It's a long way from Holyhead to Devon so we decided to take a late night ferry and drive down south during the night when the roads are emptier and to give us more time during the first day at our destination. To break up the trip we took a diversion and stopped off at Avebury (SU 102 699) in Wiltshire. Arriving at 5am I didn't think it fair on the residents of the village to turn up so early so we stopped at the car park for Silbury Hill (SU 100 685), Europe's largest manmade hill. As the rest of the family caught up on a little sleep I wandered around the area looking at this majestic mound from all angles, with the early morning fog making it appear most mysterious (see fig. 1).
It is not possible to climb the hill these days, because the some old excavations into the mound collapsed several years ago. Quite astonishingly no direct action has been taken to maintain its safety by its gardians, despite many high profile campaigns by concerned pressure groups.
As the sun rose I was treated to a wonderful display of how beautiful such simple things can be (see fig. 2).
The sun rising a little further into the sky meant that it was ok for me to ring a friend who lives close by and arrange to meet. I told him I was at Silbury car park, so he immediately headed for Avebury and waited there for me. Half an hour later I rang him again and I drove over to Avebury to meet him. Avebury is a unique place. It is the only village built inside a stone circle (see fig. 3) and has the only pub in the world that is inside a stone circle: this makes it a popular place!
The stone circle is, obviously, enormous and stands on the central plateau of a huge henge - a manmade circular enclosure with a rock-cut ditch surrounded by a massive bank (see fig. 4).
We strolled around the top of the bank on the south side of the village and chatted for a while, exchanging ideas and boring the pants off my family. My youngest daughter brightened up a bit when she was shown the tree where JRR Tolkein sat and first thought out The Lord Of The Rings.
Avebury, when it's not full of coach parties of tourists, is a peaceful place. Containing not only Avebury and Silbury, but also the rich complex of sites such as the West Kennett Avenue and long barrow this area is one of the Wonders of the ancient world.
Eventually we had to move on and get underway. I had wanted to show my wife, Uta, the West Kennett long barrow, but the car park for it was already packed solid. She'd have to wait and see it next time.
There was one place that we could stop at though on the way down and that was Stoney Littleton long barrow (ST 735 572) (see fig. 5).
The drive down to the car park from the village is a narrow, windy road and not for the faint-hearted. After parking there is quite a climb to reach the barrow, which you approach from the rear. Walking past the information board you reach the front, where a beautiful example of stone selection awaits: on the left door jamb there is the cast of a fossil, which appears to guard the entrance (see fig. 6).
The inside structure is extraordinary. The passage seems to be longer than the mound as you scramble down it (see fig. 7). Many of the stones are studded with shell fossils and two pairs of side chambers branch off from the main gallery.
There was one other person visiting the site while we were there, but thankfully he left and allowed us to enjoy the site by ourselves in blistering heat. Soon, however, it was time to return to the car and make our way down to Devon. It wouldn't be long before Dartmoor was within reach.