Sunday dawned dull and dismal and we slept on nurseing hangovers from the
previous hard nights drinking . By lunchtime tho Paul and I felt up to a gentle
muni ride and headed off toward Wiltshire to try a route we had read in an MTB
mag. Paul is a Wiltshire boy and had been brought up with legends and tales
about the area.
We started at Avebury, unlike Stonehenge where the standing stones are massive
and protected from tourists by fences and exclusion zones, at Avebury the
villiage is built in and around the circle or henge of stones. The landscape
around here is liberally sprinkled with tumuli, long barrows and other ancient
remains and curiousities. We headed South, looking over the fields towards
Silbury Hill, europes largest man made hill, its purpose is still unknown but
Paul knows a good story that explains how it got there…
Cranking our way up hill on a flinty by way occupied the next couple of miles,
we meet MTBers at the top, they had the decency not to laugh to loud. Then we
proceeded to get totaly confused looking for the right path at the Wansdyke. Did
we nned to be south of, north of, in or on this giant earth work scar as it
snaked across the hill. South of it seemed to work, Paul doesn’t know who Wan
was or why he had a massive ditch and bank structure built across miles of
english down land. This boundry ( if thats what it is) is still massive and
thats after thousands of years of the ditch filing up and the bank wearing down.
To think it was dug by people with no more than handtools and no faster
communication link than horses is awsome. Yet today it is used as a route for
walkers and riders and nothing more.
We followed the Wansdyke for a few Km, met a few horses and face planted once or
twice on lumpy bits whilst admiring the view, its a skill I need to master,
looking and riding at the same time… eventully we got to the point were the
Ridgeway track crosses the Wansdyke, this is traditionaly the start of the
Ridgeway, it winds north and east for 85 off road miles, one day I want to ride
the lot. Today we contented ourselves with a few miles down to the village of
East Kennet, then uphill again to the A4, some more tumuli, and the remains of a
henge that predates Avebury. Known as the Sanctury, this one dateing from about
2500 BC was pulled apart in the 1750s to allow the hill top to be ploughed.
Archeology and a few sketches from the 1740s have found the sockets for the
posts and stones that once stood here. A double line of stones seem to have
linked this henge to the Avebury one ( built about 2000 BC) a few miles away,
some are still standing and are known today as the Avenue.
We left the new agers doing their stuff at the sanctury and pressed on up the
Ridgeway for a another Km before heading west down to Avebury village and a
welcome drink at the Red Lion Pub, got chatting to the motor bikers who were
there and found a long distance unicyclist amoung them, a chap who did the
London - Brighton Bike ride on a 26 inch sem some 8 years ago. he was inspired
by Duncan Castlins exploits in MTB events and wanted to do someting epic
himself. It just shows us uniers get every where.
A good little ride, about 12 miles long in a handy circuit with a Pub and a
carpark, I think we will be returning to prehistoric Wiltshire for some more
rides, the place is riddled with by- and bridle- ways as well as history and I
rather like all three.
Oh, that story about Silbury hill.
The towns of Devizes and Marlborough were at war, Marlborough hired a giant to
help them , asking him to take a load of earth in his apron and drop it on
Devizes. A wise Devizes man found out their plan and offered to save his town.
He set out with no weapons but a sack full of all the old shoes owned by his
fellow townsfolk. About half way between the two towns the Giant and the man
with a sack of shoes met. “Where are you off to with that earth” asks the man "
to a town named Devizes" the giant replies " I’ve come from there " the man says
" its ever so far away, look how many pairs of shoes I’ve worn out already"
showing the giant his sackfull of worn out footwear. At this news the giant
decides he has had enough of carrying a load of earth, Marlborough have not paid
him enough to walk THAT far . So he empties the earth from his apron there and
then, forming Silbury hill, about halfway between Marlborough and Devizes, the
hill is there to this day if proof of this story is needed.