Let's Go! Stonehenge and Avebury

Today's post continues the story of our recent journey across southwestern England. Last week we scratched the surface of some of the mysteries of Glastonbury; this week we go farther back in time to visit some extraordinary places of this earth, i.e., the prehistoric stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury. In terms of historic/spiritual importance, these two sites are at the top and have been studied and celebrated for millennia. Both are prehistoric, both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, both are in the county of Wiltshire about 30 miles apart. We were lucky to visit them on the same day. Stonehenge is the most well-known and perhaps the most enigmatic megalith, while Avebury's stone circle, which encloses an entire village, is the largest in the world at just under 1400 feet in diameter with a circumference of about a mile in length as it covers 28 acres.

As October 31st through November 1st is Samhain, Day of the Dead and Halloween, a time of the year where the veil between the world of our ancestors and our living breathing world is at its thinnest, I thought a celebration and mediation on cultures that came before us to be an appropriate time for such a post.

 Avebury refers to both a village and a henge and its stone circles. This Neolithic site was built between 2850 - 2200 B.C. It consists of a large henge or earthwork ditch and bank that encloses a large, 100-stone circle (not all of stones exist on this site today), while two smaller circles lie within. It's so large that when you are in it, it can be difficult to make out the henge, except that if you walk along the top of the bank you get a feel for this large earthwork. Pictured are the two remaining "cove stones" of Avebury, the larger one weighs more than 60 tons, and all are made of a local sarsen stone. 


 Facilities Manager walking atop the bank of the henge where the path has worn so thin you can see the chalk below the grass. When it was built, it is speculated, the whole bank and ditch would have been gleaming white chalk.


Here you get a sense of how large this earthwork really is; quite a feat for Neolithic peoples. The bank is now about 15' high (it would have been 55' high with a 30' deep ditch when it built) and has silted up over the millenia. The chalky soil would have been dug out with deer antlers. 


These two stones in the foreground are the portal stones. The one on the left is called the devil's chair.

The purpose and meaning of these three stone circles is still not fully understood, but we know it was a massive effort, conducted over hundreds of years. It was likely built as a sacred site for ritual ceremonies and then all but abandoned around 1800 B.C. It was considered a pagan site in the Middle Ages and was likely vandalized at this point, many stones were also buried. Other stones were plundered as convenient building materials for new construction in the village. Alexander Keiller bought the site and restored and resurrected many stones in the late 1930's. He then generously donated the site to the country; it is now a World Heritage Site. Remarkably, it is entirely free of charge to visit and you are most welcome to walk among the stones, even touch them. Many people believe hugging them cures all that ails you. I am told that locals used to believe the opposite - that touching them brings bad luck. I prefer the good vibes version.


A closeup of the portal stone on the right.


They mark the southern entrance to the henge, the path leads to the bank/henge that encloses the village and the stone circles.


A grove of trees and FM atop the bank of the henge.


Stones from the inner southern circle.


The obelisk marks where a stone once stood. I like this shot because of the crow cruising through.


The Red Lion Pub in the distance is squarely in the middle of this amazing site.


FM and one of the large outer stones.


A field trip! It was fun to see children out enjoying the history of their country. Here, they excitedly dash to one of the stones the tour guide has pointed out.





This is called the "repaired stone" on the outer ring. It was discovered by Alexander Keiller, an early 20th-century archaeologist responsible for much of the preservation of Avebury, in the foundations of a former blacksmith's shop. Now restored to its original location, the repair gives it an odd shape.


Farm structures and students on their field trip in the distance. And sheep. 

THE VILLAGE
The village itself is quite small, only about 500 people total in this and its surrounding villages. Because of this, and because of its incredible interest to tourists, a separate car park for visitors starts you out just outside the stone circles with many helpful signs along the way. 
The Henge Shop, a delightful store full of all things Avebury. An equally delightful garden welcomes visitors.


As do apples. Yes, I took one.

The Red Lion pub, originating in the 17th century. This is the only pub in England that can claim to be in the center of a stone circle. At one time, it was also an inn where a friend and I stayed the night in 2002. Having stayed there before, she warned me it was haunted, and never one to turn away an adventure, we seized the opportunity to stay the night. It was a sleepless one for me, I don't think I've ever been so scared in all my life. Nothing specific happened, but the room was icy cold and I did not sleep at all, it was such an uneasy, oppressive feeling. I couldn't wait to leave. It is now, from what I can gather, simply a pub. Maybe it's best that way.


A walk through downtown Avebury. 





Part of the museum complex.

The great barn museum. The barn was built in 1690 and was known as the Parsonage Barn. Having been restored in 1975, it is now the Alexander Keiller Museum.


The village is incredibly picturesque. 


Saint James' Church, the first church at Avebury, of course lies just outside of the pagan henge. Dating from probably around year 1000, at least before 1066.


The Avebury dovecote in front of Saint James' church. 


Red and turquoise. 


STONEHENGE
We would have stayed in Avebury much longer if I had my way, but we had a scheduled visiting time at Stonehenge, so had to be going. We made it in time, parked the car and walked to the infamous stone circle of Stonehenge. On the way, this is the landscape we encountered. And a few friends.


Our first look at the stones. While you can no longer touch the stones, the path around them is laid out in such a way that you appreciate them without being surrounded by the hundreds of other curious tourists.


Facilities Manager smiling for the camera. Obviously shaken by the stones!


Of course we walked around the whole thing in awe, taking photos every few feet. I have included a select few to show different angles of this megalith.


As such a well-known World Heritage Site, much has been written about Stonehenge, I don't really know what to add except the feeling of being there. It doesn't seem real, these giant stones. They command a sense of awe, even today, even in this state.


To be among them is jaw dropping, to me at least. I can only imagine being able to walk in them, touch them, to be a part of a larger ceremony must be incredibly moving. 


I have been interested in all things mysterious since childhood. I remember Leonard Nimoy narrating an episode of "In Search Of" about Stonehenge that once piqued my curiosity. It was speculated that it was a sort of an ancient astronomical calendar. Since Leonard's day, archaeologists have learned so much more about it. It turns out, there is a Woodhenge, a Neolithic timber monument the same size as Stonehenge within close proximity to Stonehenge. The bottom line is that archaeologists now believe they are linked. Stonehenge is a monument to its builders' ancestors, while Woodhenge was found to be a land for the living. Neolithic houses were excavated on the site of Woodhenge, indicating temporary habitation for perhaps special celebratory times of the year to go between the two sites, and they were linked by the river Avon. A wonderful program on NOVA outlines it all beautifully, I highly recommend it if you are interested. Stone represents the dead and wood represents the living.


The idea that these monuments could be linked with the remembrance of ancestors brings the idea of the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead at its thinnest on Halloween, Samhain, All Saint's Day, Day of the Dead full circle. If anything, it is a reminder to keep alive in our hearts the ones we loved and lost, to continue the links between those who have come before us and those to come. We are of this earth, after all; it makes sense to me that these stones, carved from the earth itself, stand as a permanent reminder of those whose shoulders we stand upon.

I take this opportunity to say a blessing for my loved ones and to appreciate the efforts of all of those who have come before me. I only wish I had my own henge to celebrate them. Hmmm...Facilities Manager...can we build that?

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you so much for reading and happy gardening, happy Halloween, Samhain, Day of the Dead, All Saint's Day.

Comments

  1. A wonderful Samhain-themed post! I enjoyed seeing these photos and sharing your visit through them immensely.

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    1. Yay! I'm so glad...I know it's off the beaten path (as in not really about gardens) so it's nice to know that some people enjoyed it.

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  2. Replies
    1. Thank you Stephilus - and happy Dia de los Muertos. xoxo

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  3. I have good memories of visiting both places. I was 18 and a student at the University of London when I first saw Stonehenge. You could walk among the stones then, and of course I did. It was some 25 years later when I first visited Avebury. We were living in England then and I took three young boys to visit the site. We sat on the bank and told stories to each other about those stones and the people who erected them. Thanks for reminding me of those occasions.

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    1. Oh, Pat, I'm thrilled this brought back good memories for you. How lucky for you to have been able to walk among the stones and touch them. Where did you live in England? I would love to someday, I know it's not going to happen but I love it and can daydream. What a great memory - sitting on the bank telling stories. Cheers.

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  4. I can't wait to see your henge.

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    1. Me too, Lisa. FM, let's get cracking.

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  5. It's off perhaps to think of stones having life but these stones really leave me with that feeling, even though I've never seen them in person. It's also remarkable to consider what marvels humans are capable of achieving. Like the pyramids of Egypt, the monuments are masterful achievements and testimonials to the human spirit. Thanks once again for sharing your trip!

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    1. Don't they, though? The stones give you a feeling of life? You hit the nail on the head, Kris. To see them, be among them and feel their weight and size, you marvel at how they would have been moved by prehistoric peoples. Glad you enjoyed it.

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  6. Thanks so much for this beautiful and informative post. I feel so grateful that this site has been preserved.

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    1. Oh, me too, KS - I am grateful too it has been preserved, because much of it had been plundered in Medieval - 19th century times, but now it's safe. And loved and appreciated. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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  7. So many beautiful photos and interesting story about Stonehenge and Avebury. I have been many times to the UK for it's not that far from our country. It was a very long time ago that I was at Stonehenge, so I enjoyed this post very much and sweet memories came floating up.

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    1. I am very pleased that this post brought up sweet memories for you, Janneke. That's what travel does - it connects people and cultures.

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