R7: Ogbourne St George to Devizes, Oldbury Camp 22.2 miles

Walking back down Ogbourne’s High Street.

Ogbourne St George

This would be the longest day so far.

I’d started early and the sun was up.

A car passed, stepping to one side, my foot caught on something in the verge.

Suddenly, I was pitching forward with the rucksack giving me momentum….

and found myself heading face down to the tarmac.

This could have been unfortunate but my hands were not cut, my knee grazed but jeans intact. I reached up to my forehead and it was wet and sticky. A bit of blood but not much. My nose was OK.

So, I walked on with just a bruised left hand, knee and shoulder but branded with a bloody mark above the eyebrows which was plainly visible to a questioning world.

I must be more careful… particularly when walking alone.

The day was beautiful and I was soon climbing over a stile and back into and up through Wiltshire farmland. This became a horse-land full of gallops, a world of wooded plantings and paddocks. A formation of four riders in identical uniform jogged towards me.

The Gallops before Barbury

I met a man with a dog. We praised the morning and he told me of his walks and… one day… he would walk the whole Ridgeway.

Soon I was at Barbury Country Park. A school mini-bus was in the car park. I rested at a picnic table on top of the downs. A bit further on was the hillfort. A good but faded information board told me to look over my right shoulder to see Liddington and Uffington …. and sure enough there they were… in profile etched onto the escarpment edge. Three hillforts in a row.

Barbury has two ramparts and ditches enclosing 4.5 hectares. Trenches were dug here in the 1800s and in WWII. They revealed evidence of Iron Age occupation confirmed by an English Heritage geophysical survey which showed the circular drainage gullies of many round houses.

I walked across the hillfort through the opposing east and west entrances to the sound of children engaged in hillfort activities and emerged at the edge of a spur of land with extensive views. The countryside vivid as I walked downslope to join a track… on this increasingly hot day.

Now things were looking familiar as I entered the Avebury landscape… clumps of hedgehog tree plantations, often over barrow groups, spaced along the slope edge. I was on the White Horse trail at Hackpen Hill. I asked a cyclist where the horse was. ‘You need to be downslope to see it’ she said ..but there was no time to do that so I pressed on.

As I reached Monkton Down and then Fyfield Down, the landscape became dotted with sarsen boulders ‘grey wethers’. It was from here that the great stones were chosen to be erected inside the inner ditch of great Avebury henge. I walked past the Green Lane route down but I would need to retrace my steps before entering Avebury. I must press on south another mile to Ridgeway end.

My plan to get there by lunch time had failed and I was walking past increasing numbers of converted horse-boxes and vans. Long braided hair, the sound of drums and bright coloured ribbons and streamers. The travellers were starting to assemble. Just a few weeks to midsummer solstice.

The Overton Hill car park has the final Ridgeway map sign just a short distance from a field of finely rounded Bronze Age burial mounds …but the place was busy with the solstice settlement …so I crossed a dangerous road and found tranquility in the Sanctuary with its view west along the Kennett Valley. The extraordinary Late Neolithic Silbury Hill rose out of the river bed about a mile way. I remembered being taken to Silbury’s centre. The organics were so well preserved that turf and ant wings were found dating to c. 2400 BC. blog Inside Silbury Hill).

The Sanctuary, like Woodhenge near Durrington Walls in the Stonehenge landscape, is set out as a series of concentric concrete markers and these placed to interpret the excavations by Maud and Benjamin Cunnington in the 1920s and 30s. Each marker shows an excavated pit or stone hole. The site was first recorded by John Aubrey in 1649 when many of the sarsen stones making up the circles were still in place.. but the site was subsequently plundered for building stone, particularly in the later 18th and 19th centuries.

I took my boots and rucksack off and drank a long drink and knelt on the manicured English Heritage grass …enjoying this high point.

The Sanctuary marks the end of the great West Kennett Avenue, a double line of sarsens stretching over a mile to link this place to Avebury henge and then below me were the great palisaded enclosures of West Kennett. A more recently discovered Neolithic/Bronze Age complex (in and around the National Trust rangers’ offices at West Kennett Farm).They roughly consist of two large timber circular enclosures which are linked by long timber avenues to smaller timber circles.

Perched on the hill behind them, the c. 5,700 year old megalithic long barrow of West Kennett, which, has a set of stone burial chambers you can walk into and sit inside, unlike Wayland’s Smithy (so many miles back along the Ridgeway now).

This, the most ancient of the archaeological places visible in this extraordinary landscape.

On the high hill horizon, far away and beyond Silbury Hill, was the needle-point of the Landsdowne Monument….I needed to get past this to reach Devizes… such a distance still to go.

Illustration of the Sanctuary looking west into the prehistoric landscape. Silbury Hill beyond the West Kennett Palisades with West Kennett Megalithic long barrow above and to the left. Illustration by Peter Urmston copyright Historic England.

So, the Ridgeway conquered, I backtracked a mile and found my first faded Wessex Ridgeway dragon marker on the public footpath post … and ate lunch there.

2pm and I headed down past the farm, dodged a tractor, and walked across the eastern causeway, through the great ditch and bank of Avebury. I remembered the buried megaliths that Chris, Jeff and I had detected by resistivity in 2003 (blog Avebury Buried Megaliths).

That was October/November, now it was steaming and full of visitors cooling on the recumbent sarsens.

It was hot, I had almost run out of water. Walking past the Red Lion, I headed for the NT Cafe beside the Great Barn…..not really ready for polite society….’a paltry thing’…’a tattered cloak upon a stick’ and why was there a graze on his forehead?

I ordered a large tea and an ice cream and asked to fill my water bottle. The water dispenser was too short for my bottle and water sprayed everywhere… I mumbled that I was an NT staff member… the woman behind the counter gave me a disbelieving and disdainful look… and my staff card proof lay deep in the heart of my rucksack.

I retreated outside and rested at a table gulping ice cream and tea in alternate bursts.

Revived, I pressed on through the west part of the village, past the Saxon church and then weaving on footpaths through Avebury Truslow onto a track where there were a pair of sarsens known as the ‘Long Stones’.

These are all that survive of Avebury’s other megalith avenue, illustrated in the early 18th century drawing by William Stukeley. It is known as the Beckhampton Avenue and excavations along its route have found stone setting pits. Like other monuments in the area… some still contain deliberately buried stones and many others just sarsen fragments… where the megaliths have been broken up for building stone.

The grass whale-back of the Beckhampton long barrow was just beyond the Long Stones and then I was climbing steadily. Along a section of A4, across a car park and then through open downland following the line of an old linear earthwork west to the jutting outline of the Lansdowne Monument. A slow, hot, long climb.

The walk up to the Lansdowne Monument

The Monument is a grade II* listed building designed by Charles Barry (architect for the Houses of Parliament and the last phase of Kingston Lacy House). Erected 1845 for 3rd Marquis of Lansdowne and in need of repair (it is a current National Trust project).

It lies within Oldbury Castle, a fine Iron Age hillfort built on the crest of Cherhill Down. Within and surrounding it are many archaeological sites… long and round barrows, cross-ridge dykes, linear earthworks and flint mines.

The stile into Oldbury Castle with its Wessex Ridgeway dragon way marker

A great National Trust property full of wild flowers. I was glad to get there at last.

I was worn out and dry and very much in need of a large orange from Ogbourne St George which I peeled and devoured before taking the path south down the hill which joined the line of a Roman road running through wheat fields for two miles until it converged with the Wansdyke.

Today was just full of archaeology. The Wansdyke deserves a blog of its own. A huge east to west ditch and bank boundary running for many miles. It is thought to date to the 5th-8th century, a division between political areas. So much effort to make it. I gazed briefly along its length as I walked across it.

Over a hill, filled with butterflies and then dodging golf balls across a course to the club house. Roundway Down separated me from Devizes. A long steady ascent…a bleak, hot and open arable country.

The Battle of Roundway Down was fought on 13 July 1643 during the English Civil War. Despite being outnumbered and exhausted after riding overnight from Oxford, a Royalist cavalry force won a crushing victory over the Parliamentarian Army of the West. Lead musket shot and other debris from the battle is still ploughed up or washed out of the fields after heavy rain.

There was Devizes in the distance at last, Emma rang and we shared the progress of our days as civilisation loomed.

Through a housing estate, along a tree lined avenue to the Kennett and Avon canal. I entered the town, walking swiftly past a drunken argument and then Jan phoned. She had just arrived. My path was along a hidden narrow side road and I spotted her a long way off… at the bus stop in the square….I teased her by describing as I approached her…. and eventually she looked around, spotted me and smiled…. then frowned.

‘What have you done to your head?’

7 thoughts on “R7: Ogbourne St George to Devizes, Oldbury Camp 22.2 miles

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed reading about your epic walk Martin. I was quite exhausted by the time you reached Devizes.

  2. It is a stunning area of archaeological sites, superior to Stonehenge in my opinion. I am biased though having been born in the area. I used to keep the SMR for Wiltshire County Council and you sent me the Wiltshire NT data each year, I now own a small piece of woodland at Bishopstrow near the big house where you used to work. I am curious about a large mound in the wood which could easily be a Bronze Age barrow. Glad you are not badly hurt. Best wishes Lesley Freke

    • Yes, I agree Lesley, Avebury is superior. I remember our correspondence when you were the HER officer. When I was at Eastleigh, I was fascinated by The Bury that adjoined the property. There is lot of archaeology in the Warminster/Bishopstrow area. I can’t place the mound though apart from the long barrow and round barrow at Bishopstrow Hotel and the two mounds opposite Eastleigh Court. The LiDAR is good so you should see it well on that. I expect you’ve tried that already. Send me an email of the location to martin.papworth@nationaltrust.org.uk if you would like me to help with mapping and LiDAR at all. with best wishes Martin

      • Hello Martin, it is an unknown and unidentified mound within South Ring Clump. You would have been able to see the one acre wood from the windows of Eastleigh House. It has a very old beech tree on that side. The mound has a very large lime tree on the top of it which possibly indicates that it is not a round barrow though it has some of the characteristics of a barrow. I had not thought of LiDAR though that is a good idea. Not sure that I can reach those standards now though. It is good to hear from you. Best wishes Lesley

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