Avebury Megalithic Stone Circle
By Correspondent Matthew Mason in Swindon, England
In a county famous for stone circles in a country with the highest concentration of that type of monument, I am proud to be born and bred in Wiltshire. Though Stonehenge is the global face of this still rather rural county, many visitors find charm in its wealth of Neolithic monuments including burial mounds, barrows and hill forts – not to mention the white horses (most of which are not Neolithic at all by the way).
Most notable is Europe’s largest megalithic stone circle. It is just as famous as Stonehenge and every year, visitors flock to see it and the village that sits inside the main circle (the circle is an impressive 331m across). The Saxons established the church there and most of the structures of the settlement dates to around the 17th century. This was a very superstitious time where there was a very real fear of witchcraft and the devil around every corner. Naturally then, many of the ghost stories established around Avebury have their origins at this time.
The Stones Move!
There are so many ghost stories to choose from and no shortage of sources discussing them; the most interesting centres on the stones themselves. The superstitious locals of the 17th and 18th centuries believed that the circle had once been the centre of devil worship. Some of the stones were destroyed because they were believed to have satanic influence.
The most curious story concerns the most curious of the stones. The main road through the village runs from Swindon to the nearby early medieval town of Devizes and beyond. There is one stone that everybody remembers because it backs right onto the road – “The Swindon Stone”; it is a distinct diamond shape. It has been witnessed on several occasions to cross the road at midnight only to reappear in its original position minutes later.
Another curious stone appears to have a seat carved into its centre. It is called “The Devil’s Chair” and there was a story going around our school that it was named such because when you sit in it and look up through the hole above, the devil should appear over the stone. Despite trying many times, this never happened to me! Contemporary pagans use it as a sort of throne in their rituals.
Spirits in the Pub? Hmmmm
We can joke that seeing spirits in the pub is caused by the consumption of too many spirits from the bar, but if there is one ghost story that persists it is that of the village’s one and only watering establishment. Established in the early 17th century, it was for the first two hundred years of its life a farmhouse. Granted a license to serve alcohol in the early 19th century, it became a coach-house Inn. The pub is said to be home to at least five spirits. The first is a phantom coach which is seen and heard clip-clopping across the courtyard. Landlords live in fear of hearing and seeing this phantom as it is said to be a harbinger of doom.
The second is of a woman named Florrie. She was the wife of a Civil War (1642-51) veteran and on his unexpected return from battle he discovered that she was unfaithful with a local man. The husband shot the lover and then cut Florrie’s throat before throwing her into the well (which was once outside but is now in the main bar). Florrie has been seen as a woman in white emerging from the well and passing through the main room. People who have reported seeing her have later developed scratches on their arms. Some sources suggest that she is drawn to bearded men. Other spirits include two children cowering in the master bedroom accompanied by a woman sat writing at a desk – we know nothing of their story.
Most of the houses have a ghost story to tell and other apparitions have been spotted in and around the stones as well as the Great Barn and the Manor House. Avebury appears to have the greatest number of hauntings per square mile anywhere in the world and the Red Lion pub rightly claims its place as the most haunted Inn in the world.
MG Mason is a full-time freelance writer from Swindon in England who has a degree in archaeology. He enjoys spending his summers at Avebury, walking the stones and sampling local beers at The Red Lion.