Saturday, 16 June 2018

The Ridgeway 2018

A few weeks ago, my old friend Mr Steve and I set out to do a two day walk along the Ridgeway, often described as the oldest road in Britain and famous for the ancient landscape the route takes walkers through.

As we planned to just walk a small section of the route I was keen to include some of the more well known sites and to be close to others that we might drive to before or after the walk.

Thus we settled on the route shown from Foxhill just south east of Swindon to our stop point just south east of Wantage and with an overnight in the Star Inn at Sparsholt.

Steve visited some of the sites along our route last year and posted about them here on JJ's, but this was my first time on this ancient track and one that I was very much looking forward to.

We were really lucky with the weather and with a warm sun and light breeze were soon warmed up and peeling of layers enjoying gloriously fresh air and the sounds of May bird song along our route.

Part of the accompanying bird song included the distinctive high pitched  'zee-zee-zee' call of the ubiquitous flocks of Long Tailed Tits darting from one hedgerow to another as we made our way along the path.

These birds are always on the move not stopping long on any perch so I was quite pleased to get these shots of this particular chap who joined us part way on the walk.

We soon encountered a group of Long-Tailed Tits busy picking insects of the undersides of Oak Tree leaves

It really isn't hard to imagine the people that must have trudged their way along this path in the several thousand years of its use and possibly enjoyed the kind of weather we were having although some of the exposed parts of the route are probably quite testing in more inclement times of the year.

We were not walking for very long before we reached our first point of interest, namely the long barrow, known as Wayland's Smithy and covered in Steve's post last year.

This ancient tomb lies directly beside the pathway and in its secluded little grove of trees feels like something straight out of the pages of Tolkien.

On the day we visited and with by now the sun beating down it also proved a lovely place to stop and grab a bite to eat before pressing on to Uffington.

Suitably refreshed and rested we headed off uphill towards Uffington Castle and the White Horse.

These two monuments are right next to each other and very close to Wayland's Smithy with a theory around that they are interrelated and that all three sites my have a spiritual association for the ancient peoples that constructed them.

You can't really get an appreciation for the size and layout of these two monuments at ground level and so I have included the satellite picture to help illustrate better the two features we were walking around.

Uffington Castle (hill-fort) with the white horse top right

According to English Heritage the area of the Iron Age hill-fort at Uffington is 220 meters by 160 metres or 240 yards by 175 yards in real money, which puts it up there with the really big ones alongside Maiden Castle in Dorset.

The ditch seen below would have had its rampart originally lined with Sarsen (sandstone) stones and evidence of post holes and pits suggest structures inside, possibly roundhouses.

As with many of these hill top enclosures debate continues about their exact purpose and the placement of this one close to the White Horse which predates the Iron Age and Weyland's Smithy together with several nearby burial mounds has caused some to surmise that this one might have had a religious sacred purpose to facilitate gatherings, that may have continued from the Iron Age into the Roman British period.

Check out the video link towards the bottom of the post which looks into the evidence behind these conclusions.

Whatever the purpose for this amazing monument the views on the day we visited were stunning and the feelings of timelessness evoked thinking of all the people that have gazed out over similar views over the centuries was really moving.

Following our walk around Uffington, Steve and I set off towards our billet for the night, namely the charming gastro-pub, The Star Inn at Sparsholt.

We were both in need of the comforts provided at our stop by the time we arrived, late afternoon, and following a very nice dinner followed the next morning by an English breakfast were ready to head off to the next place of interest along our route, namely Segsbury Castle.

Segsbury Castle or Camp is another very large Iron Age hill-fort that has been occupied periodically between the 6th and 2nd centuries BC and excavated three times with the first occasion in 1871 when a cist grave, thought to be Anglo-Saxon, was discovered in the south side of the rampart floored with stone slabs and containing a shield boss and fragments of an urn or drinking cup.

Suggestions for it use include sheep management and a centre of exchange during local festivals which attracted people from outlying areas.

It's size is quite extraordinary when viewed at ground level and one can only be impressed at the level of organisation that enabled the amount of manpower required to dig out the ditch that surrounds this site.

If you are interested in understanding more about Uffington and Segsbury I include a link at the bottom of the post to a very interesting presentation that looks at the archaeology conducted at both sites and the conclusions this work has led to, covering the so called pre-historic era up to the Romano-British period in the 2nd century AD.

Following Segsbury, Steve and I decided to end our visit to the area with lunch at the Blue Boar Pub in Aldbourne, the former haunt of the officers of Easy Company, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Division made famous by the HBO TV series 'Band of Brothers'

The Blue Boar as well as being a picturesque English pub situated on a village green opposite the church and offering good pub grub and associated beverages also carries memorabilia from its wartime past, which for history nerds like Steve and I only made for a more interesting visit.

My visit brought back memories of a holiday to Normandy a few years ago where I was able to take the time to visit the key battle sites involving the 101st ABD during their time in Normandy that included the memorials to the fallen including Lt. Mehan pictured in the Blue Boar, not to mention that famous field where members of the company under Lt. Dick 'Frosty' Winters made their attack on a gun battery threatening the landings on Utah Beach.

The field as featured in the HBO show where the German guns were emplaced along the treeline and attacked by Easy Company on D-Day

It was great to see that several members of the unit had been back to visit the Blue Boar over the years and with many of that generation now past serves as a great memorial to their service at that time.

As mentioned in the post I have put a link here that looks at the archaeological work and analysis on Uffington Castle, the White Horse and Segsbury which makes very interesting listening.


  1. Many thanks for posting this, JJ. Just spent a fascinating and enjoyable two days in the area ending up at The Blue Boar. Highly recommended for Band of Brothers followers.

    1. Hi David, thank you. Well I must say you chose the perfect time for your visit what with the weather the way it is at the moment. We both have Steve to thank for the 'heads up' about the Blue Boar and as well as being a great traditional pub is also a great memorial to Easy Company and the 101st.