Wayland’s Smithy

After walking from the White Horse across Uffington Castle perched on the hilltop (see previous post  Iron Age hillforts), I walked for about a kilometre to join the Ridgeway track that leads across the Wessex Downs in southern England. I followed this west for about a mile to another Neolithic chambered long barrow known as Wayland’s Smithy. The Smithy is about 100 metres off the Ridgeway nestled in a grove of trees.

The ancient Ridgeway track

Some forest near the Ridgeway

The first version of the barrow was built between 3,590 and 3,555 BC. It was 20m long and the remains of 14 people were buried here in a stone and timber box over a period of less than 15 years. Between 3,460 and 3,400 BC a second larger barrow 56m in length with a stone chamber was constructed over it, and the chambers contained the jumbled remains of several people.

Wayland’s Smithy

This barrow was built about 200 years later than West Kennet Long Barrow.It is not as large as West Kennet, with the later mound being185 feet (56 m) long and 43 feet (13 m) wide at the south end. The burial chambers at the south end are not as large either.

Wayland’s Smithy showing the burial chamber entrance

The name of Wayland’s Smithy has been linked to the long barrow since at least AD 955, when it was referred to as ‘Weland’s Smithy’ in a Saxon charter. The name refers to Weland, the Saxon god of metal working and associated with the barrow is a local tradition about Weland. As reported by Francis Wise in 1738:

All the account which the country people are able to give of it is “At this place lived formerly an invisible Smith, and if a traveller’s Horse had lost a Shoe upon the road, he had no more to do than to bring the Horse to this place with a piece of money, and leaving both there for some little time, he might come again and find the money gone, but the Horse new shod.” [1]

In Germanic mythology, Wayland the Smith is a legendary master blacksmith who is the subject of several sagas. He appears as Völundr in Norse mythology where he and his two brothers are married to the three Valkyries, and as Weland in the Old English poem Beowulf, where he fashioned the mail shirt worn by Beowulf.

Closer view of the entrance

Rudyard Kipling, in his collection of stories Puck of Pook’s Hill [2], set many of the stories near the Smithy, and told of the arrival of the smith god to England in the first, “Weland’s Sword”. This tells of the rise and fall of the god, reduced to shoeing horses for passing farmers, until he is freed from this duty and leaves England.

Tolkien also would have been thinking of these Barrow Downs when Tom Bombadil described them to the hobbits in the Fellowship of the Ring:

Kings of little kingdoms fought together, and the young Sun shone like fire on the red metal of their new and greedy swords. There was victory and defeat; and towers fell, fortresses were burned, and flames went up into the sky. Gold was piled on the biers of dead kings and queens; and mounds covered them, and the stone doors were shut; and the grass grew over all. Sheep walked for a while biting the grass, but soon the hills were empty again. [3]

While writing this blog, I took a look at Wayland’s Smithy on Google Earth, I was not expecting to find evidence of an alien visitation. In the photo below, Wayland’s Smithy is in the circle of green trees towards the top left of the photo, and there is a giant jellyfish-like creature about 200 metres in length, only a couple of fields away.

Wayland’s Smithy seen on Google Earth

Alien visitor? The locals say it just appeared one day from nowhere.

References

[1] Ellis Davidson, Hilda R. (1958). “Weland the Smith”. Folklore. 69 (3): 145–59. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1258855?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

[2] Rudyard Kipling. Puck of Pook’s Hill. Originally published in 1906 and available in many subsequent editions. Including as a free Ebook at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/557

[3] J.R.R.Tolkien. The Fellowship of the Ring. Chapter VII. In the House of Tom Bombadil.

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