A Visit to Avebury and a Haunted Inn

In the absence of a holiday abroad this year we spent a weekend in Marlborough, a pleasant little town situated in the picturesque rural northeast of Wiltshire. It has a wide High Street, lined on both sides with characterful old buildings, a good variety of shops, and a twice-weekly market. It is worth a visit.

Whilst in the area we also visited Avebury to see the famous henge and stone circles. Avebury is situated about 5.5 miles west of Marlborough and 8 miles from Devizes. It is about 20 miles from the more famous Stonehenge. We considered whether to visit Stonehenge or Avebury, but decided Avebury would probably have fewer tourists, would cost less, and at least the visitor can wander around the stones at will and touch them if they so desire. When I visited Stonehenge many years ago as a child, we were able to walk between the stones, but these days I think one can probably see just as much from the road.

Perhaps like me, you are not quite sure what a henge is? Well, I now know that it is a huge circular bank and ditch, which in this case, encircles an area that includes part of the village of Avebury. Also within the henge is the largest stone circle in Britain, originally of about 100 stones which in turn enclose two smaller stone circles. The Avebury stone circles are thought to be about 5,000 years old and older even than Stonehenge.

The stone circle at Avebury

As it was a nice day, and the only option in the car park was to pay for several hours of parking, we decided to make the most of our visit and embarked on a walk to Silbury Hill. Silbury Hill is the largest artificial mound in Europe and I can confirm it is enormous.

Apparently, it compares in height and volume to the Egyptian pyramids and was probably completed around 2,400 BC.  Goodness knows how long it took to build! On a base covering 5 acres, it rises 130 feet high. It is not thought to contain any burials.

However, although duly impressed by the stone circles and Silbury Hill, what fascinated me the most was the discovery of The Red Lion Inn in the village of Avebury. Those of you who have read “The Mazzard Tree” or “The Angel Maker” in my Hartford Manor series will know that the local in Hartford is called The Red Lion Inn. So, there I am enjoying the sunshine and scenery of Avebury, when suddenly right in front of me is the tavern which was in my mind’s eye when I was writing the books.

Naturally, when I got home I wanted to learn a bit more about the inn. I discovered that it is over 400 years old and is probably the only inn in the world that can claim to be situated within a prehistoric stone circle. It was built in the early 1600s and was a farmhouse until 1802, when it became a coaching inn and acquired a license to sell alcohol.

The Red Lion Inn at Avebury – or it could be Hartford!

Any self-respecting inn of this age must have a ghost story and The Red Lion Inn is no exception, being able to boast of more than one ghost. The main one seems to be that of an old landlady called Florrie who was killed by her husband. During the English Civil War, in the 17th century, Florrie’s husband is said to have returned unexpectedly from the conflict and caught his wife in the arms of another man. The story goes that he shot her lover dead and slit Florrie’s throat, then threw her body down the well and sealed it with a boulder. Landlords are apparently not keen to see Florrie as she is a harbinger of tragedy and means a close relative is about to die. Other ghosts include two children seen cowering in the corner of the Avenue bedroom, and also a phantom carriage, drawn by ghostly horses can sometimes be seen clattering across the courtyard.

Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to go inside the inn, but apparently, the well can still be seen in one of the pub’s front rooms, though presumably not the boulder! Ghosts aside, this is a picturesque, thatched and listed inn, and I would love to visit another day and perhaps stay the night and risk an encounter with Florrie!


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