The clouds were gathering, rain threatening, but it was Bank Holiday Weekend so we were going on a family adventure, no matter what 🙂
After discussion and consultation of maps, Avebury was decided upon. It’s somewhere I’ve always been keen to visit and, as it was only an hour and a bit away, it was deemed appropriate for a day trip. And we enjoy exploring, we really do. My husband is still finding his way around the country, while I’m rediscovering places I remember from childhood. And the gorgeous child is always up for a day out, keen to see somewhere new.
So rain jackets and umbrellas were packed, the car filled with petrol and we were off, fingers crossed that the M25 would be more forgiving today, painful memories of almost missed flights and bumper-to-bumper traffic making us wary. But all went well and an hour or so later we were approaching the massive henge, so large that a village has been built in what was once the centre.
And I lost all reception on my phone. Which was a bit odd.
We parked, then made our way along the overhung-with-green pathway leading to the looming ridge surrounding the circle. There were a few other people out but not too many, as the rain had started to fall in earnest. We walked the short avenue leading into the first quadrant of the circle, marvelling at the huge stones and wondering how on earth they had been brought here and put into place. I reached out to touch one, laying my hand flat against the cold stone, rough under my palm.
And I felt a buzzing, tingling sensation, like pins and needles. My daughter put her hand on the stone and she could feel it as well, though perhaps we were both just kidding ourselves. There was a humming in the air too, but only I could hear that – water on the ear, perhaps? I thought to myself how extraordinary a sight it must have been when all the stones were in place, like a dance across the green field bounded by chalk.
We kept going along the curve of stones, noticing flowers left as offerings in the nooks and crannies, the rain still coming down. Crossing the road that cuts the circle in half one way, we found ourselves in the next quadrant. There were more stones here, a smaller circle within the large one, and steps leading to the top of the ridge. Making our way up to the top we started along the chalky path, marvelling at the depth of the ditch and the work it must have taken to dig.
Beneath the trees at the edge of the circle a group of women in bright clothing were gathered. Some were whooping, others dancing and hugging each other as a drum began to pound out a rhythm. There was a full moon last night, and I felt maybe that was what they were celebrating, though I couldn’t be sure. Then, as the ridge curved around we saw a small group of trees, so close together they seemed as one, the roots twisting and twining fantastically along the earth, while the branches were hung with ribbons and tokens.
This seemed a magical place indeed, and the gorgeous child was disappointed she didn’t have a ribbon to leave there. But we decided a large chocolate button was a nice compromise and so one was left, I didn’t see where, and a wish was made.
Down the ridge we went, to the second road cutting through the ancient henge, where we crossed into the third quadrant. This one was home to sheep and goats, some of them incontinent, it seemed, by the minefield of droppings we had to negotiate as we walked along the ridge. We made it fairly unscathed into the field where two large stones known as ‘The Cove’ stood close together, both of them over twice my height and massive. Another loomed behind the wall of a picturesque old barn enclosure, and I wondered what it would be like to live in the shadow of these stones.
We crossed the road once more and entered the fourth and final quadrant, leading us to the old church and manor house. Once again the remaining stones were imposing, one pocked with small holes that looked like faces. We passed through into the old farm and manor grounds, spending time in the Barn and Museum where we learnt more about the history of this extraordinary place, and men such as the one nicknamed ‘The Stonekiller’ who sought to destroy the stones, knocking them down, breaking and burning them, before building them into the walls of the houses nearby.
As we came out of the Barn, gorgeous child pointed up to the top of the church tower. ‘Look at all the birds,’ she said. I turned to see ravens perched on every corbel and point of the old tower, at least thirty of them. But as soon as I looked at them they took off, each and every one, a black squawking crowd passing overhead. Which was kind of odd, again.
We came full circle past the Manor House and old Church, past cottages and brick homes, before taking the green path back to our car. The rain had stopped, the stones wet and gray against the vivid green grass. As we left the henge behind we saw a cricket game being played, a perfect summer village image.
And for a moment, there might have been a hum in the air. Then it was gone.
Update: The lovely Sue Vincent, who is very familiar with Avebury, told me that the buzzing and humming are well documented phenomenon at the site. How cool that I got to experience it!