Day 1: The Ridgeway: East Kennett to Ogbourne St George

Today we were official beginning The Ridgeway trail, but we got off to a shakey start.  The B&B owner recommended a non-muddy shortcut to the start of the walk and we took it, and got lost.  It took us 45 minutes to get back on track and at the start of the Ridgeway proper.

Heading out from our first B&B

Both last night and today we noticed a lot of travelers around.  Not really gypsies, but young people attracted by the life on the road, the druids and ancient spiritual stories associated with this area.  They were very friendly, and soon disappeared as we moved away from the Avebury area.

Typical trail view at the start of the walk

Today’s goal was 9 miles to Ogbourne St George, passing through some very pretty country and more ancient sites.  The first stop of the day wasBarburyCastle, one of several iron age hill forts on the trail.  Most people hear the word “castle” and think of traditional stone castles that we all know from watching Robin Hood movies.  However, preceding these more well-known structures were wooden castles built in elevated locations for protection.  Today, of course, all that remains are the raised footings and sloping sides of the moats.  But with a little imagination you can still see their importance  to ancient tribes and how they would have protected them from marauding enemies.

Aerial view of Barbary Castle

Further along the path came the next interesting part of the walk, the beautiful Smeath’s Ridge – a wide grassy trail along the ridge of a hill covered in grazing sheep.  The farmer’s sign on the gate warned walkers to stay to the path as mother were still protecting their young, and we saw plenty of evidence of older lambs with their shaven mothers all over the field.  Along with the horses and cattle in adajecent fields it really was the picture perfect English countryside scene, especially now as the sun had come out.

Walking on Smeath’s Ridge

We relaxed for quite a while on a well-placed bench, enjoying the sun, the views and the white fluffy clouds.

Nikki taking lots of photos

Baby lambs with their mothers enjoying the sun

The last view miles of walking into Ogbury St George involved a little road walking.  We cheated a little, cutting off a corner of the official path as it really didn’t make any sense to walk in a big loop around the outskirts of the village when our room for the night was in the centre of town.  The village was pretty but the pavement walk on top of the previous 9 miles was hard on the legs.

Our bed for the night was at The Inn with the Well, and we have a very acceptable room in purpose built accommodation next to theInn.  The evening was sunny and pleasant, and after a pretty good dinner from the Thurs Curry Night menu, we turned in early for the longer day tomorrow.

Day 0: The Ridgeway: Discovering Avebury

Not strictly part of the Ridgeway, Avebury is a very interesting centre for prehistoric sites in Wiltshire.  We arrived for our walk around 3pm in the afternoon, with plenty of time to do a short 5-mile loop around the Avebury area to explore a little of the sites.  There’s a lot to see.  The Avebury stone circle is the most famous of the sites, but still nowhere near as well-known as the nearby Stonehenge.  The road cuts the stone circle into quarters, so its not really possible to photograph it as a complete circle unless you do it from the air. As I didn’t arrive by helicopter, here’s an aerial shot, courtesy of the internet to give you an idea:

There was so much to see in such a short time and we knew we’d be hungry soon, so we planned a 5-mile circuit tour of Avebury to view the Sanctuary and Avebury Circle first before a stop of a pub dinner. Then, as it’s still light until about 10.30pm, we would still have time to view Silbury Hill, West Kennett Avenue, and West Kennett Barrow, all ancient monuments dating back to the Iron Age or earlier.

The Red Lion pub in Avebury

But we lingered a little too long in the pub. After a nice Scottish salmon salad and a glass of wine, we almost gave up the urge to explore. But there was still plenty of light and once we were out among the stones, curiosity returned and we walked along the ancient West Kennett Avenue, still lined with Sarsen Stones, until it stopped in the middle of a cow field. The cows were blocking the path and with lots of them and only two of us, we felt a little cautious and climbed over the low barbed wire fence to avoid them. Of course this was a wasted effort as they scattered anyway once they saw us get a little closer.

Risking life and limb to avoid the ferocious cows!

Fortunately skin and clothing survived the barbed wire and we headed over the meadow to Silbury Hill, a mysterious hand-built chalk hill.  Who built it and why are still a mystery.

Silbury Hill – Made by ancient man. Photographed at dusk – hence the grainy photo.

From the hillside opposite we could see the West Kennett Long Barrow about ½ mile away. Barrows are ancient grave sites, usually containing the bones of a handful of people or more.  Some are long and narrow in shape, while others are round and hill-shaped.

High view of West Kennett Long Barrow

By the time we reached it, dusk was starting to fall and the barrow looked pretty spooky, spelt dank and quite frankly gave me the creeps.

Entrance to the Long Barrow

We quickly took a couple of pictures and shot away back towards our B&B as the sun got lower. A bit freaky that place.

We managed to view a lot that evening before we had even started the walk, and the trail promised plenty more sites tomorrow.

…and a peek inside. Spooky!

Following the Acorn: Walking The Ridgeway

Yes, really.  I just did another walk…back to back with the West Highland Way.  However, due to time restraints, it was just to be part of a long distance trail called The Ridgeway, which runs west to east in the south of England.  In Scotland, the thistle is the national symbol used to show the way on national trails.  In England it was the acorn that lead us across almost 50 miles of ancient rolling countryside.

Nikki at the start of the walk

My sister-in-law, Nikki, has long thought about doing a long distance walk and this year carved a window of time from her busy life to do a walk with me.  I managed to schedule it in too with all our comings and goings this summer, so the same day as I returned from Scotland, Nikki and I set off to Avebury in Wiltshire to start our journey.

Map of the whole Ridgeway. We traveled from Avebury to Goring in four days which is just under 50 miles.

Unlike the Coast 2 Coast Walk or the West Highland Way, this trail was not as wild or as difficult.  The rolling downs made the going easier, which left more time to explore many of the ancient castles, ruins and burial grounds that the area is famous for.  Everyone’s heard of Stonehenge (which is also in Wiltshire on nearby Salisbury Plain) but the county has many less famous, but equally interesting historical sites, which were ours to explore.  More to follow….

Stonehenge - not on our itinerary but very much part of the ancient history we were to explore

Stonehenge – not on our itinerary but very much part of the ancient history we were to explore