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Friday, 18 August 2017

Footsteps in Sound: Volume 3 (stage 5 & 6)

The Ridgeway: Stage 5
Baron Wantage Memorial to Near Liddington Castle
or This Is What It's All About!
August 2017

Over the course of the last 55 miles I'd experienced a nagging sense that the Ridgeway was just passing me by. The stages weren't particularly demanding and the historical wonders had been few and far between. Compared to Hadrian's Wall, Wainwright's Coast to Coast or the West Highland Way, the Ridgeway had been quiet too. I wasn't having a bad time, far from it, but I was still a little disappointed. However, I woke up with high hopes for stage 5 because the guidebook had promised hill forts, chalk horses and ancient barrows.  

The day started well. Just a few miles in I reached Segsbury Camp, an Iron Age hill fort, where I got a chance to see some ancient history and chat to fellow Ridgewayers. As you'd expect, not much remains of the fort now, except the impressive earth works, but you can still get an impression of the size and antiquity of this place. It's amazing to think that this structure was excavated and constructed using antlers, animal bones and wicker baskets and it's still here today.  

Wayland Smithy Long Barrow
By 1pm, I'd reached the Ridgeway's most famous site, the Uffington Horse (is it actually a horse? I'm not sure). The site was closed to the public due to the inclement weather (doh!), so it was impossible to get a good view from the overlooking hill. However, I still got to see The Manger and Dragon's Hill below (the latter is where St George is reputed to have slayed a dragon!). Feeling a tad disappointed, I marched on.  

Just a short walk away was Wayland's Smithy, a buriel chamber named after the Saxon God of Smiths. For my money, this was the highlight of the trip so far. It was impossible not to be impressed with the architecture and engineering of this historical relic. There was an air of mystery about the place too. local legend has it that Wayland, for a small charge, will shoe a horse if left here overnight. 

Wayland Smithy
For the next hour or so I plodded along a very quiet path, passing signs of ancient agriculture every bit as impressive as Mediterranean hill terraces. I crossed the M4 around 4pm and rendezvoused with Kathy and the kids. What an amazing day! This is what it's all about. 

Hackpen White Horse

The Ridgeway: Stage 6
Near Liddington Castle to the Sanctuary at Overton Hill
or Up On The Downs
August 2017

The first order of the day was a lie-in. I'd had some early starts this week but I could afford a leisurely breakfast as I only had a short drive to the start of today's walk. 

Near Liddington Castle
I was back on the Ridgeway by 10am experiencing the best hiking has to offer, glorious countryside and warm sunny weather. Within minutes I'd passed Liddington Castle, which is believed by some to be the site of Mount Badon and the location of King Arthur's famous victory over the Saxons. However, there's bugger all archaeological evidence to back up this claim.

Soon after I reached Barbury castle. Unlike the other Iron Age hill forts on the Ridgeway, the path cuts straight through the castle's impressive grounds. Originally, this fort was used as a refuge, a place where people and their livestock could retreat in times of trouble, now it's a popular tourist destination.  On a more interesting note, it was here I realised I'd forgotten my lunch (doh!), thankfully there was an ice cream van on hand for some light refreshment!

Later that afternoon, walking on very tired legs, I began my final push to West Kennett. The Hackpen White Horse and Berwick Bassett Dew Pond provided interesting diversions during an otherwise arduous slog to Overton Hill. By 4:00pm I'd reached my goal and completed the 87 miles of the Ridgeway. 

Rather than end my walk in the scruffy car park, I crossed the A4 to the aptly named Sanctuary, a small enclosure containing the site of a 4,500 year old temple. I couldn't think of a more fitting place to end my walk. 

Thank you for reading x

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