The Avebury Stone Circles
Did you happen to join me on my last two visits to the Avebury Stone Circles? If that’s the case, you will already know about my walks around the area, visiting the magical and prehistoric sites associated with the Avebury.
In my latest blog in this series, Walking the Paths of Our Ancestors, I will concentrate on the actual stone circles of Avebury rather than the surrounding mysteries. I’m not even going to tell you about the haunted buildings – that is a standalone blog in itself, and of course, I have already covered The Red Lion Inn and its many ghosts, which you can read here. Today, you’ll hear about mysterious time slips, phantom celebrations, travelling sarsen stones and more.
If you want to catch up on the last two blogs in this series, you can read them here:
What is the Avebury Stone Circles?
In case you have never heard of this wonderous place, let me tell you a bit about its history and purpose. It’s very, very old!
Avebury is a henge (a prehistoric circular enclosure with a raised bank and ditch running around it). Situated in the centre of Wiltshire, it is connected to Stonehenge (and other amazing places like Glastonbury and St Michael’s Mount) by mysterious ley lines. Within the henge are three stone circles, one being the largest stone circle in Britain.
Avebury was thought to have been built over many centuries in the Neolithic period, somewhere between 2850 BC and 2200 BC. However, it could be even older, with timber structures and circles in place before the stones were moved there and the ditches created.
What was the purpose of Avebury Stone Circles?
The way that Avebury is connected to the other wonders of the area, including Silbury Hill, Windmill Hill and The Sanctuary, suggests it was built for ancient rituals, ceremonies and processions.
By the Iron Age, the henge and stone circle were abandoned. By the Middle Ages, the village of Avebury was being built around the stones, eventually spreading to within the stone circle itself. As beliefs changed, the ancient religions and Gods were persecuted, and the old Druid ways died out or at least became very secretive. Many of the 100 original sarsen stones of the largest circle were removed or destroyed. Thankfully, in the 20th century, a project was led by archaeologist Alexander Keiller and much of the monument was reconstructed.
In modern times…
Today Avebury is a World Heritage site run by English Heritage. It is of historical importance and religious importance, particularly for neo-Pagans. The beautiful thing about Avebury is that it is free to enter and you can go and walk with the stones, touch them and even hug them.
I do love Avebury! For me, it has a strong yet peaceful energy and I always enjoy walking under the big skies of the local chalk downland. I often try to imagine how it must have been over time. To try and get a sense of the last 5000 years or more of history. How much have those stones witnessed over time? Centuries of people living within or passing through the stones. Is it any wonder that there have been many, many strange sightings and experiences over time at the Avebury Stone Circle.
Have you heard about the Avebury fair?
I often quote from the books of Kathleen Wiltshire, a fabulous threesome of books about the ghosts and folklore of Wiltshire, collected by Kathleen throughout her life and published in the 1970s. These books are little gems of information for me, but the books are now out of print.
Kathleen was told a weird story by a lady called Miss Burridge of Marlborough, of a girl who lived in Cadley just after WWI. From Cadley, you can see Avebury and its stone circle. One day when the girl was around twelve years she could see and hear, with much excitement, that there was a fair in progress within the stones. Just the faintest of music could be heard. The girl begged her mum to let her go along, but her mum knew nothing of a fair, so she sent the girl’s brothers to check. They reported back that they could indeed see and hear something happening. An event like this is not to be missed, so the family gathered themselves up and set off, all keen to see what was going on. But, when they arrived, they found no fair and no music. Nothing at all! On asking the villagers about it, they were none the wiser. There hadn’t been a fair in the village for many years. Not since 1850, in fact!
Around this time, Miss Edith Oliver told her own story of an experience she had at Avebury. Miss Oliver was driving her car from Devizes to Marlborough, and she pulled over at twilight to look down at the stone circle. She saw lights and heard the music of a fair going on, but she didn’t wander over. Instead, after carrying on her journey, Miss Oliver remarked to someone about what she had seen at Avebury. But, nobody had any knowledge of a fair. There had not been one for 50 years. Whilst finding the whole situation curious, in the end, Miss Oliver just put it down to ‘hindsight’.
Could Miss Burridge and Miss Oliver have witnessed the same ghostly gathering simultaneously?
This is not the only story in Kathleen’s books. Travelling by the Avebury circle on her way from Swindon, Miss J. M. Dunn saw something she could not explain on a bright moonlit night one January. Miss Dunn saw small figures moving amongst the sarsen stones. She reported ‘a most uncanny feeling,’ as if she had slipped back into the times of the Ancient Britons.
God of the Witches
Sonia Smith has written a couple of excellent books on Wiltshire hauntings. One story is related to the Avebury stones and I recommend you read it yourself. Find Sonia’s books here.
In summary, it tells of a young couple who stayed with friends in the village at Christmas time. The friends living in Avebury were Witches and had been explaining a bit about their newfound religion and beliefs to the couple. After a fun evening by the fire, the visitors had offered to take their friend’s dog out for a last, late night leg stretch on a dark and snowy evening. Heading up into the henge, it was then that they witnessed something they would never forget. Standing upon the bank of the henge was a black-cloaked figure, around eight feet high. He appeared to be wearing deer antlers on his head. He watched the couple and their dog, his cloak flapping in the wind. The dog, unnerved by the whole event, gave a couple of large barks and the couple bent over to soothe her momentarily. When they looked up, the figure was gone. They both took off to run over and see where the figure was, but it had totally disappeared. On returning to the cottage, the shaken couple recounted the story. One of the friends suggested, given the conversation that evening and the reluctance to believe, ‘I think you have seen The God of the Witches.’ Another name for The Horned One or Pan.
Standing stones that move
It was sometime in the 70s that a young man told a story of a car accident he witnessed on the road near Avebury at night. I’m not sure whether this is within the circle, but I wanted to include it anyway. While driving along one night, a car passed him at speed. It crashed ahead of him into the side of the road and burst into flames. The young man pulled up and ran over to the crash site, but as he got there, he realised there was no car, much less anything on fire. There was absolutely no evidence of what he had seen. The man was confounded and had no explanation.
According to an old story told at the Darby and Joan Club in Market Lavington in 1974, the larger of the standing stones actually move. Two years before the story was told, a car crashed into one of the moving stones, killing the driver.
Could they have meant the Diamond Stone or Swindon Stone, which is located in the Northwest part of the circle? At midnight this 50-tonne stone is said to uproot itself and cross the A4361.
Unidentified flying lights and objects have been seen above the stone circles and the area is known as a bit of a hotspot. Several reports of unexplainable things overhead have been described as making the stones ‘buzz’.
But there are also glowing lights. They move between and above the stones and have been seen on several occasions. One particularly popular stone which seems favoured by these lights is the mysterious Diamond Stone (the one which moves across the road at midnight).
Other folks have witnessed twinkly lights, seen dancing through the stones, and this has been attributed to fairies. The shadowy dwarf-like figures darting around the stones in the dead of night are also thought to be Fae Folk.
Folklore of Avebury
One curious little folklore story claims snakes cannot live within Avebury Circle. Is this story related to the opinions of early antiquarians who thought the whole of the Avebury complex was designed to worship serpents? They thought Avebury itself was built to look like a coiled snake with the tail heading out to Beckhampton and the neck to Overton Hill. Modern thinking does not support this theory, yet no one knows where the old myth of snakes not living within the stones comes from initially. Maybe the days of the Saxons? There is a bishop carved into the stone of the font at Avebury Church (built in Saxon times). Wearing his cape and mitre and holding his crosier, he is spearing some sort of creature, possibly a snake.
By the 14th century, Christian fear and beliefs meant many people became fearful of the power of the stones. Many stones were toppled over and buried in pits to diminish their magic.
Was it a moving standing stone or a falling stone that buried a man found in 1938? His skeleton was found with scissors in his belt and silver coins in his pouch, so it was surmised he was a tailor. He dates back to around 1320, according to the dates on the coins. No local folklore exists about who this may be, but it’s assumed he was helping remove and destroy the stones. Maybe the stones got their own back!
Stone huggers of Avebury
When it comes to stone hugging, it is not uncommon to see a person resting their body against one of the sarsen stones and giving them a hug. The folklore of the stones has evolved over many centuries concerning their power and some people believe them to have magical healing qualities. Hug them yourself if you are ever there. You may feel the vibrations that are said to come from the centre of the stones themselves. I have felt the same thing while standing against the sarsen giants at Stonehenge, as did my friend!
We are nearly at the end of the series with one last blog to go. Next time I will tell you more about the haunted buildings of Avebury. There is the Red Lion Pub, as I mentioned earlier, with their resident spook Florrie and others. But there is even more to Avebury. This place is chockablock full of stories, and there are many more ghosts to uncover. I might not head back until the Spring, but if you want to make sure you don’t miss my next blog, subscribe to my mailing list or follow me on Twitter.
Have you got a story to share?
My favourite thing is to uncover new and untold ghost stories and interesting bits of history. If you have any stories you would like to share, I’d love to speak to you. Get in touch here.
Stay spooky my friends!
Ghosts and Legends of the Wiltshire Countryside by Kathleen Wiltshire
More Ghosts and Legends of the Wiltshire Countryside by Kathleen Wiltshire
Wiltshire Folklore by Kathleen Wiltshire
Stories of the Supernatural by Sonia Smith
Haunted Wiltshire by Sonia Smith
Haunted Wiltshire by Keith Wills
Wiltshire Folklore and Legends by Ralph Whitlock