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AVEBURY LEY, Wiltshire

This alignment runs SE-NW for 71/4 miles, crossing the NE section of Avebury.

Starting in the SE, the first ley marker is Martinsell Hill Camp (17646400). Roughly rectangular, this camp covers about 33 acres on the SE edge of the hill, where the slopes fall away dramatically. The site is presumed to be Iron Age, though it has not yet been dated by excavation. The camp seems to have been a focus for curious Palm Sunday 'games' in past centuries, one of which involved a line of boys standing at intervals from the base to the summit of the hill. Using hockey sticks, they then proceeded to knock a ball in succession up the hill to the top. Another activity was the throwing of oranges down the hill slopes with boys going headlong after them. Even more strangely, local youths used to slither down the escarpment on horses' skulls.

The ley passes diagonally across the camp, crossing the N.W. corner where a linear earthwork joins it. A little further along, the alignment crosses a minor crossroads at 16236519, where there is a possible markstone embedded in a bank. The ley proceeds a short distance further to pass through the eastern end of a long barrow (15696562) in West Woods. This site is on the 'knee' of Dame's landscape goddess (seeSW9). Excavation in the late 19th century revealed a central cairn within the barrow covering a dolmen. There was no pottery or human remains.

Crossing Wansdyke and the Ridgeway, the ley makes it way to Avebury (1025700) where it enters the henge at the E entrance and cuts across the NE sector of the site. Avebury is comprised of a circular bank of chalk 1,400 feet in diameter and 25 feet high, surrounding a ditch 30 feet deep from which 3,950,000 cubic feet of chalk was removed during its construction in the Late Neolithic period. The ditch today is half-filled with silt, and the bank, once a brilliant white, is now grass covered . Within the bank and ditch is a huge stone circle, enclosing about 28 acres. This contains two inner circles, the N one being 320 feet in diameter with a U-shaped setting of stones in its centre, the remains of which are now called 'The Cove'; and the S circle being 340 feet across and containing a central monolith and perhaps another setting of stones. Because of gradual destruction over the centuries, and the presence of half the village of Avebury within its area, the full form of the site is not readily comprehensible. But more than enough is visible to convey something of the grandeur of the place to anyone. The site has four entrances. A serpentine avenue led to the henge, part of which is visible in the West Kennet Avenue. It is probable that an extension of this existed between Avebury and Beckhampton. Thom has called Avebury the 'greatest and most remarkable circle in Britain, if not in the world....' Here, he tells us, the megalith builders achieved a precision 'only surpassed today in high-class surveying'. Geometry on a vast scale was used in the ground plan of such accuracy that Thom was able to establish the length of the Megalithic Yard at 2.72 feet. At this site more than anywhere else was rung the death-knell for that brand of confident archaeology that fancied prehistory peopled by tribes and savages who put up crude stone temples 'for ritual purposes', that meaningless catch-all. In reality, those who built the great prehistoric monuments were highly intelligent, and were working to some purpose we have not as yet established.

Avebury has provided some instances of curious phenomena. During the First World War Wiltshire researcher Edith Oliver, while driving through Avebury at dusk, saw the lights of a fair among the stones and heard music. She was told later that it had been at least 50 years since a fair had last been held within the henge. In another incident someone saw small figures moving about the stones in bright moonlight. When Avebury village spread into the henge, some of the huge sarsens were used as walls for cottages in which, it is said, supernatural happenings occurred.

The ley proceeds to Windmill Hill, apparently passing through two tumuli on its course: one (marked only on the 1:50,000 map) at 09057123 is not visible, the other (08887136) is a substantial barrow belonging to a Bronze Age group close to the earthworks of Windmill Hill.

Windmill Hill Camp (08707150) itself is one of the oldest sites of them all. It consists of three somewhat irregular concentric ditches, the diameter of the outer one being 1,200 feet. It is described as a causwayed camp and has given its name to an archaeological category of Neolithic culture. The ditches are dated to around 2700 BC. But there is evidence of a Neolithic settlement on the hill prior to the earthworks. Certainly the site seems to have been used for fully a thousand-year period. Time and again examples are found of particular sites retaining importance down the ages: the ley hunting concept of evolved sites is on firm ground. In the case of Windmill Hill, there is also evidence that people came to it from great distances. The nature of the site is simply not known. Thomas has described it, on the basis of the finds, as 'a sort of fairground' Access can be by tracks or footpaths from the A361.

Archives AveburyLine

11.65km 310.2°/130.2°