Wayland’s Smithy is one of the most impressive Neolithic burial chambers in Britain. Located in Oxfordshire, it was built between 3,700 and 3,400 B.C.E, and was first mentioned by name in a charter in the year 955 C.E. The earliest sketch of the site was made by John Aubry around 1670. Set in a grove of beech trees, four huge upright sarsen stones (the tallest is ten feet high) guard the entrance to the burial chambers and there are some remnants of stone walls. The barrow itself is 196 feet long and 50 feet wide at the widest point. A twenty feet long passage extends from the entranceway, with an opposing pair of chambers along it, and a terminal chamber at the end. Some of the capstones of these chambers are missing, and the rooms themselves are quite small.
The present appearance of Wayland’s Smithy is due to restoration efforts by Richard Atkinson in the 1960s.
Because of the restoration, it was discovered that Wayland’s Smithy was actually constructed in two separate periods. The estimated date on the first construction is 3,700 to 3,500 B.C.E. It consisted of a 15 meter long oval mound which covered a wooden and stone structure. The mound was surrounded by sarsen boulders and the mound was heaped over with chalk. The remains of at least fourteen individuals were found, all of which were badly damaged. The layering of the remains suggested multiple deposits. None of the original structure can be seen today, because it was incorporated into the second construction.
Around two hundred years later, the mound was enlarged into a trapezoidal shape, using earth from ditches flanking the site. It was edged with sarsen slabs and had a façade of six large boulders (four of which remain today). A stone-lined passage and chambers were built into the southern face of the mound. When it was excavated during the restoration, the bodies of eight individuals were found, but it is assumed that the tomb was robbed long ago, probably during the Iron Age.
The burial chamber is named after Wayland (Weland, Volund (Norse), Volundr (Norse), the Saxon deity of metalworking. As Volund, one myth states that the god was a smith of unmatchable quality. The vain king Niduth lames him out of jealousy and exiles him to work on an island. Volund seeks revenge, and kills the king’s two sons and makes goblets from their skulls. He also rapes the king’s daughters, and then forges metal wings to escape to Valhalla.
Presumably, the legend of Volund traveled with the Anglo Saxons, and the mound was then associated with Wayland. Many ancient burial sites became associated with gods, and often with smiths because the art of the smith was shrouded in secrecy and associated with magic. Volund was also associated with labyrinths and the mound with its chambers might have suggested an ancient maze. Ancient Britons might have left votive offerings of money at the mound for local gods.
Later folklore had Wayland still occupying the mound, working as a smith, ready to shoe horses. A traveler only had to leave his horse alone by the mound along with a silver coin. When the owner returned, the horse would be shod and coin gone.
In recent times, at Wayland’s Smithy and other ancient sites, people (perhaps neo-pagans) have begun leaving offerings of flowers, cornmeal, nuts and grain, fruit and feathers.
Pictures of the site can be found at:
How To Get There:
Wayland's Smithy is situated on the Ridgeway not far from the Uffington White Horse. Find junction 15 of the M4, turn south onto the A346 heading towards Marlborough. Just at the top of the hill take a left turn signed for Badbury (if you go past the garage on the right you've gone too far). Follow this narrow road through Hinton Parva and Idston to Ashbury. Turn right and then immediately left. You'll now be on the B4507 heading for Wantage. Look out for a sign pointing up a narrow road heading up the hill to the right. If you reach the White Horse then you've gone too far. Head up the hill and you'll come to a dirt track crossing the road. This is the Ridgeway. Park and walk down the Ridgeway to the right. Wayland's Smithy is about ten minutes walk. These directions were taken from: http://www.henge.demon.co.uk/oxfordshire/wayland.html