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Glos 'n' Oxon, Picnic People & Stomping in the Sun - Part 3

Part 1 is here
'Non-Avebury' AveburyMarlborough man
Sunday 27 July 2003
When planning this trip I'd been torn between trying to see as much as was humanly possible around Oxfordshire, or nipping down to the Avebury area.

If I went for the Avebury option I'd be going for sites other than the 'big 3' - Avebury itself, Silbury Hill and West Kennett Long Barrow. As I don't get dahn sarff often, they were the only ones I'd visited so far.

Inspired by talk at the picnic the day before I decided to forego the pleasures of Oxfordshire's more obscure sites, and instead go for a hell-for-leather approach to what became known to me as the 'non-Avebury' Avebury sites.

First stop though, on Baza's recommendation at the previous day's picnic, was Marlborough Mound.

Driving into Marlborough from the north on the A346 I followed the signs through the town towards Devizes. Along the town's main street, and at the end I spotted the (very narrow!) main entrance to Marlborough College.

There didn't look to be much room left to park in there, so I followed the main road round to the right, with the college on the left. the road went left again straight away, hugging the college walls. At this point, if not before, there was a sign for a visitors' car park and after a very short distance on the left, I turned into the college grounds.

Marlborough Mound — Images

<b>Marlborough Mound</b>Posted by Moth

Marlborough Mound — Fieldnotes

Sunday 27 July 2003
Having followed the signs into the visitors car park, I was now to the west of the college. Out of the car, I turned to look at the college and noticed that there were some unfeasibly high treetops towering over the buildings.

Knowing that there are trees on the Mound, I headed between the buildings and was soon standing beside the mound.

What a monster!!

And what a bizarre setting it has in the present day! It really is 'squished in' amongst the college buildings, almost giving the impression that should it decide to flex its muscles it would just sweep the encroaching buildings away.

The buildings make the mound difficult to photograph, but at the same time make for some interesting juxtapositions…. And I'm not even going to mention the irritating 'faux' standing stones etc 'littering' the college grounds….

Reckoned to be a close relative of Silbury Hill the Mound is very impressive once you manage to really see it and to ignore the nearest college buildings and the trees growing from the mound itself. According to most sources it is definitely the second biggest manmade mound in Europe after Silbury.

Unfortunately, it's actual purpose seems to be even more mysterious than Silbury's, and surely it simply wouldn't be big enough to play a similar role to Silbury in any landscape of special significance that once existed here?

Even though it's huge and second only to Silbury, it's actually pretty tiny in comparison to Silbury itself, so any parallel may be limited at best.

Yet on the other hand I couldn't help speculating. If it truly is next biggest to Silbury, so close to Silbury, and of a similar age to Silbury, could they have had purposes in common?

Maybe it's fanciful, but get rid of the town, make the mound white with chalk as Silbury was, see it from the surrounding ancient paths. Could it have 'worked'?

Wonder if it was bare white chalk ….
I wrote the above before checking the big papery TMA. It turns out that on pages 78-9 Julian actually says something quite similar, but written (as is Julian's tendancy) as if it is proven fact. Perhaps it is. I was going to delete my musings but then I thought 'well, not everyone has the book….'

And he says it WAS chalk.
As far as arranging visits is concerned, Baza's 'Sunday visit' tactic certainly worked for me at about 9.45am – absolutely nobody about to object to the fact that I hadn't got permission….

I spent about half an hour there, and the Mound is huge. It's fascinating. And it's hugely, fascinatingly perplexing!!!

But time was pressing, so it was 'on the road again' but only for about a mile and a half to the beginning of the path to the Devil's den.

Shake the devil
As Julian suggests in the big papery TMA, I parked on the left of the A4 at the entrance to Clatford Farm, on the verge in front of the farm sign on the west side of the entrance. I had to take care crossing the busy road to the beginning of the track at map ref SU158688.

If, as I did, you are going to walk a circular route past the Devil's Den over Fyfield Down, calling at Mother's Jam and the Polisher, and then returning by the Herepath and Long Tom, you might be better off parking in the car park at map ref SU159070. I'd also recommend a 1:25,000 map!

Devil's Den — Images

<b>Devil's Den</b>Posted by Moth<b>Devil's Den</b>Posted by Moth<b>Devil's Den</b>Posted by Moth<b>Devil's Den</b>Posted by Moth

Devil's Den — Fieldnotes

Sunday 27 July 2003
As Julian suggests in the big papery TMA, I parked on the left of the A4 at the entrance to Clatford Farm, on the verge in front of the farm sign on the west side of the entrance. I had to take care crossing the busy road to the beginning of the track at map ref SU158688.

After about 15 or 20 minutes the Devil's Den came into view near the bottom of the gentle slope up to the left. As vegetation was thick, I missed the path where it forks left from the track 20 yards or so before the dolmen. The path itself was fairly overgrown and the dolmen in crop.

I slowly and gently made my way through the crop. Judging from the mess in places though, I guess others hadn't been quite so careful.

I love dolmens (!) and this dolmen is everything I expected, despite the slightly dodgy restoration or repairs. Having not visited France, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall or Devon for some time, it felt quite odd to be looking at a dolmen. But good!

Photographic opportunities were limited by the thick crop, but I enjoyed the peace of the site and felt fortunate not to be disturbed.

As I walked around the dolmen a couple of times with my camera, its positioning in the valley seemed unusual, as I now see Rhiannon has remarked on this site. It's placing did however remind me slightly of Lambourn Seven Barrows that I had visited the day before.

With freedom to wander restricted by the crop, having taken a few photos I soon returned to the overgrown path and continued towards the main part of Fyfield Down. Luckily the path soon entered another field and was no longer overgrown.

It also contained a very pleasant spot where a smallish tree is surrounded by sarsen erratics. Amusingly reminiscent of Lundin Farm stone circle in Perthshire! I stopped here to empty my boots of seeds, thorns, 'sticky-buds' and all manner of other vegetable-based detritus. When will I learn not to wear shorts when megaraking?

Jamming and polishing
As the path rises, the view of the numerous sarsen stones or 'grey wethers' littering the valley floor is very impressive. As I descended into the stones I had no idea how easy it was to find the Mother's Jam 'altar stone' Julian refers to. I found the one photographed by rebrickdream, if that's it!

Fyfield Down — Images

<b>Fyfield Down</b>Posted by Moth

Rejoining the path a little further on, I went on to try to find 'The Polisher'.

The Polisher — Images

<b>The Polisher</b>Posted by Moth

The Polisher — Fieldnotes

Sunday 27 July 2003
I know many people regard this stone as a kind of (un?)holy grail. And it wasn't exactly easy to find, even though I had gleaned a fair amount of information and hints from a few different sources.

Reading about it, it seems a very special place and I was very 'keyed up' about trying to find it, with slight misgivings about whether I'd be disappointed.

So is it worth the effort or is the chase better than the catch?

When I first approached the stone, I didn't think it was the one. It seemed smaller than in photos I'd seen and the way I approached, the corner with the grooves was farthest from me.

When I spotted the grooves I could hardly believe how insignificant the much sought-after stone looked....

BUT, the very moment my fingers traced the grooves, feeling how incredibly smooth they are worn, I felt a sudden connection to the people who used the stone to sharpen their tools and weapons.

And I'm not someone who usually feels that kind of 'nonsense'! For me, that in itself means this is a very special place.

How many people must have sharpened how many tools and weapons how many times to wear such long and relatively deep grooves in such hard rock?

(A question I couldn't help keep coming back to as I sat and pondered the stone is actually kind of banal, and will surely never be answered - why this stone…?)

Returning to the Ridgeway I found a group of 15-20 people on a guided walk. As I passed I couldn't help overhearing the guide talking about the Polissoir. He told the group they were going to see it. Very annoying for the people I know who've not been able to find it.

Pausing, I surveyed the scenery to the west and south for landmarks. It took me a few moments, but soon I spotted the top of Silbury Hill, confirming that the village I could see most clearly must be Avebury.

Avebury & the Marlborough Downs — Images

<b>Avebury & the Marlborough Downs</b>Posted by Moth

Silbury Hill — Images

<b>Silbury Hill</b>Posted by Moth

Galloping grey wethers, Mothman!!!!
I headed back down the path across the gallop towards Delling Copse, but kept along its southern edge to follow the Herepath east keeping an eye out for Long Tom. This is an 8 foot megalith Julian mentions on the Mother's Jam page of TMA as a possible iron age waymarker.

Long Tom — Images

<b>Long Tom</b>Posted by Moth

Long Tom is indeed tall and rather thin with a very square cross section. Almost looked more modern than iron age to me. Found in the unmanicured section in the middle of a horse gallop about 30 yards south of the Herepath at approximately SU144713.

I returned to the herepath for a short distance then headed south east, again alongside some gallops to the oval (horse?) track at Redpost Farm. Here I took a path leading south west but then bending round a field border after a few hundred yards to continue south east again.

I was rewarded with an interesting view of the Devil's Den in its valley as I descended towards it to retrace my steps to the car.

Devil's Den — Images

<b>Devil's Den</b>Posted by Moth

No Sanctuary
I drove off along the A4 to The Sanctuary. This is a site that has intrigued me for a long time, not least because I must have driven straight past it on my one previous Avebury visit around 8 years ago.

The Sanctuary — Images

<b>The Sanctuary</b>Posted by Moth<b>The Sanctuary</b>Posted by Moth

The Sanctuary — Fieldnotes

Sunday 27 July 2003
Just as enigmatic as I expected. After only a few minutes I decided it was too complex for me to get my head round, especially with other people wandering about. Need to sit down & read about it onsite and 'sans tourists'.

As a vantage point for spying out the landscape it's superb.

And worth spending time at for both reasons!

Unfortunately there were too many casual tourists about to really relax and take my time examining the site and landscape, so across the road I went, to Seofon barrows.

Overton Hill — Images

<b>Overton Hill</b>Posted by Moth<b>Overton Hill</b>Posted by Moth

Overton Hill — Fieldnotes

Sunday 27 July 2003
The barrows stand dignified and proud next to the busy A4 and the sunny Sunday afternoon bike-bustle of the Ridgeway. The three barrows featured in most pictures seem clearly to be the 'tip of the iceberg' here.

Julian remarks in TMA there were once maybe 12, and as you look on it's easy to believe and visualise. Given the relatively short distance to an 'outlying' barrow to the north and the interestingly-shaped 'tumuli' nearby, I'd not be surprised if it was more.

Crossing the A4 carefully - it's bend makes it difficult to see far, and avoiding the mountain bikes zipping about, it was back in the car and a quick left turn to East Kennett village.

Moth loses it in more ways than one
Taking a right in the village and parking just down from the church I walked up the lane and through Manor Farm joining a bridlepath up the hill to the west. The tree-topped East Kennett Long Barrow was clearly visible to my left.

East Kennett — Images

<b>East Kennett</b>Posted by Moth<b>East Kennett</b>Posted by Moth<b>East Kennett</b>Posted by Moth

East Kennett — Fieldnotes

Sunday 27 July 2003
Coming from the Sanctuary, I reached East Kennett village and took a right turn. I parked just down from the church and walked up the lane and through Manor Farm, joining a bridlepath up the hill to the west. The tree topped East Kennett Long Barrow was clearly visible to my left.

After a very short distance an overgrown but obvious track appears on the left, leading alongside the 'top' edge of the field where the long barrow stands.

As the path reached the field the barrow is in, there was no hedgerow or fence and the crop had nice wide, deep and clear tractor tracks.

I decided that should anyone disapprove, if I hustled along, the chances of me being spotted were slim. (I've now read that it's best to ask permission, so if I go again I will!)

Two minutes later I was on the north west end of the barrow amongst the trees. Reaching the top I soon found my way barred by impenetrable undergrowth thick with stinging nettles. I don't think I could've forced my way through, even if I hadn't been wearing shorts, As it was – no way!

I made my way back down to the foot of the barrow and turned right, along it's north east side. It was a struggle to make my way without damaging the crop and without stinging myself to death on the nettles that also line the edge of the barrow.

Reaching the south west end of the long barrow I found that there is actually some space to stand and look at this end. This 'felt' like the 'front' of the barrow, though I have no idea whether it is or not.

I couldn't see the chamber stones that apparently protrude at this end, but the vegetation was rampant, and once again of the stinging kind. Winter visit?

Wiltshire Web — Links

Some brief but quite interesting info.

Leaving the south east facing end of the barrow there was a nice neat greenway track of mowed grass running at rightangles to the barrow. It was so clear and pleasant to walk on that I followed it off up the hill to my right, assuming it must meet the path I had left to reach the barrow.

My eyes scoured the hillsides to the south in an effort to spot some tumuli and perhaps the site of Little Avebury stone circle. Don't know if any of these are visible, but I couldn't see them.

I soon decided that it must be taking me too far west, so retraced my steps and turned north east(ish) following the edge of the long barrow's field. I had to walk carefully as the field edge was particularly uneven and I kept disturbing beautiful clouds of butterflies (no relations).

To my surprise my orientation still seemed to be wrong because although I still had the long barrow on my right, the path I was seeking still did not appear. I was kind of lost, but at worst could have just headed for the long barrow.

Rather than do that I decided to carry on. I was rewarded with an absolutely STUNNING and unusual view of West Kennett Long Barrow and Silbury Hill.

I have to admit I was so gobsmacked by the suddenness with which the view appeared (I just looked up from watching where I was putting my feet and it was THERE) that I absolutely 'lost it' for a few seconds.

I think this photo almost does the view justice.

Silbury Hill — Images

<b>Silbury Hill</b>Posted by Moth

At this point I was also able to bear north east with the field edge back towards East Kennett and the car, eventually meeting the path I'd been looking for, but from the opposite direction to intended! But what a detour!!! I returned to the car the way I'd come.

Final highpoints
Time now running short I shot off to Adam's Grave, and Knap Hill, before heading for home.

Adam's Grave — Images

<b>Adam's Grave</b>Posted by Moth

Adam's Grave — Fieldnotes

Sunday 27 July 2003

Sorry. Just WOW!

Read all the other fieldnotes. They say it better than I can. Or read my Knap Hill fieldnotes which have a tiny bit more substance than this one!

But if I'd gone up Knap Hill first, I think that would've just been 'WOW!' instead….

Knap Hill — Images

<b>Knap Hill</b>Posted by Moth

Knap Hill — Fieldnotes

Sunday 27 July 2003
I went up to Adam's Grave first. If you've read my 'fieldnotes' on that you'll know it rendered me practically speechless.

Knap Hill is hardly less spectacular, but without the barrow on top.

It somehow also felt less wild though. Both hills and the car park between were busy, but several people sat up here for some time, whereas nobody stayed on top of Adam's Grave for long while I was there….

The views from both just go on forever. Sorry to repeat a cliché but it's true. And from Knap Hill you can see the Adam's Grave barrow properly. It's strange and very impressive from here.

It must be really mind-boggling if you know the area well and can spot places you know. I'm still in awe over a week later.

Three an a half hours later I was driving into Leeds. I didn't hang about! It'd been a long but rewarding day. I look forward to my next trip to Avebury (September?) which must take in Windmill Hill, the Long Stone Cove and others. It's a hard life sometimes....

What a fantastic weekend!!!
Moth Posted by Moth
6th August 2003ce
Edited 24th November 2005ce

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