The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

West Kennet

Long Barrow

Fieldnotes

30th July 2020

Another return trip to Avebury, but this time to view something that often goes amiss. A quiet lull in the speeding traffic on the A4 allowed me to pull over in the layby, park up and make the journey on foot to the West Kennet Long Barrow. My journey uphill was promising enough, an avenue of golden barley shimmered in the sweltering sun, with the barrow suddenly appearing at the crest of the hill.

I had mixed emotions. I was pleased to finally see the site, but had not expected to it to be so busy, especially compared to my previous experience of Wayland's Smithy. Families picnicked directly in front of the entrance, claiming it for their own like a spot on the beach. Discarded beer bottles lay nearby, while unsupervised children ran amok in the chamber, whacking the stones with sticks and retrieving offerings of coins left in good faith by previous visitors, pocketing them after excitedly declaring their finds to their disinterested parents.

One of the fathers treated one of the facing stones like a climbing range, which only encouraged the children to follow suit as best as they could, as he reached the summit. This revered site looked more like a play area in a pub garden, than an ancient monument. I quietly reasoned that all things must pass, and that these people would bore easily and leave soon, allowing me the chance to explore in a more reverent fashion. All the while I wondered, how can we expect children to learn about the past, while we trample carelessly over it and without respect?

The arrival of a National Trust ranger to check the site and collect litter soon encouraged a cessation in horseplay and I was free to enter the chamber. I ignored the sound of children beating sticks against the plastic apertures in the ceiling above as best as I could, and sought to explore the entrance to the barrow. A grand affair compared to my much beloved Wayland's Smithy, allowing visitors to stand upright, rather than crouched, with four antechambers and exploration space of 13 metres before reaching the sealed wall of the tomb.

The chamber was marvellously cool compared to the scorching heat of the sun outside and I took photos to complete my study. As I took one photo of the end of the chamber, I was aware of a fleeting mist in front of the lens and just outside of my peripheral vision. My rational side registered this as atmospheric change in the chamber, or my eyes adjusting to the light coming through the ceiling aperture. But what I like to think is that something within the chamber identified me as someone intent on visiting with purpose and respect, rather than as a mere hot Summer day's distraction. Perhaps this was a way of indicating I was welcome?

Reaching the end of the chamber, I was impressed with how the light at the entrance shone and illuminated the passage. I vowed to return during a less popular season, where I might have greater opportunity to attune to the site and encounter others who might not treat it as a trifle fancy or item on the summer holiday checklist.

My experience that day was encapsulated while driving back down the West Kennet Avenue, after a meal at The Red Lion. I travelled at a respectful speed down the track, enjoying glances at the sight of the stones lining the avenue to my right, while keeping an eye on the road ahead. The driver behind couldn't accept 30mph as an acceptable speed and overtook, roaring down the road before having to break suddenly at a pinchpoint, in front of oncoming traffic.

Everyone in life is heading to their destination, but we must take the time to enjoy the journey, wonder and learn. For what is a life worth living, if we're blind to the mysteries that surround us?
Spiddly Posted by Spiddly
31st July 2020ce
Edited 31st July 2020ce

Comments (3)

Love these notes. I've often wondered whether sites were meant to be experienced as a riot of noise back in the day.... or in a manner more in line with the awed silence of some modern ceremonies? As for myself, I need silence to focus my own thoughts - so have to time visits to popular sites accordingly. GLADMAN Posted by GLADMAN
31st July 2020ce
Just read your fieldnotes, thank you. Have visited many times as live a bus ride away. Never have I witnessed such behaviour though there have often been families there - usually taking some level of interest. You are not the first person who has experience 'something' inside the barrow - I have two or three reliable friends who also have similar stories.
I visited for the first time in a while about three weeks ago, the barley just turning gold. Spent quite a bit of time outside the barrow looking at the wild flowers seeded there. It was also a time of quiet reflection on the friend I first went there with back in the early 2000s. The friend and I later fell out and our ways parted - I heard recently they had died. Hearing such news under those circumstances weighs heavily, an almost illicit grief that cannot be expressed. My recent visit laid it all to rest and I came away a much lighter person.
tjj Posted by tjj
31st July 2020ce
People eh? don't get me started.
You might want to try hanging out at a slightly less famous world heritage site.
postman Posted by postman
1st August 2020ce
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