The Sanctuary, Avebury…

The Sanctuary, with Silbury Hill and West Kennet in the  distance

The Sanctuary, with Silbury Hill and West Kennet in the distance

The directions we gave to the other half of our party were simple. Follow the road until a line of barrows appear on the horizon. It is that simple. Once you leave Marlborough you are already within the atmosphere of Avebury somehow, but the barrows on the ridge seem to mark a crossing point into another time, another place…an Otherworld where tourists walk as ghosts upon a landscape older than memory.

Avebury SE weekend 255

Distance has as little meaning as time here… looking over to West Kennet

Yet here, in this field atop Overton Hill, there is little left of what once stood through millennia. The wood is long gone, the stones removed, their purpose forgotten. John Aubrey first recorded the site in 1648 and stated that the local people called it The Sanctuary then. Only concrete posts mark the pattern that once stood here and we are indebted to the antiquarian William Stukeley for capturing so many of the sites in the area before they were lost to the hands of modern man. His engravings preserve much of what was here three hundred years ago. Stukeley posited the theory… or realisation… that the various sites in the area were part of a single, sacred landscape. A place of ritual and spiritual significance to our ancestors, akin to the great cathedral complexes of the Middle Ages.

Stukeley's Seprent Temple

Stukeley’s Serpent Temple

To Stukeley, the Sanctuary, where we now stood, was the head of a serpent, whose body were the twin avenues that snake across the land. Many interpretations have been put forward since that date. The archaeological facts throw some light on the possibilities; cremations, bone fragments and other remains and artefacts have been found, but we may never know for certain exactly what purposes were served here, what gods or goddess was worshipped and what form that worship took.

Stukeley called the Sanctuary Hackpen  - meaning 'serpent's head'

Stukeley called the Sanctuary Hackpen – meaning ‘serpent’s head’

Everyone, it seems, has a theory or two… from the energy lines to the resonance of stone, from the geometries and alignments, to the purely mundane…. and perhaps it is not a case of ‘either/or’, but of synthesising the essence of many, born of the questions shared by humanity since the dawn of time. Perhaps it does not matter whether we find something we can call ’the truth’. Perhaps it matters more that we seek it in our own hearts and minds and find the landscape waiting, like an empty cup, to be filled with realisation.


Plan :

It is over five thousand years since the pattern of posts was first placed in the earth at the Sanctuary. Later, stones followed… perhaps a turf-roofed structure, perhaps a temple open to the stars… we do not know. Three concentric timber circles, then two of stone, some 130ft in diameter and large enough to contain the great circle of Stonehenge.

Theoretical reconstruction of the Sanctuary from Nicholas Mann's book, 'Avebury Cosmos'

Theoretical reconstruction of the Sanctuary from Nicholas Mann’s book, ‘Avebury Cosmos’

It seems almost criminal that, as we moved into what we like to believe is an age of enlightenment, so much that might have given us a glimpse of a more ancient time and wisdom has been destroyed. Yet the pattern remains. Accessible to archaeologists and their instrumentation, accessible too to the dowsers who trace the energies with pendulum and rod, and to those who feel the earth in their very bones.

For me, in spite of the stark concrete and paint, there remains an air of peaceful guardianship about the place. It is a place where life and death meet gently and with mutual respect. From here there is one of the few distant glimpses of the barrow at West Kennet and the seemingly tiny silhouette of Silbury Hill, far to the right. It is a strange fact that in what appears to be a relatively flat landscape, few parts of the site can be seen from one another… as if each must be revealed in turn to the eye and heart.

The guardian opens the veil

The guardian opens the veil

As we stood there on that damp Saturday morning, sharing ideas and theories, seeking to understand the values and minds of a culture so far removed from our own yet sharing the deepest roots of our humanity, I don’t think we were so far away from the old ones. They had, perhaps, a certainty in their vision that many lack today… their faith was rooted deep in the seasons of the land beneath their feet and looked to the stars that wheeled overhead in an ink-black sky, long before its light was dimmed by sulphur. They would, I think, have understood our wondering far less than they would have related to our wonder as we turned and watched the hovering kestrel that, with each tremor of its wings, seemed to part the veil of time for us as we entered the sacred landscape of Avebury.

Avebury SE weekend 289

Come and play!
If you enjoy our adventures in the ancient landscape of England, come and join us for our next informal weekend, ‘Harvest of Being: Rooted in the Land’, to be held at Ilkley, Yorkshire, 18th-20th September 2015. For further details, click the link or email

X ilkley weekend 114

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
This entry was posted in Ancient sites, earth, History, Landscape, Photography, Spirituality, The Silent Eye and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to The Sanctuary, Avebury…

  1. Its many years since I was there…you carried me back


  2. Chris White says:

    Hi Sue. I’ve just nominated you for an award. See my link.

    All the best. Kris.


  3. jenanita01 says:

    So much has gone, but still intensely felt. What would we give for a time machine, to visit England as it was…
    Avebury is one of our most special places, thank you for taking us there again, Sue…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. evelynralph says:

    Reblogged this on evelynralph and commented:
    Our Britannic Heritage. Let us not forget they were here before us. Evely


  5. Jane Risdon says:

    Not been there for years and never close up, though my husband used to climb it when young. Fab blog and piece and the photos are gorgeous. Thanks so much for sharing such a wonderful piece. I live history and archaeology and this was both rolled into one. Appreciated. Oh and thanks for popping into my author blog too…fab meeting you. 🙂


    • Sue Vincent says:

      My pleasure, Jane, on all levels. I would love to climb Silbury, just for the feel of the place. I was lcky enough to visit Stonehenge several times before the barriers went up, and the atmosphere was very different then, I have to say.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Jane Risdon says:

        Sad that everything has to have barriers now. Sad that people cannot be trusted not to damage anything they get close to. I grew up respecting ‘keep off the grass,’ and ‘don’t drop litter,’ and so forth. Respect and preserving lovely things for others comes as second nature. All going down the pan quickly these days I think. It must have been wonderful to have the freedom to get up close and personal with the stones. My husband did as a youngster, I never got the chance. 🙂


  6. Eliza Waters says:

    Pretty amazing site – and so close by – I’m envious how you can touch so much history. 🙂


  7. Ali Isaac says:

    I agree with that… The ‘actual’ truth is less relevant than the truth we feel in our gut, and our blood. We will never know the real truth as experienced by our ancestors who made and used these places, but the real test is that feeling of conviction we get when we stand there and absorb, and are absorbed by, these special places, and I think that has to count for something.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      I think so too, and whether we know anything or not for certain about these places, we can find truth in them as they allow us to explore and realise other aspects of our own lives and beliefs.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ali Isaac says:

        That’s exactly how it feels to me sometimes, too… That I have gone there and been assessed and permitted to be there and to explore. Because I am always alone, I wonder if this is just my own fanciful thinking. I’d love to have someone to visit these sites with.


  8. noelleg44 says:

    I actually visited Avebury, many years ago, on the same trip when I visited Stonehenge. This was back when you could actually walk around among the stones.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      I went to Stonehenge several times as a girl when that was possible too… an entirely different experience then than it is these days. Avebury, however, still remains a very intimate place.

      Liked by 1 person

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