For the real Claire Wheatley
It begins at Avebury, in the late July of a cool, wet summer turned suddenly warm and dry. The Marlborough Downs shimmer in a haze of unfamiliar heat. Skylarks sing in the breezeless air above the sheep-cropped turf. The sun burns high and brazen. And the stones stand, lichened and eroded, sentinels over nearly five thousand years of history.
It begins, then, in a place whose origins and purposes are obscured by antiquity. Why Neolithic henge-builders should have devoted so much time and effort to constructing a great ramparted stone circle at Avebury, as well as a huge artificial hill less than a mile away, at Silbury, is as unknown as it is unknowable.
It begins, therefore, in a landscape where the unexplained and the inexplicable lie still and close, where man-made markers of a remote past mock the set and ordered world that is merely the flickering, fast-fleeing present.
* * *
Saxon settlers gave Avebury its modern name a millennium and a half ago. They founded a village within its protective ditch and bank. Over the centuries, as the village grew, many of the stones were moved or buried. Later, they were used as building material, the ditch as a rubbish-dump. The henge withered.
Then, in the 1930s, came Alexander Keiller, the marmalade millionaire and amateur archaeologist. He bought up and demolished half the village, raised the stones, cleared the ditch, restored the circle. The clock was turned back. The National Trust moved in. The henge flourished anew – a monument and a mystery.
* * *
Nearly forty years have passed since the Trust's purchase of Keiller's land holdings at Avebury.