Another trip of the heart just completed; a revisit to Avebury’s stones only, this time, for a weekend so that we could explore that ancient landscape further, go for total emersion and take our time joining many dots. I’ve talked before about the way the geography of our world delivers patterns that are not the insular, isolated points on a map that they may seem once we start to notice synchonicities that correspond with our own life-journey through it; and I’ve talked many times before about how this was understood and played out in ancient times by ancient folk who ‘got’ this correlation. The Avebury complex is the perfect example of that, with numerous ancient sites that can be seen to have been intended to work together as a unit, even if historians still argue and scratch their heads about how; but let them argue and scratch as my way is just to go to these places and feel into them!
My last blog about Avebury was called Circles within circles and I’ve written more than once about leylines and ancient routes since then. It occurs to me that this weekend was where the lines got to meet the circles…the first of those lines being The Ridgeway, subject of my post Joining lines and crossing over in which I shared about an ancient pathway that has woven in and out of my life circumstances, in so many significant ways, over a period of many years and yet I had somehow never reached ‘its source’. Not so now, having spent the first part of yesterday at its starting point on Overton Hill, beneath whose curve we spent Saturday night, staying at The Old Forge B&B with a splendid room-wide window under the eaves that afforded us a wonderful view of the River Kennet by dusk when we arrived and of swans gently preening on its banks when we opened our curtains in the morning. There, again, another line…The Kennet, whose waters have been no more than a couple of miles from anywhere that I have lived for the past 29 years, including times when I have used its pathway as my main transport route to daily work, or had close friends living feet from its edge, the fact it weaves its way through the centre of my nearest town and has been backdrop to countless walks and numerous little dramas…and now here it was again, the water artery that joined my accommodation to Avebury itself, circling several of the very features I was here to explore.
That other line joined-up by my weekend is the Michael & Mary leyline, which extends diagonal-straight from the foot of Cornwall at St Michael’s mount (somewhere I first passed, in my little blue car, on a milestone trip – you could call it a freedom flight – many years ago), to Glastonbury Tor (most memorable scene of my lovely honeymoon), to Avebury and to Hopton-on-Sea in Norfolk (which, in an entirely coincidental way, I am visiting very soon because – it turns out – both sets of my ancestors came from around there two hundred-plus years ago). I have a particular love of this leyline for the fact that it aligns with the Mayday sunrise, that being the morning of my birthday. Have thoroughly covered this Michael & Mary leyline and the how-life-weaves-with-landscape topic before in my post ‘Of peacocks and dragon‘ but, the point is, Avebury is one of those very special places where the weaving energies of male and female do their dance so closely that they cross over, their energies forming a yin and yang marriage that is the very landscape in that place; you can feel it!
If your inclination is to see the symbol of these energies played out in physical form then the Mary energy, for me, plays out as the River Kennet that was a silver-sparkling ribbon snaking in the sunlight right below the road from Marlborough, like an emissary come to meet us, now leading us to our destination. It was also the crystal-clear water revealing lush green river weeds that provided the sunday morning backdrop for preening swans as we watched from the window of our accommodation at East Kennet, the small village with its unexcavated long barrow (which you can see in the clump of trees above the village, left) nearby. From there, it glistens its silvery thread around the base of Overton Hill, just visible as you stand on the windswept prominence that is laid out with the circles within circles of The Sanctuary, before becoming the moat for the striking pyramid-like structure of Silbury Hill (like a pregnancy personified, held within the belly of all the other landscape-structures of the Avebury complex, Silbury stands out as central to the whole scheme of it). The Kennet then tickles around the edges of Avebury village itself before tracing back to its own source, its birth-point, at nearby Winterbourne Monkton (a winterbourne is a stream that runs from a spring), with its very-ancient earthworks at Windmill Hill, its historic connections to Glastonbury (hence ‘Monkton’), its church dedicated to Mary Magdalene (the very guardian, you could say, of the sacred feminine) and its rare sheela na gig (what some consider a ‘grotesque’ symbol of fertility and the sacred feminine; typically, a squatting female with a very prominent vulva) carved onto the font. Finding out about this font intrigued me a great deal; it seems this Christian-turned community didn’t forget all of their heritage in a hurry and, back then, as the local stonemason and someone party to the old culture yet witnessing this being outlawed and eradicated quicker than you could blink, it was an inspired idea to hide a reminder of that culture in the decoration of the big round thing that holds the water (both classic symbols of the sacred feminine) at the very front of the new Christian church and central to its ceremonies. You can’t help feeling there was a certain amount of humour wrapped up in this act of artistic subterfuge!
If female energies seem to tie the Avebury complex up as though in a silver-and-green bow of crystal water and lush foliage, all the other structures of it, those that assert themselves through stone and through mound, play out a whole theatrical performance of balanced and interwoven male and female elements; a complex dance of manmade structure working with the landscape’s natural features. All of the sarsen stones used at Avebury are entirely natural, not hewn into any particular shape, and yet they were evidently arranged in patterns that held meaning. For instance, the long West Kennet Avenue that once consisted of 100s of stones (of which only a small proportion is left; so many of Avebury’s stones having been destroyed as the target of a long-running campaign to eradicate whatever it was they stood for) was apparently arranged in pairs of tall and ‘lozenge’-shaped stones stood side-by-side; you could say, lines and circles. These – like the variable-proportioned stones of the Avebury circles themselves – are presumed to symbolise male and female, like a procession of couples leading the way to, or was it from, Avebury itself. As we drove alongside it at dusk, heading away from Avebury to our accommodation, we couldn’t help but be struck by the impact of these almost-alive silhouettes against a sky that was playing out its own dance of complementary opposites (see header). At the other end of their procession lies The Sanctuary…now marked out by concrete place-markers but once consisting of concentric circles of extremely tall wooden and then stone posts, the outer one big enough to have accommodated Stonehenge, and having now approached the site on foot in such a way as to try and imagine how this must have impacted those seeing it for the first time as it appeared over the brow of the hill, we confess to being blown away by how impressive this must have been in a way no text-book could ever convey. If only it had remained intact so we could see it…
The one modern-day remaining structure of most tremendous impact in this ancient landscape is, without a doubt, Silbury Hill. Its immense and steep-sided form is, very likely, the first thing most travellers to Avebury encounter, to this day, as they drive along the busy A4, oblivious to all the earthworks and markings of Overton Hill and The Sanctuary that lie just the other side of the road edgings unless they are paying very close attention to the brown information signs along the way. No doubt their map or GPS is still guiding them onwards towards the carpark in Avebury village when Silbury Hill suddenly launches into view like a great grass pyramid appearing on the horizon almost before they are expecting to see anything of interest; and the pyramid comparison is about right given this 4500 year-old structure is about the same height and volume as the Egyptian pyramids that were being built around the same time. It contains no burial material and so its purpose has successfully eluded so much modern-day speculation and yet there it is, the most prominent structure in the Avebury landscape. Comparison with the pyramids, in this landscape, doesn’t end there. The angle from Avebury to The Sanctuary is apparently 51° 51′, the same as the Avenue leading from Stonehenge and as the exterior angle of the Great Pyramid at Ghiza, according to the Ancient Wisdom website (which is well-worth dipping into).
Only from the top of one of the mounds on Overton Hill, and from The Sanctuary, itself do you start to get something of an idea of how all these man-made features of the Avebury landscape work as a scheme in a way, I realised, I had missed entirely across so many visits where I had limited my walk to the Avebury stone circle itself, down there on the plane, where every tourist visitor heads for; the circles are important, yes, but not everything and were added much later to an overall complex that had been under construction for thousands of years already by the time they were complete. For me, it took this whole new, high-up perspective to shed some light on the Avebury landscape; for years, it seems, I had been getting the circle but had I been getting the point?
Having poured over some plans, maps and images of the Avebury landscape with bleary eyes, just the night before, a much-stylised eighteenth century drawing by Stukely suddenly stood out clearest in my mind; over simplified perhaps yet by virtue of the fact it incorporates parts of the Avebury complex that are no longer there, like the completely destroyed Beckhampton Avenue off to the west of Avebury, it jolted me into something like an understanding of what I was now looking down at from my high-spot in the east. His drawing of the two avenues of stones, to me, resembles fallopian tubes sweeping down from an Avebury womb, Overton Hill (where I was now stood on one of several circular mounds on the opposite side of the road to The Sanctuary) reminding me distinctly of a woman’s ovary, then Silbury Hill like the very point of creation itself, surrounded by silvery amniotic waters; a full-bellied pregnancy about to come to fruition. A very prominent circle. So that makes the distinct line of West Kennet Long Barrow, clearly visible on the horizon from where I was standing…a long shape marked out in rocks with a steady stream of ant-like people coming and going from it in what was already ceaseless flow this early Sunday morning…what, a vaginal canal? The place where it all starts to happen? A place of birth?
The beginnings of this pondering began yesterday morning, on a walk that took in the start of the Ridgeway before I spent some time on top of one of the circular earthworks at Overton Hill, crossed the A4 to The Sanctuary where we gathered at its centre, walked part of West Kennet Avenue towards Avebury and then back again to appreciate the approach and, finally, the visit I had been most looking forward to, we headed off to West Kennet Long Barrow. Nothing could explain how excited I felt at visiting this most ancient and sizeable of long barrows (constructed around 4000 BC and over 100 metres in length) except the fact that I felt its huge significance to me, personally, somehow; like I was ready and waiting for it in some way. You could say, I felt expectant.
When we pulled into the lay-by at the foot of its hill, the sky was so grey as to seem as leaden as my tired legs felt as, having crossed the Kennet once more, we walked a sticky up-hill mud path bordered by sheep. There was a steady stream – still – of other visitors to the site mulching up the path with their footprints; families with run-around kids, numerous couples, dog walkers, a coach with a loud-speakered tour guide pulling up just as we left. Yet, as we got to where we were in sight of the long barrow, that leaden sky put on quite a display for us, the clouds suddenly became gauzy and luminescent, the wide undulations of Wiltshire countryside that were its backdrop becoming transparent-lemony-silver as though touched with a watercolourists brush (all the better to pick out the dramatic effect of its sarsen stones) and all those people…well, they simply dispersed and were gone in a moment. Its true: once we had stepped back to allow another family with far more people in their group than us their time alone in the barrow, we were gifted with a clear twenty minutes when we had the whole place to ourselves and it was wonderful; to be able to simply step inside that chamber with all the nervous awe of stepping into a pyramid and to take your time feeling into that 6000 year-old space, to read the knowing of something of what it was all about (and which the word ‘burial’ didn’t even get close to describing). More, it was the particular light, through ceiling portals, and the acoustics that struck me…and so we tested the latter out with a spontaneous, hand-held family ‘Om’ that had us all goosebumps in the silent space that eventually followed. I left a small offering in one of the tiny natural pockets in the stone wall…and found I wasn’t the only one to have done so, by far…before stepping back into the daylight.
From the top of the barrow, Silbury Hill looked even more like a pyramid than ever. I’ve read speculation that its top was flattened off to help it merge with the natural line of the landscape from a particular viewing point (though not from where we were standing; it was still inches above that line even from the top of the barrow) and you can sense how so much of the Avebury complex was planned out for maximum impact from certain viewing points, its features starting out blended with the landscape then suddenly – wow – in your face monumental when viewed from others. Interesting is that, all along the route of West Kennet Avenue from the end of The Ridgeway route that would have delivered travellers to Avebury’s doorstep, Silbury Hill remains completely out of view…as though to ensure maximum impact for that traveller arriving almost at its feet and there it is, monumentally in their face, not unlike the same impact delivered to the modern traveller coming upon it along the A4. Like a metaphor for life, within the Avebury landscape the exceptional is made to weave in and out of ‘ordinary’ experience, seeming part of the familiar natural landscape one minute and then suddenly appearing much larger than life, arresting you in absolute awe.
Isn’t that life all over? If there was one moment that had me doubling over with laughter on my walk around Avebury stone circle, this time, it was this; I’d just ‘scooped the poop’, my dog having inconveniently had his moment right inside the remnants of one of the inner circles (fine choice, Rudi) and, again, isn’t life inconvenient-seeming like that yet full of truths wrapped up in unlikely packaging? So, I had a black tie-handled bag of something very smelly in one hand and, in my other, the black velvet tie-handle pouch in which I keep a collection of crystals, which I had brought with me for the trip and had been holding against some of the stones. It wasn’t until I started struggling to work out my hands to take my next photograph that I realised I had a black tie-handle pouch in each hand, one full or shit, one full of light-rocks; and the profound metaphor inherent in that had me guffawing as I raised both hands to the sky to acknowledge the message in it. Life is meant to be a woven experience, a blended thing of what we label ‘spiritual’ and what we regard as gritty, shitty ‘real’ life. Chalk and cheese. Its why we came here. The ancients knew that. And when we get that – really, truly, properly – the shitty stops being, well, quite so shit!
A pub lunch and time for one last drive through the centre of Avebury’s circle and a quick diversion through Winterbourne Monkton (from where, its said, one of my much-used phrases “like chalk and cheese” originates due to the visibly contrasting landscape of chalk and clay thereabouts) before heading for the motorway. It was time to flow my way back home and I knew I was nearly back there when I spotted the River Kennet snaking beneath the concrete edging of the M4 motorway at Reading; I had reached its other extreme, where that same dainty water of my Sunday morning swan-watching spills into the Thames that tugs its way towards London and inevitably reaches the broad expanse of the sea. I suddenly knew that, with every bit as much inevitability, I had carried an important part of gentle Avebury back home with me and into the relentless flow of my busy life.
It occurs to me, another way of saying “where the line meets the circle” is “where the rubber meets the road”…its where the wheel hits the ground and things get rolling along nicely in ‘real’ life, when traction is gained and humanity’s broadest ingenuity meets (and works with) the surroundings it finds itself in. The line between them becomes appropriately blurred as we get that we are all of it and it is all an extension of us, without any illusory boundaries in-between – there is no separation between anything or anyone. Man and environment – all one; something the ancients ‘got’ and we forgot…for a time (now over). A great blending is taking place and its not about making ceremony of our spiritual selves; its about living it, being it, exercising the power of it in our daily lives within a landscape that is ‘just’ an extension of our human selves…and when we truly know that to our core, we treat it with altogether more respect and then watch as it births experiential abundance in all the peaks and valleys of the landscape of our world.
A great many more photos (no surprise) were taken this weekend than the ones included here and you can see them all in the collection An Ancient Landscape