Saturday, October 1, 2016

Ancient Stones, Ancient Hill: Avebury and Silbury

I have wondered what the suffix "bury" means on a place name, since we seemed to see so many of them. So I looked it up on my return and learned that it means a fortified enclosure. There is a great website that explains many of the recurring prefixes and suffixes found on place names, so have a look here if you are also curious.

Our goal for our second day in England was to find two prehistoric sites, Avebury with its stone circles (similar to Stonehenge) and Silbury Hill, a large manmade earthen mound.

Through the window so odd reflections. I was so excited to finally be there!

There is nothing like driving through the English countryside. The greens are indescribable, the roads almost all edged with trimmed hedges, fields of sheep and cattle. I have never seen so many sheep in my lifetime, I swear. Even though there are about 53 million people in the country, there is still much open land and very active farming. I think this is because of their long-entrenched custom of living in villages and towns, in smaller homes than we Americans are used to. Many of the homes are what we would call townhouses or row houses. Villages have most of the essential services. There is no real need for a large plot of land to call your own because the country is crisscrossed with public footpaths so people are free to almost wander at will across farms and private land. It goes back, I suppose to the early days when almost all travel was by foot or by horse, and those old paths have remained in place for centuries. Today they are very much in use both for pleasure and just getting about. I wish the US had such a system of trails. We're getting more every year, but we have a lot of catching up to do on this one--because here, of course, we did not have centuries to develop the network before the advent of the automobile which quickly became our main mode of transport.

We found Silbury first. It wasn't hard to find for sure, since it dominates the landscape around it. A bus full of Italian tourists were at the site when we arrived, apparently on a spiritual rather than a historic tour. They stood for a long time very quietly, most with their hands stretched toward the hill. We were quiet too, so as not to disturb whatever experience they were striving for.

No one knows who built Silbury or why. There have been some excavations over the years to determine if it was a burial mound and some of these caused some serious damage to the limestone structure of the hill. Fortunately those efforts have stopped and repairs were done to stop the effects of the digging. Silbury is the largest manmade mound in Europe at almost 100 feet high. The mound was built around 2500-2000 BC and may have been used for defensive purposes. The odd thing is that there were several other intriguing structures, such as the Avebury henge (stone circle) built in the area at about the same time.

In West Virginia we have the Grave Creek Mound in Moundsville, which is almost as big as Silbury, at 62 feet tall. Grave Creek was definitely a burial mound, as excavations in the 1800's discovered, and was built about 1000 BC. It does make one wonder, doesn't it, if that British mound-building culture somehow traveled to the Americas? What cultural beliefs inspired the building of such labor-intensive, time-consuming structures?

It was time for lunch so we stopped at a pub along the way. Good soup, bread, tea and coffee in front of this pretty window was just right.

 We moved on to Avebury and its stone circles. I've not been to Stonehenge but many people assured me that Avebury was far better, because it was less crowded, you could walk freely about the stones, and it was a larger site with several stone circles within the area. We did try to get to Stonehenge on our last day in England, but the place was jam-packed with people and that was not the kind of experience I wanted or needed. But Avebury--yes, that place was just amazing.

There were people at Avebury, but the nice thing was that it wasn't crowded, there was no guide to control how long we could stay at any given place, and we could take our time. Which we did! The Italian tour was here, too, touching and leaning on the stones with their eyes closed. I hope they found what they were seeking.

Some photos of what we saw here:

It was difficult to get a photo that really shows the massiveness of the stones and the site. Aerial photo needed! 

This is actually one of the smaller stones in the circle. Old man added for size comparison ;)

Odd little things embedded in the stones, like this, which looks like a seashell.

All around, green rolling fields.

 Old farm buildings gave us an interesting look at thatch.

 A fairy tree stood on a small hill. We saw several of these in our travels. The roots on this one, which I believe was a beech, were beautiful patterns.

Looks like mossy rows in a field, doesn't it? But actually, 

it's the mossy roof of an old building.

The church on the grounds was beautiful too. That is one thing I grew accustomed to--lovely old churches are everywhere in England. This one is Saxon, about 1000 years old. Difficult to comprehend in America, isn't it, that such old buildings could exist?

The oak parish chest dated 1634, which would contain all church records--baptisms, deaths, marriages, etc.

The round font is also old, and full of history. From the church website: "The tub font is possibly of Saxon origin but has detailed carving of the first quarter of the 12th century. It was apparently done by a local stonemason and probably shows Christ trampling on two dragons, representing evil and sin. However the figure holds a crosier and so has also been held to represent a bishop, although Professor George Zarnecki believes that the rustic sculptor misunderstood the picture that he was copying and added the crosier."

We ended our visit with a cream tea at the cafe onsite, where we had a lovely chat with an elderly couple who had returned because they had left some purchases behind the day before. Someone had turned the bag in and they were quite happy about it. It was a nice way to end the day's exploration.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Michelle said...

Wow. This is quite a post and a place I would love to visit. I have read about the stones of Avebury. Very interesting...

Joy@aVintageGreen said...

Just spent even more time following up with a visit to the church web site. Wow indeed.

Brig said...

This so interesting! Thank you for sharing, and all the wonderful photos.

Nance said...

so many mysteries; so little time. I am enjoying your visit. Thank you!

storytellermary said...

So much beauty! Thanks for sharing <3

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