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Moving in circles

If you'll indulge me for a moment... My father has recently been delving into the family history. We always knew that one of my great great grandfathers was actually from England, but no one was sure whereabouts. The copperplate handwriting in an old bible revealed it as a village nestling in the Vale of Pewsey, not far from Avebury and all the places round it. And this isn't too far from where I now live myself.

I know it sounds daft - after all, this is only a part of my family, and it's only been tentatively traced back to around 1600 in the area (and they could have moved there whenever), but I felt really chuffed. I love visiting the ancient places around here, and in fact we deliberately moved to this region to be surrounded by them - and now I feel even nearer them.

It's irrational, but it gives me a little thrill to think that some of my genes might come from a Neolithic person who knew, visited (or let's go mad, even helped construct) the places I've visited myself. Obviously somebody must be descended from such people. But as if to bring my thoughts back down to earth, the very first page of my latest 'read' runs:

'As no lady or gentleman.. can possibly sympathise with the Chuzzlewit family without being first assured of the extreme antiquity of their race, it is a great satisfaction to know that it was undoubtedly descended in a direct line from Adam and Eve; and was, in the very earliest times, closely connected with the agricultural interest.'

Fair enough. But now the idea is getting firmly entrenched in my addled brain.

Armed with my new angle on the area, I wandered blissfully round the village and then drove up to Knap Hill.

Knap Hill — Fieldnotes

I liked Knap Hill. It's not quite as exposed as its neighbour, Adam's Grave, which is an advantage when you're trying to eat your sandwiches without consuming mouthfuls of hair. Also, its vista is quite different. At Adam's Grave you are compelled to look outwards - outwards, upwards, downwards, east and west. You don't think to look backwards with such a view on offer. But Knap Hill's different.

At least half the time I was looking at the Downs around where I was sat - Adam's Grave and the ridge on which it lies take up a good proportion of your field of view. I was watching for people approaching, watching people climb up towards Adam's Grave, seeing them sillouetted on its back, and following with my eye the curves of the hills and those distinctive undulating chalkland valleys. So I felt that Knaps Hill's not all about Onward and Outward and Far Away (though it certainly has that) but it has the comfort of the land close at hand too.

Wherever I looked there were weird and wonderful chalkland flowers and fluttering butterflies. Wherever I sat was a spiky plant, but hey, it's a small price to pay for this view. As I walked down to the road again a flock of goldfinches flew off the thistles where they'd been feeding and flashed red and gold in the sun.

After my walk it was only late afternoon so I thought I'd head over to Avebury and spend some time at another place I hadn't really been to before - the West Kennett Avenue.

West Kennett Avenue — Fieldnotes

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.

It was only after my excursion that I was looking in my TMA book and noticed the map on page ten showing the relative positions in the Avebury-Marden-Stonehenge complex, and it for some reason shows 'my' village as one of the very few marked. It doesn't look far from Marden so that will definitely be the destination of my next trip.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
10th September 2003ce
Edited 3rd June 2004ce

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