Avebury Stones

Avebury Henge lies in Wiltshire; a sacred area that is dotted with many other Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age monuments and henges. Avebury henge has stood proudly for millennia, with the first part of construction taking place around 3000BC.

The henge is encompassed by a large earthwork, which is 420m in diameter. It is made up of an outer bank, inner ditch and inner bank, which the stone circle sits on. The banks and ditch have unfortunately been broken by the crossroads that the settlement of Avebury sits on.

The outer stone circle would have originally been made up of around 100 stones, although now less than 30 remain. Many were buried by order of the church during the middle ages, due to the possible revival of paganism during this time. Later on, many of the remaining sarsens were broken up and used for building material for the village in the 17th and 18th centuries. Within the outer stone circle, there are also two smaller stone circles.

The Cove of Avebury sits within the northern inner circle. The Cove originally consisted of three sarsens, with the third sarsen sitting opposite the taller male stone. This was removed around the 18th century and was subsequently destroyed. The Cove was erected around 3000BC, making it the oldest monument of Avebury. The Cove is positioned so that the summer solstice sun rises between the stones, it has also been theorised that the stones are seen as a male and a female; with the tallest of the two representing the man. This is a common theme throughout the stones of Avebury.


Looking closer at both of these sarsens, we can see that the tallest one has what appears to be a mill stone in the middle of it. Could this sarsen have had a previous life and been used to grind wheat? Or, could it be that this was purposefully carved to represent the sun? After all, the sun has been a very important deity to people throughout the ages.

The shorter of the two appears to have a hare at the bottom of the sarsen. There is much folklore surrounding hares, but as they weren’t introduced until 3000 years after the erection of this stone we can surmise that it is a more “modern” carving, perhaps carved by an Anglo-Saxon in preparation for a fertility ritual during the spring equinox. Hares have been loosely associated with the [proposed Anglo-Saxon] God Eostre and later, the celebration of Easter.

That is, if it is even a carving at all. It may just be natural erosion that has made the image of the hare appear. Both of these images on the sarsens are really open for interpretation.

West Kennet Avenue was erected in around 2400BC. Originally, the monument was estimated to have around 100 pairs of stones. By the 18h century, only 72 were still standing as many of the sarsens had been destroyed. Only 27 remain today, with many of these having been re-erected during restoration work whilst the missing sarsens were replaced with concrete bollards.

Looking closer at each pair, one is more pointed in shape whilst the other is taller and has been shaped to be more column like.

The taller sarsen represents the male; whilst the shorter, pointed sarsen represents the female. Each pair of male and female stones stand opposite one another; perfectly balancing one another.

The Diamond Stone is said to walk across the road when the clock strikes midnight, although the reason why is unknown. Perhaps to re-join the sarsens that the road separates it from? Twinkling lights belonging to fairy folk have also been spotted at the Diamond Stone.

The Devil’s Seat sits in one of the south west entrance stones. It is said that you can summon him if you run around the stone counter clockwise 100 times. It has been rumoured that thick black smoke can be seen coming from the stone’s “chimney”. This means that the devil is awaiting your visit, so you can save yourself the run.

It is believed that West Kennet Avenue was used as a ceremonial passage for reaching The Sanctuary. The most intact part of the avenue starts just outside of the stone circle and stops at the foot of Waden Hill, if you climb this you’ll find yourself gazing upon Silbury Hill. If you continue down the original route (now cut in half by the village of West Kennet) that West Kennet Avenue once took, you will find yourself walking in the footsteps of your ancestors to The Sanctuary.

There was also another avenue south west from Avebury called Beckhampton Avenue. Just one sarsen remains today lovingly referred to as Adam. It does not sit alone, but with Eve, the only remaining stone of The Longstone Cove which stands not too far away.

There is no doubt that Avebury and the surrounding area still holds many secrets. Will time ever unveil these, or will they remain firmly in the grasp of the sarsens?

Lilac, Lemon & Raspberry Champagne

The lilacs are in full swing, but if you’re not careful you may miss the season! These beautiful flowers span from icy white to deep purple. The different shades each have their own meaning. White represents the innocence and purity of life. Lilac represents a first love, in fact Victorian widows were often seen wearing lilacs when they were in mourning. Dark purple represents passion and happiness.

Did you know that the Celts perceived the lilac to be magical due to its fragrance? It is also believed that it is unlucky to bring lilacs in the house, something which my own mother believes to this day!

Ingredients

– 2 ltr water
– 60ml lemon juice or two fresh lemons
– Eight raspberries
– Four full blooms of lilac (any colour)
– 300g sugar
– 1 Teaspoon of citric acid
– A pinch of wine yeast

The ingredients above will give you a lightly floral, yet zingy summer drink. You can omit the citric acid if you do not have any to hand, along with the wine yeast if you would prefer a flat beverage rather than carbonated. Lilacs do not contain natural yeast, unlike elderflowers. This recipe will make just over two 750ml bottles.

As previously mentioned, when foraging for anything try not to take more than one flower steam from each cluster. Also, avoid foraging in any areas that would have been sprayed with weed killer and have a high areas of traffic.

Firstly, put the water in the pan along with the sugar and citric acid. Make sure this has fully dissolved, then add the lemon, raspberries and wine yeast if you are using it. Let this simmer away whilst you are preparing your lilac flowers, stirring intermittently.

To prepare the flowers, all you need to do is remove them from the stem (checking for any bugs as you do so). Try to remove as much greenery as possible, although a few bits here and there will not change the flavour of the final drink. Give the flower heads a quick rinse and add them into the mixture.

Once the flowers have been added, let this simmer away on a low temperature for around half an hour; stirring every few minutes. You will then need to let this sit for a few days, so the yeast has time to work and the lilac flavour infuses with the rest of the mixture. Make sure you cover the pan with a tea towel or muslin cloth. You will know the yeast has worked when the flowers have risen.

Next you will need to strain the mixture few a muslin cloth to ensure that you don’t get any flowers or other bits in your final drink.

Now all you need to do is bottle up your drink and enjoy! This will store for a few months, but why wait that long?

Many thanks to Working For the Good Life for the inspiration.

If you make this recipe, please comment below with how you get on.

Robyn Hode of Sherwode

Previously encompassing over 100,000 acres, modern day Sherwood forest covers just over 1000 acres. Once a royal hunting forest, it was illegal to hunt the King’s deer and boar. Naturally, some people chose to ignore this and would hunt in the dead of night; but what would they do with the carcass? The Butcher’s Oak, also known as Robin Hood’s Larder was believed to have been where Robin and his band of merry men hid their hunting yields. It was fairly common for hollow trees to be used as storage for food and The Major Oak was probably used for this purpose at some point in its life as well.

300 years to grow
300 years to live
300 years to die


This has long been the rhyme of the life cycle of oak trees.

The Major Oak has hollowed over time and has a small entry, allowing people to sneak in and out; it is believed to be around 1000 years old. Robin Hood, a medieval Yeoman an skilled archer and his men were frequent visitors to The Major Oak, often hiding from the Sheriff of Nottingham or just catching 40 winks.

He and his merry men were always on the run from the law, hiding in the relative safety of the forest. As outlaws of the land, they were left with no defences. They would find solace in one another, making a living by hunting on the King’s ground; robbing from the rich and giving to the poor and lawless. Robin was a well known trickster, although courteous with it. Even after charming the unsuspecting travellers out of their purses, he would often feast with them.

The oldest song that Robin Hood is referenced in is “A Gest of Robyn Hode“, which dates from around the 1500s. Although, the tale was known to have been around much longer before being documented. Robin was believed to have been born in the early 12th century.

Sherwood has been referred to as The Greenwood in several tales and songs; The Major Oak has been a vital meeting point throughout the ages. Rules and law of the land were void once you entered the Greenwood; fairies would frolic and love would bloom. Thieves would sneak and hunters would take.

Was Robin who we think he was? The name Robin has, in the past been used as another name for fairies. Always known to be dressed in green, this would have provided the perfect camouflage for Robin in Sherwood; but it was also commonly known as the “fairy colour”.

Perhaps, the persona of Robin attached to the spirit of the Green Man? The Green Man has long been known as the protector of the forest, but with the spread of Christianity most lore of pagan origin was placed under a guise.

Irrespective of who or what Robin Hood was, he was a man of many faces and holds countless secrets. Robin has connections to many parts of the country and he is an integral part of English folklore to this day. I can only hope that his tale is told for many generations to come.

The Rollright Stones

The Rollright Stones are located on the border of Warwickshire and Oxfordshire, near the village of Little Rollright. They have stood since the Neolithic era and their history spans over 5,500 years.

Their story starts with the construction of The Whispering Knights, a Neolithic Dolmen [a single chamber tomb], it is even believed that this is one of the earliest burial monuments in the UK. It would have been erected by some of the earliest farming peoples to settle in the area.

The site was used from the Neolithic era right up to the Bronze Age in regards to burials. The cap stone has long since fallen and now rests to the side of the standing stones. The Whispering Knights contains the tallest stone of all the Rollright monuments.

The stones lean into one another, as if they are crowed together; plotting. Legend is that the King’s knights were conspiring against him, the witch of Long Compton turned them to stone before they could carry out their plan to overthrow the King. Although, another tale is that the knights were praying as they were turned to stone by the witch.

It is also said that on New Year’s Day, the Whispering Knights awaken to visit the brook in a near by valley and drink from it.

The King’s Men is the stone circle which dates from the Bronze Age. There are around 70 stones, although it is believed that there once was over 100. It is said to be impossible to count the stones, but if you count the same number three times, you are granted one wish.

The King’s Men takes its name from the local legend. A King was marching his army across England, when they were challenged by the witch of Long Compton. He wanted to conquer England in his name, but she would ensure this would not come to pass. The witch proclaimed, “Seven long strides shalt thou take and if Long Compton thou canst see, King of England thou shalt be!” to which the King replied, “Stick, stock, stone. As King of England I shall be known!”

Upon the King’s seventh stride, the ground before him rose up to obstruct his path. The witch bellowed, “As Long Compton thou canst not see, King of England thou shalt not be. Rise up stick and stand still stone, for King Of England thou shall be none. Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be, and myself an Eldern tree!”

The witch, as true to her word, turned the King and all of his men to stone. She, as an eldern tree, watches over the King’s men. It is not known why the witch wanted to stop the King in his tracks. Did she know something he did not? Was she protecting him? It is said that one day, when the King and his men are needed for battle once more, the spell will be broken.

It is possible that some of the stones were removed in more modern times and reused for other constructions, as is common for standing stones. It is said that the largest stone was taken by a local farmer in order to be used as a bridge over a stream on his land. It took 24 horses to drag this stone, but the stone had cursed him. A farm hand was killed on the way back and once the stone had been placed over the stream, it was found to have fallen in the next day. It was put back in place, but this happened repeatedly, and so the farmer and his horse dragged it back. Taking the stone back required just one horse; perhaps the stone knew it was returning and lifted it’s curse on the foolish farmer.

The King’s Stone is believed to be a Bronze Age burial marker, burial mounds and cairns have been discovered on the site nearby. Cremated remains were found to be marked with wooden pillars. The stone is said to have been an important meeting place during Saxon times. The grave of a 7th century high priestess was found not a few hundred yards away. It is relatively common for ancient monuments to be re-purposed by cultures down the line. Even today, the Rollright Stones have become an important place for new age and more traditional Pagans.

The shape of The King’s Stone has changed over time, much like the other monuments. Whilst weathering has had an impact, the main cause of the peculiar shape of the King’s Stone was down to treasure hunters. During the 19th century, Victorian tourists were notorious for chipping off parts of the stone as a memento. It is also said that a piece of the King’s Stone on your person would keep the Devil away.

The mound behind the King’s Stone is said to be the one that blocked his view of Long Compton. This is where the King has stood, frozen in time. He watches over his men, waiting for the spell to be broken.

The Rollright Trust have the opportunity to finally reunite the King with his men. They have been given the chance to purchase the land from Haine Farmers. If you would like to donate a few pounds, you can do so here. There is also a petition to try and save the Rollright Stones from traffic disruption, if you can sign it here.

All photos are my own unless otherwise stated.

Oh apple tree, we wassail thee

Wassailing of the apple trees dates back to our forefathers of Anglo-Saxon times. It was originally celebrated on 17th January, although this changed to 6th January with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar.

The word “Wassail” comes from the Old English “wæs (þuhæl“, roughly translating to “be in good health”, something we still raise a glass to in this day and age. We toast and give thanks during the darkest period of the year, where the wheel has finally turned and we welcome back the sun.

The orchard spirits are to be awoken from their winter slumber by a racket and a song. Upon being disturbed the evil spirits of the orchard shall dispel, with the [good] spirits of the trees remaining. A helping of cider is poured at the roots of the trees as an offering to the spirits of the trees, this would ensure a bountiful harvest for the coming year.

Pieces of toast are then dipped in cider and hung from the crooked branches of the largest tree in the orchard, this is to encourage the little red breasted robins to visit the orchards and provide their protection. Robins have long been seen as the guardians of apple orchards.

Oh apple tree
We wassail thee
And hoping thou will be
Hat fulls, cap fulls
Three bushel bag fulls
A little heap under the stairs