Did a linear walk the other day which gave a different perspective to approaching Avebury as went via Windmill Hill. Travelled by 49 bus to Berwick Bassett then followed one of the North Wessex Downs AONB superb bus walks. The walk (see link below) suggests a small detour to see St Nicholas Church in Berwick Bassett - this is worth the effort however ambivalent you may feel towards churches as it is built from sarsen stone, the first church I've ever seen built completely with sarsen. Three of the gravestones are sarsen standing stones though all erected relatively recently.
The approach to Windmill Hill is along a right of way which takes you across two fields so it is visible for some time before you reach it. Interesting when you remember that Windmill Hill was a causewayed enclosure and a site of Neolithic gatherings long before Avebury was built - I could well have been walking an ancient route. Once on Windmill Hill it seems compulsory to sit on the main round barrow for a bit and contemplate the amazing landscape that stretches out all around you. The day I visited it was misty (though lifting) giving the view towards Avebury the mysterious appearance I love so much. Silbury only just discernible through the mist along with Cherhill Down on the right.
The walk down to Avebury from Windmill Hill was just so peaceful; the mist was lifting fast to reveal a perfect still November day. Hardly anyone at Avebury and on this occasion I went into the Alexander Keiller Museum which is a must for anyone visiting Windmill Hill for the first time.
Its strange that you when become too familiar with a place like Avebury, all it takes is approaching it from a different direction to bring it back into sharp focus again (even in mist). If you are able, I recommend this walk and I understand the 49 bus now runs hourly on a Sunday - use it or lose it.
I fulfilled an ambition of many years today by finally making it up to Windmill Hill. Having been to Avebury lots of times over the years, this was the one part of the landscape I had not visited and it was well worth seeing. We did a circular walk starting from the church near the Alexander Keiller museum, when we got there walked up to the top of the largest barrow and found it very peaceful and atmospheric. One might say there isn't much to see, but it's unusual because it does some interesting barrows and it's a neolithic enclosure which is different to the many hill forts which are so ubiquitous in the area.
As an integral part of the Avebury landscape you can't fail to miss this if you have a serious interest in the place, or like me it's great for any completists who come back time and again and want to see more.
If, like me, you like to keep walking to a minimum, you can follow the lane about half way up the hill before parking at a suitable point. When I say suitable I mean a slightly wider bit of track! Be careful not to try to drive too far up as the track becomes increasingly narrower, rutted and unless you are driving a tractor undrivable. I tried to warn an American tourist about this as he drove past me. Needless to say he knew better...... Once you get to the top, over a gate and a flat walk to the several barrows to be seen.
We found getting here reasonably easy with a 3-wheel buggy. Gate rather than stile.
Only saw one other bod, in over an hour and a half, compared to the afternoon crowds at Avebury, it was bliss. Peaceful place, even despite the military transport droning overhead. The barrows are well defined, as are the ditches. We had a picnic as it seemed the thing to do at a causewayed camp.
It struck me that it would be an excellent place to watch the sunset, you'd get a really good idea of the local topography watching the shadows change. When you read about the Avebury area, and stare at the maps, you get an illusion of familiarity with the landscape and how the monuments are set within it. But I reckon spending an hour or more up here is the way to try and get your head around it all, if only because there are no cars or crowds.
Access parked at a gate just off the A4361 to the west, more or less opposite East Farm (slightly south). Walk of maybe half a mile, uphill but not steep, and (from memory) the surface is pretty even on grass. A couple of gates to go through that were unlocked. Terrain on site is a little rough and could be muddy or slippery in the wet.
Wednesday 17 September 2003
Wow! Well worth the pretty easy walk - for the views of Silbury and Cherhill and the general Avebury landscape if nowt else*.
But there is 'else'!!! Plenty of 'else'. Barrows. Really nice barrows. Enclosure earthworks. Quite spectacular enclosure earthworks (I thought). A real sense of 'settlement' somehow, I felt - despite the surprisingly exposed and, once you're up there, kind of 'remote' position.
And of course there's the generally held assertion that this is where it all started, which somehow seemed to make sense.
*Could even just make out the Longstone Cove! (Can't see it on my photo though - too hazy....)
The gentle rise of the hill gives you no clue as to how far up you actually are when you get to the top, and it won't make you break into a sweat either. What a great place to blow the cobwebs away! A series of earthworks, round barrows, saucer barrows and a cracking bell barrow set in a hummocky landscape and all the while one's gaze is pulled towards the looming figure of Silbury Hill....
Windmill Hill. There isn't a windmill. And to the majority of us that hurriedly guess a glance in its direction when accelerating out of Avebury, there doesn't seem to be much of a hill either. But this weekend (on my way to Jane's inspiring exhibition of paintings) I decided I'd finally pay it a visit.
Taking Julian Cope's book's advice I thought I'd walk up from Avebury. Just to save you the unnecessarily tiring confusion I suffered trying to find the footpath, let me guide you to it. I parked in the NT carpark. Just as you walk through the gate, turn sharp left and leave the rest of the tourists behind - cut down this shady footpath and at the end of it turn left onto the road. The road soon bends right, then left. By now you will have been overcome by an urge to remark on the cuteness of the village. The road turns into a path, and then into a little bridge/causeway. When it splits in two, take the right hand side, and climb over the stile to your right. Cross the field and the stiled footbridge - then you just follow the path across the fields. I'd met three people so far who cheerily answered my 'good morning's - but from this point on I didn't see a soul until I was back in Avebury.
When you finally get to it, the climb is kind of slow and shallow, but it turns into a slog - the type where you start off chatty but end up silently wondering 'aren't we there yet?' It made the walk more of a Journey really, as I had time to ponder. Arriving was quite gradual - not like the short concerted effort of getting to Adam's Grave or WK longbarrow, and there was no shock value of a sudden view. When I arrived I was alone - well, as alone as you can be amidst 100+ sheep, but they largely ignored me. It was immensely windy and cold, but sunny and clear. It should have been totally silent, but the wind was howling in my ears and I could hear a lot of noise, even though there wasn't any. If you see what I mean.
I stood on the biggest barrow and did feel at the centre of all I surveyed. Behind me the steep slopes up to the Ridgeway were enclosing, in front the Pewsey Downs pointed out to the flat landscape. I guess the hill must slope away equally on all sides, but it didn't feel like this. Maybe it was partly to do with the colours of the fields and only an illusion of this time or season.
I couldn't see Avebury for trees, but Silbury Hill stood out . Its top seemed about the same level as I was standing - again this could have been an illusion, but it was quite an interesting one.
I thought it was a strange place really - it was so empty but it must once have been a busy focus of activity. It was quite lonely really. From the top it is very much a Hill, but that's certainly not how it looked to me before I ventured up here. I suppose I'll be better equipped to pick the site out from other vantage points now? Even when I came down it didn't look like it felt, or how it was. It's quite Disguised.
Anyway, well worth it. I felt quite smug and comfy as I walked back that I'd been up there. Come back to Avebury, you should go up there too.
From Avebury, the gentle rise of Windmill Hill is so slight as to barely catch your eye. And indeed, when there's so much razzle-dazzle in the great henge, this place is usually overlooked.
But it was here that the first henge was dug on the Avebury landscape. And, all these thousands of years later, if you want to find it you can still trace the three concentric rings of ditches, marking out the ritual areas.
The trick is to think BIG - the outer one is simply enormous, almost clipping the trees on the western slope.
A lovely feature that messes with the modern mind is the cetring of the areas. It's slightly off-centre, going down the north side. Despite what Cursuswalker's notes suggest, this cannot have been an accident. The ancients weren't stupid, and they could feel gravity just as well as we can.
No, like the siting of long barrows and other monuments of the earlier part of megalitihic times, this is from a time before we were needing to bo the biggest, highest, grandest.
And although the hill looks like nothing from Avebury, once up here the view is a commanding one out to the henge and Silbury.
There are two massive Bronze Age barrows on the eastern side, and a bit further out, just outside of the National Trust land, two more are under the plough and getting smaller every year.
The lump on the northern side that looks like a barrow with a tree growing out of it is actually a mini reservoir.
Visiting this and proplerly figuring it out for the first time has given it a place in my understanding that East Kennett long barrow has just acquired. Both looked so trivial from the viewpoints I'd seen them from before, but once you've walked round the other side, and once you've been up here and seen the view from the top, its place on the landscape becomes paramount.
Try walkin the Ridgeway south past East Kennett long barrow. Try walking the path west out of Winterbourne Monkton and see how Windmill Hill looms and broods at everything.
Going out to West Kennett, Windmill Hill just covers the backdrop of the view. Getting up in the morning when camping at Avenue Farm I will always look for a moment at the earthworks up here.
Incidentally, what a shame Cursuswalker hasn't put more posts up on this site - the notes for Windmill Hill are superb; historical, intuitive, personal, informative.
I can understand why there are no reports for Windmill Hill as yet.
Frankly, Avebury is nearby and far more accessible and spectacular, whereas Windmill Hill is relatively unknown outside archaeological circles, a bit of a pain to get to and once you get there there isn't too much to see.
It WAS the forerunner to Avebury, being of the earlier Causewayed Enclosure type that was the style of sacred circle that led to the Henge. It is also the site from which the entire Causewayed Enclosure building culture of southern Britain is named. In all the aerial photographs of it that you are likely to see, from about 1950, there has been a recent archaeological dig, so the three rings look quite prominent. When I got there one could barely make them out.
The one section of ditch that looks most spectacular is actually a more recent quarry on the north eastern side, but the rings CAN be traced, possibly more easily if the grass is cropped close, and there are two impressive Bronze Age round barrows on the top of the hill, inside the enclosure. This is typical of the later Bronze Age peoples, who seemed to see Neolithic sites as places of death, where it was auspicious to bury their chieftains.
Strangely the centre of the enclosure is not upon the top of the hill, but offset to the northwest. I like to imagine the first arrivals trying to determine where the centre should be, while the place was still forested. Being such a low hill this would not have been easy necessarily, and the centre just misses it. But who knows? Perhaps it was deliberate.
It IS a very peaceful place. The place from which those who first decided to create permanent meeting places in this landscape would have viewed the land around them as the tree cover was stripped away from the hill over the years. Sitting on the hill, looking in the direction of Avebury, it is easy to imagine a person in about 3000BC, whose name we will never know, first thinking up the idea of a more ambitious project in the shallow valley below, and the site of the future Silbury Hill is clearly visible.
You are guaranteed peace on this hill, and I look upon it as Avebury's "quiet room", as the tourist trail doesn't go near it. But it does also seem a slightly sad place for all that. As I traced the circles I felt quite sombre, yet safe and welcome there.
This was on Tuesday 16th February 1999. Immediately after walking to Windmill Hill I visited my last remaining grandparent in nearby Swindon. He unexpectedly died two weeks later, so Windmill Hill will always have a certain association for me.
To sit upon its highest point in silence, with a gentle wind sending waves through the grass around you, is to feel a real connection with a way of life and a culture that has now passed, yet which gave birth to the culture which created our best known sacred sites.
An extra little bit of information: the big barrow within the camp is called 'Picket Barrow'. Its ditch was excavated in 1939, and in it were discovered a number of stone axes. At the summit of the barrow they found a bronze age cremation in an urn (which had been disturbed by industrious rabbits).