Wayland's Smithy

Near Ashbury
England, UK.
(OS Ref: SU281854)

"Passing along the Ridgeway to the west for about a mile, we come to a little clump of young beech and firs, with a growth of thorn and privet underwood. Here you may find nests of the strong down partridge and peewit, but take care that the keeper isn’t down upon you; and in the middle of it is an old cromlech, a huge flat stone raised on seven or eight others, and led up to by a path, with large single stones set up on each side. This is Wayland Smith’s cave....." - Tom Brown's Schooldays, Ch1P4 by Thomas Hughes (1857)

Nestled amongst a small copse of beech trees, just off the ancient Ridgeway and overlooked by White Horse Hill squats the reconstructed remains of Wayland's Smithy. A Neolithic longbarrow and chambered tomb it was used as a burial place over five and a half thousand years ago.


Beneath the monument as seen today once stood an earlier barrow. Both tombs seemingly served as a focus for ceremonies linking the living to the dead, and in turn may have marked ownership of the surrounding land to the local community.

The first structure was built here, between 5,600 and 5,565 years ago, was a mortuary house consisting of of a paved stone floor with two split tree-trunks positioned at either end, these may have supported a timber facade. A single crouched burial had been placed at one end and the mostly disarticulated remains of a further fourteen individuals were scattered in front of it, the remains consisted of eleven males, two women and a single child. Analysis of these remains indicated that they had been subjected to excarnation prior to burial and deposited in possibly four different phases. This mortuary house was in turn covered with an oval mound of chalk and earth dug from two flanking ditches and measured about 20m in length.

Between 5,470 and 5,410 years ago a second larger barrow with a stone chamber with two opposing transept chambers and terminal chamber was constructed over it. Excavations in 1919 discovered the skeletons of eight adults and a a single child in the chamber, however no grave goods were found and all the thigh bones had been removed. The large trapezoidal earth barrow erected over it was revetted with a stone kerb and its material was again excavated from two large flanking ditches. An excavation in 1919 revealed the burials of eight adults and one child, all the long thighbones had been removed and no grave goods were found!


Today only four of the original spectacular frontspiece stones remain, the mound is over fifty feet wide at its widest, almost 200 feet long the barrow trails away to a height of only a foot or so at the far end. Though not as 'complete' as Belas Knap or as 'magical' as the nearby West Kennet Longbarrow the site illustrates the transition from timber chambered barrows to stone chamber tombs over a period which may have been as short as 50 years.

Weyland depicted upon the Franks Casket
Weyland depicted upon the Franks Casket

Of Wayland - Wayland also Weland; in Scandinavian, German, and Anglo-Saxon legend a smith of outstanding skill. In Old Norse sources, as Volundr he appears in Volundarkvioa, a poem in the Poetic Edda, and in piorekssaga, and his legend is also depicted on the eighth century Ardre image stone. In Old English sources, he appears in Deor, Waldere and in Beowulf and the legend is depicted on the Franks Casket.

The Tale of Weland - Weland forged the swords Mimung, Curtana, Almace and fashioned the mail shirt worn by Beowulf. It was King Nithad who captured Weland whilst he was sleeping, held him as a slave and cut his hamstrings to cripple him and prevent his escape. Weland toiled for the Swedish king but also plotted a bloody revenge. In secret Weland forged a pair of mechanical wings and when the time was right lured Nithad's son to his island prison, once there he killed him and forged a goblet from his skull. Into the goblet he poured a sleeping draught which in turn he offered to Beadohilde, Nithad's daughter, who when unconscious Weland raped before escaping using his set of mechanical wings.


A tradition tells that Weland forged the shoes used by the Uffington Whitehorse. Should a traveller whose horse has lost a shoe leave the animal and a silver coin on the capstone at Wayland's Smithy, when he returns next morning he will find that his horse has been re-shod and the money gone.

Ghostly Romans - Kathleen Wiltshire published this story in her 'More Ghosts and Legends of the Wiltshire Countryside', hearing it from a Mrs J Morrison of Urchfont Manor in 1970.


"A man was once camping near Wayland's Smithy on a hiking trip. In the night 'he heard much movement nearby as would be heard if men and horses were moving camp.' In the morning he went to investigate where the sounds had been coming from - but there wasn't so much as a mark in the damp grass. Locals were said to remark 'It would be them Romans' whom he'd heard. "

Puck of Pook's Hill - A historical fantasy book written by Rudyard Kipling and published in 1906, containing a series of short stories set in different periods of English history. The stories are all told to two children living near Pevensey by people magically plucked out of history by elf Puck, or by Puck himself. Puck, who refers to himself as "the oldest thing in England", is better known as a character in William Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream. Chronologically the stories begin with Weland's Sword and climax with the signing of the Magna Carta. As Puck, calmly, concludes the series of stories, "Weland gave the Sword, The Sword gave the Treasure, and the Treasure gave the Law. It's as natural as an oak growing."