Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Travelling through Oxfordshire: Wayland's Smithy and Seven Barrows

The Ridgeway in southern Oxfordshire is Britain's oldest road. Long before the Romans came, this street high above the marshy valley ground was used for making contact and trade by Neolithic and Bronze Age men and women. Its importance is best seen on this map; along the ridgeway are relevant markers like Wayland's Smithy's long barrow, Bronze Age settlements, Iron Age hill forts, and not to forget the Uffington Horse hill figure. Down in the valley we have two important hoards, the Crow Down gold hord and the Tower Hill axe hoard, as well as a Neolithic long barrow and the Bronze Age barrow cemetery 'Seven Barrows'.

modified after Varndell, Coe and Hey 2007, fig. 3
A short walk brings you from the parking lot at Uffington castle to the chamber tomb Wayland's Smithy. Rudyard Kipling brilliantly tells the sad story of Wayland (Weland) the Smith in his story Puck of Pook's Hill:
'All sorts of sacrifices,' said Puck. 'If it wasn't men, it was horses, or cattle, or pigs, or metheglin - that's a sticky, sweet sort of beer. I never liked it. They were a stiff-necked, extravagant set of idols, the Old Things. But what was the result? Men don't like being sacrificed at the best of times; they don't even like sacrificing their farm-horses. After a while, men simply left the Old Things alone, and the roofs of their temples fell in, and the Old Things had to scuttle out and pick up a living as they could. Some of them took to hanging about trees, and hiding in graves and groaning o' nights. If they groaned loud enough and long enough they might frighten a poor countryman into sacrificing a hen, or leaving a pound of butter for them. I remember one Goddess called Belisama. She became a common wet water-spirit somewhere in Lancashire. And there were hundreds of other friends of mine. First they were Gods. Then they were People of the Hills, and then they flitted to other places because they couldn't get on with the English for one reason or another. There was only one Old Thing, I remember, who honestly worked for his living after he came down in the world. He was called Weland, and he was a smith to some Gods. I've forgotten their names, but he used to make them swords and spears. I think he claimed kin with Thor of the Scandinavians.' ....
'It was Weland's Ford then, dearie. A road led down to it from the Beacon on the top of the hill - a shocking bad road it was - and all the hillside was thick, thick oak-forest, with deer in it. There was no trace of Weland, but presently I saw a fat old farmer riding down from the Beacon under the greenwood tree. His horse had cast a shoe in the clay, and when he came to the Ford he dismounted, took a penny out of his purse, laid it on a stone, tied the old horse to an oak, and called out: "Smith, Smith, here is work for you!" Then he sat down and went to sleep. You can imagine how I felt when I saw a white-bearded, bent old blacksmith in a leather apron creep out from behind the oak and begin to shoe the horse. It was Weland himself. I was so astonished that I jumped out and said: "What on Human Earth are you doing here, Weland?"'
'Poor Weland!' sighed Una.
'He pushed the long hair back from his forehead (he didn't recognize me at first). Then he said: "You ought to know. You foretold it, Old Thing. I'm shoeing horses for hire. I'm not even Weland now," he said. "They call me Wayland-Smith."'
'Poor chap!' said Dan. 'What did you say?'
'What could I say? He looked up, with the horse's foot on his lap, and he said, smiling, "I remember the time when I wouldn't have accepted this old bag of bones as a sacrifice, and now I'm glad enough to shoe him for a penny."
"'Isn't there any way for you to get back to Valhalla, or wherever you come from?" I said.
"'I'm afraid not, " he said, rasping away at the hoof. He had a wonderful touch with horses. The old beast was whinnying on his shoulder. "You may remember that I was not a gentle God in my Day and my Time and my Power. I shall never be released till some human being truly wishes me well."
Now you know where the long barrow got its name from. Here is the entrance to the tomb:

and this is how the longbarrow stretches over the tomb and covers the original wooden mortuary house with 14 to 17 burials:

At some time there was a crop circle near Wayland's Smithy, beautifully caught by satellites:

(c) 2011 Google Map dat

Further down south is Seven Barrows long barrow and the Bronze Age barrow cemetery Lambourn Seven Barrows. According to Richards (1990) there are at least 32 definite barrows but there are likely to exist more over 40 of them. Most of them were built in two rows emanating from the Early Neolithic long barrow (3700 calBC).

J. Dyer, Discovering Prehistoric England, 2001, p. 16

This is how the cemetery looks from the air; you still can clearly see the two rows of barrows on the east side of the road:

(c) 2011 Google Map data

Today only small bumps are visible; this one is from the Western side of the Road (no. 18) and contained a cremation burial with a bronze awl and a jet pendant in a sarsen stone cist that was added later into the barrow.

In the foreground you can see barrows nos. 10, 11, and 12 with the second row of barrows in the background. The double barrow no. 10 (just visible in the lefthand corner) was robbed in ancient times and, when excavated in 1850, contained only the bones of an ox and a dog.

Well, I guess you have had enough archaeology by now; too cheer you up a bit, here is a late night guest we met on our way to dinner:

And this is where we actually had dinner, The White Horse Inn in Woolstone. There weren't too much vegetarian dishes on the menu, but the cook offered to make us something special and lo! did he make us a dinner. So worth a visit! Absolutely delicious and beautifully decorated, very recommendable!

His desert creation:


  1. I have the same "guests" every night in my garden, since few years!
    There are always 2 or 3, they are soo cute, I give them some food, it is not easy to find enough here for them.
    Now they are more healthy and live longer.
    They aren't afraid anymore, they know me and the cats(the huge and small one). If there is no food outside, they start to bang their bowl, and make noise, really, I'm not kidding. They are smart! :-)

  2. @ Amatou:
    You are right, they are so cute and yet quite intelligent animals. I'm glad to hear they have an arrangement with your cats :)
    So the cats do not steal the food for the hedgehogs? Though they might be cute, they are not as cuddly as your cats I guess :))