Situated in southern England in the county of Wiltshire the village of Avebury is close to two small streams….the Winterbourne and the Sambourne which unite to form the source of the River Kennet. After being re-inforced by a number of springs this beautiful English river rapidly gains in stature as it passes through the North Wessex Downs on its way to Reading where it eventually flows into the River Thames of which it has become the main tributary. The waters of the Kennet therefore pass through London before reaching their ultimate destination in the North Sea.
Around 4,500 years ago, when the site of England’s capital was a thinly inhabited marshland, the area around Avebury almost certainly formed the Neolithic equivalent of a city. By coincidence this waterway has become a link between the two largest cultural centres of their day to have ever existed in the British Isles. As London now contains most of England’s largest buildings Avebury is the location of the mightiest megalithic complex to have ever been constructed in Britain. This henge with its enormous ditch, bank, stones and avenues survives in a much depleted state but the nearby Silbury Hill which is the largest man-made mound in pre-industrial Europe still dominates the surrounding landscape. The two largest surviving British long barrows of West Kennet and East Kennet are also prominent a short distance away and in recent years the remains of two massive palisaded enclosures have also been found. The quote that antiquarian John Aubrey made of Avebury……”it does as much exceed in greatness the so renowned Stonehenge as a Cathedral doeth a parish church” recognises the true importance of what has now been largely absorbed into the modern landscape of Wiltshire. If we could return to the time when the Romans occupied the British Isles it is a sobering thought that we would have to go back as far again to find an Avebury that was already several centuries old.
The history of the modern village is inevitably linked to the prehistoric monuments that surround it. Abandoned for several thousand years the land around the stones became occupied oncemore when people of the Saxon period began to settle in the area. Their arrival and subsequent development of the present village was to have a dramatic effect on the history of the stones. The relationship between the local inhabitants and the monuments has now added an unfortunate dimension to the Avebury story that helps make it one of the most fascinating historical sites to be found in the British Isles if not the world.
It remains a magical place as so many who have been there will agree. A visit to Avebury is a very personal event. It still seems to retain, somehow, the spirits of all those who laboured in its creation or whatever it was that led them to create it. If you have never been there a visit will not be an empty experience. You will come away with a head full of questions and probably a realisation that somewhere over the years modern society has lost something important.
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