Avebury, UK

After my quick stop in Iceland I headed over to the UK at an ungodly hour. The Reykjavik airport is absurdly busy at that hour. Their busy time is from 5-8am. The bag drop line took nearly an hour. Make sure you are there early. Car rental also takes a longtime to get through. For such a small airport it is surprisingly busy.

I slept the whole flight over and kept waking up every so often thinking, shouldn’t we be there by now, which I think is a testament to how deeply I was out of it on the plane. Upon arrival I got a more serious grilling at customs than I have ever received before. Perhaps I was being vague and it ticked off a button for the agent. Perhaps I just looked a bit rough after the early morning.  The whole time I was thinking sarcastically “special relationship UK, special relationship.”

After a lovely encounter with the car rental company, I was on my way (this is not sarcastic, both guys that served me were positively pleasant.  Basically I got out of Heathrow and drove an hour and a half. That’s enough time for adjustment right? I discovered pretty quickly that my car was not good. It was pretty new based on the mileage and hadn’t been broken in yet. At first it was a sticky third gear and then it was the realization that the car just hated hills and would not accelerate up them regardless of the gear. I literally went to pass someone on a hill and slowed down so much, with the pedal to the floor that it became dangerous. For the rest of the time I had that car I was conscious not to pass on a hill or even a moderate incline, too dangerous.

With all that said I made it to Avebury without a hitch. Avebury is sort of the second or alternate Stonehenge.  I did very little research before I arrived which is unusual but I was feeling whimsical. I was absolutely shocked at how big of an area it was. There are about five main spots you can visit and they are set out over a couple mile radius. (My only reference was Stonehenge which is highly contained to one spot.) They have walking trails between every spot so you can theoretically park in one place and go to all of them, although that is a lot of walking and a lot of time. Windmill hill is the farthest away but the other sites are all about a half our walk from each other. If you have the day to spend I would do it that way. I did not have the whole day in fact I only had about 2.5 - 3 hours.  The ideal way to see Avebury is to pack a lunch and spend the whole day walking about.

The first site I visited was Silbury Hill, followed by the large stone circles, and finally the burial ground at West Kennet Barrow. In reality what happened is that I saw Silbury Hill first and just pulled in to park. The parking is free there and it is just an overlook spot for the hill. There are two signs with a write up for it explaining some of the excavations they have done on the hill. It is man-made but no one knows for sure what the exact purpose was. The top is flat and the sides sloped like a normal hill but looking at the landscape around you can clearly see that it is different than all of those around it. From Silbury Hill I considered walking to all of the other sites but decided that I didn’t have enough time nor energy after the early morning.  I followed the signs to the Avebury World Heritage Site Visitor Center. This is a bit of a misnomer. It is basically a parking lot with a trailer of information that leaves everyday around 5.  It is not a visitor center with toilets and a shop. Although there is a shop nearby-ish and toilets can be found in the manor area. This area has a pay and display for between 1-3 English pounds (sorry, I don’t have that symbol on my keyboard).  From this lot you will come across a few signs listing all of the sites in the area which are technically different sites but really part of the whole Avebury complex. This includes the manor, the stone circle, Silbury hill, West Kennet Avenue, the Sanctuary, West Kennet Long Barrow (the burial ground), and Windmill Hill. 

Silbury Hill

I came upon the stone circle and when everyone walked right, I walked left and did it in the reverse direction. Either way works. The Manor is also in this direction but I did not go to the Manor. I let myself into the next field where a part of the circle resided. Some of these stones have been re-erected and excavated out of the ground where they once stood. You cannot easily tell which ones are which and I guess it doesn't matter. Each stone has a unique shape and texture and they are all massive. I was dwarfed by all of them. I guess that’s not saying much considering my height. Let’s just say that they would dwarf a very tall man. Throughout the stone circle there are sheep grazing. These stones are in fields that are still used as grazing areas. You have to let yourself in and out of the gates making sure they shut behind you so that the sheep don’t run into the road. The circle goes on for quite a while and over several fields. There are also some ancient, fairy tale type trees along the route. At places like these I always think, if these trees could talk...

I walked along the whole outer stone circle and back around in a loop. It was a beautiful day and perfect for a walk. I imagine in the rain this site would leave a lot to be desired but the mist would add to its mystery. From the main site I went over to the West Kennet Long Barrow which is where the burial ground also resides. Parking is on the side of the road, followed by a 10 minute walk through a wheat field. This was much more exciting than you would think. You get a great view of Silbury Hill and the surrounding area and you can start to imagine what this complex could have looked like over the rolling hills. When you arrive at the top there is again a little sign with a write up on it. Nearly 50 people were buried there before the chamber was sealed. They date this back to 3650BC. The tomb is now open and you can take a walk around. Inside there are four or five separate small chambers off the main one. All remains have since been moved but it still has the feeling of a burial chamber.

Avebury is still being excavated regularly so as to discover its true purpose and there was a dig going on while I was there. There has still been no definitive answer. Like all great archaeological sites, some things will just have to be left to the imagination and speculation. 

Silbury Hill view from West Kennet

Leaving the burial chamber.


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