I continued along the road for some distance, until I came to a field where many people had gathered. The field was covered with wagons, and I could smell the food all the way across the field. A kind man in a uniform told me that I would have to leave my wagon here if I was heading into Avebury. I had not intended to visit Avebury (indeed, I had never heard of the place), but it seemed friendly, so I parked my wagon and asked the way to town.
Following the directions, I found myself walking right past that wonderful-smelling food, and could not resist buying a sausage to accompany me into the town. Though it was not, at that moment, raining, the sky was nonetheless overcast, and it was chilly.
I followed a path along the edge of the woods and through a pass between two low hills. As I walked between the hills, I saw a standing stone, which I thought must be guarding the entrance to the town. I started across a ditch as deep as these hills were tall, and then I saw another stone, and another, and many more.
I realized that I had found a circle of standing stones, far larger than any of the stone circles I had seen in Cornwall! Each stone was much taller than a man, and the circle was huge. A village, with an inn and some shops, was completely enclosed by the stones. It would have taken me a good ten minutes to walk straight from one side to the other, had I not been distracted by the sheer wonder of the place. This is truly one of the great marvels of Britain, an entire village contained inside a great stone circle.
Unlike the isolated stone circles of Cornwall, this circle was crowded. I saw children running everywhere and playing on the slopes of the hill and the ditch, and some people sitting comfortably on or under the stones. One elderly woman was asleep, cradled in a hollow stone. Some of the stones were just long spikes, but most were wide rough boulders. With its ring of stones, and beyond that the circle of low hills, the place felt peaceful and safe.
I went into the village and talked to some of the people who lived there. They told me that Avebury has the largest stone circle in the world. It is over 4000 years old, and was built by a community of farmers who tended herds and grew crops in a area much more wooded than Avebury is today. Originally there were 98 stones in the great circle, and they surrounded two smaller circles of about 30 stones each. The entire village area is divided into four quarters, each of which is separated by fences, which control the grazing sheep. The village itself sits at the very centre of the circle.
In each quarter of the great stone circle, there are marvels to behold. In one there is a small horseshoe of stones which they say was probably a place of worship for the original inhabitants. In another the Cove, a male and female stone pair which are believed to be the oldest stones in Avebury, the first stones placed there. To this day the Cove remains a favourite meeting place for young lovers. They say that it is good luck to get betrothed between those stones.
The stones are the remains of a very hard sandstone layer that once lay on top of the chalk of the Downs. They are called " sarcen stones," which probably comes from "Saracen" and means "heathen". Many of the stones that once made up the circles are gone now, because they were used to build the village itself, long ago.
I learned of many marvels in this area, some of which I determined to see. There is a wide avenue of standing stones leading out of the circle and stretching one and a half miles to another circle of stones called the Sanctuary. There were once 100 stones in this avenue, in pairs, alternately male and female -- tall and thin, and then shorter and diamond shaped. I followed the avenue to see what other wonders I could find.
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