My daughter is currently obsessed with stones. It started innocently enough with her digging up the gravel outside our backdoor. Since then, it has developed into an all-consuming passion for rock that leaves me packing an overnight bag at the sight of a gravel car park and I have never muttered so many curses when I discovered that the formal garden at Blenheim Palace consisted not of acres of roses but instead impressive terraces paved with more gravel than I have ever seen before. Roo was in heaven until we finally carried her kicking and screaming back out the garden a generous time later.
Heading to Avebury for our weekend walk, home to one of the most famous ancient stone circles in Europe, might then seem like a pretty daft idea. This time though, the stones would be too big for Roo to bring home or spend hours grubbing about in whilst still hopefully keeping her entertained. Plus, Avebury lies next to the start of the Ridgeway National Trail…
We have often talked about completing a National Trail as a family from start to finish but never quite got around to starting. Sure, we have walked plenty of short stretches of both the Thames Path and Ridgeway that run right past our door but never completed either one of them from start to finish. Part of this is due to the logistical issues of walking with a baby who is now a toddler. All the suggested walks for the National Trails tend to be split into either long day walks for those completing the entire trail or shorter circular walks at a few select spots along the route for those looking for a taster on a day out. We wanted to complete a trail but in short manageable chunks that would make walking them with our daughter both possible and fun for all involved, Hence our Ridgeway project was born – to complete the entire 87 miles of the prehistoric roadway that is the Ridgeway with Roo over the course of the summer (and possibly autumn…) and chart our progress here.
So with collective dreams of a stony paradise and the doorway to many magnificent days walking, we headed to Avebury last weekend and then onwards south-east the short distance to Overton Hill – the official start of the Ridgeway trail. Our first walk took us 7 km (3 hours including picnic stop) along the Ridgeway, climbing gently up the spine of Overton Hill with expansive views of green and rural Wiltshire slowly unfolding in all directions around us as we made our ascent. We made a token attempt at getting Roo to walk the first bit but unfortunately we were thwarted yet again by stones…turns out flint is just as exciting as gravel. After taking 15 minutes to complete a good couple of meters ground (and having been on the receiving end of the disbelieving stares of passing keen walkers who were quick to inform us we had a long way to go), we persuaded her to hop in the baby backpack until we reached grassier ground.
Our picnic spot was a little paradise. Finally enjoying the warmth of the spring that has taken so long to come, in a lush green meadow perched on the edge of the hillside overlooking 180 degrees of wide-ranging rural views, we didn’t have too much to complain about. Roo got the chance for a good run around and then we hit the trail again.
We followed the Ridgeway as far as Hackpen Hill (the location of a more modern 19th century white horse carved into the hillside) before leaving the path just beyond the public car park, to head downhill to the village of Broad Hinton. The plan is to start our next walk from the Hackpen Hill car park and therefore avoid climbing back up to the Ridgeway again.
From Broad Hinton we took the bus back to Avebury, much to Roo’s delight (buses are quite high on the list after stones right now). Our quest for ice-cream was fruitless – there were plenty of ice-creams but we had used all our change on the bus and none of the little shops took card for spends under £5. However, undeterred we headed for the stone circle itself and Roo was not disappointed, finally meeting her match in the many huge stones that towered several times her height above her.
For an adult the stone circle is impressive enough. It partially surrounds the modern day village of Avebury and the stones in turn are encircled by a deep ditch or ‘henge’ whose purpose is still unknown. The whole site remains mysterious – it is thought that the stone circle and the two smaller circles inside it were once a temple dedicated to marking the core elements of life – birth, sex and death , but the full picture of why our Neolithic ancestors dragged these huge stones from the surrounding countryside to stand in such a precise formation is still not known. This is of course fantastic for children and there are plenty of local myths and tales of magic and mysticism to fuel young imaginations.
We eventually extracted Roo from her new giant friends (the stones) and returned the 3km or so back to Overton Hill via Green Street and a lowland trail through farmland which dropped us back close to the start of the Ridgeway. This forms part of another great family circular walk starting and finishing at Avebury, which you can read about here. The route took us past several ‘hedgehogs’ on the way – the name given to the distinctive raised rounds of trees along the fields here which are the remains of ancient burial chambers -before passing the much larger Overton Hill barrows at the entrance to the car park and loping back to the car. with tired feet.
A great day out and start to the Ridgeway trail for all of us. Roo greeted the re-apparance of the stone circle through her window as we drove back through Avebury with an enthusiastic chorus ‘stone! stone!’ – I think the rock obsession is still going strong!
The full route description and map for the first stage of our family friendly Ridgeway walks can be found here: Overton Hill to Broad Hinton Ridgeway Walk. Watch this space for more family friendly Ridgeway walking routes.