The Great Stones Way - narrative
Avebury Stone Circle to Stonehenge

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 building projects.

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 rich heritage.

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