Despite the name, Wayland’s Smithy is actually a neolithic burial chamber found in Wiltshire, a county covered in remnants of the ancient past. The name of the place has apparently been in play since at least AD 955. It was called ‘Weland’s Smithy’ in a Saxon charter.
So why Wayland’s Smithy? As with most prehistoric places, it has its own myth. It was said that if you were to leave your horse tied up outside it along with payment, then Wayland the invisible Elvin smith would magically re-shoe your horse while you were away. Metalworking was thought of as a potent, even magical practice – and so Wayland’s Smithy was born.
In this part of Wiltshire there are many neolithic remains, including West Kennet Long Barrow, Stonehenge, Silbury Hill and Avebury. It’s safe to say that if you’re writing anything set in the ancient world then a visit to this area will provide you with plenty of inspiration and realistic settings.
Wayland’s Smithy is not as grand as those more famous sites. But as it’s less well-known and less easy to reach, the Smithy is much quieter and retains more of an otherworldly atmosphere.
Reached from the well-worn Ridgeway path, the Smithy is actually two monuments. The first was built between 3590 and 3555 BC. Later it was encased within a second, larger, barrow which remained in use for about 100 years. The remains of 14 people – 11 men, two women and a child – were discovered in the first structure.
One of the things I love about ancient history is the lack of known facts to interfere with any story you can rustle up. There’s a darkness to that period in more ways than one. Life was tough, unpredictable and short. How the world worked was a mystery. It’s likely that myths and legends were far more powerful than they are now. And perhaps the veil between worlds was pretty thin.
We found this place on part of a longer walk. It was a lovely quiet spot to have a coffee, surrounded by the rustle of leaves and the odd twirl of birdsong, and let my mind wander.
What do you think? Have you ever visited similar places before? Let me know in the comments.