Dr Snake and Pip de Belfry head for Wiltshire to discover Avebury’s mysterious megaliths, and encounter a terrifying spirit on a dark, winding lane…
I gunned the car over the Wiltshire hills, via long, winding country lanes. Our ears popping due to the atmospheric pressure decreasing as we climbed the steep hills amidst a startling array of prehistoric mounds and standing stones.
“Wow,” said Pip de Belfry in wonder at the neolithic earthworks and solemn megaliths. “Just imagine living around here, you’d have these incredible ancient relics in your back garden.”
“Yeah, it’d be great,” I replied. “But I doubt the locals appreciate them. They’d likely smash them up and get rid of them, given half a chance. Most of them are desperate and deranged on hallucinogenic home-brewed cider to care about their heritage. And they don’t like people like us coming into their territory.”
“Yep,” cut in Pip. “They really hated the ley hunters and acid freaks in the 60s, the new agers and dowsers in the 70s, and it got even worse the hippy Convoy travellers in the 80s. When it all came to a head with the Battle of the Beanfield at Stonehenge the cops sided with the locals and went full Nazi.”
“It’s never pretty when the rednecks and cops get together,” I said.
I dropped speed as we headed through the quaint sleepy village of East Kennet, then pulled up to let a middle-aged woman in an SUV get past. She didn’t give a wave of thanks and drove on stony faced.
“See,” I said, “it’s not just the rednecks around here that hate anybody coming to see the stones, it’s the goose-stepping landowners too. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were all in league with Hitler and the Nazis during WW2. Back in the 30s, they probably invited whole teams of Nazi scientists over to Wiltshire study the stones in their search for occult power, and were probably very disappointed when we won the war, and not the Nazis.”
Minutes later I swung the car onto the main drag, then did a right turn towards Avebury, passing the avenue of standing stones on the left that spin off from the main stone circle.
As you drive into Avebury, which contains the largest megalithic stone circle in the world, you’re immediately hit by the sheer atmosphere of the place. It’s a small village literally built around the stone circle, with earthworks and other monuments scattered across the nearby landscape. Not far away you can see the towering prehistoric man-made mound of Silbury Hill.
You’re literally transported into the ancient past and into the heart of Albion’s mysteries, which nobody has yet been able to satisfactorily solve.
Taking a left, we drove into the car park, grabbed a ticket, then walked down to the heart of Avebury village. Even though it’s a busy tourist destination, especially during the summer months, Avebury remains unspoilt. Apart from the National Trust shop (the National Trust manages the site), there’s the Henge Shop, which sells crystals and other new age items, along with a good selection of books; and not far away is the Red Lion pub which boasts that it is the only pub in the world situated inside a prehistoric stone circle (and it also has its own resident ghosts).
For Pip and I the first thing to do was to head for the stones. We walked across a field, passing numerous grazing sheep, towards the standing stones, which even in the gentle winter drizzle still looked majestic and mysterious.
While I wandered around a group of stones not far from the road that cuts through Avebury, Pip centered her attention on one stone in particular, touching it with her left hand. I thought nothing of it until she came over and said that she’d felt a strong pulse coming from the stone, through the heel of her hand.
“It might have been amplifying my own heartbeat,” she said. “But it was pretty strong. I tried the same thing on another stone and it didn’t happen. So something unusual was going on. Maybe I was feeling some sort of energy pulse from the stone itself? I don’t know. But it only happened in one place on the stone.”
At that point we walked towards the circular bank and ditch (henge) which surrounds the inner stone circle, then climbed up the bank, which provided us with a good view of Silbury Hill and the various mounds and stones aligned across the landscape.
After about 500 yards we came to a clump of trees, with brightly colored ribbons tied to the branches. Some people leave the ribbons as offerings or to make wishes, others leave them simply as a sign of respect for the place. It is said that these trees were the inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s “walking trees” in Lord of the Rings.
From there we headed back along the tiny lane that returns you to the village , leaping out of the way as a milk truck thundered past us – another sign that locals have little time for those that appreciate the historic heritage of the place.
We then made for the Henge Shop to take a look around. Pip had a look at the range of crystal balls on offer. Crystal balls aren’t cheap if you want a good one – the larger ones were priced at £900. Pip was particularly taken by a medium-sized smoky quartz crystal ball.
She explained that for readings and/or meditation, it’s best not to use a clear crystal ball. The random, fractal markings and haziness within a smoky crystal ball are the key to engendering the mind state needed for “second sight” or for entering meditative trance.
“It’s very much like looking at clouds and seeing patterns in them,” she said. “If you do it for long enough it transports you into a visionary state of mind, which is good for psychic readings and for exploring the inner worlds of your subconscious and imagination.”
Once we’d finished at the Henge Shop, it was starting to get dark and was time to hit the road.
After leaving Avebury, we took the quiet country lanes going through Manton near Marlborough. I skirted round a sharp, tree-lined bend and slammed down hard on the brakes, with Pip screaming “look out!!!” I just stopped fast enough to avoid hitting a strange looking old woman who had been standing in the middle of the road.
“Did you see that?” I asked Pip.
“An old woman in the road,” she replied.
“Yes, but she’s not there now… can you see her?”
“No,” said Pip.
I got out of the car and looked around, but there was no sign of the old woman. I got back in the car, shrugged it off, and made for the hotel where we were staying.
Later that evening, I mentioned the incident to the manger of the hotel. He laughed and said, “well, you might have met the ghost woman of Manton…”
Apparently, back in 1906, one of the richest archaeological finds in the area was discovered. Husband and wife team, the Cunningtons, excavated Manton Barrow, and unearthed an elderly woman (later research showed she had suffered from severe arthritis).
Buried with the woman were various artefacts, including a bronze dagger, shale and amber beads, a gold-bound amber disc, and a piece of rock thought to have been a talisman.
The skeleton was removed from the barrow and ended up in a local shed, while the Cunningtons decided what to do with it (not exactly professional, but this was 1906).
The man looking after the skeleton was supposed to keep quiet about the find. Instead he merrily showed it to visitors and even gave one of the ancient woman’s finger-bones to an American friend.
A few days later, however, the man’s own finger began to hurt and eventually turned black. He had to have the finger amputated, but begged the doctors to let him keep the finger. They agreed and he duly took it home and replaced the missing finger on the old woman’s skeleton with his amputated finger.
Presumably he appeased the old woman’s spirit, as no more bad luck dogged him from then on.
But the saga of the ghostly woman from Manton didn’t end there…
An elderly lady living near Marlborough went to her local doctor in a state of terror, claiming that the “old creature” had visited her after dark, loping along on bony legs down the lane, then tapping and scratching on her cottage windows. After that she dreaded looking out of her window when it was dark for fear of the barrow-ghost gazing back at her with its terrible grinning skull.
The woman’s doctor solved the problem by giving her a medicinal draught laced with alcohol to help her sleep.
In the end, the Manton barrow-woman was laid to rest in her burial mound once again, where she remains to this day. But whether her spirit remains quiet is another thing. Maybe it was her we saw on the winding country lane near Manton…