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Wanderings in Wessex eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 275 pages of information about Wanderings in Wessex.
and fifteen stones remain, but the other is conjectural, if it existed at all.  The two megaliths seen from the Beckhampton road may be a remnant of it.  The purpose of all this intricate and elaborate work is a puzzling problem and, like the mystery of Stonehenge, will probably remain a secret to the end.  The literature of Avebury, not quite so copious as that of the stones of the Plain, is also more diffident in its guessing.  Avebury has given a title to the most modest and thorough of its students, and his writings on this and the other prehistoric monuments of Wiltshire, a county that must have been a holy land some thousands of years ago, should be studied by all who have any concern in the long-buried past of their country.

Avebury Church, just without the rampart, was originally a Saxon building, its aisles being Norman additions.  The chancel was rebuilt in 1879, but certain old features are preserved.  The fine tower is Perpendicular.  The font may be Saxon, though the ornamentation is of a later date.  Avebury Manor House, beyond the churchyard, is a beautiful old sixteenth-century dwelling; it marks the site of a twelfth-century monastery.

About one mile south of Avebury rises the extraordinary mound called Silbury Hill, as wonderful in its way as either of the two great stone circles of Wiltshire and perhaps part of one plan with them.  It is said to be the largest artificial hill in Europe and bears comparison, as far as the labour involved in its erection is concerned, with the Pyramids.  The mound is 1,660 feet round at the base and covers over five acres.  It is now just 130 feet high, but when made it is probable that the top was more acute and consequently higher.  A circle of sarsens once surrounded the base, but these have almost all disappeared.  Pepys repeats an old tradition that a King Seall was buried upon the hill; but it is extraordinary that Avebury and Silbury were less known to our forefathers than Stonehenge, and the first mention of these two places, as being of antiquarian or historic interest, is in the seventeenth century.  Excavations during recent years have done little or nothing to clear up the mystery of Silbury.  The fact that the Roman road (which leaves the Bath road just west of Silbury) here deviates slightly from its usual straightness is significant and proves that the mound was in existence when the road was made.  The villagers around used to ascend the hill on Palm Sunday to eat “fig cakes” and drink sugar and water.  It has been suggested that this ceremony had some connexion with the gospel story of the barren fig tree, but it is much more probable that the tradition has a very early origin.  As a matter of fact the cakes were mostly made with raisins which are called figs by natives of Wessex.

[Illustration:  DEVIL’S DEN.]

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