Driving along the A4 road, between Marlborough and Beckhampton, very close to the village of Avebury (famous for its stone circles), a curious (odd-looking may be a more appropriate description) hill distracts all but the most unimaginative of motorist's attention.
Legend holds that the Devil, on his way to Marlborough to deposit an absolutely immense shovel full of earth on the town (it is unknown to this author exactly what the townsfolk of Marlborough had done to irk the Devil into such an act) when he passed a cobbler, labouring to the town with a large sack full of old shoes on his back. Asking the cobbler how much further it was to the town, the wise cobbler, recognising his fellow traveller as the Devil, replied:
"Oh, it is a long, long way yet." Opening his sack and showing the Devil its contents of at least one hundred old and broken shoes, the cobbler continued with his cunning reply. "I have already worn out all of these shoes on my journey to Marlborough, and am likely to wear out as many again before I reach the town."
At this news, the Devil immediately gave up his plan of buring Marlborough under his giant shovel full of earth and instead deposited its contents into the field to the side of the road - thus forming Silbury Hill (SU 100 685).
Folklore is ripe at most unusual and awe-inspiring monuments and locations in Britain and Ireland, but is particularly evocative at this Wiltshire site given that centuries of research and overly intrusive excavations (the hill suffered some severe damage in 2000 after heavy rainfall collapsed an old shaft that had been drilled from the height of Silbury Hill down to its base in a fruitless search for ancient burials beneath the structure) have failed time and time again to discern the exact reason and function for the creation of this prehistoric earth mound.
That, of course, is not to say that science has not discovered a few interesting facts about the hill:
- the site has been radio carbon dated to c. 2500B.C.
- the hill is constructed from chalk excavated from the surrounding landscape
- the hill is 40 metres high, its base covers some 5 acres and has a diameter of some 167 metre and the 248 cubic metre construction would have involved some 18,000,000 man hours to complete
- the discovery of the remnants of winged ants within the hill indicates that work commenced on Silbury Hill during an August month
- the monument was not originally circular but was of a polyhedron design - erosion has rounded the hill to its present shape
- more Roman finds have been unearthed at and around Silbury Hill than any other period and this has been explained by the discovery (in March 2007) of a Roman village (the size of 24 football pitches) at the foot of the monument.
But all these interesting nuggets of information ultimately serve to do is maginify the enigma that is the exact purpose for which Silbury Hill was built. Here, once again, legend, folklore as well as New Age theorists come to the fore with a mind-boggling array of explanations an suppositions:
- Silbury Hill is the burial place of King Sil (Zil), said to have been buried here whilst still sat astride his sturdy steed
- the monument was a solar obsevatory - a giant sundial as it were
- it was created as a symbolic effigy of the ancient Mother Goddess
- the hill was designed as a huge, elevated platform for Druid sacrifice
- the hill is an integral point in ancient leyline alignments.
Many theorists on the history of Silbury Hill also take a particular interest in the ditch which surrounds this prehistoric mound. Whilst the material removed to form this ditch was undoubtedly used in the creation of Silbury Hill, it is believed that the ditch was constructed for its own particular purpose rather than to just provide further material to bulk out the monument itself. Whilst some believe the ditch was formed to act as a kind of barrier to keep evil spirits from making a home for themselves on the hill, others are of the opinion that it was made to accommodate a reservoir and would have been filled with water brought from local springs as well as from the nearby River Kennet. It can only be imagined how beautiful the site would have been surrounded by a ring of clear - mirror-like water.
Unfortunately, there is no longer any public access to Silbury Hill. The reason for this is that the continual erosion that would result from people trampling over the hill would have a detrimental effect on the wildlife present on the monument. 2.3 hectares of the hill have been notified as a biological site of Special Scientific Interest due to the presence of the rare Knapweed Broomrape growing there. There is, however, a car park at the site capable of accommodating around 20 cars/buses. Whilst the views from this parking spot of Europe's largest man-made hill are spectacular, perhaps a better, certainly more evocative, view of the hill can be seen by crossing the road from the car park and heading towatds the nearby West Kennet Long Barrow. Along this ancient track, set amongst rolling pastures full of wild flowers bird song, a large tree, decorated with lots of bows and other ephemera tied to its twigs and branches is soon reached. This is a Dressed Pagan Tree, with each item tied to it being a request for hopes, desires and requests to be fulfilled - the perfect, magical setting in which to view one of Britain's finest and most enigmatic of places - Silbury Hill.