This year I made it back to a place I’ve been dreaming about for a decade, Avebury in Wiltshire, UK. There is a vibe, something about the plain and the high rolling downs which draws people in, and whatever that something is, it’s been active since before the Neolithic. Today there are crop circle and ley line hunters, but this is an ancient holy site. The area contains the remains of Mesolithic “towns” as well as barrows, ditches , dikes and standing stones, all created with antler picks, woven handbaskets and ropes made of hair and plant fiber and human hands over a period which lasted well over two thousand years. On a bright autumnal day, Avebury still draws tourist crowds, although nothing like its neighbor, Stonehenge, standing proudly among its own barrows and earthworks just twenty miles to the south.
The first time I visited, I was fortunate enough to get a room in the finest B&B in town, in a 17th Century house with a view of the north circle which served a “smashing breakfast.” From there, I planned to walk a single day of 13 miles on the 5,000 year old Ridgeway, to feel the “road goes ever on and on” beneath my feet. I was seriously out of shape, and, although I didn’t know it, on the verge of a life-threatening illness. I didn’t even have a map. Such was my crazy “plan.” I was determined to see it through.
I had supper at the Red Lion Inn which sits in a crook of the busy highway running straight through the holy place, and went early to bed. Beyond the back fence, visible from my window, was a ditch, a corresponding dike and a few of the remaining limestone behemoths, part of a once mighty circle. And as might be expected in such a place of power, I had a dream. In it, one of the big gray stones behind the house slipped its moorings and came through the garden to stare through the window at me. It was a cold, old presence, terrifyingly “Other,” like something out of H.P. Lovecraft, but it was oddly disinterested, too. I was a bug, perceived through the prism of time.
I saw the stone. The Stone saw me.
I sat bolt upright, rigid with fear, every hair on end, but of course, nothing was there. Outside my window was dripping dawn and an October fog which would soon become rain, providing this foolish pilgrim with the requisite ordeal. Later, as I climbed the green Herepath, the ancient trail which leads up a side-aching escarpment to the Ridgeway, I turned and looked back toward the magical remains of avenues and circles. I still wanted the adventure, the ordeal of the long walk on already bruised and inadequately shod feet, but such a feeling of sorrow as I gazed down upon the ruined sanctuary! I knew, beyond a doubt, that someday I would make a dedicated journey, spend whole days walking with the ancestors among those charged, still wide-awake, stones.