It is easy to think of a trip to Stonehenge; when wanting to experience the ancient places of Wiltshire. Yet you can avoid the crowds and extortionate admission fee and explore several historical sites in one circular walk. I visited the equally impressive stones of Avebury, the silence of Silbury Hill, the relaxing West Kennet long barrow and walk back in time on the ancient Ridgeway.
If you are approaching Silbury Hill from the east or Marlborough; you will see a long layby on the left which is signposted to West Kennet long barrow. If this is full, carry on over the small ridge to find another larger car park on the right; which is signposted: ‘Silbury Hill viewing area’.
From here I started this walk towards Avebury. Looking for the small footpath sign at the back of the car park; the path passes by a long hedge but was then out in to open countryside. Here I could take in views of Silbury Hill to the south and wonder at its construction and heyday all those years ago.
Built over 4,500 years ago and the height of the smallest Great Pyramid in Egypt. It must have been quite a site, covered in brilliant white chalk. Experts are not sure of its purpose; with ideas being the burial site of a King to a place of worship. For what ever reason; I am most impressed by how it was built using primitive hand tools. To find out more about Silbury Hill from people who know what they are talking about; follow this link: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/silbury-hill/history/
Turning left after a small bridge; I made my way alongside a stream towards Avebury. I took care crossing a main road and walk through a car park and narrow path into the village.
The quaint village of Avebury, is worth a visit alone; with various cottages of thatch and stone in all shapes and sizes. Passing the need to make a pilgrimage to the Red Lion pub for a refreshing ale; I passed through a gate and walked up to the widely spaced stones of Avebury.
These great sarsen stones, weighing several tonnes; were dug up from the local landscape. To transport them to Avebury; it is assumed they were rolled on wooden spikes. When in position the stones formed a circle of over 400 metres in diameter. A site of ceremony or worship; this must have been the place to be all those years ago. Although I felt no spiritual connection; I was again amazed by these ancient people being able to construct such a site. With no cranes, no lorries or excavators; it is amazing what was possible. The sarsen stones themselves are amazing to see; the last remnants of a concrete like cap that covered southern England after the last Ice Age. Yet, to get more factually correct facts; please check this link: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/avebury/history/
After spending some time admiring the stones; I climbed the outer mound and walked east out of Avebury towards the ancient Ridgeway.
Ridgeway, Fyfield Down and the Sanctuary
Leaving the circles of Avebury behind; I left the village on a quiet lane to a farm. After the farm, a rough track gradually climbs up to the Ridgeway. This is a long but gentle climb; yet take care, as this ridge is exposed to the wind and rain. The Ridgeway is yet another ancient wonder, for at least 5,000 years; this high ground has been a easy route above the marshy valley floors. It runs between the south coast and the eastern coast above the Wash and has been used by soldiers, herdsmen and travellers.
Today, when I reached the Ridgeway; I turned right towards the south by a helpful signpost. Looking to the east; I saw the wide open fields of Fyfield Down, dotted with the same sarsen stones that are in Avebury. These fields are a special place; along with the stones, there are remains of medieval settlements as well as brilliant flowers and fauna that can only grow in such a untouched place. Best viewed in spring; check this link to see what I mean: https://www.uksouthwest.net/wiltshire/fyfield-down-national-nature-reserve/
Walking south on the Ridgeway; the ground has deep ruts in places, so watch where you step. However, you will find there is normally a smooth but narrow path made by the many walkers that have gone before you. From here you can look out over the fields; back to Avebury, the top of Silbury hill and West Kennett long barrow in the distance. As the Ridgeway descends to the main road; you’ll see another place to park or even camp for a night. Take care crossing the road as cars can travel at over 60mph around a blind bend.
Once safely across; I opened a gate to what looks like a small paddock. Here, a great building once stood over 3,000 years ago. Built with sarsen stones and a timber frame; it is a place where funerals took place because of the many bones found here. Connected to Avebury by an avenue marked with stones; so the two places were connected as places of worship or ceremony.
After leaving the Sanctuary; I walked down the sunken path by the gate. The thick undergrowth soon masks the sound of the passing cars and I relaxed once more. The path descends to a old bridge over a stream. If I passed over the bridge and headed due south; I would soon be climbing again up to Wansdyke.
Yet today, I turned right before the bridge and kept the stream to my left. After about ten minutes the path reaches a small road by another bridge. Listen out for approaching cars as you take care crossing the bridge; then turn immediately right along a muddy track. After a short distance; I looked out for a path to the right that seemingly went through a thick hedge beneath a tall beech tree. Soon after I entered into open fields with the grass like a smooth carpet beneath my feet. Following the footpath signs; I soon arrived below the West Kennet long barrow.
The long barrow
This structure was built over 3,000 years ago; to inter the remains of 46 people. Again, constructed from sarsen stones and chalk; only certain powerful chiefs or religious leaders would have been laid to rest here. Nowadays, it has been carefully restored and the skeletons removed; so it is possible to look inside the burial chambers.
After seeing the long barrow, I walked back down the hill and crossed the main road for the last time. Here, I could choose to walk back to the same bridge at the start of the walk or alongside the road in the safety of the field. Choosing the latter, I walked right up to Silbury Hill and then around its base. Although the grass was long and wet; it was interesting to see it so close.
Then returning to my car; I felt relaxed after seeing such ancient wonder in the fresh air. If you are fit and able; I thoroughly recommend this walk over the crowds of Stonehenge any day. If you are into cycling; check out my ride along the ancient ways of Wiltshire: Old ways of Wiltshire
What ever you do; I hope you have a relaxing day out. Cheers
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