What is a henge? It is a prehistoric ring bank and ditch, with the ditch on the inside. The word is a backformation from Stonehenge – which doesn’t actually have a henge! It’s all a bit confusing, but what is certain is that the large earthwork that encircles Avebury (village and stone circles) is called a henge.
And that is where these wonderful beech trees are. They are on top of the henge at Avebury at a point where there is a break for a road. In classic beech tree style, their shallow root systems have resulted in a network of knurled and nobbly roots on the surface of the slope. This is a particularly impressive example of the phenomonen.
I wouldn’t like to say how much the erosion caused by the feet of tourists has contributed to the effect, but these trees are very popular. Visitors have tied coloured ribbons to the branches and, in a few cases, the roots. They have left little posies of flowers in the hollows of the roots. I haven’t included these votive offerings in my painting, because this painting is about the trees, not about their significance in religion or superstition.
The painting is based on a series of photographs that I took towards the end of June this year. It was a hot and sunny day, but the shade under the beech canopy was almost complete. The tangled roots make for a very suggestive image, and I may develop it further. I have painted (three of) these very trees and their roots before – a small, stylised acrylic called Avebury Roots was the starting point for a short series of “Stained glass trees” three years ago.