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.


[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.


The Avebury megalithic stone circles

While in Wiltshire earlier this month, I stayed in the village of Avebury, which lies within the world’s largest megalithic stone circle, and is about a mile north of Silbury Hill (see previous post at Exploring-the-barrow-downs-of-wessex

Constructed over several hundred years during the Neolithic period from around 3,000 BC to 2,600 BC, a large henge (a bank and a ditch) with a large outer stone circle encircles part of Avebury village. Two separate smaller stone circles are located closer to the centre of the henge.

The ditch and mound surrounding the Avebury outer stone circle

The outer stone circle is 332 metres in diameter with a circumference just over 1,000 metres and encloses two smaller stone circles near its centre.[1] The available evidence suggests that in the early Neolithic, Avebury and the surrounding hills were covered in dense oak woodland, and as the Neolithic progressed, the woodland around Avebury and the nearby monuments receded and was replaced by grassland.

The great outer stone circle originally contained 98 sarsen standing stones, some weighing in excess of 40 tons.

One of the outer circle stones.

The largest stone is estimated to weigh more than 100 tons, making it one of the largest ever found in the UK. Radiocarbon dating of some stone settings indicate a construction date of around 2870–2200 BC.

The Avebury stone circles are less well known than the better preserved and more famous Stonehenge, about 17 miles to the south, as In the Late Medieval and Early Modern periods, local people destroyed many of the standing stones around the henge, both for religious and practical reasons. In the 20th century, archaeologists restored much of the monument, re-erecting stones which had been toppled. A geophysical survey of the circle in 2003 revealed at least 15 of the megaliths lying buried and identified where they fitted in the circle [1].

At the centre of the inner northern circle is the “Cove”.

These two stones form the “cove” marks the centre of the inner northern circle and is thought to be the oldest part of the complex, erected around 3,000 BC.

I had found this brass dowsing rod in some long grass and it did seem to want to align with various stones. Perhaps the energy field of the stones is the reason that the SatNav system in my car crashed when I drove into Avebury and my mobile phone also had no reception within the circle.

Using the brass dowsing rod

Part of the Southern Inner Circle.

The West Kennet Avenue, an avenue of paired stones, leads from the southeastern entrance of the henge towards West Kennet and the Sanctuary and is thought to have been constructed around 2,400 BC. There are also traces of a second Avenue leading out from the western entrance.

The Avenue at sunset

I had walked the Avenue earlier in the day, after I left West Kennet Long Barrow, but I returned near sunset, and managed to take some nice photos.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avebury

A sunny day skiing at Verbier

After the day of reasonably heavy snow in Geneva last week, I decided to head up to Verbier to take advantage of the new snow. Verbier is a bit under two hours drive from Geneva and has spectacular scenery and skiing.  In the first few years I was in Geneva, Verbier was my regular ski destination, and for a couple of years I rented a small studio apartment there so I could go up for weekends and longer periods when possible.

From Lausanne onwards, the ground in the Rhone Valley was completely covered in snow, and the trees and mountains were all dusted with fresh powder. I parked in the valley below Verbier and caught the cable car up past Verbier to the mid-level pistes.

Heading up in the cable car

Verbier is part of the “Four Valleys” (“4 Vallées”) ski area, which is the biggest ski domain in Switzerland with extensive off-piste and back country routes.

Grand Combin (4314 m)

Continue reading

Skiing from Switzerland to France and back

I have recently been cleaning up old external drives that I’ve used over the years for backups and found a folder of photographs from a 2003 ski trip to Champèry. Champéry lies in a side valley of the Rhone valley under the Dents du Midi (“Teeth of Midday”) mountain range. Some of the photos really capture the beauty of skiing in this region, which is part of the Portes du Soleil (The Doors of the Sun). So I decided to put them up in this post. The Portes du Soleil is one of Europe’s two largest ski areas, around 1000 square kilometres, with 13 interconnected ski resorts and around 650 km of marked pistes, and includes Les Gets where we skied in February this year.

Looking down towards Champéry lying under the Dents du Midi on the other side of the valley

Continuing to head upwards from where the above photo was taken will bring you to the ridgeline which marks the Swiss border with France. Later in the day I skied down the other side into France and ended up in the Morzine valley, where I caught a chairlift back up to the top.

Continue reading

Skiing in the French Alps

Schools in Geneva have a one-week mid-term break in February, and the ski slopes are normally crowded. I took my boys for a week skiing in the French Alps at Les Gets, which is a little over 60 kilometres from Geneva, in the direction of Chamonix. The slopes were even more crowded as usual, as it was also the British mid-term break, and Les Gets is a popular destination.

Looking towards Mont Blanc from Mont Chéry.

The village of Les Gets, visible in the valley below my younger son in the photo above, is relatively low at 1,170m above sea level, and the highest points accessible on ski are at around 2000 m. The photo above was taken near the summit of Mont Chéry at around 1,800 m. In the distance to the south-east Mont Blanc (4,810 m) is visible on the horizon. I stood on its summit in 2010 (Mont Blanc), 3000 metres higher than where I and my son are now standing. Below is another photo taken using the zoom lens.

Continue reading

Méribel mountain views

Some photos of the French Alps from the Saulire on the mountain ridge between Méribel and Courcheval. The Saulire is at 2738m and has spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, including Mont Blanc in the distance 63 km away. And then a thousand metre descent which made for great skiiing.

Looking west over the Méribel valley towards Val Torens

Continue reading