Avebury and Silbury Hill: Exploring a henge and a hill in England’s Wiltshire

The UK and neighbouring Ireland are islands steeped in magick and history. That awareness is growing for me on a daily basis as I continue to embrace this side of the planet that is presently home. That said, this knowing becomes particularly heightened for me around the Solstice time, especially Summer Solstice, when the desire to head to the ‘Henge, as it were, becomes most prolific.

After years of feeling a gravitational pull to Stonehenge, since I was a kid, and not knowing at that time what that was all about, we finally took a trip to Stonehenge last year. This year, albeit no gravitational pull whatsover, the desire to go and check out Avebury – a Neolithic henge monument containing three stone circles in Wiltshire, the same county of England that Stonehenge resides in – came about, and so once again we headed in the direction of the Great West Way to the village of Avebury.

Avebury, a 35-minute bus ride from Swindon, is where you’ll find the world’s largest stone circle, stone avenues and ancient tombs. Avebury stone circle, much larger than Stonehenge, is the largest stone circle in Britain. Built during the Neolithic period, approximately between 2850 BC and 2200 BC, Avebury’s stone circle is in fact a series of three circles – comprising of one large outer circle which was once made up of around 100 stones and today just 30 are standing, and two inner circles.

Encircling the three stone circles is a 20-ft high henge and ditch, spanning 3/4 of a mile in circumference, which was built and much altered using only stone and bone. We started our walk around the outer stone circle at Avebury, welcomed by a flock of sheep bleating their greetings at us. It’s not unusual to share the space at Avebury with sheep, who frequently “rub shoulders” with the stones, especially given that the pretty village of Avebury and surrounding area have long been a landscape of fields and farms – since the Bronze Age, in fact.

Much of Avebury and the surrounding landscape, which is owned and managed by the National Trust, is free to explore for everyone all year round. To be able to freely roam around Avebury stone circle is an absolute pleasure. Touching of the stones is permitted, and what particularly yelped out at me, at the sight of the stones, was how visually expressive they are – many of which have grooves in them and moss growing on them that from a distance gives the impressions of facial expressions, many with huge smiles.

The stone circle at Avebury is sprawled out in various sections, given that the busy A4361 road winds through it. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you find a part of the stone circle that you haven’t seen which made the trip to Avebury especially interesting. We found a vantage point on a hill incline an especially good spot to sit down, near some mighty oak trees, and soak up the peaceful vibes at the monument.

Like Stonehenge, Avebury too is steeped in much “mystery” – from what remains of the stones today and the formation of the henge itself, it is evident that they are in solar alignment, but the purpose and usage of the stone circle has yet to be revealed. What stands at Avebury today is the result of immense excavation and restoration projects, mainly led by Scottish archaeologist Alexander Keiller during the 1920s and 1930s.

Before Alexander Keiller reconstructed the monument, the site had suffered centuries of neglect and deliberate damage. Get up close to the stones and they will tell you their story, as quite a few of those “facial expressions” included a tad miffed and frowning. In spite of this, the energy at the site itself is pure peace and is untouched, even with the amount of tourists that frequent the site daily.

What’s great about Avebury is that even though we visited during the busy summer season, the site is that large that it never feels over-run with tourists and you’re not bumping shoulders, so to speak. This was in stark contrast to Stonehenge, where the influx of tourists is way more but also more visible given its smaller size and spatial area.

The monument at Avebury is also home to a pretty village of the same name. A village first began to be built around the monument, during the Early Middle Ages, eventually extending into it. The village’s Alexander Keiller Museum provides an introduction to Avebury’s prehistoric past. Fortunately the National Trust have discouraged commercialism around the site, and there are just a handful of shops, within the stone circle, including a crystals and stones shop, Elements of Avebury, and The Henge Shop, selling books and gifts, as well as a National Trust shop.

There are numerous other Neolithic and Bronze sites around Avebury which make for a vast and varied magickal landscape. It is easy to explore all of them in a car within a few hours. We were on foot so decided to walk from Avebury to Silbury Hill, less than 2-miles away, which cuts through a field in part. A lovely walk through rural countryside, as soon as we hit this pathway I started to feel especially drawn to the oncoming Silbury Hill.

Silbury Hill, the largest artificial mound in Europe, is pretty spectacular. Comparable in height and volume to the pyramids in Egypt, its purpose and significance is unknown to archaeologists as is Avebury and Stonehenge. The green mound, surrounded by meadows, on this cloudy but hot summer’s day was delightful to marvel at. Just as we walked what could have been a mile-and-a-half from Avebury stone circle, Silbury Hill still appeared to be far in the distance. It was at this point, that we decided to veer off and head to a viewing point near the Silbury Hill car park. With very few visitors that afternoon, this was a perfect place to picnic, kick back and relax, and enjoy the view.

Approximately 131 feet high with a flat summit, Silbury Hill was constructed around 2400 BC. Composed mainly of chalk and clay, it is said that Silbury Hill was once a white mound rather than the green mound, cloaked in vegetation, that it is today. There have been various excavations at Silbury Hill, in the hope of finding out what it’s purpose was but to no avail. Previous excavations have left Silbury Hill’s foundations fragile, and visitors are no longer allowed to climb the mound.

We had to laugh however because at somepoint during our watchful gaze of this rather enigmatic mound, we spotted one person who appeared to circle around the mound at least twice, looking back to see if anyone was watching them before climbing up a stepped structure to make their ascent. It reminded us of the National Trust guide, who had shown us where to pick up the pathway from Avebury to Silbury Hill, who told us: “You can’t climb up the hill anymore, but there’s always one who tries. People shouldn’t do it unless they want to become an archaeological relic.”

While the energy at Avebury was very peaceful, Silbury Hill, although peaceful too, also had a very playful energy. There was more we could have explored in the nearby areas such as the stone structures along West Kennet Avenue and a circular arrangement known as The Sanctuary, but the energy at Silbury Hill was very insistent that we stay until it was time to walk back to Avebury in time to catch the bus back to Swindon. And that we did.

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com

 

 

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