Wayland's Smithy is a Neolithic longbarrow dating back to around 3700BC. Around this time, an oval-shaped mortuary chamber was constructed, featuring a stone floor and a wooden frame. This structure was then covered with packed earth to create a barrow.
The second phase of construction took place around 3400BC. At this time, a trapezoidal chalk mound was built. This measured 60 metres in length and between 6-15 metres in width. It encompassed the earlier structure, and was lined with kerb stones holding the chalk in place, and fronted with a façade of 6 larger stones at the southern end - four of which remain today.
During this phase, a 6.6 metre passage was constructed in the southern face. A chamber exists at the far end, and the passage is flanked on either side by a chamber, lending it a cruciform appearance. Most of the passage is now exposed to the sky, but the chambers themselves are still covered by a capstone.
The name of Wayland's Smithy dates from the arrival of Saxon invaders around the fifth century AD. Wayland (or 'Wolund') was the Scandinavian god of blacksmithing and metalworking, and the legend arose that the Smithy was his home. According to subsequent folklore, if a traveller were to lay a silver coin on the capstone and leave his horse tethered there overnight, he would find the beast shod the following morning.
Another story tells how Flibbertigibbet (Wayland's assistant) was sent on an errand to buy some nails. He lingered too long on his return journey, and Wayland became enraged at his negligence. He picked up a stone and threw it at his apprentice, pinning him by the heel. Flibbertigibbet (or "Flibberdy Gibbard" sat there and cried until the end of his days, lending the site the name of "Snivelling Corner". The site of this drama lay on a footpath between Kingstone Winslow and Odstone Marsh. It was marked by a sarsen stone (impressed with the imprint of Flibbertigibbet's heel), but this was removed in the 1960s. Many variations of this tale exist, including one where Flibbertigibbet has always held the nickname of "Sniveller", and is turned to stone when Wayland hurls him across the fields.
Today, Wayland's Smithy stands along the Ridgeway amongst a grove of beech trees. Although these were planted fairly recently, there is evidence that the area was wooded during earlier periods. The tomb we see today owes much of its appearance to the extensive restoration work conducted following the excavations of the early 1960s.
The location alone is sufficient reason to visit Wayland's Smithy. The surrounding countryside may be a little bland and over-farmed, but there's still a sense of isolation and a reclusive ambience, creating a sympathetic setting for this Neolithic site. What did surprise me was the complete lack of people. I visited here on a fantastic sunny day and didn't see a single soul for the duration of my stay. Definitely one of Britain's finest ancient sites.