AVEBURY: WALKING THE KENNET AND BECKHAMPTON STONE AVENUES
END TO END, 8 April 2000
Saturday 8 April was a glorious sunny day for this archaeological,
Neolithic walk along both stone avenues starting at the Sanctuary and
terminating at Beckhampton. The assembly point was the Sanctuary (SU 1185
6805) where William Stukeley witnessed concentric stone circles being
destroyed in 1723.
He wrote: " . . . farmer Green took most of the stones away to his
buildings at Bekamton; and in the year 1724 farmer Griffin plough'd half of
it up . . . In the winter of that year the rest were all carry'd off, and
the ground plough'd over. The loss of this work I did not lament alone; but
all the neighbours (except the person that gain'd the little dirty profit)
were heartily griev'd for it. It had a beauty that touch'd them far beyond
those much greater circles in Abury town. . . . But those of the Sanctuary
they still talk of with great pleasure and regret."
Where are the stones now? From Stukeley's sketches they seem to rise
only 4 or 5 feet above the turf line which suggests they weighed but 4 to 5
tons. Did farmer Green use them as foundation stones or flags in farm
buildings? Pete and Terry are searching. They doubt that the stones were
broken up and some may be visible somewhere..
Mike Pitts' excavation of 1999 was discussed, especially its indication
that rings of timber posts (not a wooden building) preceded the rings of
standing stones. The Sanctuary's situation in the landscape was described,
and the sites of neighbouring monuments pointed out (the long barrows of
East and West Kennet, Silbury Hill, the two stone circles a couple of
hundred metres to the north along the Ridgeway, and the out-of-sight Golden
Ball Hill and Knap Hill).
Then at about 11.30 the gathering of some 12 megalithic/Neolithic
enthusiasts set off along the Kennet Avenue, over stiles and through meadows
to the 5 megaliths by the A4 highway which are marked on archaeological
maps. Besides these, other megaliths in the vicinity close to the line of
the Avenue were pointed out and inspected. They included a megalith north of
West Kennet House which we know by an old photograph to have stood inside
the garden of the house on the line of the Avenue some 70 years earlier.
North-east of farm buildings a little to the north are two fine megaliths
lying prone, one with a hole through it which we cleared of soil and
nettle-roots (we may put a photograph of this on line at
www.stonehenge-avebury.net in a week or two). In the summer when the grass
is long these and some of the other fallen megaliths in the region become
difficult to find. Keeping to the Avenue as closely as possible we crossed
the road and stopped at the position of the invisible Stone 38b (SU 1080
6908). This stone is known to lie beneath the turf, its presence having
been detected by ultrasonic means by Dr Colin Shell and his Ph.D. student.
A 3-D representation of this stone has been built up using the latest
computer methods as Dr Shell showed at a recent WANHS meeting in Devizes.
Crossing the stile we entered the long field which contains the section
of the Avenue
restored by Alexander Keiller, stretching from Stones 37a and 37b to Stone
4b close to the south side of Avebury Henge. It was reassuring to see that
the paint which had been on Stones 37a and 37b since the vandalism
perpetrated last June had been satisfactorily removed. Farther along we
stopped at length at Stone 26a to study its east-facing surface which has
been extensively worked over by the hand of prehistoric sculptors to produce
a refined north-facing head in right profile. Everybody was deeply
interested by this and in the axe-grinding marks present on the east side of
Stone 19b towards its base. The character of these marks is such as to
indicate that the stone was recumbent in the epoch when it was used for
Passing Stone 4b we entered the henge and stone circles of Avebury by the
southern gateway between Stones 98 and 1 to arrive at the site of the great
Obelisk which centred the South Circle. The hypothesis about the
calendrical and inferred fertility links between the circumferential
'female' Stones 106 and 105 and the phallic Obelisk was outlined. On this
occasion the megaliths of the North Circle and the Great Circle were not
visited, this having been done in detail on an earlier outing (August 1999).
It was then time to take a late lunch at the Red Lion, 2.30-3.30 p.m.
After leaving the henge via the western causewayed entrance we followed
the route of missing megaliths along the High Street pointing out the
places where William Stukeley had reported megaliths of the Beckhampton
Avenue in the 1720s. We crossed the river which is very broad and
water-filled at this time of year and reached Bray Street where many
megaliths - arguably once part of the Beckhampton Avenue - now lie exposed
because of recently removed undergrowth (SU 0935 6987). Farther along, in a
hedge by the lane that runs along the north side of Longstones Field we
inspected Stone XI, a fine megalith of the Outer Avebury Circuit, as
described in The Secrets of the Avebury Stones.
Upon reaching the surviving two stones (A, E) of Beckhampton Cove (0890
6930) a drawing made by Stukeley which shows five stones (A, B, C, D, E) was
studied so that the positions of the missing ones were clarified. The
excavations of a Neolithic earthwork enclosure and of part of the Avenue in
1999 by staff from Leicester, Newport and Southampton Universities were then
summarised, and photographs of the three reburied megaliths (the 'F Stones')
The final monument of the day was the enormous Beckhampton long barrow
(0870 6910). Did the Beckhampton Avenue go to its east or west? Stukeley
thought east, and he is probably correct (as with much of his tested
fieldwork). The megalith by the road at SU 0861 6878 may be part of it
(except for having been shifted due to road widening in the 1960s from the
other side of the road where Crawford saw it in the 1920s). In an old hedge
fronting a garden west of the long barrow Mark White spotted a megalith
which we have added to our map of existing known stones.
Thus ended a great day at 6.15 p.m. The next meeting of the megalith
group will be on 29 April, in the environs of Stonehenge (Cursus, Avenue,
visits to all species of round and earthen long barrows), Normanton Down,
and Robin Hood Ball Neolithic causewayed enclosure (please refer to
www.stonehenge-avebury.net for details).
After that, within the interior of Stonehenge 6.30 to 7.30 p.m. on Sunday 7
May (cost £8 each for 26 people).
And then next Neolithic Cotswold-Severn long barrows near Stroud, Glos, on
Sunday 28 May
Visit http://www.stonehenge-avebury.net for full information on Stonehenge,
Avebury and other megalithic sites.
For the latest complete guidebook to Avebury refer to Terence Meaden's The
Secret of the Avebury Stones. Souvenir Press, 1999. ISBN 0285635018
Also, the latest advances on the understanding of Stonehenge are given in
this book and in Stonehenge: The Secret of the Solstice. Souvenir, 1997.
For book reviews click on