A Very Magical Place
Deep in the rolling chalk downlands of Wiltshire sits the most magical place. It is so very old, so very enchanting, and so very lovely. It is a place filled with a rich and ancient history. But there is something extra there. Excuse me while I hop into hippy mode, but it really does contain a strong earth energy and a certain vibe. I find it a very peaceful place.
If you allow yourself to tune into your surroundings, you may experience something really special there. For at times, this ethereal location may release some of its secrets. This place with an ancient and mysterious history. There are many stories of ghostly activity, elemental energies and Fae activity. If you go there, who knows what you might experience. So, where is this magical place?
It’s called Avebury. It’s a large circular Neolithic henge which today is an extensive circular bank and ditch. Part of the village of Avebury still sits within the henge, as does the largest stone circle in Britain, with originally around 100 stones. Within the large stone circle sit two smaller ones.
Yes! It’s Avebury
Avebury is the location my friend Andrea and I chose for a nice long walk one rainy Autumn afternoon. Andrea is a good friend of mine and we always have fun on our adventures! We had planned to come here for a while for a good walk. I felt Avebury and the amazing features in its vicinity needed to become a Weird Wiltshire blog. As it turns out, there is so much folklore, history and ghostly tales and UFO activities associated with the place I’ve had to split it into a series. Today you’ll read part one!
I had picked up a route from the English Heritage member’s book, which The British Pilgrimage Trust designed. Originally, we had planned to walk the entire eleven miles but given our late start and the rather miserable weather, we opted for the seven-mile route.
It had been raining on and off all week and the weather wasn’t looking great, so on the morning of the walk, we weren’t actually going to go, but then we rashly changed our minds and took Buddy Love the lurcher and Luna black retriever with us. Bingo Jones, the Jack Russell is not a fan of rain or walking, in fact, so he stayed home in the warm.
As Billy Connolly says, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.’ And since Billy is a wise man, we togged up, got the wellies on, and drove through the rain to arrive at Avebury. The trees were still holding onto some leaves so there was a beautiful mixture of mellow yellows, oranges and subtle browns hanging from the branches. And whilst it was raining, it was fairly gentle with a light breeze. The bonus of visiting somewhere like this in the rain is it’s pretty quiet. We all like to get out and about in our spare time and this little island we live on is really very small. Places like Avebury can be very popular for a day trip and of course, everyone should get the chance to enjoy them. However, my favourite places can certainly lose a little of their appeal when they are too busy so to find it reasonably deserted was a bonus.
Andrea and I had a little wonder around the village to try and figure out where we were going. We usually both navigate old style with an OS map. I find phone apps confusing as I read maps upside down half the time. If you turn the phone around, so goes the map! So, we walked around aimlessly until we figured out where we were and which Ridgeway we needed to head out on. Off through a dairy farm we went, the not-so-sweet smell of liquified cow poo filling our nostrils. Ahh, the smell of the countryside as we headed across the open chalk downlands.
Here’s the very shortest explanation of the route we took. You can see it on the map, just in case you like them, as I do! Have a look at the photo.
Out of Avebury on the Wessex Ridgeway, which is otherwise known as Herepath or Green Street. Tumulus on your left, tumulus on your right; keep walking up the gentle hill and there’s another tumulus hidden with a copse of beech trees.
Hang a right onto the Ridgeway coming down from Marlborough Downs and follow it to West Overton. Cross the old Roman Road to the stone circle site of The Sanctuary. Head onto a local footpath that skirts West Kennet and head on towards Pan Bridge. Walk along the Eastern side of Silbury Hill and turn right for a short steep climb, then come back down the other side. Hang a left and head along The Avenue back towards the Avebury stone circles.
Herepath or Green Street
Study the OS map of the area and on almost every inch, you will spot something of archaeological importance. Tumuli, earthworks, sarsen stones and enclosures. The paths around these parts seem to weave among the many prehistoric landmarks.
Herepath is a sweeping wide grass track that leads out of Avebury and heads through Manor Farm. A Herepath is an old military road, and they were typically built by King Alfred the Great to help mobilise his forces when fighting off Viking invaders. This one connects Marlborough with Bath. Undoubtedly it would have also been used by locals, traders and those passing through, as well as the military. It would have been as sturdy and well-made as a route could have been back then.
You will pass a Tumulus situated beneath a beech tree circle on your right. The beech tree is magical and seems like the perfect species to grow over the barrows and tumuli of the long-since departed.
Beech Trees in Folklore
Originally known as ‘The Queen of Mother of the Woods’, the beech is a holy tree and, in folklore, is associated with knowledge and wisdom, writings of the past and keeping legends alive. Beech trees provide a protective canopy for those that choose to take a rest under their rich foliage. It’s no wonder the beech tree is often found growing around or upon tumuli, along with its majestic friend, the mighty oak.
Towards the sanctuary of The Sanctuary
Head past this small clump of trees and you will come to another ridgeway and a popular National Trust walking route. It’s very open here, the mainly arable farmland rolling on for miles. The sky seems endless. We saw no other souls out on this grass track until we got nearer to The Sanctuary. As with the pathways near Stonehenge, Avebury has a collection of people who live alternative lives on the wide ridgeways and paths in this area. Many live in vans or campervans, away from many of the constraints of modern life. I envy them in some ways as I think I would be much suited to a life like that.
Head back 4500 years and if you were in the middle of The Sanctuary, you would find yourself inside a remarkable stone and wood circle. It was uncovered by the archaeologist Maud Cunnington in 1930. What a find! The Sanctuary is thought to have been constructed as a free-standing ceremonial site with two concentric stone circles. Further on in time, it was a burial site.
Despite being right next to an ‘A’ road, it was deserted when we arrived. If you visit, try and think back in time, it would have been a very peaceful and lovely place to hold a ceremony. Have a look at the illustration from one of the English Heritage boards. It gives you a good idea of what The Sanctuary may have looked like.
I have found no recorded paranormal experiences associated with this ancient place. But I doubt there has never been any sort of experiences there. With flint tools and animal bones, pottery fragments and human remains found at The Sanctuary, there must be stories of its past buried deep in the mists of time. It’s simply too old and too magical not to have any sort of ghostly activity.
Moving on from The Sanctuary, we headed down to the small village of West Kennett and skirted around the edge to pick up the White Horse Trail, a popular walking route that takes in Wiltshire’s white horses. It’s accessible walking country around here. Grassy tracks, many of them gently rolling with a few short climbs here and there. For Andrea and I, it’s always a good chance to chat about all sorts with no topic out of bounds! We always have a good laugh! As we approached Silbury Hill, we talked about the purpose of this massive mound of earth. Why was it there?
The late Neolithic people built it. At 30 meters high, it is a huge hill, and in fact, it is the largest artificial mound in Europe, comparable in size and volume to the Egyptian Pyramids. Just dumped there, in the middle of Wiltshire. Much folklore surrounds Silbury Hill and the stories I have found that are associated with this hill are as good as any because even today, although there are several theories, no one really knows why it was built.
What is interesting is that it seems it was built over several generations and is made of different layers of chalk, soils, mud and even some sarsen stones from separate locations. Maybe it was a big group project! But that still tells us little about the reason for its construction.
King Sill’s Final Resting Place
One explanation for Silbury Hill is a folktale that tells the story of a knight named King Sil. Silbury Hill was to be his final resting place and he was said to be buried in full armour made of gold, sitting upright upon his horse. And ‘while a posset of milk was seething’ he declared a huge mound be built around him on his death.
Other old tales tell of him being buried in a gold coffin. Who King Sil is still seems a bit of a mystery. I have little information on when he may have been alive. But I did find the late Kathleen Wiltshire, in one of my absolute favourite Wiltshire-based folklore books, recalling the story told to her by an old stone mason, Worthy Gaisford. She said that a ghost of a horse and rider, thought to be King Sil, has sometimes been seen riding around the base of the mound on moonlit nights.
Another Ghostly Legend of Silbury Hill
Another apparition has been seen at the top of Silbury Hill. That of a headless person. I would have expected to have found more accounts of supernatural activity at Silbury, but I guess there aren’t many people around that area at night to witness them.
The Devil Did It!
Another commonly told folklore story tells us that the Devil was the one responsible for Silbury Hill. The story says that the Devil was looking out across the land and noticed that the people of Avebury and the locality were a particularly religious bunch. He was not very happy about this, so he planned to cover the whole village in earth. After digging up a humungous shovel full of dirt, he loped across the land towards Avebury. The Devil didn’t know that the priests and priestesses knew he was coming.
They sang religious songs and chanted with all their might to keep the Devil at bay. He circled the ancient monuments they had built, looking for a chance to get near them. But he tired first. The shovel of earth was incredibly heavy and when he could hold it no longer, the Devil dumped the pile onto the ground and strode away in a furious mood. And that pile of earth from his shovel is now Silbury Hill!
Over the years many people have tried to explain Silbury Hill and several theories exist. One is that the mound is a huge solar observatory. Some sort of sundial that casting shadow to help people tell the time.
Another explanation is that it’s a symbol of fertility, built for and dedicated to the Earth Goddess. For the people of that time, growing crops and raising livestock was critical for their survival so they would want to appease the Earth Goddess in order to enjoy an abundant year of growth.
Some UFO enthusiasts have put forward a theory that Silbury Hill is actually a landing site for alien spaceships. It’s possibly a little out there but this area is well known for its UFO activity. And, whether you believe them to be caused by visitors from outer space or local circle makers, Silbury Hill is at the centre of Wiltshire’s crop circle activities. Have a look at this blog where I discuss crop circles and talk about my visit to a crop circle in one of the fields below West Kennet Long Barrow.
West Kennet Avenue
As we left the vicinity of Silbury Hill, we dropped down a hill to West Kennet Avenue, also known as The Avenue. On the way, we spotted a rather windswept hawthorn, known to be a magical tree. It was adorned with little bits of twine and ribbon known as clooties. Not surprising to find a clootie tree here, given the strong Pagan roots of this area and the magic of the hawthorn.
The Avenue is a passageway of pairs of sarsen stones, placed to form a 1.5 km walkway that leads you back to the stone circles of Avebury. Originally, there would have been 100 of those stones to guide your way to the stone circles. Now there are fewer sarsen stones and concrete posts take some of their places. But you can still really sense the people that would have walked this route over the last 4600 years or so.
When archaeologist Alexander Keiller excavated the site in the 1930s, they found three graves with single skeletons and one grave with three. Were these people of great importance or were they there as some sort of ancient sacrifice to the Old Gods? Other evidence of human bones have been found in and around the site.
The Avenue is one of my favourite parts of this World Heritage site and I love to walk along it and tune into the history of the place.
Back to the Avebury Stone Circles
Ambling back along The Avenue was the perfect ending to our walk, although there was still so much to explore. Gloaming was fast approaching us, and we were very much in need of a cup of tea, so we decided to pass through, stopping for a few snaps of the sarsen stones. Maybe a little lean against or hand run along a stone that took our fancy as we headed to the cafe. It had a ‘dogs outside’ rule, so we crouched under a large umbrella and shared our scones with the dogs, enjoying the warmth of a good cuppa. We headed off home as darkness fell and drove back through the misty autumn eve. It had been a lovely day out. 😊
I really want to tell you about all the ghost stories of Avebury. There are so many! I have already covered Florrie and the ghosties of The Red Lion Inn here but there are other haunted buildings too. But there are more than enough stories to tell you if I just cover the strange happenings that have occurred on the paths I have and will walk. So, next time we’ll be visiting Swallowhead Springs and West Kennet Long Barrow. Make sure you subscribe to Weird Wiltshire to read the next blog in this mystical Avebury series.
Wiltshire Folk Tales by Kirsty Hartsiotis
Wiltshire Folklore by Kathleen Wiltshire
Ghosts and Legends of the Wiltshire Countryside by Kathleen Wiltshire
The Folklore of Wiltshire by Ralph Whitlock
The Haunted Landscape by Katy Jordan
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