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The Devil’s Den

I swung just a little south of the Midlands to find some of the less visited places within the Avebury world heritage area, and took a big circular walk to the Devil's Den.

This very distinctive dolmen is what's left of a Neolithic chambered tomb, or long barrow if you prefer, which would have been in use long before the first stones were erected at Avebury. Nonetheless it stands in the "valley of the stones", the source of the Avebury sarsens and an interesting place in its own right.

Time, the elements and not a little looting and vandalism took their toll on Britain's long barrows, reducing many of them to piles of stones, but it is believed that a small number were actually built purely as dolmens in the first place, while some were always bare stone chambers with no earth covering them.

The antiquarian William Stukely sketched this dolmen in 1743, showing it in pretty much the same state as it's in now, but strangely he saw it as standing on a high mound - not at all what we see today. In his day it was sometimes called a Kist-Vaen, an old word for stone chambers not often used these days.

Why is it called the Devil's Den? Local folklore used to say that if one poured water in a hollow on the capstone, Satan himself would arrive at midnight and drink it! People often say that these names were assigned to ancient sites by "the church" but the truth is that in most cases it was just local folk adding their own lore to the place.

This is a very peaceful spot, miles from anyone and anything, well worth the long walk to find it and meditate on a 5000 year old building where the Devil drinks!

I take a tour of the ancient sites of the Cotswolds and Wiltshire in my book The Mystery Of Mercia II - available now at the link in the comments.

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