Avebury (Nathan)

Trip Start Sep 03, 2010
Trip End Oct 27, 2010

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Where I stayed
Salisbury Youth Hostel

Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Really falling behind on the updates, but London has been fun so far!

So, after deciding to skip Stonehenge, we took a bus to Avebury the next day. It was a long ride through some beautiful scenery, and very relaxing. On the way there I saw a distant white horse on a hill- one of the famous figures created by digging down and exposing the bright white chalk under the grass, many of them ancient. I'm not sure which one it was, and it was lost in the trees before I could get a picture. I saw a sign for a "White Horse Inn" not long after, just one of many pub signs with colorful illustrations... a lot of them looked like they might even have been by the same artist, though they were spread throughout 4 or 5 towns in the area.

Avebury, when we finally arrived, was a beautiful place, though it really seemed as though the roads and buildings had been built with complete disregard for the standing stones and the circular ditch surrounding them, as though the builders had somehow not noticed them. More likely it was a deliberate desecration of the site- the Christians who built the town long ago feared the stones as pagan symbols, despite the original builders having been long dead and gone, and religious zeal was responsible for the destruction of many of the circles' stones. Even so, there were a lot of the original stones remaining, and concrete markers had been placed to mark the spots of the missing ones, giving a pretty good idea of how things were laid out.

We started at one of the inner circles, the male one. I say male because there are two inner circles and they're theorized to have been used in fertility rituals- one is a ring of stones surrounding a massive phallic monolith (now destroyed, sadly), while the other is a U-shaped group of three rocks called the Cove, thought to be the female counterpart. We wandered past the rocks, noting the Devil's Chair (a very large rock with a natural seat in the side, and a hole above it that's rumored to emit mysterious smoke) and went up to the hill above the circular ditch- when the site's builders had dug the ditch, they'd built up a matching circular mound around it. There were new-age types all around, doing tai chi, hugging some of the stones, and sometimes making droning humming noises. I thought their behavior was a little irritating, and a bit arrogant, claiming the site for their own religion when so little is known about why it was originally built or what the people who built it believed in, but I can't blame them for being so excited- Avebury is a very special place, whether you're a new age hippy, a scientist, or just a plain old tourist.

Our crappy 50 pence guide (a book, not a person) pointed out a distant burial mound and guided us across the road running through the middle of the circle, to what turned out to be part of an avenue of stones leading to the circle's southern entrance, though we didn't know this until we bought a better guide later, which explained a lot. We wandered along the avenue for a ways, saw a herd of cute cows (about 2/3 of the remaining Avebury circle was now pasture for animals) and a sleeping snail stuck to the side of one of the stones, and got a passing German guy to take our picture, since I decided the one of us on the subway in Atlanta was getting a little outdated. I'm not 100% sure, but I think that the stone we got our picture taken in front of turned out to be the Barber's Stone, under which the skeleton of a man was found, a barber-surgeon judging from the tools found with him. The more detailed guide said that he was crushed beneath the stone in a tragic accident as it was lowered, but surprisingly, the crappy guide refuted it by saying later research had shown that he had been murdered, then thrown under the stone deliberately, and that he may have been a tailor instead.

After that we headed to the actual outer circle and got a better look at the surrounding ditch and mound, which little kids were having a blast rolling down. I found myself imagining how the site must have looked when it was still in use, before all the farms, just a vast open field of grass dotted with stone circles, perhaps eerily firelit at night as they were used for rituals. The ditch was originally 30 feet deep, dug out with crude antler and stick tools, probably a bright, striking white as the chalky soil was exposed, and I wondered if it had always been in the soft curving U shape it was now (albeit deeper back then) or if it had square edges, like a castle's moat. We crossed another road to see more of the outer circle, including an especially large, diamond-shaped stone that had been one of two marking the northern entrance. Glennica told me the guide said it was rumored to roll across the road at night in search of its twin, or to spin 360 degrees at midnight, and I wondered whether anyone actually believed that. Either way, it makes a spooky, if silly story and reminded me of a Dr. Who episode that had moving, murderous stones stalking the English countryside.

Another road, another gate, and we were in the Cove, which was full of sheep with neon blue or pink dye marks on their backs. They apparently enjoyed rubbing up against the stones, because I found wool stuck to the base of one, and even a tiny hint of blue. There wasn't as much to see at the Cove, since it hadn't been excavated very much, and there are no plans to do so anytime soon. Glennica told me that there were a lot of buried stones there, though... the church ordered the stones destroyed, but some people, fearing retribution from dark forces, buried them rather than breaking them apart by heating them and cracking them with cold water and hammers.

We wandered the site for a while longer, appreciating its beauty and getting a better idea of what it looked like as a whole, but soon it was time for us to catch the bus and head back to Salisbury, which took the rest of the day. The Red Lion pub across the street from the bus stop was rumored to be haunted, both by a ghost within the building and a spectral carriage that would pull up on the cobblestones at night- presumably passing right through the picnic tables there. On the way back, I saw another white horse, or at least I think it was a different one. This time I did get a picture, but I've looked online and can't seem to identify which white horse it is- there are several. It's not any of the ones on Wikipedia, unless I'm missing something. Anyone else know?

That's pretty much it for that day, except that I had a ploughman's dinner that night at the pub- a wheat baguette, some really good sharp cheddar, a slice of cold pork pie, salad, and a pickled onion. It was very good and definitely unlike anything I could get back home, but I have no idea how one is supposed to eat an entire pickled onion... I'd have a hard time eating a whole normal onion.
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