Ridgeway Day 1: Avebury to Ogbourne St George

Published 27 April 2011

As a kid bus stations seemed to be strangely fascinating places. There seemed to be something oddly exotic about a place full of buses of all different colours and hues, all going to various exciting and interesting places. Although Bury and Rochdale probably aren’t quite as interesting now than they seemed to me aged 13.

Metal Ridgeway sign

Nowadays bus stations seem strangely depressing spots; Swindon’s more so than most. A grim 1980s monstrosity, overlooked by a rather miserable looking multi-story car park, it seemed difficult to imagine it enthusing and exciting even my teenage self.

At one end, a large group of pensioners stood patiently waiting for a coach that would take them goodness knows where whilst a few bays down, a group of teenagers stood, clearly bunking off school. One, aged about 13, sucked furiously on a cigarette, desperately trying to make himself look hard, whilst another decided, for reasons best known to himself, to launch a fierce attack on a brick wall.

It was almost a relief to finally board the 49 bus, which despite being grandly titled “The Trans-Wilts Express”, was just a normal bog standard double decker bus on a route that took us on a meandering tour of Swindon and its suburbs before plunging us into the country side. Mostly empty, it trundled down the rural country lanes, its floor now half flooded after I found my water carrier had a small hole in it and was now emptying its contents all over the vehicle.


With Overton Hill, the actual start of the Ridgeway, being almost impossible to reach by public transport, we had little choice but to start our walking at Avebury, which is where we found ourselves, soggy rucksack and all.

Starting at Avebury is no bad thing. It only adds on three miles to the journey, and allows the walker to take in some interesting sights. For Avebury is a special place. It is home to the largest, and perhaps best preserved henge in the country.

Avebury Henge

Forget Stonehenge, Avebury is where it’s at. Stonehenge isn’t even a henge! It is an enclosure, formed by a bank and ditch with opposing entrances. Sometimes, like at Avebury, the henge is surrounded by stones which actually highlight and accentuate it. But they’re not compulsory.

Avebury’s henge encircles the old village, studded with giant sarsen stones dragged down from the nearby hills. We walked along them, admiring and wondering at the effort it must have taken in the Neolithic era (4000-2000BC) to it all in place. And why they bothered at all…

Silbury Hill

Joining a footpath that would lead us on to Overton Hill, we passed another man-made wonder: the giant mound that is Silbury Hill. Entirely man-made, some experts have estimated it would have taken a team of 500 ten years to complete. Some legends say an old king lies buried there wearing golden armour, although if he does, no one has managed to find him.

A little beyond brought us to West Kennett Long Barrow, a large collective burial mound. Entering the small stone entrance way, evidence remained of the previous visitors, a pair of druids we’d passed on the way up. Tealight candles flickered away in small, pockmarked holes in the stone whilst joss sticks burned; their smoke giving an eerie effect. On such a bright and warm spring day, the stone walls were almost icy cold to the touch; our breath clearly visible as it mingled with the incense. As we headed away we passed a heavily pregnant woman carrying a large crystal.

West Kennett Long Barrow

Overton Hill’s ancient connections are slightly less visible. The land used to house a structure called “The Sanctuary”, although little now remains. Concrete stumps mark out where tall sarsen stones and wooden pillars once stood. A sign offered an idea of what it may have looked like: an almost cathedral-esque structure of nested rings.

Over the road, a slightly newer car park housed a sign that symbolised the real beginning of the National Trail, and putting one foot in front of the other, we left the druids and joined the drovers, the traders and the armies that had once walked the Ridgeway.


A stony, gravely path led us gently up hill as we joined a ridge; one of many that gives the route its name. More sarsen stones were dotted around the landscape, with the neighbouring fields being the primary source for Avebury’s wonders.

High overhead, kestrels flew in the sky, circling for prey in the fields spread far and wide around us; large industrial looking buildings sat in their edges in the far distance. Far, far away, the former hangers of Wroughton Airfield lie. Once aeroplanes took off and landed, but now it has a more sedate use as home to the Science Museum’s storage facility.

Getting up close and personal with the Hackpen White Horse

To the right of the path, a set of horse gallops run along side, whilst at Hackpen Hill we found another of the area’s distinctive features: a white horse cut in to the chalky hillside.

Like most such monuments, the Hackpen Hill horse is almost impossible to get a feel for when you’re stood right on top of it. The humble walker can only try to imagine what an arresting sight it would be from far in the valley below. A nearby noticeboard showed just how many similar horses Wiltshire has, and that all eight are connected by the 90 mile White Horse Trail.

A mile or so on and the historic Ridgeway disappears off downhill under a tarmac road heading for Barbury. Such things don’t often make exciting walking, and so the National Trail takes a different route towards a different ridge, stopping by the former Iron Age fort of Barbury Castle.

Walking the ramparts of Barbury Castle

Little remains at Barbury now except the remains of two sets of ramparts, separated by a deep ditch, which we walked along. The hill top the fort sat on gave its occupants a wide panoramic view of the area. Whilst now it’s hard to imagine what it must have looked like all those years ago, one thing is for sure. This was one fort that would be impossible to sneak up on. Even if invaders had managed to somehow creep up unnoticed for several miles, the steep hillsides would have made it very difficult to attack.


Skirting the Marlborough Downs, the Ridgeway now followed Smeathe’s Ridge along a gentle, grassy path that marked a noticeable difference to the harsh stone of earlier in the day.It was an easy stroll down the few miles to the wonderfully named village of Ogbourne St George where we were booked in to stay the night. Quite where it’s distinctive name came from, I never did find out other than it sits on the River Og.

The Ridgeway came alongside a road that could take us direct into the village however the trail itself goes on a lazy loop around it before re-appearing at the other end. With our accommodation being on the other side, we stuck with the trail, crossing over the busy A346 before turning off up the former Midland and South Western Junction railway whose trackbed is, almost inevitably, now a cycle path.

The Inn With The Well, Ogbourne St George

By doing this little loop, we’d save ourselves a mile or so off our walking the next day. Congratulating ourselves on our cunning, we flopped in to the Inn With The Well pub. With a pint or two and a steak pie of the size that Desperate Dan would prefer, the next day’s 18 mile walk seemed to far away to worry about. We’d done day one. And that was enough to celebrate.

On day two, more classic ridge walking as we see more white horses, more long barrows and a small village with a pub with a music choice of hardcore trance or Elton John.

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Your Comments

Bill McGree

10 January 2012 at 8:11 am

We walked part of the Ridgeway on Saturday last and were amazed that the ‘signs’ simply said ‘Bridleway’ ,’Footpath’ or ‘Ridgeway’ with no indication of mileage or ‘leading to’ title.
Is there anywhere I can get a detailed map of places on the Ridgeway and distances in volved?

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

10 January 2012 at 9:29 am

Hello Bill – there’s a distance chart on the National Trail website which you might find useful.
http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/ridgeway/downloads.asp?PageId=125

Lack of distances on signposts is a bugbearer of mine – I don’t understand why those in charge don’t put them on by default!

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