To my shame, this was my first visit to Avebury since 1983, when I attended a Royal Society of Chemistry Mid-Southern Counties Local Section Summer Excursion to Avebury, Silbury Hill, and the West Kennet Long Barrow. I attended the SALOG visit as part of a self-imposed mission to visit all the sites depicted in the current exhibition, ‘British Art: Ancient Landscapes’. To this end, following a week’s holiday in Seaton last week, I made a detour to visit the Cerne Abbas Giant (and the village of Cerne Abbas itself) on my way home. Then, following the SALOG visit to Avebury, being such a lovely day, and following lunch at the on-site café, I embarked on the two mile walk along a bridleway to visit West Kennet Long Barrow, taking in Silbury Hill en route. At West Kennet Long Barrow, I was entranced to watch a swallow feeding her brood of chicks which were on a ledge in one of the burial chambers.
At Avebury, it was a delight to have the opportunity to chat with fellow volunteers from the other organisations involved. (I had a fruitful conversation about witches and alchemists, concerning some research I’m doing on a matter unrelated to Ancient Landscapes).
I was interested to hear from our Guide about the two types of stone, ‘pillar’ stones and ‘diamond’ stones, which represent male and female, and these face each other in the Avenue as sexual pairs.
The Guide for my party told us that the heaviest stone weighs an estimated 100 tons. On its outfacing side, she pointed out the head and neck of a ‘dragon’ – a result of natural erosion. (One of my fellow Volunteers pointed out that this is the same stone on which, in the exhibition, the artist has shown the face of William Morris, and indicated that this is to the left hand side of the dragon).
To me, the ‘dragon’ looked more like a snake, and this led me to put two and two together to perhaps make five, in wondering whether this is what inspired William Stukeley to depict Avebury as a serpent whose head rested at the Sanctuary on Overton Hill and whose body was formed by West Kennet and Beckhampton.
This was a very interesting, enjoyable and worthwhile visit. Many thanks to all concerned with its conception and organisation.
Alan Crooks (Engagement Volunteer)