Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Avebury - Part One
I set off at 6.20am which wasn't too far off my original aim. The M1 was packed with traffic but happily I only go down as far as Northampton and then I turn off onto the A43 going towards Oxford. From this point life became much pleasanter, it's a good road but with a fairly low volume of traffic and some pleasant scenery. The weather was lovely - hot and sunny, but my car has air conditioning so I stayed nice and cool. By just after 10am I'd reached Newbury and turned onto the A4 which goes through Marlborough and on to Avebury. I arrived in Marlborough just before 11am and to my astonishment was able to choose from several empty parking spaces in the centre of the main road through the town - it's very wide and the left hand traffic goes on one side of a double row of parking spaces and the right hand traffic comes down the other side. It's a really pleasant small town and I'd be happy to see more of it at some stage but, being short of time, I just stopped for coffee and cake at the Polly Tea Rooms then found the Post Office to post a parcel. The tea rooms came straight out of a light novel from the 1930s, full of smartly dressed grey-haired elderly ladies and waitresses in black dresses with white aprons. I half expected to see Miss Marple walk in:)
There is a little website with photos here. The waitresses have red aprons in the photos but I'm sure they were white when I was there.
I set off again and after half an hour or so reached a sign saying 'Silbury Hill' - not that I needed the sign because to my amazement it was right there at the side of the road. No-one knows exactly what it is or why it was built, only that it is entirely man-made and was constructed in prehistoric times (around 2500BC) with picks made of antlers. Considering that it is 130ft high and covers a base area of 5 acres that is quite some feat, it's the largest manmade mound in Europe. There have been several excavations but no-one is any the wiser. The photograph required some careful positioning on my part as they are doing largescale conservation work on the mound and the base is actually surrounded by barriers and huge diggers and dumper trucks etc - not at all romantic looking!
Just across the road from Silbury Hill is the path leading up to West Kennet Long Barrow, a distance of about half a mile I should think. It was a lovely walk through water meadows then up a gentle hill to the barrow. I had it virtually to myself and it was so quiet and peaceful, there were skylarks singing and peewits calling and all kinds of wildflowers to see. Peewit is a country name for a lapwing as that is exactly what its call sounds like - my dad introduced them to me as peewits when I was a very small girl and I was well in my 20s before I discovered that they had a more official name. The photo above is showing the approach to the barrow.
This is an attempt to show the shape of the barrow which gives it the name of long barrow. The entrance faces east and there was a semi-circular forecourt at the front.
It was in use from 3500BC to 2000BC when, for reasons unknown,the chambers were filled with stones and the entrance sealed with the big sarsen stones. When it was opened there were piles of bones all over the place but only one complete skeleton.
This is taken from the entrance looking into the barrow with the main chamber at the end. Only about one sixth of the 340ft of its length has ever been excavated. In spite of its association with bones and bodies and death there is a very tranquil and friendly atmosphere all around the area.
There are several small chambers on each side of the main passage of which this is one.
For this photo I was standing on top of the barrow looking along its length towards the West.
I have simply turned round to face south to take this photo, I thought the view was absolutely beautiful.
This skylark was standing on top of the barrow while I was taking photographs so I thought I'd try out the 18x zoom - gradually I edged nearer and nearer and I couldn't believe how close it finally let me get to it before it finally flew off. It was a privilege to be so close to this bird which sings such a beautiful song as it soars into the sky until it is so high that it is virtually invisible, though never inaudible. There is a wonderful piece of music by a British composer called Vaughan Williams called The Lark Ascending which captures all the beauty of its song and flight. The moments spent so near to it were the crowning pleasure of the time spent in this truly magical place.
I think this is long enough so I will write about Avebury itself in another post. It may be worth clicking on some of the photos to enlarge them especially the views from the barrow.