|Evelyn de Morgan|
Since I'm writing the sequel, The Valleys of the Earth, in which my "hero" Azazel goes trying to find his imprisoned brothers all round the world, I've been looking for places they might be stashed in underground cells.
Here's one: Wayland's Smithy in Oxfordshire:
It's a famous Neolithic longbarrow and this month I finally got to see it, having had it on my to-do list for decades. That's because it is a bit of a hike up The Ridgeway in a surprisingly remote range of chalky hills...
... and is deliberately badly signposted by English Heritage. Here it is hidden in its copse of trees, unvisited, melancholy and a little bit spooky even in daylight:
The barrow (185 ft long by 43 ft wide) was built in about 3,400 BCE, over the top of an older smaller barrow. The front stones at the chamber end are BIG and present a strikingly feminine entrance into the Underworld
|Though that may just be my dirty mind...|
The legend that sprang up around this earthwork was that it was the forge of the supernatural blacksmith Wayland (a memory of the Germanic smith-god Wolund, he's referenced in Beowulf and The Ring Cycle among others).
It was claimed well into historical times that if you rode up there and left your horse tethered by the stones overnight, along with a silver coin, you'd find it freshly-shod in the morning. I love that story! It has such a ring of "Yeah, you can interact with the supernatural if you want to - no problem."
Kipling used Wayland's legend in this chapter of Puck of Pook's Hill.
So that's a site-visit I can claim expenses for, eh? ;-)