Well, this is my last post on my Arthurian Legends tour of southern England. It’s kind of appropriate that it’s on two biggies: the impressive stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury, which we saw on the same day, our last day in England.
We were fortunate enough to get on the list to watch the sunrise inside the circle at Stonehenge. This meant a 3:30 a.m. wake up call, which came all too quickly. We all looked at each other with one eye open and then napped in the car. Unfortunately, no one told the weather gods to make it a nice day. It was overcast, which dulled out the sunrise and it was also very, very windy.
We had as our guide a modern Druid who calls himself Arthur Pendragon and claims to be the incarnation of said king. (I know an author on Twitter who claims to be the incarnation of Guinevere. I keep thinking I should introduce the two and see if they remember each other.) He was very kind, told us all about the structure and led us in a Druid prayer called “the Druid’s Oath:”
By peace and love to stand
Heart to Heart and Hand in Hand
Mark O Spirit, and hear us now,
confirming this, our Sacred Vow.
I visited Stonehenge years ago when I was in college and I have to say, it is much more impressive inside the stones. They are so huge – at least 3 – 4 times the height of a man. Arthur told us that at least 1/3 of each stone is underground, so they are even larger than they appear. And still no one knows how they got to Salisbury Plane from Wales, where they were mined. Arthurian legend would have you believe Merlin brought them by magic, but I bet there was another explanation.
Jaime made the interesting statement that despite it’s age, Stonehenge is younger than a lot of the circles we visited and was clearly built as some sort of display of power, and likely only used by an elite few. Its energy is very masculine, whereas many of the other circles have a more feminine energy and were built for use by all, regardless of rank. Maybe that’s why I’ve always been less interested in it than the others. It could also be that it feels more touristy. That’s no fault of the people who work there or how it’s maintained. I think it’s just a natural offshoot of it’s popularity and all the hype built up around it in pop culture.
After breakfast, we visited Avebury. It’s a completely different site, both in terms of energy and geographic layout. Avebury is so huge, there’s no way you can take it all in at once. That’s why it’s usually photographed from the air; it’s the only way to get it all in one shot.
Jamie told us there were four places the ancient people of the area visited, each at a different season, a quarterly gathering of the tribes. The Sanctuary, a timber circle that is no longer standing, was the location for spring (Imbolc/Candlemas). Avebury was summer (Beltane). Silbury Hill was autumn (Lughnasa). West Kennet Long Borough, with its repository of the dead, was the gathering place in winter (Samhain).
We started out walking the processional way or avenue, which is a series of stones that act almost like guideposts or pillars, welcoming you to the site. It is very impressive and must have been even more so in ancient times when there wasn’t as much around as there is today. Nearby (across the street, actually) is a hewn stone several times the size of a person. It is said that is where the high priestess sat to welcome the tribes as they gathered, walking up the avenue. I sat there and can testify that is has both the sight lines and the power to be a very commanding throne.
One of the very interesting things about Avebury is that it’s actually three stone circles, one of which is the largest in Europe. The stones are considered either male or female, based on their shape and location. Today, the at least some of the land is owned by a herdsman, so there are sheep everywhere. They must be used to tourists, because they didn’t pay us any mind. The shepherd was actually out checking his flock while we were exploring the circles and he told us all about the white chalk that naturally occurs in the ground and how his family came to own the land and their agreement with the National Trust to keep it sacred for those who visit.
An unexpected surprise for me on the site was getting to see the beech trees that J.R.R. Tolkein sat under when he wrote his books. Supposedly, they were the inspiration for the talking, moving trees in The Lord of the Rings. Of course, I had to get my picture taken under them and pray that some of the inspiration would rub off on me! It is a very serene spot and I can see how looking out over the hillside with the trees whispering above him would have made his imagination take flight.
The last place we visited that day (since West Kennet Long Borough was closed) was Silbury Hill. It is very near Avebury. It’s a cone-shaped hill that is said to be around 5,000 years old. Today it’s covered in grass, but it was believed once to be chalk like the earth beneath. It’s the tallest man-made prehistoric mound in Europe, and one of the largest in the world. Like Stonehenge and Avebury, its purpose is unknown, but local folklore calls it the resting place of a King Sil, who was buried on horseback, with the hill raised up around him.
I hope you all have enjoyed traveling to Arthurian England with me. If I get to go to Scotland next summer like I hope, there will be more blog posts from that trip. It’s my aim to trace the final voyage of the Votadini as memorialized in the poem Y Gododdin. Cross your fingers that the grant I’m applying for (since the trip is research for book 3) comes through!
Have you ever been to Stonehenge, Avebury, or Silbury Hill? If so, what did you think of them? If not, what would you like to know? What have you read/seen about them in popular culture?