We spent this cool cloudy day (which is now also very wet) wandering through the biggest known stone circle (henge) in the world. It is gently impressive. Many of the original stones, erected by Neolithic people, are now gone. They were largely ignored by the Romans, they survived numerous English wars, they remained largely intact and in place until many were smashed to bits to build houses and barns as recently as the 16 and 1700s.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, some had been buried in pits for reasons that can just be guessed. Christians trying to hide evidence of pre Christian belief systems? Maybe. It is interesting to note that they were buried, not destroyed. Were they being hidden to protect them from damage? Maybe.
The entire place may have been lost to history had a fellow – William Stukeley – not realized in the 1740s that the remaining few stones had significance and should be preserved. What that significance is though, remains a mystery.
Today’s archeologists are sure people did not live within the henge. They feel therefore that it was an important gathering place. For trade? For worship? For ceremony? They reason that all aspects are probable. What is known, is that the stones and surrounding circular earthworks date back at least 5000 years. It is also known that the place was not built as a defensive position. It was likely designed to impress and control the points of entry and exit. The people who built the henge over many centuries were intelligent, organized, wealthy, creative and interested in the metaphysical.
In the early 1900s Alexander Keillor took interest in the historic significance of the henge and supervised the aerological excavations and re-erection of some of the fallen and buried stones to what visitors see today.
Back in the Middle Ages the village of Avebury had grown up partly within the circle. The village remains. Now there is a major road running through the henge. When that road was human foot traffic and animal drawn carts it would have been fine. Today it is a considerable hazard to tourist and local pedestrians trying to cross between one half of the circle and village and another. The car drivers seem to feel this section of road (with two blind right angle bends) should be driven at high speed with disregard for inhabitants, visitors and what may be the sanctity of the place.
Within the wide grassy areas surrounding the stones, sheep and tourists are free to wander at will. Unlike at Avebury’s little sister, Stonehenge, where the circle is now behind a fence, here people may still touch the stones, lean against them, as they ponder their mystery. Today, being mid week, cool and cloudy, there were few others of our kind, so it was peaceful and pleasant. I imagine that in the summer, this village must be sheer chaos. As we are staying within the circle, we don’t even see the car park which is just over the Earth Works.
There was a bit of excitement today as a heavily armed policeman strode about outside our lodge talking into his radio about goings on behind the church. We’ve no idea what it is all about.
Avebury is also home to a lovely old manor house, the modern addition having been built by the Tutors in the 1500s. It is now open to the public so we went in. The BBC has redecorated various rooms with furnishings dating from the 1500s to the early 1930s in keeping with the furnishings of various owners of the house over the years. Unlike many such places, here visitors are invited to sit on the chairs, read the books, touch the bedding, clothing and kitchen implements and generally make themselves comfortable. Each room has a knowledgeable and enthusiastic person to chat with about this and that. There is an extensive walled kitchen garden in full operation as well as ornamental gardens and an orchard. It was a very enjoyable interlude to our day. We also enjoyed a traditional Victorian light lunch and tea in the library. Thankfully we did not have to “dress” for the occasion.
Marianne and I are now wrapping our minds around the Ridgeway walk without Pat. This really sucks, but her heal is not recovered enough for her to continue with us. She is trying to find accommodation in Chester, from where one of her ancestors immigrated to Canada. This being a long weekend, her search is so far proving difficult. I’m so very disappointed for Pat. We will reconvene at Princes Risborough for our last night. Meanwhile our walk will not be the same without her.
Soon time to scurry over the the Red Lion for dinner. We are hoping this downpour will get the rain out of the weather system and that tomorrow is dry. I don’t mind cloudy as it might otherwise be too hot to be enjoyable, but rain – could do without a drenching!
Good night from within the ancient henge of Avebury.
PS Pat and I both tried to “get through” a stone or two but we’re still here. I think we needed to have a precious jewel with us to open the portal….. forgot that bit. We are traveling without our precious jewels.