From The Sanctuary, a permissive path allows access to the remnants of West Kennett Avenue on the south side of the A4. This part of the monument seems to receive little attention, probably because of its separation from the better preserved section running northwestwards to Avebury.
However, it’s well worth a visit to make sense of the relationship of The Sanctuary and the henge complex. The first stone encountered is an enormous fallen slab, jutting out from the hedgeline. Beyond that is another fallen stone, apparently broken with a smaller piece placed on its top. The final stone in this group still stands, buried in the hedge and trapped behind barbed wire. It has been broken, leaving a short stump in place. Screened from the busy A4 by the thick hedge, this is a hidden spot, remarkably quiet for somewhere so close to the Avebury tourist hub. It doesn’t have the atmosphere or obvious draw of the well-known northern section of the Avenue, but it’s another part of the jigsaw that makes up this fascinating landscape.
Risking life and limb I cross the A4 onto the B4003, a narrow but busy road that runs parallel with the Avenue on its way to the henge. It’s worth stopping off at the single upright stone, separated from its companions by the road and hedges, looked down upon by the linear cemetery of massive round barrows along the Overton Hill ridge to the east.
And here I leave the henge, crossing the road to the Bison Stone at the northern end of West Kennett Avenue, which then marches over the lower slopes of Waden Hill. This is another fantastic monument, even in its slightly incomplete state. Each stone is full of character and in another place would be worthy of a visit in its own right (oh for a few of these paired up and heading up Leckhampton Hill!). Stone 35a is a particular draw, shark-like and angular. 37b reminds me of a lion and, with its pair, marks the southern end of the restored section.
As I reach the end, the treat of the day – a (roe?) deer runs straight down the Waden Hill path, no more than 100m ahead of me. It reaches the roadside fence, thinks better of it and heads back up the hill at a trot, finally silhouetted on the brow before disappearing. I follow its path and am rewarded soon enough with the wonder that is Silbury, below me and under a heavy sky foreshadowing another downpour later. But it's fine now and the summer vegetation along the Kennet path is scrubbed clean and shiny, with droplets hanging from every leaf.
If you are able I would highly recommend you walk the Avenue. You do feel (at least I did) that you are following in the footsteps of the ancestors - like you are taking part in some sort of procession. A lovely, easy walk on a nice day.
If, whilst mooching about the Avenue, you should happen to notice some anomalous concentric circular marks in the field on the hill opposite (not Waden, the other side), don't get excited, it's nowt more than the remains of last year's crop circle.
Take the time to examine as many stones as you can. They all have their own individual features, in that smashing sarseny style.
Access layby at 'West Kennett end' of Avenue. Through kissing gate. Undulating but smooth grass surface for length of Avenue. Also visible from road for whole distance, but feeling of procession needs to be experienced if at all possible.
Monday 15 September 2003
This is actually the first time I've been back to Avebury itself since 95ish. I visited quite a few of the more 'outlying' sites in July this year, but other than that, my visit around 95 was my only one. (Don't think it'll be so long until my next visit....)
I've really been racking my brains to think why I didn't walk or even really look at the Avenue on that previous visit. And I've been doing it ever since seeing some decent photos of it years ago!
Having looked at the fieldnotes on this website, it seems that I'm maybe not as unusual as I thought. There are far fewer than I expected, and I was astonished when I read the notes made by Rhiannon - I've had to rewrite the following to avoid too much duplication!!! The fact that they were made so recently and that the Avenue had been a site that Rhiannon had previously 'missed out' is almost spooky.
What she says in particular about the serpentine route and the feeling of 'rightness' in approaching Avebury this way is expressed so much better than I could have done it! So here comes some gibberish which is all I can find to add...!
So. WOW. West Kennett Avenue at last eh? High expectations? You bet. Met? You'd betta believe it!
What a buzz! It started in the car when we passed the 2 stones back along the road towards West Kennett, before you reach the remaining Avenue proper. And it hasn't ended yet, 6 and a half days later.
It's just so...effective...as a way to approach Avebury itself. The undulating ground and the meandering Avenue just add so much to the feeling of anticipation! And so many of the stones are such beautiful and interesting shapes!
Thanks for your fieldnotes Rhiannon! You saved me so much time and effort it's almost untrue!!!
Visiting on a Bank Holiday Monday I half expected the Avenue to be swarming with people. But of course it wasn't! I think part of the reason is because only a couple of stones are immediately visible from the henge end, so people don't think to walk down it. This is definitely their loss.
I had driven from the direction of West Kennett, and parked in the little layby just where the stones start, so I had a lovely walk into the circle and back - not to deprive the NT of their new ticket-machine monies, but personally this is the route I'd recommend if you fancy a bit of peace. I don't know for sure which direction the avenue was 'supposed to be used', but I do know that the way you experience reaching the main henge with the banks rising up in front of you is much more enlightening than the sudden way you enter it from the NT carpark.
Another advantage of this direction is that from lots of directions Windmill Hill doesn't look like much, which has always surprised me considering it's the Original site, older than Avebury. But walking towards it down the Avenue the Hill looks big and important: it clearly overarches the henge. Surely this must have been a consideration when this Avenue was put up?
Another thing that struck me was the way the Avenue is bordered by Avebury Down on one side, and Waden Hill on the other. You get the impression it is nestling between them, but take away the stones - yes, it would be a natural route, but somehow the stones highlight it. I really felt that the stones weren't Competing with the landscape, they weren't imposing on it. Some of them are pretty massive, but they're nothing compared to the surrounding landscape, nor I felt were they trying to be. You know how at some sites the stones feel the centre of attention (Long Meg feels like this to me) but here I didn't think they were. Neither were they echoing their surroundings like I felt at Castlerigg. They just 'show you the way'. Probably a bit obvious as it's an avenue? But it's not an enclosing, single minded 'This Way' sort of avenue. If you see what I mean.
I'd never walked down here before and so was pleasantly taken by its curving lines - it certainly feels profoundly un roman or christian! I thought it was quite funny that some of the stones are or should be on the opposite side of the road as the S swings round - typical that the road should develop straight from A to B through them. The S-shape reinforced to me how it's not a 'This Way, People, Hurry Up' kind of device. The journey is important - it's not just about funnelling people from one place to another.
Driving back past the Avenue and out towards the Beckington roundabout, Silbury Hill quickly appeared. I admit I'd kind of forgotten about it being so close, so it was quite surprising. I remembered that Waden Hill is the hill that plays the 'Silbury Game'. Everything is so linked here; the landscape is so full of 'monuments' and each one was added (one imagines in a meaningful way) onto a layout already in existence. There's so much we don't know and can probably never know, and wandering about in this landscape is so tantalising; it's like having a phrase on the tip of your tongue but just not being able to remember it.
Visited 29th December 2002: Despite the rain we walked most of the way down the renovated stretch of the West Kennett Avenue. I had planned to visit Falkner's Circle, but I stupidly left Merrick's directions in the car and couldn't remember where it was. This was the first time either of the boys had been to Avebury, so I decided not to hunt too hard for the circle and leave the avenue on a high note before Will got too pissed off with the rain.
Walked down the Avenue at 9am on a Sunday morning after already having spent a good two hours or so on the henge. As ever we had the place to ourselves. Regardless of the time of day this place is, in my experience nearly always empty. So many people seem to rush round the henge totally oblivious to the Kennet Avenue let alone Adam and Eve on Beckhampton. The belly of Stukeley's snake looked fine today, the glistening silver dew and the vivid greens and browns of the surrounding fields conjured up a child's felt-tip picture of this Solemne Walke.
The early morning light made the stones glimmer and encouraged me in my pathetic photgraphic attempts to emulate Max Milligan (more like Spike Milligan said Mrs RBD). The RBD children were delighted to find the axe marks at the south-eastern base of stone 19.
The excavations at Falkners Circle were in full swing when we passed again later that day on the way back to Marlborough.
Much has been written about this place but I wanted to reflect upon what Burl (1993) regarded as the minor mystery of the 16 missing stones. Between Aubrey's 1663 visit and Stukeley's 1723 visit, 16 large sarsens (stones nos. 5a-12b) were removed. There is no evidence of burning or burying. The familiar ugly obelisks now stand in their place at the Northernmost part of the Avenue.
Just beyond West Kennet we enter the precincts of the great temple of Avebury - if temple it be; for on the left hand stand the remains of what was once a grand avenue of huge stones that led to the Great Circle. The land surrounding these stones being now under cultivation, it is not always possible to follow the line of the avenue to its goal, but at certain times it can be done, and then the visitor, before reaching the outer stone circle, passes through the vallum which encircles it.
Many of the Avebury villagers hold to the not uncommon belief that stones grow. To prove that this is so they point out some in this avenue which they say are eighteen inches higher now than when as boys they first observed them.
'A history of the borough and town of Calne' by A E W Marsh (1904).
(SU 10326975 to SU 11846802) Stone Avenue (NR) (remains of)
In the main part of the West Kennett stone avenue there are 27 upright stones with heights ranging from 1.6 metres to 3.3 metres. Sites of stones are marked by 37 concrete pillars. (The modern spelling, signposts etc., is "Kennett", replacing the earlier "Kennet". Resurveyed at 1/2500.
The West Kennet stone avenue links the henge enclosure and stone circle complex at Avebury (SU 16 NW 22) with the Stone circle site known as the Sanctuary (SU 16 NW 102) on Overton Hill, running in an approximately south-easterly direction from the former to the latter. The course followed is by no means a direct one, with notable changes in direction as the Avenue approaches both Avebury and the Sanctuary. Excavations by Keiller in the 1930s focussed particularly on the northern end of the avenue as it approached Avebury, and resulted in the re-erection of some fallen stones and the marking out on the ground of the positions of stones no longer extant in this area. A Neolithic occupation site was also discovered alongside the stones (SU 16 NW 39). (4) Human remains and pottery, including part of a Beaker, have been found beneath some stones or in some stone holes. (4-5) Ucko et al (6) report on geophysical survey along sections of the avenue which suggests a more irregular course than previously thought. They also examine antiquarian accounts in detail.
The probably mistaken suggestion that a cove once stood within the avenue is discussed by Ucko et al (6) and (Burl) (7). (6-7) [See SU 16 NW 22 and 102 for more detailed bibliography. See SU 06
NE 62 for details of the Beckhampton stone avenue, which allegedly ran from Avebury's western entrance.]
An RCHME 1:2500 scale, level 3 air photographic interpretation survey (Event UID 936869) was carried out on this monument in January 1992. The monument is extant and no changes were made to the record. The archive created by this project (Collection UID 936807) is held by RCHME. (8)
West Kennett Avenue is formed by two roughly parallel rows of standing sarsen stones dating to around 3000 BC. The Avenue winds its way across the landscape east of Waden Hill and the River Kennett for a distance of about 2.3 km. In the best preserved 800 metre section there are 27 upright stones. Some of these have been restored to their original positions and in other locations there are concrete markers showing where stones are originally likely to have been positioned. The two rows stand on average 15 metres apart with the stones in each row about 20 metres apart. In 1913, a burial was found in the socket pit beneath one of the stones and further pits and features have been found within the line of the avenue or in close proximity. Keiller uncovered an occupation site containing hearths, rubbish pits, pottery sherds and other remains. At the southern end of the Avenue is a linear earthwork bank, which is believed to be associated with medieval management of the Kennet Valley. However it's location could indicate an earlier origin. The bank runs for about 320 metres and is 7 metres wide and up to a metre high. In the area between the Avenue and River Kennet there have been numerous finds including stone axes, pottery, Romano-British jewellery and coins.(9)
In Aubrey Burl's book 'Prehistoric Avebury' there is a reproduction of a plan made by John Aubrey of the Kennett Avenue. He drew an angled stone just outside of the main avenue - you have to look closely at the plan or you overlook it as a bit of dirt. But JA spoke about such an anomaly, and he believed it to be a cove. He described it as being south of Avebury and near to the Kennett, which on the plan it kind of is. People thought he was confused with the Avebury cove, but you certainly couldn't describe the cove within Avebury in those terms.
There was no trace of this angled stone left by 1723, but it's thought it was about SU11016881 - just about where the road intersects the avenue and there are some more stones (further south than the layby mentioned in the fieldnotes). In 1989 some geophysicists did their stuff there, but the survey showed nothing.
Stukeley (cheeky man) nicked the idea of there having been a Kennett Cove, and presented it as his own. But later he changed his mind on the matter - and now Aubrey's map has come to light, it seems that Aubrey will now get the credit again for his own theory.
If there was a cove, then it would probably (like the Avebury circle cove) have been built very early on in the area's history. It would have predated the avenue itself. Burl suggests the presence of the avenue cove could explain the irregular path of the avenue, or indeed of the avenue's existence at all, in that it was built to link an older holy place with the main Avebury complex. But then surely the avenue was linking the Sanctuary up with the Avebury cove anyway (picking up the proposed Avenue cove en route?). Anyway, it's another possible monument to try and fit into the overall complex of sites...
The Avenue connects the main Avebury circle with the Sanctuary up on Overton Hill. Nearly all the stones that were at the Sanctuary end were taken for buildings around West Kennett, but some remain. This lovely panorama shows you the field in which some of them lie (also read the WK Avenue forum thread for more details).