Updated: Jul 30, 2021
Wayland's Smithy is an ancient monument lying quietly within a group of trees just off the Ridgeway. Walkers along the ancient chalk track would miss it if they didn't know of its location, yet I suspect it would have been very visible to travellers thousands of years ago at the time of the first phase of it's construction. First built as a long barrow with wooden reinforced burial chambers as long ago as 4000 BC, it was appropriated by another culture a thousand years later and the chambers rebuilt with huge stones.
The barrow and its surrounding stones seemed to have attracted the attention of the early Anglo Saxons. As they were pagan for some centuries after their arrival in England, the site became associated with the Germanic deity Wayland, or as these 5th and 6th century heathens would have known him in the Old English tongue – Weland or Waeland. He was known as the god of the smithy, of the forge and metalworking, and his anti-heroic saga told in the Poetic Edda. A deed for the surrounding land from 908 mentions the site as “Welandes Smith” so it's fair to assume that it did have importance to the Anglo Saxons.
As the medieval period went on the name Wayland's Smithy began to stick, and so it changed again, from a place of Germanic pagan worship to a more gentle yet still eerie area of folklore and legend.
It was said that should anyone be riding a horse along the Ridgeway past Wayland's Smithy and be missing a shoe, they had only to leave their mount for a time there, with a coin dropped into its opening, and they would return to find their steed newly shod. As time went on this tradition spread even to leaving shoes, with the obligatory coins, at the Smithy to be resoled. When first confronted by the massive stones that stand like gateposts either side of what was the tomb entrance, one can see how an imaginative mind could see it as the gateway to the underworld or to the workshop of a minor god.
The standing stones themselves hold mysteries within them as while they have been relocated as close to their original positions as possible there are still a couple missing, and the stones that are in situ have some curious shapes within them. One sarsen clearly has a face in it but it is upside down, appearing to be looking downwards. Was this to represent someone facing the underworld? We have no idea as the worldview and beliefs of people during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages are something our modern minds would not comprehend.
I have heard accounts of strange happenings at Wayland's Smithy in the modern age. Mysterious characters have appeared seemingly from nowhere and spoken with people visiting the monument at night, before walking off into the darkness. Floating lights have been seen around the chamber by people camping nearby. It is certainly a very atmospheric place when visited during the day and is held as a sacred place today both by modern druids, Anglo Saxonists and every kind of pagan in between. The TV series Robin of Sherwood featured a plotline where the mystical Wayland forged seven legendary swords including Robin's sword Albion. This may have been the origin of the tale I was told where Wayland was said to have created the sword Excalibur here at the Smithy.
Its close proximity to the Uffington White Horse and hillfort makes it a highly recommended place to visit, arrive there as early as you can, before others arrive, and soak up the atmosphere of this very unique ancient monument.
If you like these articles then you'll love The Mystery of Mercia - the book to accompany the articles - available at the link below. I take very deep dives into some of the most enduring mysteries of the Midlands.
Wayland's Smithy as approached from the path
The old entrance to the inner chambers
The entrance does have the air of a portal to the underworld
L- the sarsen stone as it is then, R - upside down, showing the face
Five of the Seven Swords of Wayland, as featured in Robin of Sherwood - all five were in the possession of the actor who played Friar Tuck for some years before he kindly donated them to a charity auction.