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As result of our last article, we’ve had some enquiries about where ARE the sheep these days. This article, from 2011, may throw a bit of light on it, but not enough…

We took the above photograph at Avebury at the weekend having been struck by the number of visitors expressing puzzlement over why sheep were allowed where others weren’t.

We know that grazing is beneficial and that, as the National Trust says on its website, “Managing this fragile archaeological environment is a constant balancing act. Regular work includes monitoring sheep and cattle grazing, erosion control, scrub management and protecting buried remains from burrowing animals” but a word of explanation on their information boards would be helpful.

The same applies to English Heritage at Silbury. A few years ago a fortune was spent on new fencing and specially selected sheep were put on there. However, it looked to us that contrary to assurances they were creating a lot of damage and forming lots of new pathways (and that might well have been seen as a justification by some people to go on the Hill themselves). However, the tactics weren’t fully explained at the time and now the sheep seem to be missing and the fences aren’t being maintained.

At both venues, a few words of explanation on the notice boards would be helpful. This is after all the Big Society!

A visitor from Latvia has photographed “a large dark animal much bigger than a cat” on the slopes of Silbury Hill.


silbury beast.

Balandžio Pirmosios was on his way to meet friends at Avebury when he spotted the creature about half way up the monument. He said “My nephew took a picture as we drove by but when we turned round and drove past again there was no sign of it. I was amazed at how quickly it disappeared.”

This is not the first such report. Seven years ago an American tourist reported seeing “a largish, dark creature moving slowly up the mound”. Local archaeologist Peter Stoner from Marlborough believes he may have an explanation. “It’s possible there are several of these creatures, most probably lynxes, and they could be living inside the mound, making use of the voids which English Heritage said would develop at the top of the tunnels they filled.”

A spokesperson for English Heritage said they had left some voids and these were expected to enlarge over time but they were unable to confirm for certain whether there were lynxes living in them.

Silbury during Summer solstice sunrise, 2015. Image credit Jim Mitchell, Heritage Action.

Silbury at Summer solstice sunrise, 2015. [ Image credit Jim Mitchell, Heritage Action. ]

An excerpt fom Bill Bryson’s latest book, “The Road to Little Dribbling”:

“Just over a mile from Avebury is something about as amazing and possibly even more memorable than Avebury itself: Silbury Hill. This is not a National Trust property, so the Trust doesn’t draw visitors’ attention to it. That is unfortunate, for Silbury Hill is a wonder. It is 130 feet high – about the height of a ten-storey building – and is entirely made by hand. It is the tallest artificial prehistoric mound in the world. There is nothing like it anywhere else. It is covered in grass and is uniform all the way round. It is sensationally lovely to look at. It is genuinely perfect. It deserves to be world famous.

It has been a difficult decision as the standard of entries has been very high but in the end we felt Picnic Silbury by Mark Camp deserved the prize.

Disney silbury

Rumours that one of the reasons it was chosen was that it reminded us of one of our earliest Megameet picnics are perfectly accurate.

(Mark is a  Tour Guide & Author at

We’re getting quite a few entries for this competition. Many thanks to everyone that has entered. We’ll leave it open for another week, until Feb 15th and announce a winner soon after that.

Inspired by English Heritage’s New Dawn Competition in which people were given silhouettes of Stonehenge to place in front of photographs we thought it would be interesting if Silbury Hill could be used in the same way.

So here’s the basic image ….

Sil basic

and here’s our attempt to “relocate” the Hill …

Sil seaside

No doubt you can do better. Please send us your own ideas. (There’s a small prize for the best – or funniest!)


Whilst wider interest is particularly welcome in the jewel in the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site crown, as many may be attracted to visit yet remain unaware there is no public access to this ancient mound the following reminder of Silbury Hill’s history is perhaps in order:

This largest prehistoric chalk built structure in the world was started 4,500 years ago, but it has been closed to the public since 1974 due to the erosion of prehistoric archaeology by climbers. Having been purchased by Sir John Lubbock in the 1870s in order to protect it, Silbury Hill is still privately owned by Lord Avebury and is in the guardianship of English Heritage. Silbury Hill is safeguarded by legislation under the Ancient Monument Preservation Act, having been one of the first monuments placed under its protection in 1882, it is also protected by SSSI status because of its extraordinary long record in relation to its flora and fauna.

On 29 May 2000 a collapse was noticed in the summit of Silbury Hill, after infill sunk within a top to bottom vertical shaft cut in 1776 that was undermined by tunnels cut in 1849 & 1968. Over £1.5M was spent on repairs and investigation completed in 2008. English Heritage are now instigating new notices, fences and other measures to deter climbers, because ruts are being worn through the surface, destroying highly vulnerable irreplaceable prehistoric archaeology. As tempting as it is therefore, let us all hope all the folk visiting Silbury Hill will resist trespassing and further damaging the mound.

[ See also the recent BBC report on the “spectacular damage” being caused by trespassers on the hill. ]

Soon to be displaced as kings of the hill?

Soon to be displaced as kings of the hill?

Thanks to the internet there are disinterested duck farmers in Dohar who will tell you that Silbury Hill was started in August because flying ants were found in turf at it’s base (August being the usual month of their emergence, nuptual flight and demise). The conflicting news – that no flying ants were revealed in the recent investigations or in a recent re-analysis of Prof Atkinson’s 1960s archive [other than a blurred photo of a slide (now lost) of some wings labelled as from Silbury’s base] – has been a lot slower to travel. As has the reality that the mortal remains of flying ants can remain intact within turf for many a month. So the ants have managed to maintain their position as the poster boys of the Hill. Until now….



It seems that earthworm faeces can be used to measure past temperatures. Scientists from the universities of Reading and York report that calcium carbonate nodules produced by worms and dug up from archaeological sites give a unique measure of the ancient local temperatures. The data can be sensitive to variations in time, as well as being geographically specific and the scientists are currently focussing on samples recovered from Silbury Hill. (Of particular interest might be the dark base layer speculated by Jim Leary to have been produced by worms).

Whether this “new terrestrial palaeothermometer” as it has been termed will eventually suggest Silbury was commenced in August or at some other time of year is yet to become clear but it seems that the 110,000 results you get by typing Silbury ants into Google could soon be eclipsed by Silbury worms!

SAM_0582 - Copy

The problem of unauthorised climbing of Silbury persists. In January Avebury Parish Council noted that “The fence around Silbury Hill had broken down and there was no warning sign ‘do not climb’” and in March the Chairman reported he had attended a meeting there with English Heritage staff and that a decision had been made to mend the fence around the base of the Hill, improve signage and place dead blackthorn branches in selected places to deter access. (It had been put to them that hawthorn hedging could be planted to make access more difficult but EH staff on site were concerned this would give cover for burrowing animals such as rabbits.) As can be seen from our photograph taken last weekend neither fences nor signs nor anything else seem to deter some people.

EH had also noted that “the grass surface of the Hill had recovered remarkably rapidly due to the track to the north side of the monument currently being under water.” However, that’s no great comfort as the water will soon be gone and in any case the issue is not damage to the grass but to the surface of the hill, which will never recover. In addition, as can be seen at the top left of our photograph, yet another new footpath has been formed, leading straight up to the summit.

If anyone has any ideas how to discourage those who do this we’d be glad to publish them. We can’t help thinking the key is in the wording on the notices. The two young fellows on the photograph were being watched by four girls they arrived with and it’s possible there is very often an element of “showing off” involved so our own suggestion for the wording would be this…..

Sil sign

Postcards to friends of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site


Silbury Hill is an acoustic roots and folk rock duo consisting of Scott Dolling (flute, guitar, vocals) and David Stainer (guitars, mandolin, vocals). Based in East Anglia they play a lively blend of original songs plus covers by popular artistes. The duo have performed at festivals, events and in clubs and bars throughout the region as well as a number of appearances in France (including the national Fete de la Musique festival). They have played live radio sessions and supported professional touring artistes.

Silbury Hill have produced 2 CD’s of original material – “The Tudor Rose” (2011) and “Broadside and Mayhem” (2013).

Both members of the duo have a lively interest in heritage and initially looked for a name that reflected their East Anglian roots. But one of the guy’s girlfriend, a west country girl, unwittingly provided a name through her chosen email address – and has since donated the email address to them too!

Further information can be found at or email


This is part of a series of short “postcards” that anyone with something to share is welcome to submit, whether that is a digital snap and a “wish you were here” or something more involved. Please do join in by sending your postcards to

For others in the series put postcards in the search box.

Postcards to friends of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site


Every year hundreds of people climb Silbury Hill, ignoring signs explaining why they should not. Until recently, all used an ancient spiral path that is conspicuously visible from the roadside, but after Silbury’s 2008 restoration at least half a dozen new routes appeared, each producing an ugly, vertical scar. Most climbers preferred the same ‘discrete’ route least visible from the road; after only a few years their collective boots formed steps, as they cut through the turf into bare soil. In this record year of rainfall that soil has eroded away, leaving a foot-deep scar. Those that climb assume that one individual cannot make any difference to a monument so vast – but there are people on the hill virtually every day of the year. Hundreds of individuals do make a difference, as this picture clearly shows: crossing the meadow then up the side of the monument, the climbers are eroding irreplaceable archaeology that has stood for thousands of years.


(See also yesterday’s plea by archaeologist Jim Leary)


This is part of a series of short “postcards” that anyone with something to share is welcome to submit, whether that is a digital snap and a “wish you were here” or something more involved. Please do join in by sending your postcards to

For others in the series put postcards in the search box.


June 2023

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