Walking at Avebury

I didn’t blog yesterday because I spent an amazing day at Avebury. I’ve probably been there eight or nine times before, as a visitor, and for Druid rituals. I caught the last few rituals Emma Restall Orr undertook there, and through those met many of the wonderful Druid Network folk.

Tom, being American, had not previously encountered standing stones, so being able to take him into that space was a joy. For those not familiar with the site, Avebury is about 6000 years old, has a magnificent henge earthwork, and would have had one large stone circle with smaller circles inside it. There were avenues coming off, stones from which remain, and many other sites surround it – round barrows, other stone circles, Silbury Hill, the Kennet long barrow, and Stonehenge is in viable striking distance. It’s too big a space, I think, for one big ritual circle, you’d never hear each other over the wind! Different areas of the circle have distinctly different atmospheres, and lend themselves to different sorts of work. There’s also a lot of scope for walking – outside the monument, around the henge and around the stones.

Unlike most ancient sites, Avebury has a village in it, and roads running through it (which gives you a sense of the scale). You can’t experience the circle as a circle, which is odd. But it’s what we’ve got, and the houses have been there for a very long time. I wonder if people always lived here. It’s a place that has a people-friendly quality, it’s comfortable to picnic and sunbathe amongst the stones, and I don’t find the presence of noisy, enthusiastic children in any way out of kilter with the atmosphere. Avebury, for me, has never felt like a place for solemn and secret things. It’s a celebratory place, a community place, and welcoming. Which is as well because it gets hordes of pagans and tourists visiting it.

One of the things I’ve never been able to do before is explore the surrounding area on foot. All sites exist in a context of landscape, and frequently of other sites or areas of habitation as well. Most of our ancient ancestors would have been on foot, so walking between ancient places is an amazing way of communing with the space and the ancestors who worked, lived and worshipped in it. The first thing we did was avoid going by car through the site – no way to make a first encounter. Tom and I walked in together, which was breathtaking. It’s a place with a lot of memories, and ghosts for me, I welled up on the way in, it was painful walking into some of those recollections, but also healing to go back to that. I remembered especially Vicki Williams, whose beautiful song ‘Timeless Land’ was the visiting Avebury anthem for years. It brought back so keenly my grief over her death. I remembered other friendships that had decayed with time, and fleeting connections that I never had chance to explore. There is never scope to do everything.

We walked the inside of the circle (as best you can) and the henge itself – although some of it was closed to allow the grass to re-grow. It’s seldom possible to do the whole thing. Then we followed one of the avenues out, walked over a hill to look at Silbury, and climbed the next hill to the long barrow – I’d not been there before, but the cool and gloom was gorgeous after the sun. Going into old graves is something I find very moving and it ought to get a blog at some point. I could have stayed for hours, but having accepted a lift, that wasn’t an option. We walked back, watching the shifts in perspective, rolling hills hiding and revealing different aspects of the space.

It was one of those experiences where it is hard to pin down in words what it did to me. The sense of connection and involvement with landscape, was deep and personal. It took me further into communion with the space than organised ritual has. I’m increasingly finding that walking is my preferred ritual form. Walking the land, the lines, the circles, the contours, meditating, being in the space, learning, feeling, sharing ideas. It’s only something that would work for very small groups, and is lovely as ritual for two.

Today I am tired, and much of my head is somewhere else. There was so much richness of inspiration yesterday, it will take a while for all of it to filter through properly.

It’s easy to feel like a druid in Avebury, even without the drumming and pageantry of a big gathering. It’s easy to walk those hills and feel connected to the land and the ancestors. At the moment I’m lucky because I am living somewhere that is also beautiful and full of ancestral resonance, but many places aren’t. It’s good to go somewhere that nourishes the soul, but also important to bring that energy back to the places that need it, and to ponder ways of making all space sacred and inspiring in the same way. Not something I can hope to do on my own.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

3 responses to “Walking at Avebury

  • autumnbarlow

    Wonderful stuff. I’m currently on a bit of a quest to connect more with physicality and stop trying to think and analyse; walking is one way. Do you know the Roman saying, solvitur ambulando? “It is solved by walking” – ie when you have a problem, just walk. I was once told it had been the motto of the original Youth Hostel Association.

  • Buzzard

    Avebury is an awe inspiring and sacred land scape. The whole complex of Avebury is soaked in our ancestors prescence and the Awen flows right through your very being.
    The Stones and West Kennet Long Barrow are a joy at all times of the year.
    I too have joined different goup rites in the circles but, I have found more profound connection walking the area and entering the Long Barrow alone or with my partner.
    As well as the places you visited yesterday, have you been up on Windmill Hill and to Swallowhead Spring as part of a pilgrimage there?


  • Nimue Brown

    I haven’t been to either of those yet, but would very much like to – plans to go back, stay in the area and wak it properly. One day.

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