Monday saw my post on the ancient Ridgeway road and I used that to visit another ancient place, Waylands Smithy.
I’ve wanted to visit here for years but never got around to it as despite being not too far from London, it’s in a rather isolated spot and only accessible from the Ridgeway on foot, bicycle or horseback. It’s about 1.5 miles from the nearest modern road or carpark and whilst relatively many people were heading off to other nearby sights, only a few were headed this way and the two people in front of us bizarrely turned back a few minutes before reaching their destination.
I’m a huge fan of West Kennet Longbarrow which in many ways is my favourite spot in Southern England, both are isolated and on top of rolling hills except West Kennet is in the open whilst Waylands Smithy is delightfully hidden in a large copse of beech trees giving it secluded and magical air.
It being late September, the trees were just beginning to change colour which made the experience even more wondrous as we pondered the ancient builders who built this place around 5,600 years ago.
Though we know him as Weyland and our Saxon forebears were familiar with Weland, the figure most associated with this spot was actually a Norse elf, Völundr. Völundr was a Smith but not any old smith but one with the supreme if not supernatural skills and his reputation for beautiful weaponry and jewellery was known across northern Europe including Sweden.
King Niduth of Sweden was rather greedy and wanted Völundr’s fantastic skills all for himself and kidnapped the smith before savagely ham-strung him (cutting his hamstrings making him almost as a cripple) to stop him escaping and forcing him to work exclusively for himself.
Völundr pretended to go along with this but when the opportunity arose he tricked the king’s two young sons into his forge and decapitated them before creating astonishingly beautiful gold goblets from their skulls and stunning jewels from their eyes and teeth. If that wasn’t enough Völundr presented the goblets as gifts to the unsuspecting king and queen, and their daughter, who were all delighted with his hard work.
As the king was enjoying his drinks from his new goblets, he was aware of his missing sons and had search parties sent out to find them but his daughter Princess Beahilda subtly approached Völundr to mend a beautiful ring her father had given her. Völundr immediately recognised the ring as one he had made for the Swan-Princess, his wife and it made him so furious that he drugged Princess Beahilda, raped her and flew away on magic wings as he did so taunting King Niduth his only male heir now was growing inside Beahilda’s womb and that Völundr was the father!
AnAnglo flew until he felt safe in somewhere the King would never find him, here in deepest Oxfordshire where he made a home for himself in the all ready extremely ancient tomb whilst continuing his trade which many believe included the magnificent sword of Excalibur which Merlin the magician asked him to create for the young King Arthur.
Völundr or Wayland as is easier for me to type is also famous for shedding horses in his smithy. Ancient legend has it that if a traveller on the Ridgeway had his horse lose his shoe, that if her were leave the horse in the glade overnight then it would be fitted with a new horseshoe over night. It must be an old belief as back in the 9th century it was already known as Welandes smithy.
Wayland’s Smithy is about 185 feet or (56 metres) long and around 43 feet (13 metres) wide and was actually built in two phases; Phase 1 was constructed between 3,590 and 3,555 BC. It was a rectangular stone and timber box, with two split tree trunks at either end and a paved stone floor. Within a 15 year period, the remains of 14 people – 11 men, 2 women and a child – were placed there and the box was covered by a small mound of chalk and earth. Their badly smashed bones were uncovered in the 1960s, along with some other artefacts – arrow heads, fragments of pottery and quern-stones.
Sometime between 3,460 and 3,400 BC, another barrow was built over the top, with a stone chamber at the southern end. At that time, it is thought the Ridgeway ran right past the sealed entrance and the temptation must have been too much for someone over the millennia as at some point, the tomb was looted, though bones from 8 remaining bodies were found during excavations in 1919.
It’s incredible to think that these people had been dead 2,800 years before Wayland arrived and like other places you can see what a massive job it must have been to create this structure given that there is no natural stone here except for chalk.
I can’t wait to go back again, possibly one crisp and cold late autumn or mid-winter day, it was a most wonderful experience and as you’ll find out in a future post it seems we may have had a visit from Wayland later that day!