge years - Tue 14th Jul 2015
Step into the world of the henge builders for the day and explore later Neolithic Avebury with archaeologist Dr Nick Snashall and Museum Curator Dr. Ros Cleal. The day includes a field visit to Avebury Henge and stone circles and draws on finds from the museum collections.
Avebury’s Barn Gallery receives grant of £75,000 for new roof
The lovely 17th century thresher barn, at the heart of Avebury, is also a museum housing a selection of Alexander Keiller’s finds, along with interactive displays and activities which bring the history and landscape of the area to life... continues...
Was over at WK long barrow today when I bumped into a rather large but very well behaved group of people (inside the barrow). Dr Nick Snashall was leading a 'walking through the landscape' guided walk on behalf of the National Trust... continues...
Nigel Kerton writing in the The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald today reports that -
"People who live in Avebury or who visit the village and would like to have a say about the way the village famous for its stone circles and Silbury Hill is managed, will be given an opportunity when the World Heritage Site Management Plan is updated... continues...
"The summer solstice observance at Avebury is expected to be very busy and there will be limited car parking as a result.
From Monday 20 June until mid afternoon on Wednesday 22 June there will be a temporary campsite alongside the car park, opening at 9am on Monday 20 June and closing at 2pm on Wednesday 22 June... continues...
Time Travellers' Workshop: Avebury, the early years
Discover the secrets of the first farmers with Archaeologist Dr Nick Snashall and Museum Curator Dr Ros Cleal as they investigate Earlier Neolithic Avebury. The day includes a field visit to West Kennet Long Barrow and draws on finds from Windmill Hill... continues...
1) "Discover Stone Tools Workshop" with Avebury archaeologist Dr Nick Stanshall
The day includes a chance to handle real stone tools from the Alexander Keiller Museum.
Sunday 24th October 10am - 4.00pm, Cost £30
2) Guided Walks through the Avebury Landscape.
Last Sunday of the month starting 31st October,
"The continued destruction of prehistoric monuments is a fact which I am sure we all deeply regret, and which reflects little credit on us as a nation. This year a portion of "Abury", the grandest monument of its kind in this country (perhaps in the world), was actually sold for building purposes in cottage allotments... continues...
Just a reminder that we're now one day away from Heritage Action's fourth annual Avebury Megameet on the 1st of August. If you haven't ventured forth for one of these before please give it a try. Put faces to names and meet up with some of the folks you may have only ever cyber-chatted to before... continues...
An enforcement notice has been served on the National Trust by a local council because of ongoing problems with travellers and pagans.
Kennet District Council issued the planning enforcement notice on the trust after overnight problems at Avebury Stone circle in Wiltshire... continues...
Excavations at Avebury have revealed one megalithic stone which could be among Britain's largest, weighing around 100 tons and rivalling Stonehenge.
Archaeologists made the surprise find during preparations to straighten the stones, which have been leaning for at least 300 years... continues...
As we were booked in on baby-sitting duties on Father’s Day itself, Karen suggested we go out for the day on Saturday instead. Sounded good to me.
‘What about a trip to Avebury for Father’s Day?’ suggested Karen
My reply was somewhat predictable!
I was amazed/horrified to discover that the National Trust now wanted £7.00 to park – yikes! Fortunately, as CADW members, it was free for us. The strange thing is it was free for coaches to park. How does that work?
After not paying this extortionate fee we walked along the path and headed straight for the National Trust café next to the museum. The weather was warm and fine and myself and Karen sat on the grass while the children played with the outside toys provided. Dafydd got into a debate with a woman over the rules of Connect 4 whilst Sophie ignored them both and put the discs in any order!
After finishing our drinks and ice creams we went into both museums to have a look around. There is a lot of interesting things to see and, again thanks to our CADW membership, saved even more money on entrance fees.
After this we decided to walk the full circuit of Avebury.
We soon came across a group (should that be a coven?) of ‘White Witches’. Two of the witches were hugging a stone whilst the others looked on. The head witch had a wooden pole with bells and ribbons on it. A bit further on we came across a family who were looking intently at a stone. Mum had her hands stretched out in front of the stone and was explaining to the others how she could ‘feel’ its power. Her teenage daughter looked on less than impressed!
We then came to the clootie tree; its lower branches festooned with ribbons and cloth and messages and trinkets. You certainly see some sights at Avebury! I guess that is one of the reasons it is such a special place?
After completing our circuit we went to the Red Lion for a meal. As the weather was so nice we sat outside. It was nice to be able to sit and drink and chat whilst looking over at some of the mighty standing stones.
A quick visit to the Henge Shop and it was then time to walk the Avenue.
By the time I reach the eastern entrance of the henge I’m tired and the sky has turned much darker. As always though, meeting the huge stones of the circle boosts my flagging energy in a way that Red Bull will never be able to replicate.
I don’t take the full tour today. Today’s efforts have been focused on getting here through the landscape, the journey being the reward for once. Instead I have a mooch to the Cove (still my favourite setting in the whole complex) and the southern quadrants. I finally take up residence on the sloping bank above the ditch of the southwestern quadrant, not quite at the bottom but on a level with the stones. Arriving at such a busy place after the quiet of the Downs would usually irk me, but today I enjoy watching the different interactions people have with the stones. Some stand in awe, some touch, some just have their picture taken. From where I sit, the voices are muted and the words don’t carry, except one who is expounding something about the electrical properties of the stones.
Ah, Avebury in the summertime. Long may it be a focal point, the builders would surely approve.
Today marks a return to Avebury after a lengthy absence of 30 years or so. I've been assured that I visited as a child, but the experience must've been lost on so young a mind, unable to appreciate the cultural and historical significance of the stones.
Today is different. And what a day to attend - without a cloud in the sky and a host of visitors equally keen to experience the stones. Where such large numbers might prove to be a hinderance at tourist hotspots such as Stonehenge, here things are different. All have gathered for quiet and happy contemplation, giving space to others and a smile to those whose paths they cross. Here, you can walk among the stones and touch them, an experience not lost to those who do so.
The overall mood is one of welcome, the stones offering shade to sheep tired of the midday sun. Despite the cruelties suffered by generations intent on destroying the stones for religious propaganda or to build homes, Avebury stands proud, her toothless grin possibly as charming as her once full smile, one which the mind can only imagine.
In comparison to the energy and freedom offered by a stroll among the stones, the nearby National Trust centre is a stifling experience - with overpriced stale scones and attendants barking at visitors to show their passes, or touting membership of the organisation. For those looking for an untainted experience, the centre is best avoided in favour of researching Avebury before or after your visit - and of course, by strolling among the stones.
My next visit will be so much sooner than 30 years, perhaps even in the next few days while the weather holds. For a fleeting visit offers only a fraction of the mystery held by Avebury and I look forward to exploring it in greater detail.
The rain is getting heavier (possibly becoming a theme for this week's visits?) and the long grass is now very wet. I tramp through it to see the remaining stones of the largely vanished central circle/horseshoe, which seem rather lost and unsure of themselves. Still, the larger stones retain a gnarly grandeur in the misty drizzle. To the NE of the Cove, in the middle of the NE quadrant a single hefty stone is the northernmost survivor of this largely lost setting. From here I head to the eastern entrance of the henge itself. Near the entrance, there is a semi-fallen slab (Stone 73) – presumably this square-ish stone marked the entrance in the same way that the Swindon Stone marks the north. It has some interesting weathering, circular depressions eroded by the rainfall of centuries suggesting that it has been fallen for a good long time.
To the north a solitary stone remains of the eastern arc of the great outer circle here. It occurs to me that, Cove excepted, this quadrant is rather less 'busy' than the other three, with by far the fewest remaining stones. This makes for a great feeling of space and peace that is perhaps not so evident elsewhere inside the henge. I climb the enormous bank itself to take me round to the northern entrance of the henge. The comparative lack of stones draws the eye easily to the earthwork. Despite being more than two thirds filled in, the ditch is still an incredible testament to the man-hours involved in its construction.
A plump pigeon sits on top of the final, northernmost stone of the NE quadrant and a dog walker crosses the open space below me. Between them these are the only living creatures I've seen in the circle since arriving. But the northern entrance heralds a return to the 21st century, as the traffic roars freely into the henge with scant regard for wayward stoneheads out in the rain. I stop again at the Cove, in awe of these wonderful stones, before crossing the road and then I'm up to the enormous diamond of the Swindon Stone. The NW quadrant is an odd mixture of "normal" sarsens, concrete pillars and Picasso-esque sculpture in the form of smashed stones that have been reconstituted. The rain turns much heavier and attempts at photos become futile, so I scurry off to the church porch for shelter (lovely Romanesque door by the way).
Rain reducing, I head to the SW quadrant, and after another weird piece of sarsen sculpture I'm into a much more complete section of the outer circle, including the notorious "Barber Stone". Across the road the SE quadrant boasts a complex arrangement of stones, making it difficult at first to work out what I'm looking at. The huge stones 1 and 98 mark the southern entrance (and another risky road-crossing). Inside the quadrant, some impressive stones remain of the southern circle and then there are Z Stones, the ring stone and a whole lot more concrete pillars. The slightly dryer spell is marked by the emergence of a Spanish family under a vast brolly, braving the weather for some photos amongst the sheep.
There are many aspects to Avebury, most of them have been covered here by previous posts. Last night I had a 'first', went out to Avebury with a group of friends to see Rory Motion* perform in the village hall (Rory is a Yorkshireman, comedian, poet, singer and tree impressionist).
Before the performance we sat for a bit outside the Red Lion and watched the peace of evening settle over this wonderful place - the unripe barley crop on Waden Hill looked like a green sea as it rippled in the breeze.
Rory's performance was brilliant (catch him if you can). The 'bonus' highlight of the evening was the Avebury night sky; as we came out of the village hall at the end of the evening a bright star, which I believe to be Venus, was setting in the west against the silhouette of Avebury church. It was about 11.00pm and as we walked towards the cars the stone circle seemed to be bathed in ethereal light. Then I saw it, the full moon was rising ... what an amazing sight Avebury is by the light of a full moon. After recently feeling a little jaded with the often busy, very public face of Avebury, last night I fell back in love with the mysterious and mystical Avebury.
There is not much that can be added to what is already posted. All I would say is if you have never been here - visit. This is an incredible place to visit - the circle is massive - the stones huge. I have been to many famous prehistoric sites on mainland Britain but for me, Avebury is the best. Not just the circle but Silbury Hill, WKLB, Windmill Hill etc. Visit as often as you can - stay as long as you can. You will not be dissapointed.
Avebury somehow seems diminished these days. I suppose the world heritage status and higher public profile which have put it on the tourist map have had some positive effects but it's difficult somehow not to think that like at Stonehenge, they have simultaneously taken something away.
Anyway, we were struck again last weekend by the fact that in a way what is really important here is the Henge. It is apparent that at its original full height it would have created an artificial and perfect horizon - in other words, it would have engendered an idealised world view from within its circumference. As well as facilitating astronomical observances this would have created a psychological sense of 'interiorness' - a major step on the human journey from the purely instinctual through the communal to the individual and then to the personal. We felt this time more than at any other that Avebury's function is in the promotion of the 'artificial' -in the sense of artifice or artefact - an aesthetic appreciation of the world as embodying conciousness and human potential rather than merely survival and the randomness of action.
After a while the urge to stroll round the complex became very strong, so I set off in a clockwise direction, beginning at the lattice work of gnarled beech roots crowning the eastern dip in the henge. It was then the sheer magnitude of the Avebury complex hit me again, somehow through older, wiser eyes. The size of the embankment and ditch struck home, and I recalled telling one of our neighbourhood children that it had been dug out using antler picks and shovels, the spoil carried away in baskets. Standing still, I looked at the chalk beneath my feet. It was densely packed, hard and dusty. Friends have deer antlers hanging by their back door; they're not especially large, and I tried to imagine what it would feel like to begin scrabbling at the chalk face with a similarly shaped smooth-handled bone pick. Can't imagine it would have made much impact. What a feat of engineering Avebury is – henges built 5,000 years ago, yet still supporting the footfall of millions of visitors a year.
Gazing across the rooftops of houses within the circle, and watching people playing with a frisbee in the north-eastern quarter, they appeared diminutive, tiny against the vast circle and sky. What would it have been like to stand on the henge when there was no village, when presumably it was built for the populace to bear witness to whatever form of rite and ceremony, under open skies and the theatre of the circle? How could you see what was taking place? Was the henge a form of seating, or was it to provide a barrier to arcane and esoteric practices? Could you lie on it in comfort to star-gaze all night?
Strolling round the henge and through the stones, memories of previous visits filled my mind, individual stones calling up reminders of who did this, how this happened, where particular photos were taken, what conversations took place. I smiled inside, at a tapestry of life, friends, lovers, experiences and growth woven over the years amidst the stones – stones that never change, yet can change your life in subtle degrees from the moment you enter their world.
The first time I visited Avebury was incredible. We had been down from the northlands, visiting friends in Bath. One day they drove us to Avebury. After passing Devizes the landscape changed into beautiful, gentle, rolling downland, with barrows pimpling the skylines. Antiquarian heaven. Every turn in the road disclosed more evidence of prehistory.
North Down and Bishop's Canning Down closed in over the road, and a special atmosphere was all-pervading.
The only jarring note was the buildings inside Avebury, but we knew about these. We spent hours wandering the banks and the internal site, trying to piece together what it must have looked like.
In the distance we saw a crop circle - the perfect ending. We left, and I felt we left sadly, knowing it would be quite some time before we could return.
A special site with a special atmosphere. Oh yes, and great archaeology.......but first impressions count in fieldnotes.
My first ever visit to Avebury two days ago and I`m still smiling. The first thing that hit me was the size and I felt a bit daft to think that it could be any different! Arrived around tea time and there was still loads of people there but despite that I felt so peaceful and so lucky to actually be there.
Lots there that I wasn`t expecting, like the NT shop, cafe and museum - not too sure about some of these but understand why.
I feel privileged to have witnessed this wonderful and beautiful place.
I came to Avebury through backroads and, by taking intuitive turns, came into the village from the north west. There was another avenue here, and I think that each avenue had its own purpose, complimentary, but individual. Go up some dead end roads and count the interesting stones used as features in the gardens. The sense of layered events is palpable. Joining the crowds streaming from the official car park, I drifted, looking around. The path is a joy in itself, and the complex remains out of comprehension for most of the walk. The first impression I got, when the view finally opened out, was that the village had crashlanded, hard, on the northwestern side of the henge, a long time ago, and then life had carried on as if nothing had happened! The flow of people turned right inside the henge and I was a few stones into the ring before I registered that something felt wrong. Widdershins didn't seem right, a concept which I resisted for a few more steps. I stepped outside the circle and sat down to eat some cherries and watched the people go by. Was it my fancy, or did they all seem to be walking uphill, into the wind? I pulled out my copy of The Modern Antiquarian, and started to read. Immediately, another couple of Canadians came up and asked what the kind the stones were. Thank you, Julian! I headed for the centre, then north to the outer henge, passing between two enormous stones, recently vacated by some dowsers. Polarity was there to see. At the outer henge, I began to make my way, deosil, round the top. A road cuts through from the east, so I had to climb down, back into the very earth, or so it felt, before climbing back up the other side. Four Watchers stood quietly here, and I spent a while listening to what they had to say. They have been here for a long time, and have not always held this form, which they chose to continue in peace, in these busy days of tour buses, digicams and celebrity. As I sat at their feet, people strolled or strode by within 5 yards, yet none cast an eye in our direction, even when I stared directly at them. People walked towards, then round where I sat, seemingly oblivious to the detour. As I walked round the outer henge, I wondered is its purpose. It would make a Grand Gallery from which to watch events taking place within, and an artificial horizon for the stargazer looking out upon the heavens. Both, and more, would seem the most likely answer to me. On the Avenue( the more famous one), I found it more difficult to walk out than to return. A grand, local gentleman told me to stand outwith the western side of the Avenue and look between the opposing stones towards the Ridgeway, on the horizon. Some alignments with barrows and other landmarks can be seen. Unfortunately, some of the stones are missing, replaced by stumps of concrete, and many of the stones are not in their original positions, being dislodged or re-erected by well meaning people, so I found it difficult to get over enthusiastic about any success I had. The next day, I returned and parked my father's car outside the Post Office, feeling a delicious sense that some of those who had obeyed all the tourist parking signs were looking on me as a 'local', part of the experience of Avebury! This was my first visit, but Avebury has been in my conscious thoughts for as long as I care to remember. One last reflection; If Glastonbury is the Heart Chakra, then Avebury is the Womb. I don't think I have encountered a place with such latent female energy. Enjoy....
Wednesday 17 September 2003
If you get the chance, you have to do this. Take one sunny day in and around Avebury, preferably in good company. End the day sitting around and wandering about the stones as the sun slowly descends, giving a constantly changing lightshow on the stones.
It certainly works brilliantly in the area near the southern inner circle, as the sun sinks towards the henge bank to the west. I'd like to try it up in the north west quadrant next time!!!
And it's great for easily-done but impressive-looking photographs full of light and shade!!!
Before the sun got too low I also took a walk up onto Waden Hill while Jane painted and John finished his investigations of the stones. Worth the walk for a nice overview of Avebury itself, a surprisingly clear and detailed view of Windmill Hill and my favourite views so far of Silbury!
Access the main car park is on the edge of the village itself but as the village is small, this isn't much of a problem. Don't think there are any problems with gates from the car park, though some of the others scattered around the different segments of the circle may be a bit narrow and 'unforgiving'.
Much of the ground inside the henge is easily pretty easily negotiable, being reasonably even and grassed. Guess busy parts might be muddy in sustained wet weather. Don't think there's a very convenient alternative to the steps near the National Trust shop when rejoining the circle itself.
Monday 15 September 2003
It was great to finally get an excuse and the chance to revisit Avebury - only my second visit, and my first as an obsessive megarak.
Such was the thrill of walking along the West Kennett Avenue for the first time, that I was quite expecting Avebury itself not to live up to my recollections and expectations. But I needn't have worried....
It's a 'what can I say...' site if ever there was one! There's just so much of it, so much too look at, so much to take in, so much to think about!
I want to live there & each evening the weather's decent, I want to take a bottle of Old Peculiar and sit by a different stone to slowly drink in and savour the beer and the place simultaneously.... And when I'd done 'em all, I'd start again. Reckon I could pass a few years that way.
Big henge. Big circle. Big trees. Big sky. BIG ATMOSPHERE. About the only thing that's (mercifully) small is the village. And even though the crowds were fairly big too, the bigness of the place compensated comfortably for that too.
Oh, and the stones!!!!!!!!! Big, big, BIG, BIG stones. So much bigger in the flesh than in photos, pictures or my memory or imagination!!!
And the whole thing is so much BIGGER than my vocabulary that I think I'd better shut up now.
Visited on a blustery Sunday with the charming Cloudhigh and delectable JP. Stopped for lunch at the Red Lion, and bravely tried to eat lunch alfresco, but when the lollo rosso started blowing off our plates and across the courtyard, decamped inside.
Afterwards, paid a visit to the fascinating engineering work going on with a couple of the stones - how I would love to see neolithic engineering in action - and photographed archeologists stood in a hole.
Aware that the delightful Jane was burying her beloved cat, Finbarr, back home in Oxfordshire, sat on the henge by that magnificent stand of beech trees, and reflected on a splendid animal. The tempestuous nature of the day suited such an event, and it was great to have the wind blasting straight across the open fields and in to my face at about Gale Force 5. ("North Utsire, South Utsire, Malin, Avebury . . .")
Cloudhigh and JP returned from a ramble round the earthworks and observed that I appeared to have been sellotaped to the henge, as other walkers got caught off guard by sudden gusting.
By now, a hint of hypothermia began to set in, so we all set off to Cloudhigh's mother's for a spiffing tea including an utterly succulent victoria sponge sandwich! :op
[visited 19/4/3] Whilst in the area I thought I had better take a look at a genuine archaeological fiddle at The Cove, as these things are getting increasingly rare. I was disappointed to see no info board & no activity but the complex metal work around the stones was fairly entertaining. Lots of other intrigued looking people as well.
Having been a regular visitor to Avebury over the last 10 years I was dying to bring my boyfriend down to experience what is one of the most magical places I've ever visited. We came down on the eve of the Winter Solstice and visited the Red Lion. The atmosphere was electric with many people singing, playing instruments and being generally happy. the next morning we were back around 7am to welcome yule and sunrise with the pagans. It took around 1/2 hour for the festivities to end, the finale being a dance in a circle, running fast and holding hands. Not being very well I decided to skip the dance, but the boyfriend was caught up in the circle and decided it was a very spiritual experience! He was smiling all day long.
We had a magical weekend and the atmosphere of Avebury made us fall in love again every time we looked at each other.
A belated visit, but thought that after 'Discover Avebury' I should pay it a trip myself, to make sure that they weren't telling us lies. Yes it was there.
An epic Trip, left home in Essex with the kids at 10am expecting to arrive at midday, however M4 was closed so spent 8 hours in the car with the kids, isn't Reading one-way sytem wonderful ! Eventually abandoned the trip and crashed out at my Sisters in Stroud (but managed to sneak in Minchinhampton), finally arrived in Avebury Midday Sunday. A nice way to spend an afternoon strolling round with the crowds !
Visited this afternoon in the strange high, mizzly haze which had wrapped itself over the Wiltshire plain............having never ventured as far into the Southern interior as Wilts before, i found the rolling, hazy, hedgeless plains disorientating......the same sense of landscape bowling away over the lip of the Earth as I've found whilst crossing Bodmin Moor......
......never seen monoliths as big before.....craggy and proud, they seem to stare out the village(and how intrusive this settlement seems outside the rarified aerial shot or Ordnance Survey map!!).......felt a definite current from one of the large stones near the circle- and how awe-inspiring it must 've been to see this site intact and resplendent.
I'll definitely be back to explore the wider landscape, think next time I'll park and walk in from a few miles out, taking in a few outlying sites on the way.....it can only be right to arrive on foot, tired and blissful from The Ridgeway.
Sorting through old photos, I've been reminded that in June 1996 me and my wife had a memorable day in Avebury. Went round all the Avebury sites for the first time in glorious weather. Felt sad for the party of little schoolkids who were all wearing Foreign Legion style hats to protect their skin because the ozone layer is fucked. Saw what seemed to be a gang of people in the distance making a crop circle in a field overlooking the long barrow. Had a laugh at an American bloke and his family in the main circle, because within 1 minute of giving them a reverent pep talk about the age, mystery of the stones etc, he then stood by while his additive-addled kids raised merry hell by fighting round, climbing on, and kicking the shit out of the stones.
Then back at Avebury caff, met Julian, his partner and little girl. My wife didn't recognise him but I did, but I wasn't going to let on or tell her - since I thought he probably didn't want to be pointed at. He spoke about his research for the Modern Antiquarian, and was bloody hilarious about the gerroff-my-land farmers and their scabby dogs he'd had to cope with when doing the research (he showed us the bitten leg...).
My wife took a photo of his little girl playing in the garden, because she was very cute. I think I clocked Julian's partner looking disapproving at this, although in her defence, she didn’t know who they were. In fact, it's finding the photo that's reminded me of all this - if Julian (but NO-ONE else) wants a scan of it for the album, he's welcome to it.
I read a report in the paper next day about how someone had painted squiggles all over the stones in the avenue, and how it was must have been done just after we were there, and wondered if it was anyone I'd seen, maybe the crop circle people...
I’ve visits twice now and there is definitely something strange and magical about Avebury henge. Its such an awe-inspiring and majestic relic, so open to the natural elements yet isolated and removed from civilisation. It provokes, in me at least, such a sense of time, of change and of loss, while forever maintaining a constant and passivity that’s utterly mysterious and foreboding. A monument once so significant to a people long since departed still holds within its dark stony aura the capacity to bestow such thoughts of wonder and intrigue upon those that now walk within its sacred shadow.
20/01/02 - Wonderful day. The elements were in full force - muddy, rainy, windy, cold. We slipped and slided our way round the circle, as far as we were permitted, then warmed up in the Red Lion. Strange things happened with my camera today...
I had driven all day from Leeds to a business appointment in Swindon. After my meeting, I took my chances to make my pilgimmage to Avebury before dark. I made it. It was November, cold, wet and dusk - and perfect for the first ever visit to Avebury. I was totally blown away as I wandered through the stones in the half light cutting a bizarre figure in my black suit. I could smell woodsmoke and the church bells rang out four times. The stones were wet, their presence awesome and I explored this ancient place alone. I left in the dark, with the painfully long drive ahead far from my mind. I'll be back.
Avebury, Silbury and West Kennet : AN AERIAL VIEW, 25 Nov 2001:
Am I the luckiest girl alive? A wonderful now-ex-colleague who only recently got his private pilot's licence asked me if I'd like to go flying with him one afternoon and where would I like to go? Ummm, Avebury, perhaps!?
We took off in a tiny Grummond(?) Tiger from Blackbushe Airport in Hampshire and flew for 20 minutes west. From 2000 feet Jim navigated us towards Marlborough, a splendid town, and I navigated us by eye from hereon, following the road west, pointing out the unmistakable hump of Silbury which utterly dominates the landscape, even from 2000 feet. We flew towards it, then Jim sought permission for us to drop to 1000 feet to circle Avebury, which was granted and we banked sharply round to the right following the line of the avenue. Jim opened the hatch so I could take some photos. And although it was freezing and my hair blew around like a mad woman... What a buzz! My God! I hardly knew where to look - to see the village so familiar to me swirl around below, those gorgeous and huge beech trees, even from 1000 feet looking as impressive as they do on the ground, and the fantastic achievements of the builders of Avebury; the ditches; the banks; the rhythm of the stones; the low winter sunshine filtering over the undulating land..... To have witnessed this most sacred of places from the viewpoint of an soaring eagle is a priviledge I can hardly express. Thank you SO MUCH, Captain Mc, my mind has been blown.
My brother decided to stop here for lunch on the way to Falmouth for the eclipse in August 1999.
It was raining steadily but it was so warm and I walked and walked on the soggy chalk paths. I was cagouled in long shorts and sandals and it felt good.
Up on a nearby hill, someone had spirographed a nice crop circle and despite the rain, this place was so busy.
I could not comprehend this place as a whole, but I still found the visit exhilarating.
I walked down the avenue alone and I'll never forget that.
A week wouldn't be enough for all this.
Everyone else was waiting in the car when I got back.
First time we approached this place at dusk I nearly drove off the road at the sheer enormity of actually being in the middle of a stone circle...! Found the local pub very accommodating and hospitable then travelled back a few miles to a campsite. Pitched the Vango in the dark then after a good kip returned to Avebury the next day. Trix and I were on our Grand Tour of Wessex et al and found the whole area deeply moving and intense, especially as most of the touristy types were only gawping at the stones near the pub and completely missing out the Avenue..which was great cos then we had it all to ourselves! Next time we'd travelled all night from York and arrived at Avebury very bleary eyed and not all there, at 8am. The sun was just up, the mist was like a very fine, gauzy curtain and (bugger) I left my camera in the van!
After 6 hours of driving we finally approached Avebury, it was early evening and the road was heavy with traffic, both Mrs Fitz and myself were feeling a little jaded.
FUCKIN' HELL! The Swindon Stone! It just leapt out of the twilight, BANG.... re-energised ...here we go!
All excited we parked up at the pub (rooms pre-booked 2 nights), got our stuff up to the room (The Keiler Room no less), looked out of the window, BANG... The Cove staring back at me..what a view. We yomped out into the dark and started greeting the stoney chaps. Talk about a rush!
The next morning up early full breakfast back to the chaps, for a brief stroll. Mrs Fitz is no great megalithomaniac so she humours me and I don't push it. Off we go to Devizes (Mrs Fitz checks the market and I mooch around the lovely museum) after this comes Stonehenge (ruined by the almost unavoidable heritage industry, but what can you do? you gotta keep the numpties from wrecking the place, I just find it all very sad, a bit like a trip to the zoo..no joy) ) Marlborough (not impressed), West Kennett (very impressed) and Silbury..Yow!( these are discussed elesewhere).
Back in Avebury. The place has had a dusting of snow and is lovely and frosted. Mrs Fitz chills and I set off with Burl's Pocket Guide to show me the way. What a place, hardly anyone there, it is just so fuckin organic, stones and village together weaving in and out of each other. The village has prevented the circle becoming another site in a cage (stonehenge).
Following Burl's root I traipse round the stoney chaps, stopping to chat here and there and just picking up the energy vibe until i reach a point in the SE sector when I feel like..DING .. fully charged. I then hit the West Kennett Avenue. I almost flew down the thing, I was buzzing so much, chatting like a monkey to the stoney chaps and just off in a world of my own, feeling like a lord's bastard...pure bliss mateys.
Oh, yes and I am hooked! Such a shame that someone shoved a village in it but when I think of the utter peace of mind I feel when I sit within the henge, on a pub bench with a cold beer- it's almost less of a tragedy (but, not quite). But, up there, on the South-West bank with a view down to the stones, across to the avenue and away to Silbury Hill- that's where I'll be. Oh, yes.
I've been 3 times to Avebury now (I'm from The Netherlands), but this site hits me all over again every time. I like it far better than Stonehenge or Stanton Drew.
(Added 13 nov 2002)
Though it's such a touristic site, there are enough times when one can be almost alone. The atmosphere here is much more peaceful. Stanton is almost desolate and Stonehenge, well, maybe I just feel out of place there, on that wide plain, as if trespassing in the cathedral of another religion. Avebury doesn't have that feling, for me at least. When they're a bit older, I'll bring the kids, too.
Me and my brother set off to vist the area of the Marlborough downs, with the aid of the map that is in Interpreter. We travelled down from Norwich just for the day, to see what we could in the short time that we had. We visted several sites around the area and enjoyed the experience but the highlight for us was Averbury.
It was good being able to walk round the site with no restrictions, going in and out between the stones and able to find a spot to lay back and relax while taking in such a magical place.
We will definitely be going back.
Avebury is a very special place to me and ever since I first visted it I try to come and stay twice a year. It is my place where I recharge my batteries. I think we should be thankful that Avebury is still so accessable. We must all ensure that this place is kept safe for ever and ever.
This area has such a wealth of places to visit all of them special in their own way. and all worth while visiting. Walk, breathe, energize, rejoice and enjoy..... Take nothing you see for granted (as I am sure you won't)
Avebury has changed my life and I am grateful for that, I will continue to visit and bring friends for as long as I am able.. discovering somthing about Avebury that is new and wonderful every time I return.
Back in March....
Avebury, as an area is unbeatable. There is so much here that even after four visits I have yet to reach the Sanctuary!
I would strongly recommended getting your hands on a copy of 'The Avebury Cycle' by Michael Dames. Whilst I don't agree with all of his conclusions, what he does achieve is to locate the circles and henge within a wider landscape that included other circles in the immediate area (Faulkner's Circle, South Circle, etc), long barrows, sacred hills, enclosures, rivers and springs etc etc. This is an essential book for an essential site. It will certainly help you plan future visits; the next time I go I'm planning on not even visiting the main circles/henge but just taking in the surrounding sacred landscape.
A couple of weeks before heading to Avebury my house, in Madrid, & 15 others burnt down. The stone at 9 0'clock, just south of the road is a pretty good copy of the house shape. A strange way to find it, I was driving from Glastonbury with a very poor map, not knowing where Avebury was exactly. After meandering a random across Salisbury plan past military roads M, P, R, A etc. I found the sign post, maybe luck, maybe. Anyway, I'd just been suffering from stress & needed a key to unlock the cycle, maybe the stone was a key, maybe.
Power?, who knows. Something?, I don't know. Maybe just enjoy what works without developing dogma. Maybe.
great site to visit, take the time to take it all in. shame they had to build the village right in the bloody centre.
take a stroll down the avenue, its only a shame that a great majority of the stones are missing. i understand that a majority of the stones have been used to construct most of the village, and the others were just burned because of superstition by locals a few hundred years ago. must be more impressive than stonehenge itself in terms of area and the mysticism surrounding it.
Whenever I go to Avebury I just have to dance about like a loon.
I've taken a lot of friends there over the years, and it always totally interests me to see what their reactions are, some people click right in and have to start dancing about too, others just don't seem to get it.
For me it's simply the most inspiring place to be ever, and I'll always be thankful to ol' Jules for introducing me to it through his music.
I have now visited Avebury five times and have sat watching peoples reactions to the stones for hours. It is definetely a female site in that they are nearly all drawn to touching and embracing the stones like long lost relatives. Males tend to stand back and admire with little touching apart from pointing out various details to their friends. Kids don't seem to know whether they are male or female. The sheep don't seem to bother.
My first impression was not about the stones or the circles but how big the sky is!
Everyone should visit before it is fenced off totally by our guardians.
Miss J M Dunn is another reliable witness who claims, on a clear moonlit night, to have seen a number of small human-like figures abroad; figures that seemed to hurry from one spot to another and then back again as though preparing for some festival or special occasion; figures that were plainly there one moment and gone the next [..] There have also been stories of phantom horsemen being seen in the vicinity of Avebury Circle, riding wildly over the ground on small horses with flowing manes.
p10 in 'Ghosts of Wiltshire' by Peter Underwood (1989).
Their are two theories as to the origins of this term;-
a) Originally a loan from Old Norse hand-festa "to strike a bargain by joining hands".
b) "Handfasting" was the word used by the ancient Celts to describe their traditional trial-marriage ceremony, during which couples were literally bound together. The handfasting was a temporary agreement, that expired after a year and a day. However, it could be made permanent after that time, or continued for another year and a day, if both spouses agreed.
Either way, handfasting was suppressed following the Synod of Whitby in 664, when Celtic Christianity was abandoned for the Catholic Church. At The Council of Trent, 1545-1563, Roman Catholic marriage laws were changed in order for any marriage to require the presence of a priest.
This change did not extend to the regions affected by the Protestant Reformation, and in Scotland, marriage by consent remained in effect.
By the 18th century, the Kirk of Scotland no longer recognized marriages formed by mutual consent and subsequent sexual intercourse, even though the Scottish civil authorities did. This situation persisted until 1940, when Scottish marriage laws were reformed.
In the 18th century, well after the term handfasting had passed out of usage, there arose a popular myth that it referred to a sort of "trial marriage". A.E. Anton, in Handfasting' in Scotland (1958) finds that the first reference to such a "trial marriage" is by Thomas Pennant in his 1790 Tour in Scotland. This report had been taken at face value throughout the 19th century, and was perpetuated.
In 1820, Sir Walter Scott used the term to refer to a fictional sacred ritual that bound the couple in a form of temporary marriage for a year and a day. He wrote of it in his book "The Monastery:"
"When we are handfasted, as we term it, we are man and wife for a year and a day; that space gone by, each may choose another mate, or, at their pleasure, may call the priest to marry them for life; and this we call handfasting."
During the 1995 movie, Braveheart, Mel Gibson, in the role of William Wallace, was handfasted with his girlfriend Murron. Handfasting has since grown in popularity among Cowans (non-Pagans), particularly those whose distant ancestors lived in ancient Celtic lands.
Modern usage, A Neopagan handfasting
In the present day, some Neopagans practice this ritual. The marriage vows taken may be for "a year and a day", a lifetime, "for all of eternity" or "for as long as love shall last", sometimes called "till the end of love". Whether the ceremony is legal, or a private spiritual commitment, is up to the couple. Depending on the state where the handfasting is performed, and whether or not the officiate is a legally recognized minister, the ceremony itself may be legally binding, or couples may choose to make it legal by also having a civil ceremony.
Modern handfastings are performed for heterosexual or homosexual couples, as well as for larger groups in the case of polyamorous relationships. Currently, handfasting is a legal Pagan wedding ceremony in Scotland, but not in England, Wales or Ireland.
In 2000, William Mackie, a bishop of Celtic Church in Scotland, a small faith group that has attempted to recreate Celtic Christianity and promote the legalization of handfasting ceremonies said: "I plan to lobby MSPs to get it reinstated in its entirety: a lot of people make a mistake and, as long as there are no children involved, the one year opt-out would save a lot of hassle."
As with many Neopagan rituals, some groups may use historically attested forms of the ceremony, striving to be as traditional as possible, while others may use only the basic idea of handfasting and largely create a new ceremony.
As many different traditions of Neopaganism use some variation on the handfasting ceremony, there is no universal ritual form that is followed, and the elements included are generally up to the couple being handfasted. In cases where the couple belong to a specific religious or cultural tradition, there may be a specific form of the ritual used by all or most members of that particular tradition. The couple may conduct the ceremony themselves or may have an officiant perform the ceremony. In some traditions, the couple may jump over a broom at the end of the ceremony. Some may instead leap over a small fire together. Today, some couples opt for a handfasting ceremony in place of, or incorporated into, their public wedding. As summer is the traditional time for handfastings, they are often held outdoors.
A corresponding divorce ceremony called a handparting is sometimes practiced, though this is also a modern innovation. In a wiccan handparting, the couple may jump backwards over the broom before parting hands.
As with more conventional marriage ceremonies, couples often exchange rings during a handfasting, symbolizing their commitment to each other. Many couples choose rings that reflect their spiritual and cultural traditions, while others choose plainer, more conventional wedding rings. These are sometimes referred to as a Claddagh ring. In Oliver Stone's movie, The Doors, Jim Morrison and one of his girl friends, Patricia Kennealy-Morrison, are seen exchanging marriage vows and rings at a Celtic Pagan handfasting ceremony in June 1970.
I feel this covers the basics of Handfasting, with the principles, beliefs and symbolism.
If approved by the TMA eds, I shall post up some pictures of an actual Handfasting, as carried out on the Ring-Stone.
Stories abound of local people seeing spectral figures and moving lights around the stones at night, as well as hearing phantom singing. As a result, the stones are still treated with a healthy respect. And there is a belief that buildings which have been constructed from former standing stones are subject to a poltergeist-like manifestation known as "The Haunt".
Stories abound eh - well I've not been able to find many about Avebury, so either this is an advertising ploy or some people better get typing.
From 'Ghosts' by Sian Evans (a book about National Trust properties), published 2006.
Maybe the 70s tv series 'Children of the Stones' is considerably more frightening than reality? I can recommend renting it - megalithic anoraky, 70s fashion and excruciating singing. There is a short clip on You Tube here: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=e8tui_jUfWw
In her 'Ghosts and Legends of the Wiltshire Countryside', Kathleen Wiltshire says:
"The late Miss Edith Olivier, the author of several books of Wiltshire interest, told of an experience she had had when driving her car from Devizes to Marlborough one night in the years of the First World War. She arrived at Avebury just at twilight, and pulled up her car to look down into the Circle. There she saw the lights and heard the music of a fair being held amongst the stones, so she drove on to Marlborough. On her arrival there, she remarked to someone what she had seen at Avebury, only to be told no such fair was being held; the last fair was held there at least fifty years before. Miss Olivier said she could only suppose she had experienced 'hindsight'."
Edith Olivier wasn't a stranger to such weird experiences. Apparently she once saw Lyonesse from Land's End. That may or may not affect your view of her tale above.
She relates the 'fair' story in a book called 'Without knowing Mr Walkley' and not content with just claiming to see a fair from the past, 'it turns out' that she saw the long-lost Beckhampton Avenue too. There's more you can read at the 'UFOarea' website. Personally I think she had a rather creative mind. But why spoil a good story. http://www.ufoarea.com/physics_cosmology_windowavebury.html
There doesn't seem to be a legend to explain how the stones got here - Jordan in her 'Folklore of Ancient Wiltshire' suggests that perhaps that's because of the village: familiarity breeds contempt?
Various stones have special names; there's the Swindon stone mentioned below, the Devil's Chair at the southern entrance (young women reputedly sat in it to make a wish on May Day Eve), and the cove of the N inner circle were called the 'Devil's Brand Irons'.
There is a rumour (mentioned by Stukeley?) that snakes cannot live within the circle. But in christian mythology the snake often represents the devil. So really you'd expect the circle to be knee-deep in snakes! However, on the church font at Avebury there is a carving of a bishop crushing a dragon/serpent with his crozier (nasty man) - so perhaps the 'no snakes' thing is actually a memory of the christian church insisting that Paganism Is Over Around Here. On the other hand, you will notice that the church isn't actually within the stone circle: perhaps they didn't dare put it in there??
Double-ditched curvilinear enclosure with an internal pit visible as a cropmark within the henge at Avebury.
A 1:1000 scale level 3 photogrammetric survey of the features visible as parch marks within the henge at Avebury was carried out by the RCHME Air Photography Unit between the 17th and 28th June 1996. The survey was carried to record a newly discovered double-ditched enclosure situated within the north-western quadrant of the henge. The enclosure is cut by the garden wall of one of the houses on the northern side of road. Faint traces of the enclosure can be discerned within the garden. The enclosure is curvilinear with four convex sides and very curved corners. Within the enclosure there appears to be a central pit. No previous record of the site is known, and it was not recorded during the early surveys of the site, indicating that it had been eroded or flattened very early on. A morphological parallel has been suggested between this and the Neolithic oval barrow at Radley nr Abingdon (Bradley 1992 and Wilson 1982). Photogrammetric plans were prepared with the aid of the AERIAL 4.20 rectification software published by Bradford University. The resultant plan was combined with the RCHME earthwork survey at 1:1000 scale. Also included were the parchmarks noted on the ground in 1990 by the RCHME Field survey. The plan, report and digital files are held by the RCHME (Collection UID 1057206). (1) A discussion of the cropmark, accompanied by photographs and transcription, has been published (4).
The story of the Barber surgeon of Avebury is one that most visitors to the prehistoric site of Avebury Henge have heard.
The traditional story goes as follows:
A pious traveller was assisting the folk of Avebury in burying the pagan standing stones in the village during the fourteenth century. Alas as he was busily digging out the underside of a stone it fell over, crushing him and entombing him beneath it. The archaeologist Alexander Keiller lifted the stone to reinstate it in 1938 and found the man's remains underneath. Items found with the body including coins, scissors and an iron medical probe identified him as an itinerant mediaeval barber surgeon who had sadly been hoisted by his own petard.
Keiller sent the remains to the curator of the museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, whom he felt would appreciate the find. It was thought to have been destroyed during bombing in the Second World War but was rediscovered and re-examined in 1998. A large healed cut wound was noticed on the skull but no evidence of traumatic death was identified and it was suggested that the man had been buried beneath a stone rather than crushed by it.
On the destruction of the remaining stones of the northerly inner circle:
.. in 1812 there were four [stones surrounding the cove], and it is only within the last two years that this number has been reduced. I saw the man who destroyed them. He was a labourer employed on Mr. Naldy's farm, and it was by Mr. Naldy's orders that they were broken to pieces. The reason was that they stood inconveniently to him in his husbandry arrangements; but this reason would press quite as strongly against the two cove-stones, for they stand in the midst of his hay-ricks, and may perhaps occasion some little inconvenience in the piling up or taking down the produce of the farm.
But beside the destruction of two uprights, the same person acknowledged to having broken to pieces one which had fallen; and another person in the village told me that two of the prostrate stones, besides the two uprights, had lately been broken to pieces, by tenants of Mr. Thring of Wilton, of whom Mr. Naldy was one. It was added that the tenant had received permission from the owner, but this may be a mistake. Such an unparalleled remain may be in little esteem with "the dull swain, Who treads on it daily, with his clouted shoon:" -- but something better may be expected where the proprietorship resides.
There is, however, no replacing them as the Rocking-stone was replaced; for they were broken to pieces, and the new wall on the Swinden road is composed of the fragments.
Ever wondered what people did at Avebury before the invention of the dustman?
Thirteen men were employed last April in the reexcavation of the great fosse at Avebury.. on the east side of the Kennet Causeway... This immense fosse had been partly reexcavated in 1914, when owing to danger to children and animals, it had to be fenced in, and it was only during the spring that this work could be completed.
During this time .. a large amount of talus had formed. It was intended to measure this [to determine] what rate these chalk ditches silted up from natural causes; but.. during the interval of eight years the villagers found the 'hole' an attractive dump for their broken crockery, worn-out domestic utensils and rubbish. It took the greater part of the first week to remove the rubbish and the eight years' accumulation of silting.
You'd imagine it was ever thus? From a report in The Times 14 August 1922, quoted in Proc Bris Glouc Arch Soc Trans 44 (1922).
1663. King Charles IId discoursing one morning with my Lord Brounker and Dr. Charleton concerning Stoneheng, they told his Majestie, what they had heard me say concerning Aubury, sc. that it did as much excell Stoneheng as a Cathedral does a Parish Church. His Majestie admired that none of our Chorographers had taken notice of it: and commanded Dr. Charlton to bring me to him the next morning.
I brought with me a draught of it donne by memorie only: but well enough resembling it, with which his Majestie was pleased: gave me his hand to kisse, and commanded me to waite on him at Marleborough when he went to Bath with the Queen about a fortnight after, which I did: and the next day, when the court were on their journey, his Majestie left the Queen and diverted to Aubury, where I showed him that stupendous Antiquity, with the view whereof He and his Royal Highness the Duke of Yorke were very well pleased.
His Majestie then commanded me to write a Description of it, and present it to him, and the Duke of Yorke commanded me to give an account of the old Camps and Barrows on the Plaines. As his Majestie departed from Aubury to overtake the Queen he cast his eie on Silbury-hill about a mile off: which he had the curiosity to see, and walkt up to the top of it, with the Duke of Yorke; Dr. Charlton and I attending them...
Quoted in 'Wiltshire: the topographical collections of John Aubrey,' JE Jackson 1862. This also has Aubrey's plans of the circle, and a discussion of these by Jackson.
A wry comment in the 1950 edition of the Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine, which highlights how it is not always 'riffraff' which damage archaeological sites; perhaps interesting in light of the present issues at Silbury?
Even under Mr Keiller's care, it has not been possible to foresee or provide against all forms of attack, and in the distraction of the present moment [the site being signed over to the nation] it is more than ever difficult to protect the stones of Avebury.
Thus within the month that preceded the completion of these protracted negotiations two megaliths were defaced with the bench-mark of the Ordnance Survey! The broad arrow of the symbol carries a suggestion befitting the desecration*.
How are we to be sure that other sign manuals are not appended in future? [Avebury's] policing, if it comes to that, will not be easy.
*the arrows on prison uniforms, I assume. Good one.
Aubrey "heard the minister of Aubury say those huge stones may be broken in what part of them you please without any great trouble. The manner is thus: they make a fire on that line of the stone where they would have it to crack; and, after the stone is well heated, draw over a line with cold water, and immediately give a smart knock with a smyth's sledge, and it will breake like the collets at the glasse-house."
(quoted in 'Avebury, the biography of a landscape' by Pollard and Reynolds (2002), maybe from Aubrey's 'Monumenta Britannica'?)
The famous antiquarian John Aubrey (1626-97) began his interest in prehistoric monuments when he was inspired by unexpectedly seeing Avebury while out hunting in 1648.
"I was wonderfully surprised at these vast stones, of which I had never heard before, as also the mighty bank and graff about it.. I left my company a while, entertaining myself with a more delightful indagation."
(taken from R Whitlock's 1976 'The folklore of Wiltshire')
Visited 13th July 2003
I followed Burls circuitous route around Avebury, but this was not before having an entertaining beer in the Red Lion. A gentleman by the name of Badg (probably Badger) entertained the bikers, crusties and bemused families with small children. He cursed the motorized ones from his vantage point of the white lines in the middle of the road. Great stuff.
There are a few crop circles there at the moment, I couldn't see their design from where I was. I wasn't going to walk up to them as I had a 350 mile journey ahead of me.
This is much better than stonehenge, pitty about the obelisks
AN AVENUE, A COVE AND AN ENCLOSURE: FURTHER FIELDWORK AS BECKHAMPTON, NEAR AVEBURY
In Past 34 we reported on the excavation, during 1999, of a newly-discovered Neolithic enclosure near Avebury, Wiltshire, and the rediscovery of a second megalithic avenue (the 'Beckhampton Avenue') leading from the Avebury henge. Undertaken by a team from the Universities of Leicester, Southampton and Wales (Newport) with generous funding from the AHRB, work on these monuments continued during 2000 and 2002. (Like so many projects, our plans for fieldwork during 2001 had to be curtailed due to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth.) Further sections of the avenue and enclosure were investigated, including what we believe to be the avenue's original terminal (or beginning, depending on your orientation) - a massive and largely unparalleled box-like megalithic setting known as the 'Longstones Cove'.
Our excavations have focussed on an area 1-2 km to the south-west of Avebury near the village of Beckhampton. The sequence of Neolithic activity here is a long one, beginning with limited occupation and cultivation during the earlier 4th millennium BC, as revealed by John Evans' earlier work on the nearby South Street long barrow (Ashbee et al. 1979). This in turn was followed by the creation during the mid-4th millennium BC of the South Street barrow and the nearby Beckhampton or 'Longstones' long mound. We now know from radiocarbon dates and finds of Grooved Ware on the base of the ditch that our oval enclosure was constructed early in the later Neolithic, around 2900-2700BC. This puts it more or less contemporary with the Avebury henge enclosure (Pitts & Whittle 1992). However, the Beckhampton enclosure and Avebury henge were very different monuments. In stark contrast to the truly monumental scale of Avebury, the Beckhampton enclosure was a slight and ephemeral monument that was to leave little tangible trace in the landscape. The ditch was no more than 0.9m deep and showed no evidence of recutting. It appears to have been systematically backfilled perhaps a century or two after being dug. The circuit of the ditch was interrupted by frequent causeways, with a major entrance (of the order of 40m wide) on the east. It is highly significant that the style of the monument is more akin to earlier Neolithic causewayed enclosures than it is to contemporary henges. The enclosure's builders may deliberately have set out to create an anachronistic monument, perhaps out of respect to earlier sacred traditions, as a process of emulation, or as an intentional act of recreation.
Trenches dug within the interior of the enclosure failed to reveal any prehistoric features, nor were any visible on geophysical surveys of the site undertaken by the Ancient Monuments Laboratory of English Heritage. Finds from the ditch were few. A scatter of pig, cattle and sheep bones on the base near the eastern entrance could relate to a brief episode of feasting following on from the construction of the enclosure. Other finds of bone and antler came from the base of the later backfill. Set within grazed grassland, perhaps the enclosure was visited infrequently, if at all, once constructed. In this context it was probably the act of construction that was important, rather than an intention to create a lasting statement within the landscape.
Despite the excavation of 150m of its length (comprising 13 individual stone settings), the chronology of the avenue remains imprecise. It is almost certainly secondary to the enclosure, and may come at the end of the Neolithic sequence in the region, that is around 2500-2300BC. A further pair of stone settings was investigated during 2000, both stones having suffered the common fate of fire-setting and breaking in the early 18th century. We also explored the area immediately around one of the two surviving Longstones ('Adam'). This massive block of sarsen stone was recorded as the sole survivor of a megalithic 'box' or 'cove' by the antiquary William Stukeley; who recorded much of the avenue during a concerted period of stone destruction between 1700-1725. Our excavations showed this setting to incorporate two distinct phases. The first comprised a linear setting of three stones 40m across, forming a simple 'T-shaped' terminal to the avenue immediately to the south-west of the earlier enclosure. Two of the stones were then taken down and their sockets carefully backfilled with chalk. The central stone (set on the centre axis of the avenue) was left in place to form the south-eastern side of the cove. With splayed sides, the cove enclosed an area of c.15 x 10 m; the individual stones standing 2.5-3.5 m above ground and weighing up to 60 tonnes each. Unfortunately, all the stone sockets had been extensively disturbed during the phase of stone destruction recorded by Stukeley, but sufficient survived of one to show that the stones were held in place by a packing of small sarsen boulders. From the stone sockets and fills of later destruction pits came several thousand of pieces of worked flint, much of it debitage from rather ad hoc working.
Almost invariably associated with henges and stone circles, cove settings are known elsewhere, for example at Stanton Drew in Somerset, Mount Pleasant in Dorset, and locally within the Avebury henge (Burl 1988). However, none of these approach the scale of the Longstones Cove, nor do they form 'closed' four-sided settings of this kind. The Longstones Cove might, as Burl has suggested for others, reference the format of earlier megalithic burial chambers (ibid., 7). Alternatively, its closed format could have drawn upon memory of the earlier enclosure - a transformation from earth to stone that would parallel the lithic conversion of certain late Neolithic wooden monuments, such as the Sanctuary at the end of the West Kennet Avenue. Either way, themes of time, transformation and a desire to make reference to the past, seem to be deeply implicated in the Beckhampton monuments.
In tracking the course of the Beckhampton Avenue from Avebury to Longstones Field, Stukeley's observations have proved extremely reliable. He was convinced that the avenue continued beyond Longstones Field to the south-west, eventually terminating on a low hill at Fox Covert ('a most solemn and awful place': Stukeley 1743, 36). His projected course seemed to be supported by the discovery in 1968 of a large sarsen buried in a pit alongside the present A4 (Anon 1969, 127). Wishing to confirm or refute this south-western extension of the avenue, we returned to the field during Easter 2002. We were again aided by a geophysical survey undertaken by the Ancient Monuments Laboratory. However, this and another geophysical survey further along the projected line failed to detect any buried stones or stone destruction pits. Excavation likewise drew a blank. Did the avenue really extend this far? We think not. Re-analysis of Stukeley's field notes suggests his identification of this stretch of the avenue was based on the presence of only a small number of recumbent stones, all of which could be naturally occurring sarsens. His records for this section were clearly quite speculative. Technically the case is 'not proven' and many ambiguities remain. However, our opinion would favour a termination of the avenue in Longstones Field, at or just beyond the cove. From the end of one avenue to the end of the other, this makes Avebury an impressive 4km long.
University of Leicester
On the way to Stonehenge at the end of last year two of our members stopped off briefly at Avebury. There was only time for a quick walk over to the Cove where they took some photos. It was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Bright, low sunlight raked across the stones from the west. Later, when they looked at their photos, there was something on one of the Cove stones that they hadn’t noticed before.
"Today, we must celebrate John Aubrey's dramatic rediscovery of Avebury – the world's largest prehistoric stone circle – whilst out hunting with fellow royalists during the English Civil War, exactly three hundred and sixty-two years ago. For Aubrey's heroic retrieval of this vast but (by then) long forgotten Stone Age temple confronted the then-accepted notion that only the coming of the Romans had forced a degree of culture upon the barbaric Ancient British, and also confounded the then-popular 17th-century belief – propounded by the highly influential Scandinavian antiquaries Olaus Magnus and Ole Worm – that all such megalithic culture had its archaic origins in Europe's far north. Indeed, so rich were the cultural implications of John Aubrey's re-discovery that – come the fall of Oliver Cromwell's 11-year-long Commonwealth and the subsequent Restoration of the Monarchy – even the returned King Charles II would himself insist on taking one of Aubrey's celebrated tours of the Avebury area. But how could the world's largest stone circle have suffered such a total cultural extinction in the first place? "
Avebury: A Journey to the Past by Gordon Kingston.
Part 1 of Gordon's personal, and very sensitive account, of his homecoming journey to Avebury appears on the Heritage Journal today. Part 2 will appear on Tuesday, 28 September and Part 3 on Thursday, 30 September.
This page gives the times of opening and cost of entry for the Alexander Keiller Museum, Barn gallery and National Trust shop. It also has other information about access to the site and contact details for the local NT.