Thursday, September 25, 2008

East Kennet longbarrow

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No facts and figures for this large barrow, sitting so quietly in the landscape hidden by trees. It is probably as magnificent as West Kennet longbarrow, but has yet escaped the trowel and brutality of archaeology which would delve into its innards to discover yet more secrets.

Silbury and West Kennet longbarrow viewed from the path
The sun is bright overhead, bales lay round the great golden fields of stubble, and in the distance a farm machine lies idle. Walking up the path, the dog loping ahead, leaving the crowded atmosphere of Avebury behind, the only person we meet is riding a white horse.

One of the great treats in walking this part of the Wiltshire Downs, apart from the great sloping fields is the fact that you can look back towards Silbury outlined against a blue sky, because the mound is in a dip she seems to be facing West Kennet longbarrow entrance, the two brought together by present time, yet apart in past time.
Turning into the field you can look down on the hamlet of East Kennet its church spire snuggly surrounded by houses and cottages, a great fringe of trees protecting them.

The barrow itself is enormous when you get close covered in a mass of wild vegetation and great trees, both dead and alive, it is strangely a living force in the landscape, a marriage that makes England what it is, the neat hedgerows and fields defining a 5000 year old tomb buried in nature's exuberance. Both live and dead nettles greet you in the green growth stinging sandalled feet, a tree lies fallen, a silvered skeleton of branches echoing the bones beneath.
The barrow faces down towards the village and church, but of course also towards the little river Kennet. Stand at its side, Silbury and West Kennet barrow in the distance, is this territorial spacing, land divided, or a tribal divide, we will never know but both barrows face towards the Ridgeway asserting their dominance in the landscape. Also there is a neat trick that EK plays on you, walking up you think that it is on a slope but walk its great length and it seems to be on the straight. A couple of sarsens can be seen protruding, the badger has helped here, evidence of badger holes, scraping out the chalk so that it lies like white litter amongst the green grass.

There is evidence of badger all round, scraps of fur where they have been fighting, should we remove them? my answer is no, their damage is no greater, and indeed far less, then any excavation would produce. And if like its sister barrow at West Kennet, East Kennet was exposed to full glory there would be thousands of visitors spoiling its peace and harmony, its secrets are best left to the future.

What about the trees you may ask, they must surely damage the stones beneath, my answer has always been how many trees do you think have grown, died and rotted on this barrow over 5000 years, true, the present trees are probably planted deliberately for cover of wild birds but if you look at the plate of their roots you will see how shallow they are, a dying tree rots above the ground as well as below.

East Kennet

In winter the great long shape of the longbarrow will be revealed and perhaps that is the best time to visit it to appreciate its height and size.
West Kennet was 'closed' down by a later different religion, its ancestor worship no longer valid in a world that had tasted the excitement of bronze and gold, life was taking a different path from worship of the earth and its fertility, but these great longbarrows with their facade of stones and neat stalled chambers remind us of other cultures that once lived in this land, and no I can't verify that East Kennet will have a facade or stalls but surely it must have echoed its sister barrow in elegance.


  1. Right, this is now noted to visit next time we're at Avebury (we were there twice this summer as my daughter was on the Stonehenge River Project for a month). We tend to go to our favourite bits at Avebury, because we are normally on our way to or from somewhere, but I think we could do with a Holiday . . .

  2. I spent a fascinating hour last night pouring over my books to find out more about it - similar length to W. Kennet (4 feet longer I believe) . . . and contemporary too.