Sunday, 27 March 2016

Wayland's Smithy

I do have a penchant for visiting prehistoric sites! On one afternoon while away I visited two famous sites on the Wiltshire Downs east of Swindon - not actually in the Cotswolds, but easily reached from them. The first was Wayland's Smithy, which is an ancient chambered long barrow with big toothlike stones at its entrance. It took its present form about 5,500 years ago.

It was an easy a walk of one and a half miles to get to it, along the Ridgeway (itself an ancient track). Wayland's Smithy is in a lonely spot up on a rise, and originally wouldn't have been half-hidden by trees, but exposed to view for miles around. It could certainly have been seen from one of the other prehistoric features in the vicinity, Uffington Castle (an ancient hilltop fort nearly 3,000 years old). Here's the fort:

Close to Uffington Castle is the internationally-known Uffington White Horse - which I shall leave to the next post - and most people who leave their car in the National Trust car park down the hill make straight for the Horse. I don't suppose many casual visitors attempt to do both the Smithy and the Horse on the same day, because they are in opposite directions along the Ridgeway. But there is always someone who will. You know, a keen photographic type such as myself.

Wayland was a legendary smith (see famous for his skill in making magical swords and magical rings. In myth he got captured by a king who made him his slave, maiming him so that he couldn't run away. I think Wayland had the last laugh though.

It's easy to see how the interior of the long barrow that bears his name - unroofed now, except for the huge stones that cap the burial chambers - might seem to the ignorant and superstitious very much like a smith's den (though admittedly one on the cramped side), containing furnace, anvil, and all the tools of his trade. I clambered in and had a look around inside:

Crouching inside, you could look out at the imposing entrance - although originally this part would have been roofed over and there would have been no view, just a small opening to wriggle through.

I didn't feel up to experiencing what it might be like to curl up inside one of the three burial chambers, although the thought of doing so crossed my mind. But daring young lovers must have come here at night from time to time, to have ritual coitus, and if so they would have found it chilly but otherwise quite dry and comfortable. It's an out-of-the-way spot, and they wouldn't have been interrupted.

The entrance and chambers are all at one end of the very long mound, which is edged by smaller stones. 

Inevitably, as a photographer, I paid most attention to the big entrance stones.

There was of course an information board. 

I studied that, and then moved on. I wanted to see the Horse.


  1. When you get your trip to Orkney try crawling into the tomb of the eagles, that was a real wriggle. Not sure that I could manage it now... There are ancient stones galore up there to keep you happy..

  2. ..And when you've done with wiggling in Orkney, I can recommend the Fogou at Trelowarren.

    I've visited Kennet long barrow a few times, but not heard of the Wayland's Smithy one before, so thank you for writing about it. Since I share you fascination for the prehistoric, I shall definitely plan a visit.


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