A cold, bright day. We thought we’d stretch our legs and refresh ourlungs with a walk on the downs overlooking the Vale of Pewsey. Those of you familiar with north Wiltshire will know what a lovely part of England this is. There are isolated pockets of woodland there, but it is mostly a landscape of vast skies and unobstructed views to the south, east and west. It is steeped in history. The work of those amazing engineers who lived here millennia ago is still very evident – the great stone circle at Avebury, Silbury Hill, the Wansdyke and the West Kennett Long Barrow are just a few among many.
We were deceived by the fresh Spring day temperatures when we drove off from Chippenham. The car park at Knap Hill is actually 700 feet above sea level. It was several degrees colder there, and a sharp wind over the downs made us wonder whether we’d been entirely wise. But we persevered and soon, walking briskly with the wind at our backs we were warm enough. The walk took us gradually up hill in a westerly and then north westerly loop, passing just over the ears of the Alton Barnes White Horse. Then on to Milk Hill, the highest point in Wiltshire at 900 or so feet above sea level. The views from there are spectacular, extending well beyond Salisbury Plain almost to Dorset. We then turned east to walk along the Wansdyke. This is an amazing construction, built by the Anglo-Saxons about 1500 years ago, as a defence (presumably) against the West Saxons. A high bank rears up over a ditch. It must have been considerably more impressive at the time it was built and the effects of one and a half thousand years of erosion had taken their toll.
I’ll remember this walk for a long time. Perhaps most poignant memory will be the song of the skylark rising from the rough meadows. So much rarer a sight and sound now than it was when George Meredith wrote his famous verse that inspired Ralph Vaughan Williams to write one of the loveliest pieces of music ever penned by an English composer.