I have walked through the Greywethers drift many times; today I was in the unusual position of leading three 'walking' friends who had never seen them before up to Fyfield Down. The Polisher first; where an ominous mist descended - we were not deterred and descended diagonally across the bumpy stone-strewn downland towards the Herepath. In the distance a pair of brown deer leaped their way across our line of vision.
As we made our way across the Herepath and around the sarsen 'greywethers' the mist disolved and the pale January sun made an appearence again. One of my friends was plotting a route for a guided walk so following the OS map we picked up a green track along a field boundary. A word of caution - perhaps because of the recent snow there were many potentially ankle-turning deep crevices and holes in the ground so not a good place to walk alone at this time of year.
Most people who experience Fyfield Down for the first time are astonished that somewhere so wild and ancient still existed in Wiltshire. My three friends were no exception. Words used - misty and mystical.
Fyfield Down and Overton Down Wilshire, near Avebury, the Sanctuary and the Ridgeway.
The megalithic trail of limestone blocks from which the ancients tooks stones to nearby Avebury leads from a footpath starting of the A4 near Fyfield up a climb to Overton Hill. Instantly you stumble across grey blocks which lie in the field like the sheep after which they are named. Following the river of blocks through a farm yard and on the far side in the overgrown hedge are two standing stones, about two to two and a half metres tall. Backtrack up past the barn and up the hill to Overton to where sarsen stones stand in a raw, wild landscape. This stands up above Avebury, but travel west across the gallops and you stumble upon the most awesome sight of all as hundreds of massive stones lay in a valley. This is a truly amazing place. It just doesn't seem real. A landscape completely alien to any other I have seen in Wiltshire, perhaps even the UK, and yet to the ancients must have been truly significant beyond merely a source of stone for the nearby rings and avenues. This site was the one I think Julian must have visited, although I didn't, know it by the name he used. Travel west past the massive rocks, south up over the hill through the lane to drop back onto the main A4 at Fyfield. Best in the rain or winter weather, when a sense of the gathering storm adds even more magic to an already impressive landscape.
I was enquiring for the Sarsen Stones or Grey Wethers, when only about a furlong from them, but an old man and his neice did not know either name; at last they suggested that what I was seeking was what they called the Thousand Stones. The man told me (what I had heard before) that the stones certainly grew; he had seen this, for, when he was a boy, there were not nearly so many, nor were they so large, as now. (June 1901.)
Scraps of Folklore Collected by John Philipps Emslie
C. S. Burne
Folklore, Vol. 26, No. 2. (Jun. 30, 1915), pp. 153-170.
Two widely spaced letters about the threats to the stones:
To the editor of The Times.
Sir, -- [..] you will perhaps agree with me in the regret, amounting to horror, which I have just felt in observing, as I passed the "Gray Wethers" on Marlborough-downs, that the utilitarian work of destruction is actually breaking up these ancient stone, whether for repairing the roads or extending the herbage I know not.
Surely no modern barbarian, whether he be a commissioner of the turnpikes or a wealthy agriculturist, has any better right to deprive his country of these fine Druidic relics of the earliest age than he has to blow up Stonehenge and then to chip it into fragments; or to level the stupendous barrow of Silbury-hill in order to bring a few more acres into cultivation.
What are the county members, or the county magistrates, about, to suffer this work of spoilation to proceed! Are there no newspapers in Wiltshire! [..] Antiquarius.
The Times, Wednesday, Aug 12, 1840; pg. 3
[..] In consequence of a recent change of ownership.. there is every probability that the work of breaking up the Sarsens will be undertaken on a greatly extended scale.. the Grey Wethers in Pickle Dean and Lockeridge Dean would be the first to go, owing to their situation adjacent to high roads – while for the same reason their disappearance would be a greater loss to the public than the disappearance of those in more remote parts of the Downs.
[..] it was felt that steps ought to be taken to secure the preservation of some characteristic examples of the stones in their natural condition, and representations were made to the owner by the National Trust and the Wiltshire Archaeological Society. Mr. Alec Taylor, the present owner, met the representatives of the two societies in a friendly spirit; he stated at once that he intended to preserve.. the Devil's Den, and, after some further negotiations, he has given the National Trust an option to purchase about 11 acres in Pickle Dean and about 9 acres in Lockeridge Dean for £500 [..]
The Times, Friday, Jul 05, 1907; pg. 4
The stones were bought by the National Trust in 1907.
From the Diary of Richard Symonds, on Fyfield, 1644.
a place so full of grey pibble stone of great bignes as is not usually seene; they breake them and build their houses of them and walls, laying mosse betweene, the inhabitants calling them Saracens' stones, and in this parish [deposit] a mile and a halfe in length, they lie so thick as you may go upon them all the way. They call that place the Grey-weathers, because afar off they look like a flock of Sheepe.
Yes he really did say 'Sheepe'. But I do like the image of him hopping from one stone to another, the whole length of the stones.
quoted in 'Sarsens' by H C Brentnall in v51 (1945/6) of Wiltshire Archaeology magazine.
"Grey Wethers or Sarsen Stones" is a cartographic shorthand (some of these stones really do look like sheep from a distance) and crops up on the map all over Fyfield and Overton Down. There may be some confusion caused by the use of this name therefore. It should not be confused with the Greywethers stone circle in Devonshire.
A circle of sarsens, no longer extant, suggested by Grinsell to be a possible bowl barrow (Preshute 10a) with peristalith. Excavation in 1849 by Merewether recovered quantities of pottery, animal bones and worked flints, plus a single sherd of samian ware.
SU 130725. The approximate site of a possible bowl barrow, Merewether's No 29, which is described as - A 16' diam circle of sarsens of which only 7 remained. In the centre were 5 of similar size surrounding one lying flat between them. The central stone was raised revealing an intrusive sherd of samian. Many pieces of rude, thick pottery, deer and ox bones, charcoal and an ochre-like substance were found. Near the natural chalk there were a large number of pieces of worked flint. (1-2) Field under crop. No trace of a barrow. (3)
No barrow was recorded when the area was mapped at 1:10,000 from APs by the Fyfield Down and Overton Down Mapping Project. The grid reference cited above lies very close to a bank which is part of a field system, now eroded by ploughing. (4)
A double row of sarsens possibly representing a stone alignment. The presence of sarsens could not be confirmed from an air photographic survey in 1995.
(Centred SU 13687297) Double row of sarsen holes, eight on the SW and 12 on the NE. (1)
This area was mapped at 1:10,000 from APs by the Fyfield Down and Overton Down Mapping Project. The presence of sarsen holes could not be confirmed by the AP survey. (2)
Bronze Age round barrow cemetery comprising bowl barrows Preshute 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, & 9b. At least four still survive as mounds. Barrow 9 may possibly have been a pond barrow.
(Centred SU 13657295) Tumuli (NR). (1)
Rough Hill Group of bowl barrows, all listed by Grinsell. [Concordance between Ordnance Survey and Grinsell:
'A' = Preshute 4, 'B' = Preshute 5, 'C' = Preshute 6, 'D' = Preshute 7, 'E' = Preshute 8, 'F' = Preshute 9, 'G' = Preshute 9b]
'A' SU 13607295. Very ill defined, diam 16 paces; height 1'.
'B' SU 13657294. Slight ditch, diam 7 paces; height 1'.
'C' SU 13677294. Slight ditch, diam 12 paces; height 3'.
'D' SU 13687293. Diam 13 paces; height 3'.
Cairn mainly of sarsens.
'E' SU 13507297. Diam 14 paces; height 3'.
'F' SU 13777296. Diam 17 paces; height nil.
Large circular hollow with sarsens at bottom, surrounded by a rim of earth; like a pond barrow lined with sarsens, but probably not.
'G' SU 13707294. Possible barrow found by Grinsell in 1938, re-visited 1950. Diam 7 paces; height 1/2'. (2)
"A" A bowl barrow up to 18.0 metres in diameter and 0.3 metres high. In a very poor condition.
"B" A bowl barrow up to 8.0 metres in diameter and 0.3 metres high with vestiges of a ditch.
"C" A bowl barrow 13.0 metres in diameter and 0.9 metres high with vestiges of a ditch.
"D" A bowl barrow 12.0 metres in diameter and 0.9 metres high with a large stone content.
"E" A badly mutilated bowl barrow approximately 24.0 metres in diameter and up to 0.7 metres high. In a poor condition.
"F" There is no trace of this feature on the ground; ? ploughed out.
"G" A possible bowl barrow 6.5 metres in diameter and 0.3 metres high.
Published 25" survey revised. (3)
This area was mapped at 1:10,000 from APs by the Fyfield Down and Overton Down Mapping Project. Mounds were recorded at SU 13607295, SU 13657294, SU 13677294 and SU 13507297 ('A', 'B', 'C' and 'E' above). The mounds described as 'D', 'F' and 'G' above were not confirmed by the AP survey. (4-5)
Possible cup markings identified on a sarsen in Delling Penning. The stone "is situated within an old field and a few feet from the edge of a baulk running downhill from north west to south east, between the south western corner of Totterdown Wood and Delling Cottage".
SU 135715: Twenty well-preserved cup-markings on the south east slope of a recumbent sarsen stone in Delling Penning. The stone is situated within an old field and a few feet from the edge of a baulk running downhill from north west to south east, between the south western corner of Totterdown Wood and Delling Cottage. (1) The sarsen is at SU 13437152 and is as described by Lacaille. The markings are not easily distinguished, and are of uncertain origin, though they cannot easily be dismissed as natural. Photograph not practicable. (2) Scheduled, National Number 33951. (3)