The sun had finally decided to come out as we walked the length of the Avenue, along a pathway between the stones cut through the wildflowers. It is always a magical place, but I have never seen it more beautiful than strewn with buttercups, purple clover and the starry flowers of plantain. It had been a long day. It is possible to visit Avebury for an hour, but the site is so vast you see very little. We had arrived late in the morning, after our adventures in Ogbourne St Andrew and Marlborough and after visiting the Sanctuary, West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill. We had been right to visit the little church first… by now it was late, time for a nice, cool cider and dinner. And as there is a four hundred year old pub right in the centre of the circle, what better place to dine?
This was good, as it meant we could walk back up the length of the Avenue and enter the stone circle through its southern portal. The Entrance Stones stand guard as they have for millennia, colossal sarsen blocks that would once probably have been balanced on a single point, like so many other stones here, but which have now settled into the earth. To walk between them is to feel the gaze of eternity.
In the face one of the stones is a shelf that forms what is known as the Devil’s Chair… a much later name than it would have borne when the stone was first placed here. It puts things in perspective a little when you think that we are far closer in time to the birth of Jesus than the builders of this circle. Theirs was an older world by far, and here you cannot help but feel it.
Perspective is a problem here when trying to capture images of the stones. Their sheer scale is almost impossible without including some point of reference… and it has to be close enough to the stones to get a feel for the size… yet even than cannot give any idea of what it feels like to walk amongst them. Inside this part of the circle the stones lead to the centre. Off to one side are the remnants of the inner circle that mirrors the one in the northern quadrant. These were amongst the first stones erected here. There is a strange ‘Z’ feature too that is not yet understood… and behind it a chapel built largely of smashed standing stones.
In the centre is a concrete plinth, marking the spot where the Obelisk once stood, of which William Stukeley, in the early years of the 18thC, wrote it was “of circular form at base, of a vast bulk, 21feet long and 8 feet 9 inches in diameter; when standing, higher than the rest.” This, along with the arrangement of ‘male’ and ‘female’ stones, is part of the reason why it is thought this temple served to ensure the fertility of both land and people. Certainly the alignments with the solstices, and the apparent celebration of birth, life and death that can be read in this temple complex would make that both possible and likely. Close by stands another huge stone, called the Vulva stone for obvious reasons and this lends weight to the theory. To me that particular stone looks less like its modern name and more like half the face of a damaged pharaonic bust wearing a nemyss…. But that’s just me…
We may never know the whole story… perhaps we do not need to. Why was there a third circle, now lost, in the central space? Did the three have any bearing on the relationship between Avebury, Stonehenge and Marden Henge… spaced at ten mile intervals and all three of vast proportions? Was the polarity of masculine and feminine energy expressed also in this wider landscape? Inevitably, as the sun tints the horizon with rose and we walk back to the cars, we leave with more questions than answers, but in the certain knowledge that it had been an amazing day, in an amazing landscape that we were privileged to be able to share. And it was still only Saturday…
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 email@example.com