Monday, 22 June 2015

Avebury and Silbury Hill.

6-30 am on a glorious Midsummer's Day morning. Took my medication and we fell asleep in the middle of a field full of cars and a series of buses, trucks and ambulances from another age; all converted into homes which would have looked at home in the 'Mad Max' movies.

We woke up at 7-30 with the queue of cars gone and we hit the road - for a tour of Stone Age Britain.

Everyone has heard of Stonehenge, which looks like something from a Fred Flintstone movie set.

But just take a look at the landscape all around; just a mile or so away is the remarkable 'Woodhenge' which we walked round last September because we were too late to get into the main attraction.

It was really late when we got there - each cement post is where the remains of a wooden post were found. It's dozens of rings of posts carved out of great trees which would have been brought many miles from the wild forests to the great plain.

Wherever you look on Salisbury Plain, if you look closely enough, you can see burial mounds; in fields, hidden by trees, on hilltops.

It's a 'field of dreams'.

We drove on to Avebury but first stopped just outside to take a look at Silbury Hill;

It doesn't look a lot on my picture but it's big - half a million tons of chalk and that's four thousand years after it was built. There are people climbing it on the picture.

All by hand without wheels or metal tools.

I'd guess they used whicker baskets to haul it up there.

The concensus is that it was developed in different stages, gradually becoming more and more impressive, until this final version.

Then we headed for Avebury and we weren't alone.

There had been Solstice celebrations - and a much more heavy handed and oppressive Police presence too. We saw one arrest while we were there.

I think Avebury is even more impressive than Stonehenge in many ways.

Unfortunately, some of the stones have gone - in the 17th century some were broken up for building. Indeed, there is a road going straight through it, a church, a Tudor Manor Farm and a fair number of houses and shops all in the middle of it.

But it is still amazing;

Sometimes, just for a moment, you can imagine a presence amongst the stones;

No, I'm getting carried away again.

But some of the main stones are really immense;

There were lambs.....aaaw!

For scale, there's a lamb sheltering by the side of this stone;

Some of Stonehenge's stones came from Wales, a very long way away but most (like these) are stones deposited by Ice sheets on the Plain of Marlborough. This is some miles from Avebury although about 30 to 50 odd miles from Stonehenge.

Very hard work.

The Avebury people definitely got second choice but I really like the angular stones and the odd shapes; like modern art.

Here's another view of the scale of the monument;

There's a ditch and mound surrounding the village which is much more impressive than this picture shows and that is after three or four thousand years of erosion. Back then the mound would have completely enclosed the monument; you wouldn't have seen or heard anything while inside.

There is an avenue of standing stones leading into the monument along the present day road, a ring of stones lining the ditch, two rings of smaller stones in the centre and another avenue of giant stones in a line through the middle.

This is one of the smaller rings;

And here's how the village interacts with the stones;

And they are very huggable too;

There's a lot more to see - nearby is the Longbarrow at West Kennet, which I have been to before. It's a long burial chamber.
I haven't been to 'The Sanctuary' or to 'Wood Hill' which are both parts of the complex but I'd gone back to using sticks walking around and by the end I was losing it, big time.
We drove off and took time out to meander through the villages and market towns of Wiltshire, including Devises with its big pond. Locals say that the Devises folk were so silly that once, when the Moon was full, they thought it's reflection was silver and tried to collect it with their rakes; 'The Moonrakers'.
The last time I visited Stonehenge in the 1980's, it was free and you could walk around and touch the stones quite freely yourself. Now it's only at Solstice time that you can do this.
When I went to Avebury, I parked by the village church and just walked round.
Now there's no parking for 'tourists' and it's £7 in the designated car parks. Stonehenge is £25.
I'm really pleased that there is so much interest now; it was at the end of the 1890's that the wife of a rich landowner persuaded her husband to buy Stonehenge and give it to the nation. There's every chance it would have been broken up by the farmer if they hadn't done that.
So, without the interest there might be no monuments.
But the restrictions, the café's, the shops?
Something has been lost.
I'd check it all out while you can.
Robyn's making plans to be there next Solstice, I'm not sure I'll be well enough next December for the Winter Solstice.
Then again...........
Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)

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