Monday, 13 September 2010

In Which I Continue to be Impressed by Old Stuff

After finishing my visit to Stonehenge, it occurred to me that the day was still young, and also that Avebury is not that far from Stonehenge (about 20 miles) and is also somewhere I haven't been for a while.
Driving cross-country I was surprised to see ahead of me a White Horse.

One of the small, unconsidered bonuses of having no sense of direction is that such things can sneak up on one!

This is not the White Horse I usually see - That is the Westbury White Hprse (which is visible on my drive home from work every day, if I remember to look, and provided it isn't raining) This one is the Alton Barnes White Horse, and it doesn't really belong in a blog about visiting prehistoric monuments, having been made in 1812.

I didn't go up to it, but enjoyed the view for a while.

The next unexpected pleasure was coming upon Silbury Hill. 

I normally approach Avebury on a different road ,which doesn't go directly past the hill, and I had forgotten it was so close.
It's another very impressive place.

Legend has it that there is a King buried under the hill, who will, as such Kings are wont to do, return when required. I admit, I can't think of very many situations in which we would find the arrival of a neolithic king useful, but still, that  may simply be a lack of imagination on my part!

Archeology says there is no (apparent) burial, but that the hill is entirely man-made, and that it was completed in aroud 2500 BC, making it  a similar age (and size) to the Great Pyramid of Giza.

I'm not sure how impressed we should be by this; on the one hand, kudos to our stone-and-early-bronze-age ancestors  for building the thing, but at the same time, given that the Egyptians were busy empires and inventing writing, and politics, and art, and so forth, building a big heap of chalk with only a deer antler or two seems just  a little slow off the mark.. Although I suppose they had better weather, and perhaps therefore more spare time.

The acheologists seem to think that the flat top may have come later, when the hill was used (possibly defensively) during the Saxon period.

Visitors are no longer allowed to go up the hill, as it risks erosion and damage to the structure (and upsetting the sheep)

So, after admiring it from the bottom from several angles I moved on to Avebury.

Avebury is best known for its stone circle (see how the Neolithic theme continues?) but the National Trust also owns Avebury Manor, which is a 16th Century Manor House and gardens, so I decided to pop in for a look around before going around the stone circles.

Unfortunately it turned out that they had had to close the house early, as several of the volunter stewards had had to leave early, so I wasn't able to go inside.

The gardens are very nice, however - I particularly liked the eometric patterns of hedges outside the back of the house, and the parsley borders in the herb garden...

I shall have to go back to see the house another time.

Avebury (the circle) is big - perhaps the only way to get an idea of the size and scope is from the air.

From ground level it is hard to get an idea of how large the circle is, as you can't see all of it at once. However, unlike stonehenge it is possible to go right up to the stones and even on to them.

You can also see the outer ditch, and when you consider the tools they had to work with, it really is an amazing construction.

The Avebury circles are thought to be older than Stonehenge, having been constructed starting in around 3000 to 2800 BC - the stones themselves were not imported from Wales like the ones at stonehenge, but quarried in the area (Clearly, this was a local stone circle, for local people, none of yer nasty foreign muck..).
A lot of the stones were destroyed or removed in the 13th - 16th centuries - apparently this was initially because the Church disapperoved of these nasty Pagan stones (although the local people buried the stones ather than removing them altgether) and later, stones were actually broken up in an attempt to clear the land for farming and to use the stone for building.

Alexander Keillor, the Marmalade Magnate who bought Avebury in the 1930's excavated and re-erected many of the  stones, and marked with concrete pillars where he found evidence of missing stones, and later geophysical surveys have shown that a further 15 or 16 stones are still buried.

One of he oddest things I learned was that, as far as they can tell, no-one actualy lived in the immediate area during the period the Stones were in use; it seems to have been purely a religious/ceremonial/sacred area. The other thing (which makes sense but which hadn't occured to me) was that it probably wouldn't have been turfed so it's likely the whole area was white from the chalk, so it would really have stood out against the surrpounding coountryside.

I went for a walk along the top of the mound, before heading back through the village for icecream, and a drive home.

On my way home, I did a little detour via Rowde, and the Caen Hill locks.

This is a flight of 29 locks on the Kennet & Avon  canal - they ccome in 3 groups - this one, of 16 locks, is the longest and most dramatic. Although having been on a canal boat holiday or two in my time, I can't help feeling it would also be awefully hard work, especially as there are no moorings so I'm pretty sure you have to do the whole flight at once....

Because it is so steep, with so many locks close together there are extra "pounds" storing water to the side of each lock.

The canal was completed in 1810 and was still in use commercially until 1948, then it fell out of use until it was restored in the 1970s and reopened in the 80s.

It was very peaceful, and was a lovely end to a delightful day.

One of the nicest parts of the day was when I was wandering around Stonehenge and saw a family - the little boy (maybe 5 or 6 years old) was talking 19 to the dozen, very excited - he was (I think) Spanish and I couldn't understand most of it, but every other word was 'Pandorica'... I noticed he had a Dalek in one hand, too.
I didn't see any (other) Daleks, hoever, and no Docctor or plastic Romans, either (more's the pity)

No comments: