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Experiencing another sunrise at Avebury stone circles and henge

Standing Stone of the Inner Southern Circle at Sunrise, Click here to view more images of Avebury circles and henge, or to order a print from the Wytchery

A year to the day from this morning, I awoke at sunrise to find Avebury blanketed in snow. I hadn’t been that excited to see snow since I was a little kid, realizing there would be no school today. I had dreamt of photographing Avebury in the snow. H had warned me not to get my hopes up. It seldom snowed enough to cover the ground even.

That trip was blessed beyond a doubt.

Yesterday, the lady in the shop has warned me to expect snow in the morning, as though it was a bad thing. It was January in fucking Britain. It’s not like I was hoping to pop over to the beach for a swim and to work on my tan.

She told me her husband always says that their weather would be whatever weather was taking place a week earlier in the states. A week ago it has been snowing all along the east coast. It was a snowy January in the states. In the midwest we got very little. The biggest snow we had was the day I left for the airport. A three hour drive through snow and ice, only to find the highway closed five minutes from the airport.

The fire was out in the stove. The cold had creeped in and I was awake when the first rays of light lit up the sky. Fifteen minutes later I was in the graveyard outside of Churchyard Cottage. No snow, just a thick layer of frost. I decided to go off and shoot it anyway. Coming from the village into the circle you find yourself with the southern part of the great circle on your right. I opened the gate and went inside. Last year at sunrise there were three of us out shooting Avebury in the snow. Today I had it to myself.

Standing Stones of the Great Circle, Southern Arc at Sunrise

The southern arc of the henge at Avebury is impressive, and fairly well complete. Comparatively speaking. The Barber Stone in there, named for an unfortunate who was found beneath it during excavation, who carried barber tools. I really wanted to be up on the embankment, overlooking the circle, but it was closed off. Even though I’m an American, I can be polite.

You are after all, given amazing access to the prehistoric sites in and around Avebury. Aside from temporary closings of the embankment to prevent erosion, you can go wherever you want, whenever you want. There are no admission fees. It’s a common heritage, one I shared even, and is free for all.

So I crossed the road into the southeast quadrant. The circle and henge at Avebury are divided up by High Street, which becomes Green Street just past the Red Lion, crossing the A4361. Which leaves the visitor to ponder what can be viewed as four separate sections, sliced like the first two cuts on a fresh baked pie. The embankment had four entrances, and I’d always thought it odd that the entrance stones of the southern entrance faced the embankment. I came to learn this week that the entrance wasn’t where the road cuts through it now, but just  bit further south. When they filled in the entrance to make room for the new one, they planted a copse of trees to mark the spot.

Southern Portal to the Great Circle at Dawn

And the perspective of Avebury snapped into place. At least the southern section. The southern half of the circle, bisected by High Street, contains two smaller circles. Oddly enough, both are located in the southeast quadrant. The Cove can be found in the northeast quadrant. They believe they’ve found evidence of another circle, or alignment of stones in the northwest quadrant. It might have predated the main circle, it might have been one of the last projects and abandoned before they finished it. There were also likely a few other alignment of seemingly random stones within the main circle.

Inner Southern Circle at Sunrise on a Frosty Morning

So I climbed the embankment of the southeast quadrant, expecting to see the sunrise in the distant. I was disappointed. Too many clouds. As I approached the western entrance there is a massive tree, covered in ribbons and tokens left from pagans who visit the site. It has been cleaned off somewhat since last time I was here. It was blocked off as well.

The tree was heavy with crows, who took flight at my approach. As they did, the sun shone through the clouds and got tangled in the branches. The tree lit up. It’s moments like those where I wish I just had the camera glued to my eye.

Trees on the Embankment at Sunrise

As the sun began to light up the day, the frost covering the grass went silver. I crossed High Street as the bank disappeared at the eastern entrance to the hang, and moved to the northern arc of the great circle. The remains of a farm still exist in this part of the circle, and precious few stones. It’s also where one finds the Cove, two of the largest stones remaining at Avebury.

The clouds were beginning to clear, traffic was picking up on the A4361, the road which passes through Avebury. I still had the grounds to myself, but there was the noises of life stirring in the way of motorcars and lorries. The magic was beginning to fade.

Western Entrance to the Great Circle

For there is something magical about having the largest prehistoric stone circle in Britain to oneself. The mind is free to wander, of the mysteries of Avebury as well as the questions that dog one’s soul. So many historic sites take on the air of a museum, with signs explaining everything you see, maps, diagrams. Avebury has none of those, so instead you’re left with only what you know of the history, and what you see with your eyes and feel with your heart. Your imagination is forced to fill in the gaps. There will always be gaps remaining for the mystery is too large to wrap your mind around.

The Cove on a Frosty Morning

I crossed the highway and slid into the northwest quadrant of the great circles. More stones are intact and upright here and the embankment was open for walking today, so I clambered to the top and looked across into the great eye of the sun, now glowing red over the distant horizon. The frost on the grass glimmered like crystals over the landscape as it began to melt away. The circle morphed from silver to green as I stood there, looking down into the circle.

Northeastern Arc of the Great Circle in Just After Sunrise

The embankment is higher here, level and steep. The ditch below used to be far deeper, before a few thousand years slowly started filling it in. It is thought that the northeast section of the embankment most resembles how it looked originally, rolling and undulating rather than flat and level. As I stood there I looked beyond that part of the embankment, to the ridge off in the distance. Atop that is the Ridgeway, the ancient track which stretches from near here to the River Thames at Goring Gap. The view of Avebury from there would have been the view approaching travelers had of the place when it was fully functional, when Avebury must have felt like the center of the world for those who came upon it. The barrows were plainly visible, having been marked a century or so ago by trees. I saw more magic awaiting me, and decided to go back to the cottage, have a bit of breakfast then follow the Ridgeway.

Northeastern Arc of the Great Circle in Frost

I find it telling that the Ridgeway ends at Avebury, for surely this was a place of pilgrimage. My own pilgrimage had begun six months earlier in Glastonbury. To finish my pilgrimage right, I need to walk in the footprints of the ancients. And so I tripped my way down the embankment and made my way down from the circle, and set off for bacon and eggs.

More about Avebury from A Gothic Curiosity Cabinet …

Avebury photos and fine art prints from The Wytchery


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