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Silbury Hill is an ancient and sacred man-made wonder that was built over 4,000 years ago. Why? Nobody really knows. It’s one big secret!
It’s been called Wiltshire’s answer to the Pyramids of Egypt as it was built around the same time and at a similar size and height.
However, unlike being an order from the pharaohs, this hill is shrouded in mystery and excavations have created more questions than they have answers.
Nowadays, it claims the title of the largest artificial mound in Europe and is the most intriguing monument in all of the Avebury World Heritage Site.
Here’s a complete guide for visiting Silbury Hill with all the history, myths and legends you can uncover with it!
What is Silbury Hill?
Silbury Hill is the largest artificially made mound in all of Europe that stands at 39 metres high and 160 metres wide.
It was built around 2,400 BC over a short period of time. It is estimated that the construction took over 4 million man hours and half a million tonnes of material were used to build it!
Although nowadays the mound is lined with turf, years ago it would have been a huge chalk mound making it a gleaming white. Around the mound, you’ll also find two large ditches dug out surrounding the hill. It is thought that these were used for building material.
Is Silbury Hill a Pyramid?
Although not officially classed as a pyramid, many people compare its construction to that of the Pyramids of Egypt. They were built around the same time and also built at the similar heights and size to the ones found in the Giza necropolis.
Although they cannot compare completely for obvious reasons, many believe that it was originally tiered with ‘levels’, rather than rounded and smooth. Which would further support the theory of a pyramid structure.
There have also been connections made between the two sites in a more synergetic way with Ley-Lines. For those who are not familiar with Ley-Lines they were discovered by Alfred Watkins in 1921. It’s the theory that all ancient sites across the globe are connected with a series of energetic lines that run under the earth and so create vibrational frequencies together.
You’ll find that the Pyramids of Egypt are connected to Avebury stone circle and Bincknoll Castle via a Ley-Line. This line is close to Silbury Hill. Hence, why it is seen as a sacred and special place for healing and also for absorbing those energies.
How did they build Silbury Hill?
It always amazes me that Neolithic people over 4,000 years ago were able to build monuments on such a grand scale with little or no tools available to them.
It is thought the building work actually spanned over several generations and with every year, the project grew more and more ambitious. This is down to progress and the introduction of new tools.
The chalk was brought from near and far. The huge ditch that can be seen all around the site was used for chalk material. It may have also been a community effort with hundreds of villagers who contributed some chalk or materials from their settlements as well.
It is thought that originally they stripped the stones and soil away, then they started the base with a small mound of gravel. After that, they defined the shape of the mound with a ring of stakes and tipped mud, soil and rubble into the area.
More soil, turf and even boulders were added over time to create levelling and height. Then, chalk was continuously added over the course of many years which made it grow to a whopping measurement of over 39 metres.
Archaeologists from recent excavations have discovered the use of antler picks that shaped the gravel, chalk and stones in a layering system. Whether this is symbolic in any way, we may never know!
What was Silbury Hill used for? Honest answer? Despite numerous excavations, people still don’t know! But, the fact that it took over 4 million man-hours to build alone must have meant the construction was held in high regard and worth working for.
Legends & myths surrounding the mound
Due to the limited knowledge of the mound, it’s only natural that this huge monument has created many rumours, myths and legends over time. Up until the middle ages, this mound was the tallest structure in Britain. It’s sheer, dominating size and structure on the landscape would have been felt by anyone that saw it.
One legend says that this is the final resting place for the legendary King Sil, who was supposedly buried inside wearing his armour, mounted on his golden horse.
Many believe that Silbury Hill is a primal mound which represents the ‘Earth Mother.’ It was used as a ‘Beacon Hill’ and a water reservoir for ancient healing.
Another story, which is the most famous, is that this hill was actually made by the Devil. The legend goes that Satan was travelling from Devizes and wanted to drop an apron of soil on the people of Marlborough! He was stopped on his way there by a priest of Avebury. He eventurally grew too tired and ended up dropping it here instead. Which is why the mound was formed.
Others say that the Devil was actually travelling through the countryside to hide a gold statue inside the hill. Maybe this started the rumours of treasure being here and prompted the many disastrous excavations?
Recent history & unfortunate excavations
After the Romans invaded Britain, they were quite taken with his area and built a road that went right passed the monument. There have been many Roman coins and pottery found at the base of the hill.
In medieval times it is thought that the top of the hill was flattened which suggests there may have been a defensive structure built on top!
However, this mysterious monument, with its air of the unknown, has intrigued treasure hunters, antiquarians and archaeologists for centuries! Indeed, there were a series of unfortunate excavations which have caused significant damage to the hill over time.
In 1776 the treasure hunting Duke of Northumberland, Hugh Percy, sponsored the first major excavation by Edward Drax. This involved hiring a group of miners to dig a hole directly down the centre of the hill. Unfortunately, no treasure or burial goods were found inside.
The second took place in 1849 when John Merewether, the Dean of Hereford, decided to dig a horizontal tunnel into the bottom of the hill. Again they could not get to the central burial chamber that they suspsected to be there, but they did find organic remains and lots of soil.
The third major excavation was by Professor Richard Atkinson in 1968 and 1970 which was sponsored by the BBC. It was the first televised excavation! They identified the last two tunnels made by their predecessors and made a third.
Unfortunately, none of these tunnels were filled after the excavations had finished. So, in the year 2000, Silbury Hill suffered a major collapse! It created a 14-metre crater which opened up on the summit. This immediately prompted an emergency conservation project to save it but it wasn’t properly renovated until 2007.
Nowadays, any research is made with non-invasive modern techniques like ‘X-Raying’ the landscape. It’s the same method they use in Egypt and they uncover forgotten tombs all the time.
What is inside Silbury Hill?
As well as the three tunnels that were dug out over the centuries, there is lots of information that has been gathered about the mound from the excavations. Richard Atkinson was able to remove many materials from inside the mound which he sent off for testing.
Specialists that visited Silbury Hill during that time found flint tools, antler picks and artefacts. There were also biological remains with insects, animals and even snails! Plus, there is over half a million tonnes of raw materials that make the mound such as rubble, gravel, earth and chalk.
We may never get to see the inside of Silbury Hill or ‘the earth door’ open again in our lifetime. Nowadays, most excavations take place outside of the hill with non-invasive surveys as to protect it so that it never collapses again!
Can you climb Silbury Hill?
Although you used to be able to climb on this hill years ago, I remember doing it as a kid in the 90s (if only we knew!), it is now completely sealed off to protect it.
Not only is it extremely dangerous due to the huge cavern that opened up on top of the hill, but it’s also an ancient monument that can see significant damage made from footfall.
That doesn’t mean that people don’t do it, it happens all the time. But, I would encourage you not to take part. The whole site is closed off, so you’ll need to jump over barbed wire fences to find the path and most of the ditch has lots of stingy nettles around it anyway!
How to visit Silbury Hill
You don’t need to climb up Silbury Hill in order to enjoy it. It can be seen from the roadside as you drive around the A4 as part of the Avebury World Heritage site. The easiest way to visit is to park up in the dedicated car park. There is an amazing look out point with some helpful information boards.
Another great view of the hill is from West Kennet Long Barrow that is just nearby. This is another site I would recommend visiting at it’s a Neolithic burial chamber that’s 5,600 years old.
Alternatively, you can walk from the West Kennet Long Barrow parking lay-by towards Avebury Stone Circle. There is a lovely loop walk around to the hill by the river. This is where you’ll find the historic stone bridge from this post which looks great in photos!
How to get there
Silbury Hill is located in Wiltshire and is part of the magical Avebury World Heritage Site. This area covers 25 square kilometres and is full of amazing ancient landmarks that date back 5 millennia!
You can easily access Silbury Hill by car on the A4 road heading to Devizes. Alternatively, you can walk around a mile from Avebury Stone Circle to visit.
Parking options: There is a small car park that is run by the National Trust. This is £2 to park and paid for by text (although I didn’t see a ticket machine). Free for members.
Alternatively, park up in the FREE lay-by’s by West Kennet Long Barrow and walk from there.
Opening times and prices
Silbury Hill is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is completely FREE to visit. I would definitely say your best views are in reasonable daylight or at sunset.
Nighttime is great for star watching as the area almost has a true ‘dark sky’ from limited light pollution. However, you won’t see much of the mound!
Visit more ancient sites around Avebury
After your visit, you will be totally surrounded by historic sites in this area. Avebury World Heritage Site is an extremely special place that has dolmen chambers, stone circles, burial barrows and Neolithic temples!
West Kennet Long Barrow is just over the road from Silbury Hill which is a burial chamber built 5,600 years ago! You can even walk inside the old tomb and explore five chambers. Read more here.
West Kennet Avenue is located just not far away from here which is an old entrance way to Avebury Henge. Or, you can explore where Falkner’s Circle used to be. The Henge has two huge circles you can walk around that contain standing stone circles. Unlike Stonehenge, this is free to visit and you can touch them!
The Sanctuary is just a little drive on from the the hill towards Marlborough. It is thought that this place is astrologically aligned with Avebury Henge.
This is also where you can access the beginning and the end of the Ridgeway Trail at Overton Hill. This is Europe’s oldest road that travellers have used for over 5,000 years! From here you could walk to Hackpen Hill White Horse or Barbury Castle.