1 4 mins 13 yrs

YOUR humble and roving correspondent has been walking through 6000 years of history this weekend in the most astonishing archeological landscape, and he hasn’t been anywhere near Egypt. No, dear reader, I speak instead of the Wessex Downs, a wild and windswept environment and one of England’s genuine glories.

The medieval village of Avebury lies in and around an older henge which makes Stonehenge look puny. From here I followed the stream that becomes the River Kennet to Silbury Hill, built 5000 years ago and the tallest man-made prehistoric man-made mound in Europe. Still no-one knows why it was built. I doubt it was for fun; it took an estimated 18million man-hours. It was then up to the West Kennet Long Barrow (pictured), a tomb constructed some 5600 years and in use for more than a millennium.

From here your intrepid correspondent went down the Kennet Valley, past the site of another neolithic henge connected to Avebury and then The Sanctuary, site of another neolithic enclosure. Crossing the London-Bath Road, I then began on the Ridgeway, Britain’s oldest known road. Still a track following the high chalk downs, the Ridgeway has been in continuous use for 6000 years for war, for trade and communication. I continued on, up Overton Hill, crossing the bank and ditch remains of the original Roman London-Bath road and passing ancient round barrows, neolithic and bronze age tombs.

From high up I turned down the extraordinary prehistoric valley on Fyfield Down. This isolated environment, untouched by the modern plough, is scattered with an estimated 25,000 sarsen stones, the 20million year old remnants of violent geological activity. Back on top of the down I turned onto a herepath known as Green Street. A herepath is a Saxon Military Route, this one used by our Saxon ancestors on the great trek west across southern England in the 5th and 6th Centuries. Crossing back across the junction with the Ridgeway, an ancient junction where Saxon armies gathered, it was a return down and back to Avebury.

Sitting outside the Red Lion, amongst the great stones and having a well-deserved pint, I got chatting with a coupld of German visitors. A couple of minutes small talk was interrupted by a growing sound, in the background but getting louder. “Hello” I thought, “I know that sound. Unless I’m very much mistaken – and I’m not – that’s the roar of a Rolls Royce Merlin engine.”

So there I was, knackered and feeling mighty pleased with myself having walked for miles through the story of my nation in an ancient landscape which always fills me with awe, chatting with a couple of Germans, pint in hand, when a Spitfire came over and circled the village for ten minutes. It would have been somewhat jingoistic to point out without being asked what type of plane it was, and that’s exactly how it was when I told my new friends what type of plane it was, huge grin plastered across my face.

So I’m still knackered but also in that wondrous mood which takes me when I go for a stroll on the Wessex Downs, a truly astonishing and awe-inspiring land. This mystical little number from the main man seems to suit –

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