Wiltshire Walk: Barbury Castle
So much for a ‘sponsored walk’ then!
Toddling the Ridgeway – Barbury Castle to Avebury – 6 miles/2½ hours – OS Explorer 157
On Saturday 20 May, as part of Ramsbury Week, over 100 friends and neighbours completed a sponsored walk along this section of the Ridgeway in aid of Ramsbury Pre-School. For those who couldn’t join us on the day, this is a lovely walk at any time of year, with great scenery and plenty of interest.
The Ridgeway is a series of ancient trackways, together forming Britain’s oldest road and stretching 360 miles across the south of the country from Dorset to Norfolk. Through Wiltshire, the track runs along the chalk ridge of the Wessex Downs, commanding fine views out across the plain to the north, and punctuated by numerous archaeological sites. Barbury Castle, just south of Swindon, is one such site – a fine example of an Iron Age hill fort, boasting two well defined defensive ditches and banks, surrounded by ancient barrows and field systems. Avebury Stone Circle is of course another, although it’s significantly older than the Ridgeway.
To get to Barbury Castle, take the road south from Chisledon to the carpark at the top of the steep scarp, just east of the fort. Here, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the invading West Saxons defeated the Britons at the Battle of Beranbyrg in AD556.
Take the obvious and well signposted track west through the Castle (peppered in spring with cowslips and other wildflowers), across another small road and round to the north of the point-to-point course. The path now runs southwest along the top of Uffcott Down, past the 3 distinctive clumps of trees which can be seen from as far as 30 miles away. Carefully crossing the Rockley road at Hackpen Hill, you’re now above the Hackpen White Horse (you may need to drop down the footpath from the crossroads to get a good view).
Continue on the track for another 2½ miles to the boundary of the Avebury World Heritage Site. Along the way, look out for the restored dewpond which is now a wildlife reserve. Dewponds are artificial reservoirs, being lined with clay to stop rainwater soaking into the underlying chalk.
This whole area is littered with barrows, sarsens (“grey wethers”) and more spectacular monuments such as Silbury Hill and the Devil’s Den. But it’s also classic English chalk country – a surprisingly uncommon habitat in the grand scheme of things – and on a sunny summer day you should be guaranteed a skylark or two. From the top of Fyfield Down, take Green Street (also “Herepath” or the “Wessex Ridgeway”) west into Avebury. This track leads directly to Avebury, which the Ridgeway proper skirts to the east.
Take time to explore and admire the massive standing stones and impressive circular ditch. Refreshments (and shelter on rainy days!) can be had in the Red Lion and at the National Trust teashop at Avebury Manor. With a bit of forward planning, you can have a second car waiting for you at the large National Trust carpark just outside the village. Otherwise, there are any number of rewarding tracks cutting back over the Downs to Barbury.