“Don’t sit and wait. Get out there, feel life. Touch the sun, and immerse in the sea.”

― Rumi

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.

The Grand Avenue, The Savernake Forest

Riding out along a ridge

The Vale of Pewsey from Golden Ball Hill

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.

I was following two long distance walking paths at this point: The Mid Wilts Way and The White Horse Trail. Of which more information can be found on the really useful: https://ldwa.org.uk/ . I also stopped to check the route on my phone using the website: https://www.komoot.com/discover as well as Ordnance Survey maps on: https://footpathmaps.com/

Competitive eating!

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!

Martinsell Hill; the home of ‘competitive eating’!

The kindness of strangers and a route for you

The Grand Avenue in the Savernake Forest

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.

Compilers tip:

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.

Courtesy of: footpathmaps.com

An Iron and Chalk route north

Swindon to Marlborough railway cycle path
A friendly horse; grateful for a handful of grass and a nose scratch

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.

The byway north to Badbury Castle.

Barbury Castle and the Ridgeway

Looking back to Barbury Castle

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.

Happy memories of earlier days

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?

The Ridgeway

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.

A welcome rest before the final descent over the smooth chalk grassland

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