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On Silbury Hill Adam Thorpe is a poet although he is best known for his fictional social history of an English village in Berkshire Ulverston Here Thorpe presents an organic lyrical and highly subjective portrait of the eponymous mound and his own bildungsroman which is inextricably entwined with the ancient mysterious Wiltshire landscape due to his enduring schooldays at the private privileged bubble of Marlborough College Finding in Silbury a found structure Thorpe presents layers of personal local international and prehistoric 'fossil records' in a meandering ramble redeemed by moments of poetic epiphany fascinating archaeology and social history Most of all Thorpe renders a 'memoir of a Makar' depicting the making of a poet a process that is never going to be straight forwardly linear causative or clear cut There are traces of WG Sebald's 'The Rings of Saturn' but Thorpe's psychogeography is neither so beautifully crafted or erudite It lacks the heft of Sebald's prose Nevertheless it makes for a charming read especially in situ And Little Tollers handsome production with its lovely illustrations typesetting and cover all help to make this a pleasure to have in hand a physical artefact as solid as a Neolithic hand axe Overall Thorpe's ruminations are singularly eccentric fey flights of fancy happy to pounce upon tenuous and tangential connections a bricoleur bower bird approach which may exasperate some Yet his love of Silbury and its environs is clear and at times his obsession leads from the uixotic to insights of promising lucidity A hard to define book part memoir part countryside and a dash of archeaology After getting past the school days Mr Thorpe really hits his stride sadly a little late However this is still an absorbing read view spoiler Bettie's Books hide spoiler 45This is a beautiful book to look at it's like a miniature coffee table book shiny and even a bit glossy full of drawings and photographs It's part of a small series of monographs by Little Toller and I am definitely going to seek out the other ones publishedI live very close to a Neolithic Henge I can see the woods surrounding it from my upstairs house windows It has a strange pull and that's not just me being fanciful Locals are proud and protective about being part of such an ancient landscape At the same time I have lost count of the people who have told me they avoid going into the copse because 'it has a funny feeling in there' You'd have to pay me very good money to go there alone at night But what exactly are we feeling? Are we picking up how ancient the place is? The mystery of how and of course why it was built? Is it all in our minds?This book described as a 'chalkland memoir is a meditation on how Silbury Hill has been part of Thorpe's life right back to when he was a young boarder at Marlborough School close by a place with its own mysterious mound I loved the mixture of nature writing archaeology and personal memoir and thought it all worked really well I especially appreciated Thorpe's honesty and lack of irony his adolescent daydreams about being a Neolithic hunter returning home to his woman or adventures in 18th century London under hypnosis I like his dreaminess and imagination and how he seems someone living in the wrong time I really hope he does non fiction writing Thorpe can't give us any explanations about Silbury Hill The point is of course that it has no point From BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week'A marble cake of different soils Memoir data theory streaks of poetry swirls of fictionSilbury Hill in Wiltshire together with Stonehenge Avebury and the remains of numerous barrows forms part of a Neolithic landscape about which very little is known or understoodAdam Thorpe's chalkland memoir is told in fragments and snapshots He takes a circular route around the hill a monument which we can no longer climb and celebrates the urge to stand and wonder On Silbury Hill by Adam Thorpe is another fascinating addition to the Little Toller Monograph series The author first became interested in Silbury – the largest prehistoric mound in Europe – while he was a pupil at nearby Marlborough College an exclusive public school where he boarded during the 1970s while his parents lived abroad due to his father’s work As well as providing the reader with information about the enigmatic hill and the varying theories about its original purpose Thorpe writes of his time in Wiltshire as a schoolboy and later in life when he would return to visit Like many who are drawn to the area – I have lived nearby for over three decades – he finds something elemental in his reaction to the location and its ancient artefactsSilbury Hill was built probably over several generations than 4000 years ago She is around 130 feet high – the euivalent of a 13 storey building – and has a base covering around 5 acres Nobody knows why she was created although there are many theories Archaeologists have drilled down into her dug tunnels through her and taken away samples to try to work out her purpose She is neither a burial mound nor a treasure trove There are few clues as to what she may have been used forWhat is known is that she was one of three man made mounds in an area that also includes the Avebury stone circles and its associated avenues Nearby are several large barrows that exist to house the dead There is evidence of massive gatherings in ancient times suggesting significant rituals were enacted Today gatherings are of tourists or those who claim a religious link“Sometimes I think that invasive archaeology is a metaphor for our whole current situation the process of discovery necessitates destruction”What we know about Silbury Hill is due to the investigations that broke her open and allowed modern man in These were halted earlier this century and repairs made to the damaging invasions As a UNESCO World Heritage site the location must now be protected Visitors are no longer granted access to the hillThorpe writes of his time at boarding school and also of the visits he made at that time to his family in Cameroon He found an appeal in what he perceived as the simpler less materialistic lifestyle of certain Africans and compares this to what is known of Britons in Neolithic times The latter of course had short life expectancy and high death rates Their bones show signs of painful afflictions – it was hardly an ideal way of livingAt the time of Silbury Hill’s construction much of the country was still wooded and large predators roamed free within their dark canopy Man was transitioning from hunter gatherer to farmer but would still be reliant on the small community he lived within and contributed to“the examination of period burials reveals not only a ghastly catalogue of ways to suffer and die plenty of fractures and wounds severe arthritis tooth abscesses gum disease rickets polio spina bifida tetanus tuberculosis plague malaria but the likelihood that ‘four people in ten died before they were twenty’ – not including the 50 per cent who didn’t make it past their third year”As a schoolboy Thorpe visited East Kennet Long Barrow – 5000 years old and the longest in Europe – and ‘had an extraordinary sense of my own mortality’“I was a mere blip soon to be extinguished in comparison with the multiple generations witnessed by this earthwork and those stretching out onto the future”The ancients were closer to death and perhaps therefore revered the ancestors Rituals would reflect this and their reliance on nature for survival“death was woven into the landscape here in the chalklands in a colossally evident way”“Alternatively Silbury might have been a brilliant means to unite a people with a common project that gave their brief lives a meaning”Perhaps the hill draws so much interest because its purpose remains unknown It has existed through several rounds of climate change – warming and cooling with associated changes in water levels – and multiple ages as man’s habits and beliefs have endlessly shifted She has been probed and speculated over Her surroundings have been desecrated and rebuilt It is her age and continuing existence – from such ancient times through to now – that demands pause for contemplation“So frail the summerI would like to plait itlike grass and keep my placein the book of my lifeforever now hereI’ve noticed this is not possibleSomething is always ushering us”The author writes in a personal and compelling style that pulls the reader in He weaves the memoir elements with a wider history of the area and how these have contributed to shaping his own development In a time when man has all but detached himself from his surroundings – the cars on the busy A4 that runs adjacent to the hill whizzing by in too much of a hurry to pause at the millennia old wonder they may glimpse as they pass – it is good to consider how transient our existence inventions and prideful acuisitions will be Silbury Hill remains a mystery – just one facet of its allure – but stands as a monument to that which can endure and the value of reflection This was an extremely pleasant easy reading style of book part historical part cultural part spiritual part self journal Silbury Hill is a little like Stonehenge in that it has symbolised a lot of different things to different tribes of people over its history Adam Thorpe has a lovely relaxed writing style that makes you feel as though you're in conversation with an old friend His descriptive ability and skill in recreating an atmosphere is second to none Highly recommended to anyone who is interested in historical mystical sites in Britain A personal reflection about what the neolithic site in southern England means to the author He describes its history explains how it was made and what archaeologists have discovered about it and takes part in a Wiccan ceremony that still take place around it on All Hallows' Eve Much theory and poetry in here on time and space that I find impenetrable Attempts to turn Silbury and other sites like it and Stonehenge into commercial ventures are rightfully scorned but his larger anti modernist rant loses me Much praised book is for me enjoyable only in parts This book is so difficult to absolutely categorise It combines a history book a memoir and with some natural history all focusing on the prehistoric monument that is Silbury HillThis amazing structure is the largest man made mound in Europe measuring 40m high and covering an area of five acres and is believed to have been constructed around 4750 years ago Even though it has outlived its creators for several millennia nobody has a single clue as to its purpose That said there has been plenty of speculation and when viewed through the lens of the neolithic landscape it may have played some ritual purposeThorpe first became aware of the monument when he was a boarder at Marlborough school Of excursions from school he walked and cycled the landscape and even climbed it It played an important part in his formative years as he escaped from the school He makes journeys to Avebury and and other neolithic sites to try and understand the place but without drawing any firm conclusionsIt is a beautifully written book though as he deftly weaves the narrative between his childhood and recent visits to Silbury with some of the characters that he meets on his travels and the overlay of the paganism that you get around these sites As an aside this is a beautifully made book too The size and weight of the book and paper feel just right and the font makes for easy reading Silbury Hill in Wiltshire has inspired and perplexed people for generations Artists and poets have fathomed their deepest thoughts searching for the hill's hidden meanings archaeologists have tunnelled through earth for fragments that prove its purpose But for all this human endeavour Silbury Hill remains a mystery We do know it is the largest prehistoric mound in Europe But was it once an island moated by water Was it a place of worship and celebration perhaps a vast measure of the passing seasons Along with Stonehenge and Avebury was it part of a healing landscape or a physical memory of the long ago dead Silbury Hill is the sum of all that we project A blank screen where human dreams and nightmares flicker The hill has been part of Adam Thorpe's own life since his schooldays at Marlborough which he would often escape in the surrounding downlands He has carried Silbury ever since through his teenage years in Cameroon into his adulthood in southern England and France its presence fused to each landscape which became his home On Silbury Hill is Adam Thorpe's own projection onto Silbury's grassy slopes It is a chalkland memoir told in fragments and family snapshots skillfully built layer on layer from Britain's ancient and modern past

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