Marja-Leena Rathje
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Ancient Britain: Silbury & West Kennet









Soon after passing the White Horse we could see Silbury Hill, a huge man-made chalk mound near Avebury. It is the tallest prehistoric man-made mound in Europe and one of the world's largest.

Composed mainly of chalk and clay excavated from the surrounding area, the mound stands 40 metres (130 ft) high[2] and covers about 5 acres (0.020 km2). It is a display of immense technical skill and prolonged control over labour and resources. Archaeologists calculate that Silbury Hill was built about 4750 years ago and that it took 18 million man-hours, or 500 men working 15 years.... Mackie asserts that no simple late Neolithic tribal structure as usually imagined could have sustained this and similar projects, and envisages an authoritarian theocratic power elite with broad-ranging control across southern Britain.

It still seems a mystery as to why it was built. It is off bounds now but we could see it well from the road and as we walked up a hill or ridge nearby on top of which lies the West Kennet Long Barrow, a Neolithic tomb or barrow. Older than Stonehenge, this too was a marvel of construction and many man hours of labour. Open and accessible, I thought it would be spooky to go in but some clever openings cut into the sod above it gave a little light to see the construction of stones holding up walls and ceiling and reveal a central passage and several adjoining small bays. Spooky though to know this was a tomb.

Our stop was not long enough for serious photography. There are some nice photos at wikipedia, and probably at some of the numerous sites online, and one can also view the inside of West Kennet Long Barrow via this cool interactive VR Panorama.

Avebury is next, our last tour stop before returning to London.

Posts about our Ancient Britain Tour:

Old Sarum
Wiltshire Flint
White Horses

Marja-Leena | 14/07/2009 | 13 comments
themes: Culture, History, Rock Art & Archaeology, Travel


Yes your photo is of the Cherhill horse. It is such a lovely road that one, either side of Avebury with the horse to the west, and Silbury Hill to the east.

Further along that road to the east, just before Marlborough (with its famous Polly's tearooms which you must visit next time if you were not taken there on your tour) there is another white horse -the Preshute. It is only visible from the road when there are no leaves on the trees, and because it is so elusive I love it. It is not one of the old ones, and was cut by a schoolboy, and is mentioned on the Wiltshire White Horses website.

Olga, thanks so much for confirming the Cherhill Horse! You are so knowledgeable about so much that I've seen that I wish you'd been my personal tour guide! I've taken the liberty of copying your comment onto the White Horses post, hope you don't mind. I had read about the Preshute, also called the Marlborough - it's interesting that modern versions are being made... apparently two are coming by Avebury.

I remember going through the town of Marlborough, very nice! I think the guide said it was a popular holiday destination for the royalty and upper classes, even Jane Austen.

Marlborough was a staging post on the way to the holiday destination of Bath in the time of Jane Austen. It is certainly one of my much enjoyed destinations, not only because of the aforementioned Polly's, but there are lovely individual shops there, and nearby there is the Rabley Drawing Centre and its gallery. And of course I always enjoy a drive through the countryside there. I do not go nearly as often these days unfortunately.

Olga, a staging post, yes, that's what it was! If we ever go back to the area on our own, I think we'd enjoy staying in Wiltshire and visiting Marlborough and Polly's and that gallery, great tips! Salisbury looked inviting too.

The Folkestone White Horse? I don't remember now, isn't that sad? It was such a short glimpse. I looked it up soon as we got home and could not seem to feel sure it was any of them. I almost think it was a dream, except husband saw it too.

I am enjoying taking this trip with you, vicariously of course, but loving every step of it. I am bookmarking sites you reference in my 'On the Road' file, for places to see before I croak.


Martha, I'm glad this gives you pleasure and ideas for places to visit! I have a loooong list though I know I'll never see it all but we can dream, right? Armchair travel is fun too.

Ahh! Barrows and memories of Bilbo Baggins. I don't know about the real history but Tolkien got the spirit right.

Susan, hey, that's right! How superb that you would think of it!

I miss those ancient stones and that english light.

hhb, I truly can understand why...

PS.Do you also see the old, wise souls in these stones?

Mouse, yes, along with feeling their presence, just a little. If I'd been alone for a while in there, I think that feeling could have been powerful, maybe even scary...