Leroy and Mariah were both in town visiting. We were at a pub looking through our travel guides and trying to decide what exactly it was we wanted to do with our week. The contrasts were stark. Husband was completely embarrassed by our public display of tourism. Mariah, ever the planner, had her wheels spinning. Laid-back Leroy was agreeing to every suggestion without too much enthusiasm. That is, until we mentioned visiting a few monoliths. The Discovery Channel buff in him suddenly perked up and Mariah and I knew we had to make it happen.
Since Stonehenge is a little cliche and Mariah and I had already been there, we decided to visit Avebury. Word was that it was better and the oldest stone circle in Europe. The stone circles are multiple in number, more accessible and integrated into the town. In fact, the town is built inside these massive stone circles.
Luck was with us as the sun was shining for our drive out to Avebury. We parked the car and quickly found the main attraction: strategically placed large stones. Although Avebury does not carry the iconic image that Stonehenge has blazed in our collective consciousness, the sheer number of stones and organization was much greater than that of Stonehenge.
After a bit of walking around the stones we headed into the museum. I needed context for what we were viewing. The staff at the museum was a breathe of fresh air. Tourist sites have a tendency to make one feel like cattle. The people at Avebury seemed generally excited to have our company. It was a bit like dating the sister of the prom queen.
Let’s consult Wikipedia for historical background.
Constructed around 2600 BCE, during the Neolithic, or ‘New Stone Age’, the monument comprises of a large henge, surrounded by a bank and a ditch. Inside this henge is a large outer stone circle, with two separate smaller stone circles situated inside the centre of the monument. Its original purpose is not known, although archaeologists believe that it was most likely used for some form of ritual or ceremonial usage. The Avebury monument was a part of a larger prehistoric landscape containing several older monuments nearby, including West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill.
In the Late Mediaeval and Early Modern periods, locals destroyed many of the standing stones in the monument, and a village was built in the centre of it. The antiquarians John Aubrey and William Stukeley however took an interest in Avebury, and recorded much of the site before its destruction. Archaeologists proceeded to excavate at the site in the 20th century.
It’s wild to think about someone chopping down this ancient stone arrangement to build onto their house. I guess it felt silly to go in search of new raw materials when these had been delivered right to your doorstep. Plus, the historical nature of the stones may not have been widely understood or respected in the Late Medieval and Early Modern times.
One thing about Avebury that I absolutely can not recommend is the Red Lion Pub in the village. The service was more than atrocious, it was comical. The food was just plain bad. They were out of half the menu. I don’t know how you mess up fried food that badly but the chips were terrible. We were treated like an annoyance by the kid behind the bar. They forgot to bring our dessert. They were out of coffee cups. Not out of coffee, just out of vessels (for there or to go) to hold it in because they had a rush of visitors a few days earlier. Not that morning. Not yesterday. A few DAYS earlier. Yeah, it didn’t make sense to me either.