Along West Kennett Avenue.

Malborough & Avebury,


11th February 2011


Zoltan ponders the mystery of Silbury Hill.

This being the first hiking club outing for 2011, interest seemed high and the weekend turned out to be oversubscribed, an encouraging sign. It was also the first time we had been to this location in Somerset. Paddingtom Farm Trust is a charity which owns a 43-acre farm in Glastonbury, just below the Tor. Glastonbury is a small new-age town steeped in myths and legends associated with the Tor. I had been there some years before over a long weekend, exploring the ruins of the Abbey, purported to be where the tomb of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere is located, below the high altar. Enjoying the glorious weather at the height of summer, after travelling down to Mevagissy in Cornwall, where I stayed, I found inspired by the nearby Eden Project and the Lost Gardens of Helligan. But it was on my return journey up the west coast of Cornwall that I found myself connected once more to the legend of Arthur, for it is at the ruins of Tintagel Castle on the rugged, windswept coast, that Arthur is claimed to have been born.

Having taken leave on the Friday, I took an early drive down to Heathrow in pouring rain to fetch Zoltan, who had flown in from Zurich, though the inclement weather threatened to scupper any plans for a leisurely walk to ease us into weekend hike. Heading out on the M4 towards Bristol, I came off the highway long before reaching Swindon, with a stopover at Avebury in mind. Zoltan expressed concern regarding a slight hole in his hiking shoe and thought that perhaps he would invest in a new pair, should we pass an outdoor store en route. The market town of Marlborough in Wiltshire provided the ideal opportunity. As we drove its broad though not unattractive High Street, we were fairly sure his needs would be answered. With the help and assistance and extremely friendly shop assistant, Zoltan tried on a pair of shoes she had recommended and in no time at all, left the shop a well-satisfied customer, despite having parted with several tens of pounds. Desirous of some refreshment, we headed off to a coffee shop off the High Street, highly recommended by our saleslady (she had worked there before). We then strolled down to St Peter's Church at the far end of the High Street and ventured inside. I was at first taken aback at the sight of a bookstore located in the church's interior, with group's people sitting at tables sipping tea, until I learnt that this former parish church had been made redundant some years before, the pews having been removed entirely. This did not detract from its delightful and beautiful interior and some exquisite stained glass windows.






The High Street in the Wiltshire market town of Marlborough.



Beautiful stained glass windows of teh delightful though redundant St Peters Church.


The earliest sign of human habitation in Marlborough is the prehistoric mound in the grounds of what is now Marlborough College. It is possibly of similar age to the larger Silbury Hill five miles west of the town. Legend has it that the Mound is the burial site of Merlin and that the name of the town, Marlborough comes from Merlin's Barrow.The town's motto is Ubi nunc sapientis ossa Merlini -Where now are the bones of wise Merlin. Further evidence of human occupation comes from the discovery of the Marlborough Bucket an Iron Age burial bucket, with decorations of human heads and animals on sheet bronze. In 1067 William the Conqueror assumed control of the Marlborough area and set about building a wooden motte and bailey castle, sited on the pre-historic mound. This was completed in around 1100. Stone was used to strengthen the castle in around 1175. The first written record of Marlborough dates from the Domesday Book in 1087. William also established a ,int in Marlborough, which coined the William I and the early William II silver pennies. The coins display the name of the town as Maerlebi or Maerleber. He also established the neighbouring Saversnake Forest as a favourite Royal hunting ground and Marlborough Castle became a Royal residence. Henry I observed Easter here in 1110.Henry II stayed at Marlborough Castle in talks with the King of Scotland. His son, Richard I (Coeur de Lion) gave the castle to his brother John, in 1186. King John was married here and spent time in Marlborough and established a Treasury.

In 1204 King John granted Charter to the Borough which permitted an annual eight-day fair, commencing on 14th  August, the vigil of the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady (15th  August), in which "all might enjoy the liberties and quittances customary in the fair at Winchester". He also established that weekly markets may be held on Wednesdays and Saturdays. These continue to this day. Later Henry III was also married here. Henry III held Parliament here, in 1267, when the Statute of Marlborough was passed (this gave rights and privileges to small land owners and limited the right of the King to take possession of land). This seven-hundred-year-old law states that no one shall seize his neighbour's goods for alleged wrong without permission of the Court. Apart from Charters, it is the oldest statute in English Law which has not yet been repealed.

The castle fell into disrepair by the end of the 14th century but remained Crown property. Edward VI  then passed it to the Seymour family, his mother's relatives. In 1498 Thomas Wolsey was ordained priest in (the now redundant) St Peter's church. He later rose to become a cardinal and Lord Chancellor. In 1642 Marlborough's peace was shattered by the English Civil War. The Seymours held the Castle for the King but the Town was behind the Parliamentarians. With his headquarters in nearby Oxford, King Charles had to deal with Marlborough. "A Town the most notoriously disaffected of all that Country, otherwise, saving the obstinacy and malice of the inhabitants, in the situation of it very unfit for a garrison... this place the King saw would prove quickly an ill neighbour to him, not only as it was in the heart of a rich County, and so would straighten him, and even infest his quarters." The King sent Lord Digby to take the town, 24th November 1642. When he arrived, he chose to parley first, thus giving the inhabitants a chance to prepare defences and to recruit troops. They mustered about seven hundred poorly-armed men. After some early skirmishes, Royalist troops infiltrated the town down its small alleyways. The town was captured and looted and many buildings were set ablaze. One hundred and twenty prisoners were marched in chains to Oxford. The town was later abandoned by the King and took no further part in the war.

On 28th April, 1653 the Great Fire of Marlborough burnt two hundred and fifty houses to the ground. Fire swept through the Town again in 1679 and again in 1690. This time, an Act of Parliament was passed "to prohibit the covering of houses and other buildings with thatch in the Town of Marlborough". On 28th April, 1653 the Great Fire of Marlborough burnt two hundred and fifty houses to the ground. Fire swept through the Town again in 1679 and again in 1690. This time, an Act of Parliament was passed "to prohibit the covering of houses and other buildings with thatch in the Town of Marlborough". It was during the rebuilding of the town after the Great Fire of Marlborough in 1653, that the high street was widened to what it is today.



Adjacent to St Peter's Church, looking up Marlborough's High Street.





Marlborough's High Street.


Though the skies remained overcast, the rain had abated in the early stages of the afternoon, as we pressed on towards Avebury, just a few miles beyond Marlborough. Taking the turn-off at West Kennett, we found a parking spot halfway up the road and about half a mile from Avebury. A long corridor of two parallel lines of stones planted vertically in the ground, 25 metres apart, known as West Kennett Avenue, led across the fenced-off green towards the village. The A4361 from Beckhampton to Winterbourne Monckton snakes though Avebury, dividing the stone circle which frames the village. Down the High Street we found a number of exquisite cottages as well as the gateway to St James Church and it's beautiful gardens and cemetery. This Church of England parish church has an 11th century Saxon nave in which two original Saxon windows survive.  In the 13th century the church's dedication was recorded as All saints but it now bears a dedication to Saint James. The village The Red Lion pub claims to be the only pub in the world to be enclosed by a stone circle. The pub has been built around the 86 foot deep village well which has been covered over with glass and now features as a dining table. An inscription around the well claims that at least one villager died after falling down it.




Along the corridor of stones known as West Kennett Avenue, towards the village of Avebury.




The stone circles of Avebury within the ditch known as the henge.


Avebury is the site of an ancient monument consisting of a large henge, several stone circles, stone avenues and barrows, surrounding the village. It is one of the finest and largest Neolithic monuments in Europe, about 5,000 years old. Avebury is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, a World Heritage Site, and a National Trust property. The word henge refers to a particular type of earthwork of the Neolithic period, typically consisting of a roughly circular or oval-shaped bank with an internal ditch surrounding a central flat area of 20 m or more diameter. Also referred to as the New Stone Age, it was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in the Middle East that is traditionally considered the last part of the Stone Age. It began with the rise of farming and ended when metal tools became widespread in the Copper Age or Bronze Age, or developing directly into the Iron Age. This was when man transitioned from hunting and gathering to agriculture and settlement. In the 4th millennium BC, around the start of the Neolithic period in Britain, British society underwent radical changes. These coincided with the introduction to the island of domesticated species of animals and plants, as well as a changing material culture that included pottery. These developments allowed hunter-gatherers to settle down and produce their own food. As agriculture spread, people cleared land. At the same time, they also erected the first monuments to be seen in the local landscape, an activity interpreted as evidence of a change in the way people viewed their place in the world.

The history of the site before the construction of the henge is uncertain, because little datable evidence has emerged from modern archaeological excavations. Stray finds of flints at Avebury, dated between 7,000 and 4,000 BC, indicate that the site was visited in the late Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age period by hunter gatherers.  Although the henge is not perfectly circular, it has a diameter of about 420 metres. The ditch alone was 21 metres wide and 11 metres deep, with a sample from its primary fill carbon dated to 3300 - 2630 BC. Within the henge is a great outer circle. This is one of Europe's largest stone circles, with a diameter of 331.6 metres, Britain's largest stone circle.  There were originally 98 sarsen standing stones, some weighing in excess of 40 tons. The stones varied in height from 3.6 to 4.2 m, as exemplified at the north and south entrances. The fill from two of the stoneholes has been carbon dated to between 2900 and 2600 BC.  Nearer the middle of the monument are two additional, separate stone circles. The northern inner ring is 98 metres in diameter, but only two of its four standing stones remain upright. A cove of three stones stood in the middle, its entrance facing northeast. The southern inner ring was 108 metres  in diameter before its destruction in the eighteenth century. The remaining sections of its arc now lie beneath the village buildings. A single large monolith, 5.5 metres high, stood in the centre along with an alignment of smaller stones. Archaeologist Aubrey Burl has conjectured a sequence of construction beginning with the erection of the North and South Circles around 2800 BC, followed by the Outer Circle and henge around two hundred years later, with the two avenues added around 2400 BC.



Cottages along the High Street in Avebury.





St James Church in Avebury.


Just off the High Street is an alleyway that leads to the National Trust archaeological museums. Though we may not know and understand the true meaning fully, stone circles in Britain were without doubt once a place of deep religious significance to the people of the Neolithic Age, whilst also being of astronomical significance. Cremated human remains have been found in the tombs. I have been following Neil Oliver's fantastic series on The History of Ancient Britain with great interest and new evidence suggests that Stonehenge was possibly not a place of summer and life but a place of winter and death. It is an astounding fact that stone circles are almost unknown outside Britain and Ireland, where there are hundreds of them. Parallels exist between Stonehenge and Avebury and Oliver's program suggests that there is a connection between neolithic monuments across Britain because of similarities between them and that they may have had their origin in Ireland. His program also explored neolithic monuments found on Mainland, one of the islands of Orkney, as well as Newgrange, a prehistoric monument located in County Meath, on the eastern side of Ireland, about one kilometre north of the River Boyne. An example of a megalithic passage tomb mound. Newgrange was built between circa 3100 and 2900 BC, in order to house the remains of the dead. It has also been speculated that it had some form of religious significance, particularly in regards to an afterlife, because it is aligned with the rising sun on the winter solstice, which floods the tomb with light.





Te interior of St James Church, Avebury.




[UK - index] [Home Page]

Malborough & Avebury [1] [2],  Glastonbury,  Lacock [1] [2]


Links to other websites:

Paddingtom Farm Trust - website

Avebury, a present from the past - website

Some detail on Avebury's destruction - BBC webpage

Silbury Hilll's Anglo-Saxon makeover - BBC webpage

Glastonbury Abbey - website

Glastonbury Tor - wiki webpage

Glastonbury Festival - website

Wells Moat Walk - webpage

  • Reclaim Love 12th February 2011 - website

  • Lacock village - National Trust webpage

Note: Some photos on this page taken by Zoltan Kiss.