WESSEX

The Longest Road

and ditch and the stone circles (in their magnificent original form) may now only exist in our imaginations, but there's enough solid reality in the 20-odd acres enclosed by it to connect us to those original builders.

Feel the stones again. More than four thousand years ago, men like us hauled 247 ruddy great stones through gateways in this huge white arena, and set them just here, and here, and here, proclaiming their existence, their vitality, their humanity, their absurd bloody-mindedness across the millennia.

Remember, these were men like us - not some strange, primitive creatures. A decent shave and a Barbour jacket, and they'd look perfectly at home propping up the bar of the Red Lion.

That first stone we saw - the big diamond-shaped one by the side of our road - is known as the "Swindon Stone", for no better reason than that it points towards Swindon.

It is the remainder of a pair of stones, marking an entrance through the ramparts. The other stone would have been more columnar in shape. This was one of four such entrances - roughly North, South, East and West.

But the path-ways between these entrances didn't form a regular crossroads - there was a kink in the North-South axis, where it crossed the East-West track. No-one knows why. Perhaps it swerved to avoid some even-older structure - now disappeared.

Exactly that same kink still appears in the A4361 (our road).

As you drive through Avebury, you follow exactly in the footsteps of a ceremonial procession, trod four, maybe five thousand years before.

But what did it all mean? What was it for? Damned if I know, or anyone else, for that matter.

We can be sure it was nothing mundane. It wasn't defensive (it wouldn't have made military sense); it wasn't to keep the chickens in. It had to be for ceremonial purposes of some kind, but we can't even imagine what kind of ceremonies were enacted or what gods were being flattered by the attention.

Perhaps they were just showing off. What could be more human than that?

© David Craig Send me a message