A circular route; including: Wansdyke, a roman road, Avebury, the Ridgeway, Tan Hill and Roundway Down
“There are some heights in Wessex, shaped as if by a kindly hand
For thinking, dreaming, dying on, and at crises when I stand,
Say, on Ingpen Beacon eastward, or on Wylls-Neck westwardly,
I seem where I was before my birth, and after death may be.”
– Thomas Hardy
The old ways of Wiltshire
When thinking of the landscape of Wiltshire; the Salisbury Plain will probably spring to mind. Yet, head north over the wide Vale of Pewsey and you will come to a range of rugged rolling hills; that stretch across England. From the North Sea to the English Channel; ancient ways criss cross these highlands, to take advantage of the views and solid land.
By linking several ancient routes; a present day circular route is possible.
Heading out and up!
When driving to the start of a bike route; I believe parking in the right place helps to make a relaxing ride and day.
Parking in a small village or near houses gives some deterrent to possible car thieves. Whilst, parking near a pub or shop; gives you the option to refuel at the end of the ride.
In addition, I always try to park below one of the biggest climbs of the day. This way you warm up your muscles at the start of the ride. Then you can look forward to a relaxing descent at the end of the ride; when you will probably be tired and reaching your limits.
For this ride; I parked in the picturesque village of Heddington, near Calne. With a car parked overlooked by houses, a nearby pub and the short sharp climb up to Roundway Down.
East to Avebury
After climbing up a tarmacked dead end lane to Roundway Down; I turned east on to a gravel byway. Passing over the site of a major civil war battle in 1643; I imagined the cavalry and infantrymen of those long gone days. I wonder what they were thinking as they stood in formation; waiting to fight their fellow countrymen? Would they have ever thought forward; to man riding a bicycle made from new metals and wearing colourful synthetic clothes? I wonder if there will be cyclists in another 400 years?
Then crossing the present day Devizes to Calne road; I headed on east, along a track covered in rough chalk and flint. After a small rise; I could look see my next objective of Cherhill. Here, I crossed two more historical landmarks; that have survived the centuries and the plough.
First, I crossed the impressive wide open ditch and earthworks of East Wansdyke. Dug out by hand around 1500 years ago; possibly by Roman Britons who stayed after the legions departed for Rome. To protect against the new threat of Saxon invaders; the earthworks run for about nine miles, with the ditch to the north and danger.
Then I crossed a roman road; that once ran from the baths of Aqua Sulis to a garrison near Newbury. With only the breeze and birdsong; it was hard to imagine such a peaceful landscape governed by war and fear. Climbing, Calstone Down, I arrived at the bronze age fort of Oldbury Castle and a monument to Sir William Petty: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Petty
Yet, whilst steadily climbing the smooth grassy slopes; I was only impressed by the meadow full of daisies and buttercups. With their happy colour and gentle rhythmic swaying in the breeze; I felt more and more relaxed.
From here, I could now look north over the modern day: London to Bath road; where modern day chariots hurtle along at over 60 miles per hour, to my next point of interest: Avebury. By following yet another ancient long distance route: the Wessex Ridgeway and then a tarmacked byway; I reached Avebury without the risk from these speeding machines. For more information about the Wessex Ridgeway; check out this helpful site: https://www.ldwa.org.uk/ldp/members/show_path.php?path_name=Wessex+Ridgeway
Avebury and The Ridgeway
The small modern hamlet of Avebury, with its thatched cottages and its relatively new 400 year old pub; is surrounded by a 5,000 year old place of ceremony and worship. A number of great sandstone blocks and earthworks form a great circle; built to maybe appreciate the landscape or long ago religion? A religion maybe based on natural acts and objects; as opposed to modern day religions of idols and scriptures.
Well worth a visit anytime of year; along with the nearby burial mounds of West Kennet long barrow. Here is a link to the English Heritage website:
In happier times; I could have stopped for a cake and cup of tea at the Circle Cafe. Yet unfortunately, due to the current pandemic; this cafe along with many others is closed. So being the self sufficient type; I took a quick slurp from one of my Zefal Magnum litre bottles and rode on out the other side of Avebury.
Here is an Amazon link to buy these water bottles:
Please note: “As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”
The road ended at a farm, then the gravel turned to a rutted chalk track; as it climbed a small hill. After about two miles from Avebury; I reached a broader track heading in a north-south direction.
This track is what is known as: The Ridgeway. As mentioned above, part of a route that runs from Lyme Regis in Dorset; all the way to the Wash in Norfolk. Used for over 5,000 years; by Bronze and then Iron age tribes, Romans, Saxons, Vikings, peaceful drovers and merchants, then modern man and me! I imagined that if time travel was possible; what a spectacular caravan we could have on this great route through England! Cycling next to a Roman legionnaire, a Viking warrior and Bronze age man; I wonder if we would all travel in peace?
To find out more, read this concise article:
Turning south, I descended to East Kennet; then climbed up to Tan Hill.
Passing through East Kennet, I waved good day to the Squire. He was sat in the garden of his grand house; in a electric wheelchair, that supported even his head and neck. As I passed, he said: “fancy a swap”?
To which I replied: “come with me in spirit; old chum”!
He smiled and I passed on a wiser man. I realised then, all the money, houses and chamomile lawns; are worth nothing, if you are not rich in mind and spirit!
This refreshing thought powered me up the long climb to the ridge of Tan Hill and Wansdyke. A smooth grassy track, led me across wind open fields and through a dense forest; before opening out to yet another spectacular view of Milk Hill and the wide Vale of Pewsey. Dropping down to the road that leads to Honey Street, I saw cars zooming past road cyclists, too close and too fast for my taste. After enjoying the grassy descent; I turned again and climbed a smooth meadow back to the ridge of Tan hill and Wansdyke.
After the smooth grassy climb; I passed through a break in the earthworks of Wansdyke and turned west for home. Following the natural contours of the high land; a smooth path on top of Wansdyke, reached to the horizon. Either side the land dropped away to spectacular views; with the long grass swaying in the breeze and the sound of birdsong filling my ears. Cows chewed lazily, clouds rolled over and the earth seemed happy without the need of human help.
I felt completely relaxed here; in this almost ethereal place. I have travelled the globe and had my fair share of trouble. Yet here in my native Wiltshire, on the green grassy hills of home; I felt alive.
Content, I followed the Wansdyke westward; making my way back to the plateau of Roundway Down. Taking care to cross the fast London Road; I rejoined the outward route before Cherhill and then did a loop of Oliver’s Castle. To find out more about Oliver’s Castle and the civil war battle of Roundway Down; read about a recent light hearted jolly jaunt I took here:
Before descending over the steep slopes of Beacon Hill and back to the car at Heddington.
Come and ride and relax; here or anywhere. Just ride to relax; cheers
Parking, refreshments and other tips
I would advise parking at Heddington; in the signposted free car park or the Ivy Inn, on the same road. If coming from the east; park on Roundway Down by the white horse. There is the aforementioned Circles Cafe in Avebury; along with a village shop and pub. Yet beware that due to current restrictions; places may be shut. I brought two litres of water; along with three high protein cereal bars. In hot weather, bring sunglasses and sunscreen; in winter, expect strong winds and extreme cold, especially in the high places.
3 hours 52 minutes
Chilled as a cucumber
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