Monday, 28 April 2014

Avebury Stone Circles and Long Barrow West Kennet

On Easter Monday we returned to Avebury stone circles, which we’d discovered just after Christmas.  But it takes a while for us to drive there, and it felt like we’d only just skimmed its surface before. 
 Soon after we’d seen Neil Oliver’s The SacredWonders of Britain, which featured a beautifully-shot episode on Avebury, and that convinced us that the stones were just part of the story there.  So back it was. Last time we’d been struck by the fact that the landscape was one that you had to get inside to understand, that lines of sight were slippery and held secrets.  And going back to read more about it, I discovered that this was in part the point:

            “the Neolithic monuments cannot be understood completely from maps but only when we experience the relationship between the natural topography and man-made earthworks.  By ‘being there’ and moving from place to place we become part of an intriguing interplay of visibility and concealment which sheds light on Neolithic attitudes to sacred places and rituals.” (Trubshaw, 2005: 143-4)

What I learnt was that the Avebury landscape is a network of places, a geographical story, and that parts can glimpsed from other parts, but none of them put together from a single perspective.  It’s difficult to give a sense really of how a whole panorama can be invisible except from a specific point, and again, and again, and again.  It’s not something I’d come across in this dramatic way before.  A kind of alternative Easter trail …

So, we started off near Silbury Hill which was cocooned in the oilseed yellow so bright it practically hurts your eyes.  From where we parked it looked like this was the only sight to see, but we followed the footpath south away from it over a hill towards the burial chamber- West Kennet Long Barrow.  It is quite staggering this climb as you go up and up - no sign of anything unusual - and then all of a sudden it’s there, right on the top of the hill, like some kind of optical illusion. Like no cemetery you've been to before.  The part you can go inside corresponds to a woman’s body, so you enter the womb between the legs, and small chambers form the head, arms and legs.  This felt fitting as Katie is going through a phase of referring to all things and people as ‘she’, which I like to pretend is her fledgling feminist consciousness.  It felt kind of surprising that the tomb hadn’t yet been closed off to the public, and people had left wild flowers scattered about and a candle was burning, and it felt fittingly respectful and free.   Serene, but dramatic.  On top of the Long Barrow the view was spectacular back towards Silbury Hill.

We knew the Avenue was the done way to proceed to Avebury on foot – a path guided at its sides by huge stones – but as we couldn’t actually see the start of it and have form for getting lost, we decided not to risk the 3yo’s relatively good humour and drove over to the village.  After about half a mile we came to the Avenue, which was nearer the road than I’d expected, and leads directly to the stone circles.

Today, being much warmer and drier the children spent ages climbing up and down the embankments around the stone circles.  It was a very different experience to before when it had felt more intense, having never been to anything like this before.  Now it was spring, more inviting, and we were no longer strangers.  Lambs meandered around the stones, as did the humans, although there is so much space here you’re hardly even aware of anyone else coming into your orbit.  New age drummers provided hypnotic sounds and smells; at another part of the stones a be-flowered ritual was taking place.  None of which raised a question from the children.

But then it seemed we’d had our quota of peaceful times and a stressy half hour ensued in which Katie managed to trash my phone, have an the kind of accident which can only be salvaged by going commando, and – most disastrously of all – the local National Trust property had run out of Easter eggs!  Luckily, my children thought on about how they weren’t actually that keen on Easter eggs, more so on the competitive element of any given situation, and the situation was salvaged with some chocolate fingers.  So we did a whistle-stop tour of Avebury Manor’s elegant gardens, which provided a stark contrast to the ruggedness – a different sort of man-made – of the stones beyond it.  And everyone was totally knackered for going back to school the next day.  Result.

What places have you discovered recently that you think you’ll keep going back to?


White horse on the drive back.


Trubshaw, B. (2005) Sacred Places: Prehistory and popular imagination, Heart of Albion: Avebury.







gingerlillytea

14 comments:

  1. wow, lovely place, never heard of it before though, I really hope one day we will be able to go there as well

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  2. Wow - what a beautiful area. It looks like you got the best of the sun too :-)

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  3. Years ago, when I worked in publishing, I helped with a photo shoot in Avebury. It really is a magical place, and you've captured it well in this post. Our own treasure is a fishing town in Dumfries & Galloway called Kirkcudbright. It's known as 'the artist's town' and it was used as a backdrop for a lot of the Wicker Man. Definitely worth a visit.

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    1. Now that sounds impossibly glamorous, Nell. I wish I had interesting tales to tell my children about my career!

      Kirkcudbright sounds intriguing, I love somewhere with a story to follow. I'm currently working on convincing my other half that we need to go to Ireland to do stone circles & Game of Thrones sets tourism.

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  4. This looks like such a lovely place. Great pictures too. We have a great local lake/play park that we discovered a few months ago and we go a lot now x

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  5. What a great place. Lovely pics. I love discovering new places to visit.

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  6. We have a few favourite places. The girls and I love Wilton House with it's adventure playground and lovely gardens, our local ranges are a favourite and the new fave is a National Trust owned area called Waggoner's Wells. We went to Avebury a year or so ago and loved it. It was a bright, cold winter's day when we went and it was magical and we also enjoyed Avebury Manor as you could touch all the furniture and climb on the beds! This would be a great post to link up to 'Let's Have an Adventure' linky that I'm co-hosting this week on my blog (if you get a chance!)

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    1. Thanks for those tips - & both quite local to me so I will definitely check them out. We ran out of time to do the Manor, but I've a feeling we'll be back ...

      I've linked up to your linky, which sounds like exactly what I was after - some fantastic ideas there!

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  7. Wow - it sounds like a fascinating place to visit. I've never heard of Avebury before, but going to find out more now as I do love these ancient sites x

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  8. This looks like a great day out in the fresh air, they ars my favourite days :-) x

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  9. Looks like a great place to go! Love the outdoors. Just hope the weather improves!

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  10. Slightly jealous that you've driven past the white horse! We love interesting places to visit and this one is def on our radar for our next trip to the area

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  11. Ooh - looks like a lovely day out! We've spent quite a bit of time at Cliveden this year which I'd not been to before.

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  12. This looks like a lovely place to visit and it sounds like you had a (mostly) good day! We love all the NT properties round us and visit them regularly as we can't pick a favourite!

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