This is a fine, two-day walk, framed by two of the greatest neolithic sites in Britain.
With other ancient remains, it is very satisfying to walk from the one to the
other, through parts of England you wouldn't normally see. We were fortunate to do it in
May, with the fresh green leaves of late Spring, and lots of lovely flowers;
this sense of new growth and the summer to come were quite stirring. Our company through
this walk was first three, then two friends. Burgeoning nature combined with our
history of long ago gave a feeling of essence of England.
We arrived In Avebury the previous evening, the double decker bus depositing us inside the circle and just by the pub.
Late, slanting sunlight gave the stones a lovely atmosphere. The massive, chunky rocks
were well lit, and delightfully accompanied by a flock of sheep with their lambs, scratching
their backs on the neolithic remains. The massive, outer circle of boulders
pronounced itself the biggest stone circle in the UK. We walked up onto the earth ridge
for a view of the Avenue; then we went on round, above the ditch, and back
into the village. The Red Lion provided a pleasant pub meal, with real ale.
DAY 1: Avebury to East Chisenbury.
Avebury Life B&B gave us all we needed, plus a few crystals, and a vegetarian breakfast.
Then we rambled round the northern half of the circle, pondering the imponderable society
that built these huge stone arenas. It all seemed so mysterious, raising many questions about how and why they were made; no wonder there
are loads of theories.
We started to wander south; on the skyline we could see the outline of Silbury Hill.
The inverted bowl-shape is said to have taken something like 500 men 15 years to make.
What was the reason that an agrarian society wanted such a grand mound? How could they
afford to spend all that time at it? Further south, on top of a great, long, rounded,
earth-knoll, we came to the West Kennet Long Barrow neolithic tomb; the burial chambers
are thought to have been made some 400 years before Stonehenge. These places spoke of
substantial human activity, in a society affluent enough to put great manpower into large
We spent quite a lot of this day walking through the gently undulating hills, with
countryside farms producing wheat and barley, and raising sheep and cattle. The
chalk contrasted attractively with the green crops, and some dramatic, bright yellow fields
of oilseed rape. As well as a sharp wind, there was a fine, all-round view from Adam's
Grave, including back northwards, to the White Horse Hill figure, dug into the chalk.
The descent to Alton Priors brought us out of the wind and into the charming village,
with its 18th century yew tree and church. After Honeybridge, we followed a bit
of the White Horse Trail and then turned south, on the Old Way, down to the Vale of Pewsey.
Up at the next high point, we got a broad view of the great plateau of
Salisbury Plain, spreading for miles. The cloudy day seemed part of the somewhat mysterious
atmosphere of this land - misty history, with misty weather - all part of our
Accompanied by the sounds of firing practise, we arrived at Charlton Clumps to find a red
flag flying. This is mainly MoD territory; there were a few people in army fatigues, and
there were warnings to keep out and notices about not picking up any undetonated ordnance
(definitely not). Diverting to the SE, we skirted the MoD land and made our way down to
East Chisenbury, ending the day with a delightful walk along the bank of the Avon. There
was little choice of B&B; we stayed at another Red Lion pub, which had a stylish
converted cottage (Troutbeck) as its guest house. Although it wasn't cheap, the rooms were
comfortable and we had a deliciously memorable meal, with Arty Farty beer. Again,
we were treated to a sunny evening, and we enjoyed the beautiful river view, while
relishing the pleasures of an interesting day.
DAY 2: East Chisenbury to
Was it just optimism, or was the day a little brighter? The morning was spent on a pretty
ramble in the company of the River Avon; there were trailing weeds in the clear
water, swans, various ducks, waterside meadows, with weeping willows and light green trees
on the banks. The sense of hope from all the new growth and the potential of the summer
ahead was invigorating. We chatted with some local people, including a farmer; we later
discovered he was known as 'Midnight', as he was always up tending his cows and
calves in the wee small hours. Indeed, he was keen to tell us about the calf that had died
at 3am that morning. The villages had some charming cottages; many were
thatched, and one was being redone, with the thatcher creating a new fringe on the ridge
of one, with fresh hay. Some boasted the local 'signature' of a squirrel (or such)
topping the hay-crest.
Wending our way southwards, we bought some provisions in a village shop and had a little
picnic, just before leaving the river. Then we cut off towards the SW, across
Salisbury Plain. Next we passed Durrington Walls, a great neolithic settlement, thought to
be the 'camp' of the builders of Stonehenge; there was a huge semicircular
bank of earth [Note, 2015: now known to cover more stonehenge-sized stones]; with the river nearby, many people could have lived there. Then there were
the long, rectangular, earth-bank-walls of the Cursus, possibly it wasn't a
racecourse; though as usual, it was hard to interpret or understand.
But overall, this was a lovely way to approach the great stones, which loomed
on the horizon, across a huge daisy and buttercup meadow. The silhouettes stood out
proudly as we looked from the valley below, gradually growing in stature as we approached.
Having come on our own steam, we didn't feel like joining the mass of tourists
'inside'; so we gazed from outside the fence. What a staggering achievement - built all
those millenia ago; the sheer size was quite awe-inspiring. It's the lintels that get me:
how could those people have raised them without modern technology? The whole site, set in
the vast, wide plain, conjured up ideas of great gatherings on important days
and nights of the year. Our very old ancestors created a massive monument that showed them
as impressive and creative people.
We spurned the tourist cafe at the site, and got on the tourist bus back to Salisbury; this
included a commentary about other earth works we passed, including the
Iron Age hill fort Old Sarum. Back in civilization, we indulged in the pleasures of
tea and cake in the Old Market Square. And another sunny evening gave further
opportunity to review and relish the many pleasures of our two days.
Our friends made a few concluding comments: Ally said "the stirring beginning and end
gave the walk great symbolic significance; it was satisfying going from A to
B, with lots of variety in between." Dick added that "it was also interesting to
look at the middle of England, away from the sea, and see places where few tourists go."
In May 2014 we did the walk the other way. What we noted:
1) May is a beautiful time to walk in chalk country.
2) The new Visitor Centre seems nice, but you feel that English Heritage 'own' the site, and it's a nice little earner.
3) There are lots of information boards by the various neolithic sites, but when it
comes down to it they are mainly conjecture - we know almost nothing about the artefacts or the people who built them.
4) The variety of scenery on this walk is delightful.
5) The one real hill of the walk - 'Adam's Grave' - is well worth the climb.
6) If you get lost ask the Army, they know where they are - though their maps are (surprisingly) different from the Ordnance Survey.
© Diana Ambache 2014