“Don’t sit and wait. Get out there, feel life. Touch the sun, and immerse in the sea.”
A round route to relax
Although I have cycled for many years in my home county of Wiltshire. I felt there were some places I had yet to experience and enjoy. Studying the maps I found some points of interest and then joined them up via bridleways and quiet country lanes.
Riding out along a ridge
I chose to start my ride from a car park near Milk Hill; the highest point in Wiltshire. This was because: it was the closest point to my house, it was a safe place to leave the car and I would be rewarded with a breathtaking final descent back to the car.
Having got the bike and myself out the car and ready; I set off east up a smooth grassy track. The views south over the Vale of Pewsey were spectacular; so I kept stopping just to savour the moment: clear blue skies with a gentle English sun, the green grasses of home and an invigorating breeze.
After passing through fields of lazy sheep, fresh cut grass that caught in the cassette and a holloway; I reached the ancient hilltop settlement of Martinsell Hill. It is thought that people first settled here over 2,500 years ago; to take advantage of the natural defence afforded by the steep hillsides. What amused me, reading the information board; was that: it was the sight of ‘competitive eating’ in the middle ages. The act of impressing your fellow kinsmen by eating as much as you could; to show that you could afford to grow or buy so much food!
The kindness of strangers and a route for you
After following a very smooth and fast byway; I arrived at the first tarmac road of the day. Thankfully it was a quiet lane that led towards the Savernake Forest. However, as I followed the lane to the edge of the forest; I came upon a busy main road with cars speeding past at an unforgiving pace. Seeing no way of crossing straight over this man made barrier; I doubled back and tried to find another route to cross the road.
As I turned onto a muddy farm track; I met a wonderful woman walking her dog, who made the effort to pass the time of day. When I told her of my plight, she described a stunning but hidden path that ran alongside the road for a distance; then crossed directly into the great Savernake Forest. In this age of fear and insecurity; it was refreshing to meet a friendly soul who gave time and advice to improve my day and life! Please, make the effort to help a stranger and pay forward the help and gratitude you too would wish to receive.
Carefully crossing the main road; I soon found myself in a lush green forest as dense as any Amazonian jungle! The noise of the traffic was soon replaced with birdsong and the roads, signs and barriers; were replaced with the smooth and natural shapes of all number of species of trees and plants. Savernake Forest is an ancient woodland with many trees being over a 1,000 years old! It can also boast the longest beech avenue in England; designed by Capability Brown as well as being the site of deer hunting by King Henry VIII! Worthy of a walk or ride in itself; come and visit anytime of year.
Leaving the forest through the northern gate; I had intended to cross the A4 London road and use a lane to reach a bridleway. However, this lane turned out to be private; so I had to cycle alongside the main road, use a section of footpath then bushwhack to the bridleway. In hindsight, I would have probably used the lane to the east; highlighted in blue on the map opposite.
An Iron and Chalk route north
Finding my intended route again; I descended a quiet lane to the river Kennett and yet another ancient settlement: Mildenhall. It was hereabouts a large Roman walled town called: Cunetio was found; dating from the second century.
Passing through the relatively modern village; I passed a cosy looking pub called: The Horseshoe Inn. If it had been open; I would have happily reported on the available ales! So leaving the dry village, the road soon came to a old railway bridge. Here I descended to a path that runs along the route of the old Swindon to Andover railway. A good surface of hard packed gravel; meant I could quickly move north and on to my next point of interest: Barbury Castle and the Ridgeway. What a credit to the determination of volunteer groups to breathe new life into a once unwanted route! Leaving the path at Ogbourne Maizey; I said hello to a friendly white mare, crossed another busy main road and climbed a smooth chalk byway up and into open countryside.
Barbury Castle and the Ridgeway
The smooth chalk byway, my fantastic Canyon mountain bike and a cool breeze; made the long climb to Barbury Castle seem like a dream. Passing a couple resting on the verge; they remarked that they should have ridden too! I then passed through the busy car park for Barbury Castle; where I had a close shave with a inconsiderate driver. To stop the poor soul from slowing down; I gladly pulled into a bed of stinging nettles. Safe in the knowledge that I would soon be leaving the road behind; I forgave the poor chap for being stuck in his world of stress, impatience and driving.
I quickly passed through the castle itself because of the hordes of people that only appear when access by road is near. Climbing a far hill; I looked back at the castle and people and was grateful for my health and ability to pass on through the landscape.
It is here I joined an ancient route; simply called: The Ridgeway. Used for at least 5,000 years; it has afforded travellers passage from the Dorset coast to the Wash in Norfolk. Using the high ground; approaching dangers could be easily seen as well as staying dry compared to the boggy valley floor in winter.
I too traversed rapidly south and west towards Avebury. Although rutted and worn out in places; the Ridgeway is still the only way to pass through the landscape in the present day. Crossing a road; I remembered I had stopped here many years ago with an ex lover and her daughter. Reminiscing about playing in the snow; I could only feel happy on the now warm and sunny day. I wondered how many souls had gone before me; thinking equally meaningful thoughts?
Avebury and south to Wansdyke
Turning off the Ridgeway towards Avebury; I retraced part of another brilliant route to relax, that took me further west towards Roundway Down. It can be found here: Old ways of Wiltshire
Taking care, I descended a very rutted section then passed through the centre of the village. In addition, at the time of writing, we are living through a global pandemic; so I took care to pass through the many tourists looking at the standing stones of Avebury. Yet soon I was back out in open country; far away from the maddening crowds.
After a section of brilliant byway, I had to use a pavement alongside the London Road; to navigate the safest route to my final climb back up to Wansdyke. At the Beckhampton roundabout; I patiently waited for a gap in the traffic to cross over to the village centre. From here, I was on bridleways; all the way back to the car. The final climb was gentle and smooth yet long in length. I really felt tired from the rutted tracks, concentration and summer sun. Yet by stopping regularly to breathe, sip water and take in the beautiful views I remained relaxed. On Wansdyke above the final descent; I laid down in the long green grass. Like the Vale of Pewsey, all forms of stress seemed so far away; as my mind was filled with a feeling of contentment at being able to see and enjoy this wonderful world.
Come and try this picturesque route through ancient Wiltshire for yourself. Enjoy and relax.