It was a Whitethroat singing in the treetop, its notes bouncing and scattering as if juggled by the wind. It kept its mystery by wearing silhouette black until it trusted those watching not to pursue it with more than their ears and eyes. Then it revealed itself with a flash of white and buff feathers, as cool a palette as the ground up on the Ridgeway, as chalky as the field edges. A sudden flicker of energy, the bird darted down into the hedgerow shrubs then back to the tree, like punctuation or a page turn. Then the watchers moved off, grateful but chased by the need to visit the valley before the threatened rain.
This was a good start to a wonderful walk in Wiltshire. A greeting of sorts. If the whitethroat sang the Matins, the rooks sang the Vespers (“sang” is a generous term, given their cries tend to sound more like warnings, or irritated judgements of those below their acrobatics). The omens were good, the forecast bad. The wind was doing its best to scrub away the clouds from a Wedgewood blue sky, but more were marching in, aerial icebergs moving magisterially along the width of the valley. Yet the rain took pity on the watchers and took a day off. The huge, muscular clouds knew how good they looked and puffed up with pride, resisting the relentless half-gentled wind trying to move them on out of the valley. This was weather on steroids. A sky on a trip. A sky for a trip. A good day to meet with a friend new to the place, whom I truly wanted to “feel” Avebury. Still, it was with trepidation that I stepped out, through the gate, into the circle of stones. Please, I thought, please like this place; please understand why I do.
I am used to Avebury taking me by surprise, despite my many visits, but this time I was almost silenced (a rare thing in company!) by the astonishing light and magnitude of sky almost dwarfing the stones. But of course, this just made me feel even smaller. A useful rebalancing of perspective is always the reward of an outside day filled with Nature: as you don’t matter so much, your problems matter even less. Avebury’s circle was peppered liberally with people, it being a school holiday. I am used to a more deserted space (or a Solstice throng!), so some waiting was needed for taking photographs sans smiling visitors…though I should add that I love the stones to be appreciated and shared. Avebury is not a Stonehenge, whose stones are as fenced off and aloof as race horses in the round; rather it is a wild scattering of curious mustangs. Visitors may approach and reach up to marvel at those which gather close, or wander wide and long to search out those more shy and less often seen.
For me, it was a relief to see that Avebury knew she had new people to impress, and my heart sang out gratefully to those big sunlit stones and wide bright skies. The day was full in its generosity. Was that just a sparkle of the sun or did I see the Queen Stone wink at me? “Did you really think we’d disappoint, child?” she seemed to say. Hours of walking later, recalibrated, aglow with the Avebury energy, I levered off shoes caked with chalk and mud. Chalky white dust fluttered down. Like the scattering of notes of the Whitethroat singing its praises in a high hedgerow.