Avebury burial mound© 2003
I did it! I did it! I made it to the long barrow (stone age burial mound) at Avebury!
After I'd visited the local pub, the Red Lion, of course!
I'd eyed it up once or twice before but decided it was too far for me to manage. This time I half decided to get there then having parked in the pull in on the main road from which I could actually see it in the misty blue distance, I graphically recalled the pain it would cause me. So being the coward I am I drove off and went to visit Silbury hill again.
It was built 4400 years ago and at 100 feet high is the largest man made hill in the world. Although its true purpose is still a mystery, I am convinced it was nothing more than a way for the druids to get closer to their Gods, either for the purposes of worship or possibly sacrifices. I left Silbury, only 3 or 4 hundred yards from the long barrow, and at the last moment pulled in yet again by the entrance gate to it. I had decided. I was going to do it.
If you look closely you can see the barrow (burial mound) slightly to the right of the path on top of the hill
It was only a mile or so away, but up a steep dusty incline. As I passed one or two people on their way down with comments such as "This had better be worth it!" much to their amusement I plodded stalwartly upward and onward. At first I had something to aim for as the burial mound could be seen and beckoned me with the mystery of history (blimey, that rhymed!). But then the track dipped sharply down and my goal disappeared. By now I was getting tired, staggering sideways and my hair was wildly windswept, making me, I should imagine a mildly alarming figure! As a group of new age hippies passed I said "It had better be true that there's a pub up there!". They all laughed and one girl said "you look as though you need a pint!"
Then finally I arrived. I turned to see how far I had come, looking for the Range Rover. It was almost invisible, a small blue dot in the distance!
Look how far I'd walked! Don't forget one of my legs is paralysed. I was getting exhausted!
Blimey, I hope I had the strength to get down again or there would be extra remains discovered here in the morning! The tomb was built around 3500 BC, about 5500 years ago. It is 300 feet long with the burial chamber at one end. It was in use for around a thousand years with up to 50 people were buried there, clearly not all the local community. It is thought it was used by the ruling clan. An eery atmosphere pervaded the place, the guardian stones surrounding the entrance silently keeping their age-old secrets of strange burial rituals and the grief of those left behind.
Entrance to the tomb
I tentatively crept down the two stone steps leading to the entrance marvelling at the centuries, no millennia of wear on them. I shut my eyes and tried to imagine the dress and looks of those involved. Scary! Inside were 5 separate stone chambers, each now unblocked for the tourist's satisfaction. Most of the large stones were local, but the smaller infill ones were brought from 30 miles away! After emerging from this almost spiritual experience, I clambered up to the top of the mound and was greeted by the most fantastic view of the Wiltshire countryside.
To the left was Silbury hill, to the right was my car (!) and across the rolling downs could be seen bright yellow fields of rape glistening in the bright sunlight. By now my solitude had been broken by the arrival of several tourists, some American and some English. As I chatted to two women from Birmingham (UK) it transpired that one had actually bought something from my old antique shop! Small world.
Downhill is much harder and slower for me than uphill as my paralysed leg is always stuck on the ground when I want the damn thing to move! But I just relaxed into a steady gait (or should that be an unsteady gait!?), fixed my gaze on the Range Rover a million miles below, and thought of collapsing into the seat! I finally arrived and after a few minutes recovering set off for the science museum at Wroughton.
I had often intended to go there but with its erratic opening hours never quite made it. It is really the overflow from the London science museum for its larger objects. And there was certainly space for them! The museum is set in several huge aircraft hangars on a massive disused wartime airfield. These hangars are of gargantuan proportions, being built for the largest WW11 bombers.
And they needed to be. In the first is a Lockheed Constellation and 7 or 8 other planes. In the other is a comet 4 and a Trident jet airliner plus myriad other flying inventions. I got talking to the knowledgeable staff who were fascinated by my father's role in several of these aircraft. I hadn't even realised they were there, but it soon dawned on me that they played a big part in my early life. The constellation reminded me that my father was chief designer of Lockheed aircraft in America. The Trident was the World's first Jet airliner to have an autolanding system, which my father invented. The Comet 4 was the world's first jet airliner and its chief test pilot, John "cats eyes" Cunningham was a friend of dads and I had met him. He was a tall spindly guy but with remarkable piecing eyes. He was a wartime ace due to his above average nighttime vision.
After snapping everything in sight I ventured up the stairs into the Comets bowels. It was gloomy and worn in there-the comet came into service in 1958, but not THAT different in seating arrangement to today's short haul jets. And more leg room! The cockpit was exactly as it was when operational and I stared in amazement at the myriad controls facing the pilots. Probably well over 100. After I gingerly got down the stairs, I was invited into the offices for a cup of tea and regaled the captivated staff with what tales I could remember from my childhood. I finally dragged myself away and on the way home called into a local hacienda type hotel for a snack. I suddenly realised I had eaten nothing all day!
Inside the Comet IV cabin. This was the World's first commercial jet airliner. Designed in 1948 it still looks modern!
The Comet's cockpit. A mind boggling array of instruments!
An antique bathchair in the museum
An antique English bicycle known as the boneshaker!
Known affectionately as the Noddy car, this was the main form of transport for disabled people until fairly recently! With only three wheels, corners were taken EXTREMELY slowly!
As I parked I noticed dozens of police vans and cars in the car park. I realised these were the patrol vehicles for Fairford airport from where the Iraq attacks were launched. Several out of uniform policemen were sitting around so I said in a stage whisper to the barman "I'm on the run, is this a safe place to hide?" Several people laughed at this and I soon got chatting to an inspector. Apparently they were paid for 8 hours on shift then paid for sleeping 8 hours as they were away from home! On Easter bank holiday he got double time plus an allowance and was paid for 52 hours work in one day! Even he said that was ridiculous! Having eaten my fill (potato skins) I finally set off for home, 8 hours after I left. Another satisfying day!