Wayland’s Smithy Long Barrow, Ashbury, Oxfordshire
Text by Tim Darvill
Heavily restored following excavations in 1962-3, Wayland’s Smithy is the best and most accessible long barrow along the Berkshire Ridgeway. In its final form it is a classic Cotswold-Severn style long barrow, but excavations have shown a long and complicated history.
The first structure on the site was an oval mound about 14m by 7m with a pair of flanking ditches. The mound was delimited by a stone kerb and at the southern end there was a timber chamber flanked at either end by massive D-shaped posts. The chamber was about 4.6m long and about 1m wide. On the floor were the disarticulated remains of at least 14 individuals, mainly adult males. Nothing of this early structure is visible today, because around 3500 BC a much larger barrow was constructed over the top, completely encapsulating it. This is the classic long barrow visible today.
The Wayland’s Smithy long barrow is 55m long and 14m wide at the south end. It has a rather fine peristalith edging of sarsen slabs, some with panels of dry-stone walling between. The chalk rubble forming the core of the mound was taken from a pair of quarry ditches that flanked the mound (now filled in). Six great sarsen slabs, which average over 3m high, were set across the front of the mound to provide an impressive facade.
These stones may have been selected for their shape: a lozenge-shaped stone with a pointed top can be seen on the left side of the entrance into the chamber, with a more rectangular flat-topped stone to the right. At the same time, a terminal chamber roofed with large capstones was constructed at the wider, higher end of the enlarged mound. This can still be entered; a short central passage gives access to one chamber on each side and a small end-chamber. When excavated it contained the remains of at least eight people, including a child. When the tomb fell out of use, perhaps about 3000 BC, the chamber and passage were filled with chalk rubble and soil to seal the burial deposits and protect them.
Key features to look for at this site are: its position overlooking the Vale of the White Horse and the upper Thames beyond; the size and construction of the mound with peristalith and walling; the impressive facade and the form of the chamber.
Legend holds that an invisible elvin smith named Wayland lived here and that a horse left with a penny would be well shod by the time the owner returned to collect it. The coins, it seems, had to be left on the roofstone of the right-hand burial chamber, known traditionally as ‘The Cave’.
SU 2808 8539. 2km E of Ashbury, beside the Ridgeway. Can be approached from the W along the Ridgeway from its junction with the B4000 at SU 274 843 (about 1.5km walk), or from the E by parking at the Uffmgton White Horse and following the Ridgeway westwards (about 2km walk). English Heritage.
Further reading: Peers and Smith 1921; Crawford 1925, 47-53 (C2); Atkinson 1965; Whittle 1991.