Southern entrance to the Avebury stone circle and henge. Click here to view images from Avebury
“The woman who first gives life, light, and form to our shadowy conceptions of beauty, fills a void in our spiritual nature that has remained unknown to us till she appeared. Sympathies that lie too deep for words, too deep almost for thoughts, are touched, at such times, by other charms than those which the senses feel and which the resources of expression can realise. The mystery which underlies the beauty of women is never raised above the reach of all expression until it has claimed kindred with the deeper mystery in our own souls.”
– Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White
Avebury alone, after nightfall, when the henge and stones turn to blackened silhouettes is a dark and mysterious place. With your back to the village you can probably come as close as you’re likely to find to time travel. You walk among shadows with nothing but the howling of the wind for company.
Avebury at night is like being in a museum after hours. Except at Avebury you’re unprotected. There are no security guards, no security cameras standing between you and whatever is conjured up nightly by the neolithic circle. It’s my guess that the ghosts of those who died long ago still wander there. It’s just a question of being in tune.
It’s not surprising that many of the supernatural encounters at Avebury are from realms other than humans. We’re in crop circle territory here, the land of fairies under the hedge. At Avebury, twinkling light have been seen darting amongst the stones, which of course give rise to thoughts of fairies and other creature from the Fae realm. Strange dwarf like creatures have been seen as well, going about their business inside the circle.
One of the gathering places seems to be the Diamond stone, found in the northwest quadrant of the Great circle. This same stone is believed to find its way across the highway which cuts through the henge at midnight, and then back again.
This of course couldn’t be done by human hands, as the stone weighs upwards of twenty tons. Perhaps some of the frequent UFO activity reported in the area?
Lucifer has his spots in Avebury as well. In addition to Devil’s Den a short distance away, there’s the Devil’s Chair in the southeast portion of the circle. A natural bench is formed in the stone and if you sit there and look straight up, crane your head a bit one way, your neck another you can see through the stone, a chimney sorts. When you see black smoke belch forth from the chimney you know his satanic majesty is holding court there.
If he’s not there, if you run around the stone a hundred times, counter clockwise or widdershins if you will, he’ll appear.
You don’t come to Avebury looking to tap into the modern world, and at Churchyard Cottage, where I was holed up, there is no internet, no television, no phone. I kept the heat low, the fire burning in the fireplace and stayed locked away from the world.
Text messages do come through in bursts when you find yourself suddenly in range. Some use dowsing rods to search for ley lines. My guess is that someday they’ll use cell phone reception for the same purpose. There’s an app for that I’m sure.
A word about Churchyard Cottage … you walk out the door, through the gate and you’re in the graveyard of St. James church. It’s as close as I’ve come to sleeping, intentionally, in a graveyard. You wake up in the morning and from the bedroom window you see tombstones. Lovely.
You can get phone reception in the graveyard, at times. It’s a classic British churchyard, old tombstones, overhanging trees, the darkened silhouette of the church, complete with tolling bells, against a moonlit sky. In the daytime crows flock to the grounds, providing an appropriately moody soundtrack. There are ghosts in the churchyard as well. Little children ghosts, including one who was seen dancing or hopping on top of one of the gravestones. Some will even have short conversations before disappearing. I don’t deal with little kid ghosts. They bother me.
Churchyard Cottage isn’t devoid of things that go bump in the night. Or in my case, the day. I’ve visited there twice, both in January, and like a lot of authentically old British homes, it’s a bit on the chilly side. The fire is a welcome comfort, and when inside I stayed pretty close.
On the last visit I had just returned from the Red Lion Pub, which automatically makes the rest of this tale suspect, and decided to have a nap on the couch. I got the fire blazing, got comfortable and my eyes had just shut when I heard the scraping of a chair in the dining room across the stone floor. One eye opened. Then the sound came again, definitely one of the chairs. Both eyes opened. I peered behind me to where I could see the table. Nobody there.
I chalked it up staying at the Red Lion too long, and fell asleep. When I woke up and went through the dining room I noticed all the chairs were on the rug, not a stone floor.
A day or so later a friend had been by to visit and brought her dogs. After she left I once more lay down for a nap, had just closed my eyes and heard a dog bark in the dining room. I thought she had returned and came in the back door, but there was no dog.
Strange occurrences like these have been put down to the fact that many of the cottages and houses in and around Avebury, were built or added to using stone pilfered from the circle or the avenues. It says a lot about the lack of superstition people had about the monument in the past, that they’d take part of what was believed to be an ancient pagan circle and not worry it could bring along a bit of magic as well.
The Lodge, just down High Street and standing inside the circle is another case of that. One of the former occupants was convinced that it was not only haunted, but one of the most haunted houses in Britain. In addition to poltergeist activity, there are also tales of ghostly children, a man in fine Georgian attire, a young lady and a disembodied voice speaking in French.
Occupants have also told of hearing from outside, the thundering hooves of a carriage barreling down High Street, but that story belongs to the whole village, beginning up at the Red Lion.
If you walk out the front door of the cottage and into the graveyard, standing at the gate, to your left is the church and Avebury Manor. You can see the manor grounds from where you stand, but alas, I saw no lady in white, one of the manor’s resident ghosts.
To your right is High Street and a block or so away, the outer circle. Pass through the turnstile and you’re inside the henge and at the mercy of the magic of Avebury. It’s a visceral feeling to step from the relative safety and civilization of High Street and into the monument.
Nobody knows what the circle at Avebury was built for, but it was certainly built for something. What magic is conjured up by its shape, what powers are unleashed by it’s geometry, what primal madness is encoded in the mathematics of the place?
You feel more in the wild in the midst of the Avebury henge at night than you do in any dark forest. The sounds of wolves baying in the distance, a giant hound growling in the foreground, none of these things would be out of place.
But it’s the silence of Avebury which is most unnerving. There’s something there, slouching ever closer behind your back. And it was with a quickened pace that I finally found my way back to Churchyard Cottage.
+ + +
I had been reading Haunted Wiltshire by Keith Wills, which lists nearly all of Avebury’s known hauntings. It was then that it occurred to me, I hadn’t done any research for this trip. It actually first occurred to me as I was packing, so I tossed a few books into the bag to wade through later. Which wasn’t necessary as Churchyard Cottage is loaded with books of local interest.
There are other ghosts afoot in Avebury. The creepiest would be the monk. Tall, hooded, possibly the victim of murder back in the days when Avebury Manor had monastic ties. That would have been somewhere between 1114 and 1551. In 1249 a number of monks from Avebury were incarcerated at Marlborough on suspicion of murder.
In recent days, as the curator of the Keiller Museum was locking up for the night, he saw him standing amongst the gravestones. As there had recently been a spate of ‘mischief,’ those darn miscreants, the curator decided to quiz the hooded figure on the matter. When much to his surprise, the figure began coming towards him, which creeped the curator out to no end. He started backing away from the figure which disappeared into mist.
The first documented sighting was in 1557 when a maid at Avebury Manor saw him standing in the dining room. He’s been seen a number of times in the garden since, as well inside the house.
Avebury Manor has a very sweet spirit as well, which scatters rose petals across the floor of the Crimson Room. Which if scent is any indication, it could be one of the manor’s most famous ghosts.
According to Sian Evans, author of The Manor Reborn, there’s a cavalier which haunts the appropriately named Cavalier Bedroom. He’s been seen from the lawn, standing at the window in full regalia. He’s also been seen inside the house in the same spot, looking out over the lawn. Just before he appears, the temperature drops and the scent of roses wafts through the air.
He’s thought to be Sir John Stawell, who purchased the manor and property in 1640. He fought in the English Civil War, was captured and tossed into the Tower of London and for a while lost control of Avebury Manor. Eventually he was freed and his lands returned, but he never quite recovered and died shortly afterwards.
Then there’s the lady in white.
I’m always intrigued by stories about ladies in white. There is perhaps no other more frequently cited spook than women wearing long, white dresses, night dresses or even burial shrouds. I’ve even seen one myself.
When looking for the origins of spooks and other clangers of the night, I first look to popular culture of the time. For the lady in white, there’s The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, written in 1859. There’s also Lucy in Bram Stoker’s Dracula who was described wandering through the graveyard in white, which was published in 1897.
This is also roughly the time when the lady in white ghost stories start popping up in the English speaking world.
The lady in white which haunts the grounds of Avebury manor, and indeed the house itself, is believed to have been in life, a ward of Sir John Stawell, the ghost from the Cavalier Bedroom. Having lost her beloved fiancee in the civil war, she committed suicide.
She seems to range around the area quite a bit. A lady in white lace was encountered near Truslow by a man who claimed a woman in white lace took him by the shoulders, spun him around then pushed him away.
Visitors to Avebury Manor have reported a more gentle tap on the shoulder, but when they turn around no one is there.
It’s curious that among the stones at Avebury, there aren’t a lot of reports of ghosts. One woman reported seeing a medieval fair in process as she drove up, but was surprised to find after she parked, that there was no fair in progress. But had been there in the middle ages.
Some believe that Avebury circle and henge is at least in part, a memorial to the dead. Which might account for why ghosts don’t seem to haunt the stones with the same frequency as the homes. Perhaps they’re at peace inside the safety of the circle?
Then again, there’s the Red Lion pub, which sits inside the circle and has no shortage of ghostly tales. In fact, enough for an article of its own.
More about Avebury from A Gothic Curiosity Cabinet …
Megalithic mysteries and my appointment with destiny at Avebury circle and henge
Lucifer’s neolithic home, Devil’s Den stands vigil near the Avebury circle complex
Confronting the ghosts of my soul and of the dead in Avebury henge, and Churchyard Cottage
Confrontation at the Red Lion in Avebury, and touching the sacred at Silbury and Waden Hills
Clearing the mind along the Ridgeway in Avebury, finding solace in the barrows and a realization at the Sanctuary
Experiencing another sunrise at Avebury stone circles and henge