The summer solstice is always very busy at Avebury – this year is likely to be no exception. If you are coming to mark midsummer at Avebury, do plan well in advance. Please consider coming for a shorter time so you don’t need to stay overnight and use public transport if at all possible... continues...
Landscape with Stones: Paintings and woodcuts by Nick Schlee
"An exhibition of oil paintings and woodcuts by British landscape artist Nick Schlee, focusing on Avebury and the Ridgeway. This new exhibition features some of Nick Schlee's most bold and vivid work portraying the ancient monument of Avebury and the nearby Ridgeway... continues...
"The gateway to the Avebury World Heritage Site has been transformed after work to bury unsightly electricity cables was completed…"
"The project, which started over three years ago, was made possible by a partnership involving Wiltshire Council, the National Trust, North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding National Beauty, English Heri... continues...
Following the request made by certain members of the Council of British Druid Orders in June 2006 for the reburial of ancient ancestral remains excavated from the Avebury Complex in Wiltshire, in 2008 English Heritage and the National Trust launched a consultation exercise to take public input... continues...
This year the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Sarsen Trail, and to mark this milestone is encouraging us to take part in the 'Walk for Wildlife Week' which precedes the Trail, Saturday 26th April to Sunday 4th May.
The Week will culminate with the Sarsen Trail and Neolithic Marathon on Sunday 4th May... continues...
Fyfield Down and Overton Down Wilshire, near Avebury, the Sanctuary and the Ridgeway.
The megalithic trail of limestone blocks from which the ancients tooks stones to nearby Avebury leads from a footpath starting of the A4 near Fyfield up a climb to Overton Hill. Instantly you stumble across grey blocks which lie in the field like the sheep after which they are named. Following the river of blocks through a farm yard and on the far side in the overgrown hedge are two standing stones, about two to two and a half metres tall. Backtrack up past the barn and up the hill to Overton to where sarsen stones stand in a raw, wild landscape. This stands up above Avebury, but travel west across the gallops and you stumble upon the most awesome sight of all as hundreds of massive stones lay in a valley. This is a truly amazing place. It just doesn't seem real. A landscape completely alien to any other I have seen in Wiltshire, perhaps even the UK, and yet to the ancients must have been truly significant beyond merely a source of stone for the nearby rings and avenues. This site was the one I think Julian must have visited, although I didn't, know it by the name he used. Travel west past the massive rocks, south up over the hill through the lane to drop back onto the main A4 at Fyfield. Best in the rain or winter weather, when a sense of the gathering storm adds even more magic to an already impressive landscape.
Sometimes there breaks out water in the manner of a sudden land flood, out of certain stones (that are like rocks) standing aloft in open fields near the rising of the river Kenet in this shire, which is reputed by the common people a fore runner of death. That the sudden eruption of Springs in places, where they use not always to run, should be a sign of death, is no wonder. For these usuall eruptions (which in Kent we call Nailbourns) are caused by extream gluts of rain, or lasting wet weather, and never happen but in wet years (witness the year 1648 when there were many of them) In which years Wheat, and most other grain thrive not well (for a plain reason) and therefore a dearth succeeds the year following.
From 'Britania Baconica: or, The natural rarities of England, Scotland, and Wales', written by J Childrey (1662).
Always beware of local people spinning a yarn. Could this be useful advice to visitors during the circus surrounding Silbury's latest excavations?
[Around 1776 when the miners were excavating Silbury] a correspondent of the Salisbury Journal, with the intention of throwing ridicule on the undertaking, narrated [..] that some years previously a poor boy who was carrying a pitcher of milk along the high road at that spot, fell down and broke the vessel. A tailor, who lived at Avebury close by, met the boy lamenting his case just at the same moment that a carriage appeared in sight. He, therefore, directed him to shout out lustily in order to excite the compassion of the passengers, and advancing up to the coach himself, observed that the poor lad had but too much reason for his lamentations, for the urn which he had broken had but just before been exhumed by his father, and as a piece of antiquity was of such rare value, that Dr. Davis of Devizes would no doubt have given a guinea for it. This declaration so wrought upon the curiosity of the travellers, that after due examination of the fractured vessel, and a consultation as to the possibility of uniting the fragments, they agreed to give a crown for the article, and drove off with their prize. The tailor then gave the boy one shilling, and appropriated four to himself.
From 'A History Military and Municipal of the Town of Malborough. James Waylen. 1854. p406.
I was enquiring for the Sarsen Stones or Grey Wethers, when only about a furlong from them, but an old man and his neice did not know either name; at last they suggested that what I was seeking was what they called the Thousand Stones. The man told me (what I had heard before) that the stones certainly grew; he had seen this, for, when he was a boy, there were not nearly so many, nor were they so large, as now. (June 1901.)
Scraps of Folklore Collected by John Philipps Emslie
C. S. Burne
Folklore, Vol. 26, No. 2. (Jun. 30, 1915), pp. 153-170.
A small tribute to the 49 bus between Swindon- Avebury-Devizes.
The 49 bus route from Swindon to Devizes via Avebury is my favourite bus journey. For quite a few years I only really went as far as Avebury, having joined the now defunct internet forum set up to discuss all aspects of Avebury. A disparate collection of people though we were, we often arranged ‘meets’ at Avebury, immersing ourselves in the WHS landscape. All good things come to an end and the Avebury Forum eventually folded but even now there is nothing better on a breezy day than a walk along the Avenue to Waden Hill - climbing up to see Silbury against the cloudscape of the day.
These days life has moved on and I now have a regular commitment in Devizes so make the return journey at least once a week, always sitting upstairs. When the bus climbs the hill out of Wroughton just south of Swindon, the landscape opens out into downland; on we go past the Hackpen White Horse at Broad Hinton. Sheep grazing, a buzzard or two sitting motionless in a ploughed field, very occasionally lapwings or fieldfares. Sometimes the downs are covered in layers of mist which is always beautiful to see. Then through Avebury, always people wandering about regardless of the weather – always a different view, depending on which side of the bus I sit. On past Silbury sitting enigmatic as always in the landscape, past the Adam and Eve stones and the Beckhampton long barrow. Then a long stretch of straight road between Beckhampton and Bishop Cannings. Bronze Age round barrows strung out at various points on either side of the road (a couple in the garden of a farmhouse). I believe there is also a long barrow out there somewhere though I’ve never been able to identify it. Travelling upstairs on the 49 bus is a great way to see a truly unique archaeological landscape and to see the way modern day farming practices intersect with it.
The cuckoo's double note
Loosened like bubbles from a drowning throat
Floats through the air
In mockery of pipit, lark and stare.
The stable boys thud by
Their horses slinging divots at the sky
And with bright hooves
Printing the sodden turf with lucky grooves.
As still as a windhover
A shepherd in his napping coat leans over
His tall sheep-crook
And shearlings, tegs and yoes cons like a book.
And one tree-crowned long barrow
Stretched like a sow that has brought forth her farrow
Hides a king's bones
Lying like broken sticks among the stones.
Sarsen is a village that has no great landlord. There are fifty small proprietors, and not a single resident magistrate. Besides the small farmers, there are scores of cottage owners, every one of whom is perfectly independent.
Nobody cares for anybody. It is a republic without even the semblance of a Government. It is liberty, equality, and swearing. As it is just within the limit of a borough, almost all the cottagers have votes, and are not to be trifled
with. The proximity of horse-racing establishments adds to the general atmosphere of dissipation. Betting, card-playing, ferret-breeding and dogfancying, poaching and politics, are the occupations of the populace.
A little illicit badger-baiting is varied by a little vicar-baiting.
"These downes looke as if they were sowen with great Stones, very thick, and in a dusky evening they looke like a flock of Sheep: one might fancy it to have been the scene, where the giants fought with huge stones against the Gods. " Twas here that our game began, and the chase led us through the village of Avbury...."
Two widely spaced letters about the threats to the stones:
To the editor of The Times.
Sir, -- [..] you will perhaps agree with me in the regret, amounting to horror, which I have just felt in observing, as I passed the "Gray Wethers" on Marlborough-downs, that the utilitarian work of destruction is actually breaking up these ancient stone, whether for repairing the roads or extending the herbage I know not.
Surely no modern barbarian, whether he be a commissioner of the turnpikes or a wealthy agriculturist, has any better right to deprive his country of these fine Druidic relics of the earliest age than he has to blow up Stonehenge and then to chip it into fragments; or to level the stupendous barrow of Silbury-hill in order to bring a few more acres into cultivation.
What are the county members, or the county magistrates, about, to suffer this work of spoilation to proceed! Are there no newspapers in Wiltshire! [..] Antiquarius.
The Times, Wednesday, Aug 12, 1840; pg. 3
[..] In consequence of a recent change of ownership.. there is every probability that the work of breaking up the Sarsens will be undertaken on a greatly extended scale.. the Grey Wethers in Pickle Dean and Lockeridge Dean would be the first to go, owing to their situation adjacent to high roads – while for the same reason their disappearance would be a greater loss to the public than the disappearance of those in more remote parts of the Downs.
[..] it was felt that steps ought to be taken to secure the preservation of some characteristic examples of the stones in their natural condition, and representations were made to the owner by the National Trust and the Wiltshire Archaeological Society. Mr. Alec Taylor, the present owner, met the representatives of the two societies in a friendly spirit; he stated at once that he intended to preserve.. the Devil's Den, and, after some further negotiations, he has given the National Trust an option to purchase about 11 acres in Pickle Dean and about 9 acres in Lockeridge Dean for £500 [..]
The Times, Friday, Jul 05, 1907; pg. 4
The stones were bought by the National Trust in 1907.
A curious watery factoid about the edge of the downs:
..The chalk ridge of Martinsell and St. Anne's Hill, not far from the centre of the county, furnishes three springs, which, as old Aubrey, the Wiltshire antiquary of the seventeenth century observed, 'do take their courses thence three several waies:' one to the German ocean through the Thames, one by Salisbury to the Channel, the third by Calne and Bristol into the Atlantic.
Renoted on p109 of a curiously anonymous article on Wiltshire in 'The Quarterly Review' no205, v103.(1858)
From the Diary of Richard Symonds, on Fyfield, 1644.
a place so full of grey pibble stone of great bignes as is not usually seene; they breake them and build their houses of them and walls, laying mosse betweene, the inhabitants calling them Saracens' stones, and in this parish [deposit] a mile and a halfe in length, they lie so thick as you may go upon them all the way. They call that place the Grey-weathers, because afar off they look like a flock of Sheepe.
Yes he really did say 'Sheepe'. But I do like the image of him hopping from one stone to another, the whole length of the stones.
quoted in 'Sarsens' by H C Brentnall in v51 (1945/6) of Wiltshire Archaeology magazine.
"Grey Wethers or Sarsen Stones" is a cartographic shorthand (some of these stones really do look like sheep from a distance) and crops up on the map all over Fyfield and Overton Down. There may be some confusion caused by the use of this name therefore. It should not be confused with the Greywethers stone circle in Devonshire.
Chris outlines his life in stone(s) writing that, "Eventually we had our first field trip and were taken to Lanhill and Lugbury Longbarrows. These two places are just a few miles from my doorstep and I never knew they existed. I was particularly interested in Lanhill with its stone walled entrance and little chamber. This was my first barrow experience and until this day I feel quite protective about it. Our next field trip was to the Avebury Complex including Windmill Hill, Silbury and West Kennet which just blew me away. The lectures and the field trip had such a big impact on me and gave me a love of the Neolithic people and their awesome structures which has remained with me ever since."
One of the Web sites relating to a collaboration between the Universities of Leicester, Newport and Southampton. This page links to interim reports on the 2001 and 2002 seasons, including the excavation of Falkner's Circle.
This new 35-minute documentary explores the past, present and future of the Marlborough Mound. This film uncovers the history of the Mound, explaining its legacy to those unaware of its profound importance, and to those curious about the unknown.
Manton Down Barrow Destroyed.
Discovery by Youth Hostel Party.
From our correspondent, Swindon, April 27.
The Long Barrow at Manton Down, near Marlborough, Wiltshire, which is believed to date from about 2,200 B.C., has been destroyed. Its destruction was discovered yesterday when a party of Youth Hostel Association members were taken to inspect the tumulus by Mr. N. Thomas, curator of Devizes Museum, and Mr. L.V. Grinsell, curator of the Department of Antiquities, City Museum, Bristol. Trees in the area had also been cleared.
Large stones which composed the barrow are scattered over a fairly wide area. Gathered around a solitary small tree are big sarsen stones at the point which was probably the burial chamber. Some now stand on edge. In a half circle from the rubble which originally composed the mound are groups of uprooted bushes and trees.
Mr. Thomas said to-day: "Mr. Grinsell and I are reporting the matter to the chief inspector of monuments at the Ministry of Works." The title of the barrow, he said, was something of a misnomer. It was, in fact, one of the shortest of the barrows, of which there are several in the locality. He put its length at about 80ft., and it would, he thought, have been about 3 ft. to 4ft. high. It was scheduled as an ancient monument.
Featuring my favourite folklore icon, Mr Grinsell. From The Times, April 28th, 1953. Can you imagine their faces (or the language). The next part of the story is in another post below.
I parked to the immediate east of Windmill hill, just off the A4361, opposite East farm, leaving my weary daughter on car protection duties, then made my way up the white horse trail. You only have to follow the path across two or three fields and already it has taken me unseeingly close by three barrows, I did see a lady who looked like she spends a lot of time sitting around ancient places. I could slip into her shoes or wellies as they may be, quite easily. In short time I reach the top, a National trust sign informs me I am at Windmill hill, tell me something I don't know, another more faded sign shows me there are more barrows up here than I had anticipated, something I didn't know.
Once through the gate the first barrow is almost on top of you, naturally, I got on top of it and had a look around. Oh dear, there's much more up here than I had thought. Close to me are more barrows, with ditches winding around and through and off away around the hill. I thought there may have been a couple of barrows at best, I'm not going to have enough time.
Then I make for a barrow shape, only to find it's one of them funny reservoir thingies. Humph!
From there I make for the big barrow at the top of the hill, only to get beaten to it by a whole family, first on the scene was a little girl who had as much energy and enthusiasm as a football team made of modern antiquarians, she was dancing and spinning round, rolling down the barrow, poking her nose into rabbity holes and everything. Don't see that very often.
Most of the family left quickly, leaving one adult overseeing the exuberant child, who was playing in the deep ditch of the barrow, I don't think I've ever seen such a good ditch around a barrow before, reminds me places like Bryn Celli Ddu and Maes Howe.
Time had passed by like I was stuck in a time warp, making it time to get going, I left the hill top to the next generation of barrow rollers, and passed out of view. Then we went home, the motorway was crap.