A Wiltshire Walk: A walk amongst the wiltshire landscape and the West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill.
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Monday, 20 May 2019

A Wiltshire Walk

A Wiltshire Walk

A Wiltshire Walk

I start the walk on this particular day from my parents house, but there have been many other days and other starting points; this is a circular walk.  I take the lane to East Kennet and then pick up the White  Horse Trail up onto All Cannings Down. The views back over Avebury and Silbury Hill are ever present up here.

The trail turns at the top of the ridge and goes along Wansdyke (Wodens Dyke). This is a 5th Century earthwork, 45miles long. No one is sure why it was built- it looks defensive but is too long for that to be feasible. When it was built it must have been an impressive sight; it is steep today, and when it was new with the chalk gleaming in sunlight it would have made a strong statement. Birdsong is rare here even in summer, and today there are no skylarks to sweeten the monotony of the rooks.

It is lonely up here. Once, when up here with my brother, we spotted a figure in the distance standing in one place and slowly turning from side to side. He continued like this for some time, and as it was growing dusk and evening was coming on I grew slightly alarmed. It is that sort of place. As we got closer we could see he had a metal detector and  was sweeping it around the ground surrounding him. But the feeling of unease stayed with me until we got home, to light and warmth and company. And I wonder if our ancestors felt the same, glad to get back their villages. I share the track with no one today, just me and the crows.

Walking along Tan Hill and then down onto Allington Down the bridleway goes back down towards Avebury. Tan Hill had a fair on top of it from time immemorial right up until 1932, when apparently the advent of motor vehicles brought it to a halt They got bogged down crossing the field, which the horses of previous years never did. I take a farm track as a short cut, but the bridleway goes down to the lane on the other side of East Kennet, and then you can pick  up another footpath on the left which takes you to  West Kennet Longbarrow.

West Kennet Long Barrow

West Kennet Long Barrow "The earth under which men are buried is the mother of the dead."

This barrow was used as a burial ground for over a thousand years from about 3700BC to 2000 BC. The stone chambers are empty now, but they are surprisingly intact. Skylights have been inserted into the roof so dim sunlight filters down, but at night there is only torchlight or candles. Inside the entrance, behind the huge stone at the front of the tomb, a short passageway leads to two chambers on the left, two on the right and one large one at the end.

When I was a girl, very few people visited here, but now it is alway busy. Today, there are herbs strewn on the floor of the chambers, with some incense cones in the little niches, but sometimes there is more intrusive litter. I have sat here in the twilight,  keeping vigil with friends, afterwards to walk home, under the huge velvet  sky filled with a myriad of stars, by  moonlight, with only the odd badger for company. But today, there are the usual crowds, and after sitting on the leeward side of the mound, out of the wind,to drink my coffee, I pass on.

The path goes down the hill towards Silbury, and a brief detour to the left, across a field which is not a footpath, takes you to Swallowhead Springs. The river Kennet rises here, pouring out of the spring set in a curved wall,  but  by winter eve the goddess' swallows her own head' and the springs and  river are usually dry between November and January. I know that today there will be water, but I seldom go there nowadays. It is a pretty place, but now the trees are hung with the usual festoons of tatty, dirty ribbons. Why  people think that the spirit of such a place would think these suitable offerings is beyond me. It is special to me, as all my children have been 'dunked' by my brother as an introduction to the ancestors and the land. But today, so many people are heading that way that I decide to give it a miss.

Swallowhead Springs

Swallowhead Springs.

I follow the track down to and across the Bath Road to pick up the footpath to Avebury which passes by Silbury Hill. This man made hill was not in existence when the barrow was first built, but the builders of it would have been able to see the burial  mound up on the skyline. When I was younger I climbed it( this is not allowed now), and being a fan of Geoffrey Ashe, I waited to see if any living dreams came to me, but no-just the odd car along the Bath Road. A Roman road stikes off the A4 here and goes out across North Down to join the Wessex Ridgeway. But my path takes me on into Avebury itself, following the little river Winterbourne.

Silbury Hill

Silbury Hill.

Avebury is a pretty village, totally dominated by the stone circle. It has alovely ch urch with a good green man and some dragon carvings on the font. My favourite time to walk here is just after dawn. There are usually no people here then, especially in the winter and it has a lovely deep atmosphere that is missing in the middle of the day, and the middle of the crowds.

I sometimes turn here towards Avebury Trusloe and up onto Windmill Hill and the camp there. This is a neolithic causewayed enclosure, the largest known in Britain. Michael Dames (The Avebury Cycle) believes that this was a place for seasonal gatherings to worship the great goddess. But today I am going in the opposite direction, up  Green Street, or The Herepath, onto the ridgeway. Most people turn off to join the ridgeway further down, and I am alone again as the Herepath climbs the hill.

The Herepath

The Herepath, Avebury.

A herepath was a military road used by the Saxons. In the poem, The Ballad of the White Horse, by G.K. Chesterton, Alfred summons his war chiefs and they use the herepaths to gather at the chosen spot before the battle of Ethandune, not far from here. Although the Saxons are much later in date than the polissoir, I like to think of neolithic warriors using this track to go  high up on to the ridgeway, meeting on Totterdown, standing around, talking and waiting for latecomers, and polishing their stone axeheads on a particular stone, which is where I am heading next.

Barrows litter the hillsides here and there is a  feeling of great isolation. When it rains, as it does today, there is very little shelter and I find myself crouching under a hawthorn tree in a ditch to keep the worst of it off . But the wind quickly blows the shower away and I continue on up the hill, Overton Down behind me. The polissoir, or polishing stone, is in a field covered with sarsen stones, and can be difficult to find if you don't have prior knowledge.

The best way is to walk down the hill, keeping the fence to your left reasonably close until you find a stone with a hole in it, then walk back slowly up the hill the way you came and you should see it. The light strikes it better from this direction. Just to the left of Totterdown, in Temple Bottom, is Temple Farm, an estate owed at one time by the Knights Templar. A friend of my mother once lived there but her children found it so remote they sold up and moved away.

The polissoir and the hole stone

The polissoir and the hole stone

The polissoir and the hole stone.

At Temple Bottom I turn left onto a footpath that takes me up onto Manton Down. The racing stables at Manton sometimes have open days. The horses there are bred for the flat, and are small, thin and nervous looking. The stables are very luxurious with swimming pool and hot tubs.  There are gallops all over the down, but unless you get up early you won't see any horses.  Crossing the Clatford Down gallops I pick up the path that goes back down to the Bath Road.  In the field next to the path is the Devil's Den, which looks like a dolmen comprising of 3 huge sarsen uprights with a capstone. But it is all that remains of a long barrow, now ploughed out. You have to cross the field to get to it(it is a permissive right of way) and in winter under plough it can be very muddy. A ghostly dog is said to lie under the mound guarding it's master's body. And the devil of course, who tried to dislodge the capstone with four white horses  or oxen for some reason best known to himself..

I cross the road and the Kennet here and enter the little village of Clatford. There was  a stone circle along the lane here in  William Stukeleys time, comprising of eight large standing stones  but it is long gone. I follow the lane now to Lockeridge. The author of Meg and Mog, the childrens stories about a witch and her cat, lived here. Lockeridge Dene, which is owned by the National Trust, is full of yet more sarsen stones. The lane climbs here with West Woods to my left. There is a long barrow in the woods, difficult to see, but I take the turn that leads back down to East Kennet. The East Kennet long barrow lies in the middle of a ploughed field. The farmer gets a bit fed up with people tramping over his field to get to  this, and I won't today. The long barrow itself has never been excavated, but sarsens sticking out from one end would seem to indicate that it is also chambered.

East Kennet Long Barrow

East Kennet Long Barrow

Halfway along the lane is a track that leads off to the right down the hill back to Overton, where I hope a hot drink and a good meal awaits me. You can take any track or footpath in this area and find evidence of the past. A sacred landscape indeed, and one that never fails to fill me with a deep sense of connection to the land and my ancestors.

By Wychiewoman

A Wiltshire Walk Comments And Ratings

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Comments

This sounds like a really interesting walk, lots of interesting things to see. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: Ryewolf on 20/03/2015 14:09:00

 

Thanks for this article! These are some of my favourite places and I have good memories connected with this area.

Posted by: Red Leaf Witch on 21/03/2015 13:16:00

 

What an interesting read, thank you

Posted by: Glitteringmoon on 02/04/2015 15:49:00

 

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