Nhiall, the hero of Journey to Aprilioth, is trapped in West Kennet Long Barrow, Wiltshire's largest and most famous neolithic chambered tomb.. The mound is spectacular-- a vast wedge-shaped hummock stretching nearly three hundred and fifty feet along the crest of the hill, with a seventy-five foot sarsen-stone facade.
Nineteenth century antiquarian Sir Richard Colt Hoare speculated that West Kennet was the mass grave of a slaughtered army. Finding no evidence to support this theory, he threw up his hands in despair, declaring himself "utterly at a loss to determine the purpose of such gigantic mounds of earth".
The underground passage is built of huge up-ended boulders capped with slabs of undressed stone. Modern glass bricks set into the roof provide a little murky light. The two pairs of side chambers were in use as tombs for over a thousand years, and remains of over forty bodies have been recovered. Nearly all the adults had arthritis-- telling us something about the British climate in 2500 B.C.
In one of my English photographs I'm standing outside West Kennet Long Barrow, gazing across a bare field at the vast conical shape of Silbury Hill. My expression is faintly puzzled. Silbury Hill was built somewhere around 2750 B.C.--the largest man-made earth mound in Europe-- and it's been puzzling visitors ever since.
One hundred and thirty feet high and covering more than five acres, it looks as though somebody very important indeed must be buried underneath it. According to local legend it's the tomb of King Sil, who was interred on horseback in golden armour at the centre of the mound. Others maintain that the hill is the site of a magic circle so powerful that it had to be buried--rather like radioactive waste-- under twelve and a half million cubic feet of chalk-rubble. The fact is, that although people have sinking vertical shafts and driving tunnels into Silbury Hill since the mid-l700's, they've have uncovered nothing more revealing than some antler fragments and a Viking bridle bit.