Circular Avebury Walk: West Kennett Long Barrow and the Avenue

Despite the grey weather, Avebury was our destination last weekend. The pathways were muddy, many closed due to soil erosion, and the sky threatened rain. Still, once we got going, it was worth it. The dried up trenches alongside the fields had filled with water and there was a crescent-shaped moat around Silbury Hill.

The route to West Kennett Long Barrow, a neolithic tomb, was slick and slippery. Rapeseed was growing in the surrounding fields, a thick cabbage-y smell. It was reassuring to know that something was growing, after all the snow. As we drew closer to the ancient burial site, I heard music. An odd, trance-like song with irregular beats. Druids, I thought. We see them on the hills around Avebury, dancing and chanting – “ALL HAIL THE CORN KING” – or leaving old Norse symbols on the stones in chalk.

We ventured inside the tomb as far as we dared. The stones were warm, in contrast to the cold winds outside. Incense was burning and one man sat alone in the shadows, playing an instrument I did not recognise and could not describe. Magic. There are many old traditions in the South West, from wassailing in orchards to pilgrimages up Glastonbury Tor. There’s a sense that the landscape is sleeping and one day will wake up to reveal all it’s secrets.

The song played by the druid never seemed to end, it simply bled into another, with no discernible tune. There was a church-like atmosphere and no one spoke. Unwilling to intrude, we walked to the Avenue, past trees strung with prayer ribbons, and into Avebury’s heart. Music followed us, for the local campanologists were practising in the church tower, with the odd rogue bell to disturb the melody.

Circular Avebury and West Kennett Walk:

  • Park in Avebury’s National Trust car park, free to members, and cross the road, A4361. Follow the path alongside the river (don’t turn right at the bridge) and keep going until you reach another road, the A4. Silbury Hill will be on your right.
  • Cross the A4. There will be a gate on the left and an information board about West Kennett Long Barrow. Follow the path through two fields, the last a small hill. At the top is the neolithic tomb. Dogs are allowed, although keep them on the lead due to the steep drops around the UNESCO site.
  • Double back on yourself and cross the A4. Walk through the first field and turn right (do not go through the stile/kissing gate). You’ll see a grassy track where the path has been worn away by walkers. It’s a steep hill, however the view is spectacular. Follow the path and it will take you downwards, to another gate (with signposts). On your left will be the Avenue.
  • Walk down the Avenue, with its stones on either side, and follow the path through Avebury, crossing the road twice at various intervals. Explore at your leisure. Head into the village and you’ll find the National Trust café – and cream teas – before returning to the car park via the main (signposted) path.

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Note: In wetter months, the main paths around Avebury and through the Avenue may be closed to protect the ancient landscape from soil erosion. Take the road instead, which can offer a different (and equally interesting) view.

For more walking routes and inspirations from the South West, follow me on Instagram.

 

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Walking with smugglers, ghosts and Viking warlords

Whenever I find it hard to write, I walk. I fix whatever problem I’m facing while I’m wading through mud or battling with stiles, in wellingtons or walking books, come rain or shine. In Japan, forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku) is a visit to a wooded area, intended to relax and rejuvenate. Research has shown that fresh air is good for you and has numerous benefits, including boosting the immune system and increasing happiness. For a writer, the outdoors is also an invaluable source of inspiration. Below are four walks, ones that have helped me fill my mind with stories or clear it altogether. There is no better escape than rambling through the wilderness, surrounded by myths, legends and forgotten history.

Killigerran Head

A walk along the coastal paths at Killigerran Head.
A walk along the coastal paths at Killigerran Head.

There’s a footpath that shifts from sand to hard, compacted soil, coiling around the rugged, Cornish coastline of Killigerran Head, on the Roseland Peninsula. It’s a place for smugglers and pirates, for crooks and a Cornish welcome. In the 1770s, when Britain was on the edge of bankruptcy due to war and taxes were high, smuggling took root. Goods smuggled into Cornwall included tea, brandy, gin, rum and tobacco. The path leads round to Fraggle Rock Lighthouse, revealing a bay glancing over to St Mawes. The route passes an old war bunker established in the Napoleonic era and built upon during WWII. Nearby is where a customs officer, realising that Porthscatho smugglers were watching the hills over the harbour (to ensure a quick get-away if a revenue boat approached) mounted a surprise attack. St Mawes itself was where Robert Long, a 17th century smuggler, was executed and his body hung in chains along the roadside, to deter any others who would follow in his footsteps. For a real taste of the region, stop at a nearby pub for a pint of Cornish Knocker, a beautiful golden-ale with fruity hops and a malty undertone.

Glastonbury Tor

Climb to the top of Glastonbury Tor and you’ll be flying. The wind pulls at hair and worms into sleeves, as though it would drag a hiker off over the views of the Somerset Levels that stretch on for miles. Legends of King Arthur and the Isle of Avalon (Ynys yr Afalon) surround this breathtaking location. There is even talk that the sacred spot is where the Holy Grail was hidden. You can almost feel its power underneath your boots with each step. A perfect walk for a writer to let their imagination get the better of them. Though your legs may ache when you reach the summit, there is no better reward than the sight that greets you.

Castle Combe

The woods at Castle Combe, flooded with wild garlic in the spring.
The woods at Castle Combe, flooded with wild garlic in the spring.

A chocolate-box Cotswold village, Castle Combe has been used as a backdrop for many films, including War Horse and Stardust. Above the butterscotch-cottages is a woods that cradles the valley. Wild garlic, bluebells, violets and tall, distinguished trees line the paths – a peaceful contrast to the battle that once raged upon those hills. Ghostly sounds – metal clanging against metal, shouts and guttural cries in an old language – have been heard by walkers. In 877, the mighty Viking Guthram marched his army against King Alfred of Wessex during a Christmas feast and in retaliation, a later ambush took place – legend has it, upon the hills at Castle Combe.

Corfe Castle

A rugged ruin on a hilltop surrounded by yellow gorse and placid sheep, the National Trust site was once the setting for a wretched betrayal. In the 1640s, a civil war gripped England. Corfe Castle was in the hands of the Royalist Bankes family who found themselves in a precarious position when Dorset fell under control of Parliament. In 1643, Lady Mary Bankes and a garrison of 80 soldiers saw off a six-week siege and her reputation was firmly set as a courageous, brave woman. However, a later feud led to enemy troops, disguised as reinforcements, to take Corfe Castle from within. All her efforts had failed.

Do visit the Model Village Courtyard Cafe, as they have the best apple cake you will ever taste. I still have daydreams about sitting under a garden umbrella, with rain pattering down, a sleepy dog across my feet, while I tucked into a sweet cake slice the size of a doorstop.

If you have a favourite walk, historical location or setting that inspires you, share it below: I am always after new places to explore. For more photographs and walks, visit my Instagram.