We walked across the road that cuts through the great circle of Avebury and into the next quadrant. This part of the circle has lost many of its stones, though it is perhaps here that you get the clearest impression of the sheer scale of the site as the henge bounds the horizon in green. Many areas are currently roped off, while new turf has chance to root on chalk scoured by the hundreds of thousands of people who visit Avebury and walk amongst the stones each year.
Although the circle itself is a little bare of stones here, they still remain within the henge, forming the walls of the barns and homes that have been built within the banks. You do not really notice their absence, however, as your eyes are immediately drawn to two enormous stones known as The Cove. Today only two of the original three stones remain in place. It is rumoured the third was removed with explosives in the 1713. The remaining stones stand upright, having been straightened to prevent falling in 2003; a necessary evil given that their original angle might have been significant, yet old photographs seem to show that it is likely to be the heavy traffic passing through the henge that caused the problem anyway.
The stones of the Cove are perfect examples of the upright ‘male’ and lozenge shaped ‘female’ stones, a commonly accepted theory for the alternating shapes. These stones were the very first erected at Avebury, some 5,000 years ago, at the same time as the Sanctuary was being built on Overton Hill and 600 years before West Kennet Avenue would join the two sites. The larger of the stones stands some 14ft high and extends between 7 and 10 ft below ground, weighing around a hundred tons. There is an alignment here with the sunrise at the summer solstice and it has been suggested that a fourth stone, still present when John Aubrey and William Stukeley recorded the site in earlier centuries, may have cast its shadow onto the wide surface of the stone to mark the moment of solstice.
It is thought two other coves existed on the two Avenues, but we still had much to see before we were anywhere near the processional way. And first I wanted to spend some time with ‘my’ stone… the one that fascinates me with the multitude of creatures and faces contained within its surface. I find it impossible to believe our ancestors did not see them and choose the stone for its frozen beauty and the spirits shown within it. More than any other, this one huge monolith convinces me, though there may be plainer and clearer examples. This looks like a totem stone and had it been carved into shape by human hand could be no more beautiful or densely populated with strange and wonderful faces.
From here we continued to walk around the outer embankment, passing the familiar lace created by the woven roots, where the trees stand like a portal or guardians watching over the trackway that leads into the henge. The paths here are white as the underlying chalk shows through, giving a glimpse in the pale sunlight of how the pristine structure would have shone from afar. From here we can look down, seeing the depth of the ditch and begin to get some real feel for the scale of the undertaking. From here too we can see the inner circles of the southern quadrant and the march of stones curving round towards the pub… ancient and modern in close proximity with cars cutting through the silence like knives.But we were not yet heading into the southern quadrant. First, we wanted to walk the length of West Kennet Avenue….