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Winter Ridgeway walking ...

Today for the first time I walked the Hackpen Hill to Avebury part of the Ridgeway - for those who want a car free walk you can get off the 49 bus (from Swindon or Devizes) at Broad Hinton and pick up the White Horse Trail immediately beside The Bell pub. I was with my Cotswold-Walking-friend who lives in a village north of Swindon so had a car lift up to the small parking area by the Ridgeway near the Hackpen White Horse. Mist hung over the Ridgeway and downs, the winter sun was putting up a valiant effort to make an appearance, still ice covered puddles and remnants of snow snaking along the edges of the path ahead. We set off having decided beforehand to walk quietly taking in any wildlife in the hedgerows we might encounter – we were not disappointed, fifteen minutes into the walk a barn owl rose from its repose on a fence and flew silently off.

I wanted to show my friend the Polisher (Polissior) stone – the astonishing sarsen stone used by Neolithic people for sharpening axes, quite easy to access if you know where to look as there is now a gate into the field. By the time we reached this point the mist had descended again and the triangular landmark stone – normally just visible from the Ridgeway had disappeared from view. We picked our way towards the Polisher and it was with great pleasure I showed this unique and ancient stone to my friend [entry by Baza on TMA in 2003: The stone`s description as it appears in the SMR (N.M.No.33951): A recumbent tabular stone 1.4m in length includes grooves and a dished area consistent with its use for the shaping, whetting and polishing of Neolithic stone axes. Excavation around the stone in 1963 demonstrated that it had originally been upright, whilst an iron wedge and a coin showed that it had been split in the 13th century AD.]

I could not visit the Polisher without recalling my very first visit a couple of years or so back when, one hot day in summer, Pete Glastonbury led me up there along the Herepath from Avebury. I have a fond memory of the 'look behind you moment' when the Red Arrows flew past just as Pete took a photo. He's gone off the radar now, as people sometimes do – busy, I believe, with his family and a personal project he's been working on for the past year. I hope he knows there are quite a few people, myself included, who will always feel gratitude for the knowledge about the Avebury landscape he so freely imparted.

Back to today (live in the present while studying the ancient past is my motto for contentment) as mist still hung heavily over the Totterdown slopes it seemed unwise to go looking for the cup-marked or holed stone that are hidden amid the scatter of greywethers. We picked our way downhill diagonally through the dips and grassy tufts, I was heading for the stile by derelict shepherd's cottage near Fyfield Down. Once over the stile we decided to stop for a bit; I'm embarrassed to say that even at my venerable age I remain determinedly undomesticated – my good companion produced a flask of hot water, teabags and food. We used a flat greywether to balance our lunch while the sheep watched on unperturbed – then that downland magic happened. The mist rolled back from the hills towards Overton and bright winter sunlight lit up the landscape with an almost other worldly light.

We continued our walk around the beech clump and into Totterdown Wood, an amazing little ancient place full of moss covered sarsens, then back out into the sunlight to follow the bridle path leading back towards the Ridgeway. Many more large sarsens lying in the hedgerows and one lone stone near the centre of a field. Lots of birds, (green woodpecker; family of long tailed tits spotted) and many nameless more enjoying the pale warmth of the afternoon. Back up on the Ridgeway, still a shiny bright afternoon with mist hanging in the distance – we saw only one other person throughout the duration of our walk. I have to say that, as I looked back down the Ridgeway into the sun infused mist covering the downs, this is the place where my spirit belongs.

I will always come back to it.

tjj Posted by tjj
13th December 2010ce
Edited 16th December 2010ce

Comments (6)

Nice evocative read June, especially the last bit. Must get out in the cold sometime soon. thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
14th December 2010ce
Thanks tsc, really good to have you back here ... your enthusiasm has been missed.

This is actually a great walk, the trail goes up from Broad Hinton and you have the choice of Fyfield Down with its truly unique landscape or down the Herepath to Avebury and all it contains. Walking on a Monday is joy, hardly anyone around.
tjj Posted by tjj
14th December 2010ce
I read this, digested your beautiful account, then yearned desperately to be there at that time. Sometimes words conjure up images better than pictures. You did just that.
I really must retrace your steps one day. I hope I get similar conditions.
The Eternal Posted by The Eternal
15th December 2010ce
Thank you for the kind comment TE, I only took a couple of photos on this occasion, neither of them really relevant - just wanted to 'be' if that makes sense.


tjj Posted by tjj
16th December 2010ce
Here was my inspiration June, just took me six months to get round to it after your blog :) thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
8th February 2014ce
Ah! Many thanks tsc, your field notes and blogs have inspired me in the past too (e.g. trip to West Cornwall, earlier in 2010). For the record, the Bell and Broad Hinton has been renamed The Barbury. tjj Posted by tjj
8th February 2014ce
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