Walk of the week: Embraced by a green goddess

Stone circles in mystical Wiltshire

In 1648, John Aubrey observed that Avebury "does as much exceed in greatness the so renowned Stonehenge as a cathedral does a parish church". Since then, much has been written about this vast megalithic monument. The complex of sites, including the sanctuary, West Kennett long barrow and Silbury Hill, can be seen as a great landscape goddess with nature's cycle on display.

In 1648, John Aubrey observed that Avebury "does as much exceed in greatness the so renowned Stonehenge as a cathedral does a parish church". Since then, much has been written about this vast megalithic monument. The complex of sites, including the sanctuary, West Kennett long barrow and Silbury Hill, can be seen as a great landscape goddess with nature's cycle on display.

The ideal way to approach Avebury would be along the Ridgeway (now a national trail) after several days' walking. The modern pilgrim can easily find a bus from Swindon, Devizes or Salisbury. It will deposit you outside the Red Lion: the inn stands in the very centre of the great circle at grid ref. SUI02699 (Ordnance Survey Explorer 157). Start this easy ramble of five miles from here.

Cross the road carefully to take a little gate into the quadrant of the great circle that is ahead on your left, in the south-east. This field contains a smaller circle within the great circle. There is a second in the north-east quadrant, suggesting two wedding rings. The image of fertility is reinforced by an obelisk having once stood in its centre, like a giant phallus or maypole.

Leave by a small gate beyond the henge's bank and ditch and, ignoring the main road to your right, bear right to take another gate and walk along West Kennett Avenue. The initial impression from the first pair of stones is of sexual opposites: a female lozenge and a male pillar. Look, too, for the faces in the stones.

Go over a stile to walk parallel to the road on your left until another stile invites you to continue along the road. Go left at the A4 road but soon take a turning on your right towards East Kennett. Cross a bridge over the River Kennet and turn right along a track. Bear right with a narrow path, emerge over a stile and continue through a meadow.

Proceed across a lane, along a track then the foot of a field. Turn left up the path to West Kennett long barrow, associated with death, the end of the cycle and Samhain (early November). Descend towards Silbury Hill, the pregnant stomach of the goddess whose form was erected at Lugnasadh (early August) around 2660BC. Silbury Hill's construction seems to have coincided with an extension to the older West Kennett long barrow which enabled a sight line to appear connecting the two with Windmill Hill. Cross the A4 to pass Silbury on your left as you follow the footpath along the left side of a field. Continue with the Winterbourne on your left, reach the A4361 and cross it to go through the car park. A signposted path leads from here back to the centre of this unique village.

This is walk 12 in 'Walks in Mysterious Wiltshire' by Laurence Main (Sigma Press, £6.95).

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